Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Borg

The family has been watching Star Trek Voyager, and we recently watched an episode from Season 6 entitled "Child's Play." At this point in the series, the crew of Voyager has liberated four children of various races from the Borg, and Seven of Nine has been assigned to look after the children and help them adjust to life on Voyager.

For those who are not Star Trek fans, I should explain that the Borg are a collective of humanoids who are mentally linked, technologically-enhanced, and constantly assimilating more species in order to add to their biological and technological "perfection." In short, after being essentially a half-robotic bee in a hive, it's hard to learn to think and act as an individual. That is Seven of Nine's story arc, and at this point in the story, she's trying to be a governess, because that's part of every woman's evolution, right?

Sorry--it's easy to fork off into feminist diatribes when discussing women in Star Trek.

There's a main plot to this episode, which is interesting, but what caught my attention was the side plot in which Seven of Nine is shown interacting with the children. She has learned that children need a variety of activities in order to thrive, including opportunities for education in multiple subjects and frequent play periods, and so she has scheduled exactly that, down to the minute.

It's meant to be funny, and it is--this idea that a Borg who is an expert in astrometrics and hand-to-hand combat and engineering doesn't understand play--but in 1999 it was only that. Now, it seems so much more. It seems like a parody of our educational system.

In 1999 it seemed like only a Borg could be so ridiculous as to think that all children needed was lessons that could be quantified. It seemed like only a Borg would think that every second of a child's time could and should be scheduled. That only a Borg would expect children to have fun in prescribed ways. And all of those ideas are meant to be utterly ridiculous--the comic relief in an episode about ethics, culture and the essence of parenthood.

What have we become?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Updated Parenting List

This morning I posted this list of things every child should learn. Here are some updates, courtesy of Facebook commenters.

  • My cousin Zviah pointed out that I got the whole idea from the Talmud, which says that every child should learn to read, learn a trade, and learn to swim. 
  • From Heather, I'm adding change a tire and pump gas
  • Crick wants me to add grocery shopping. I'm just adding that to "cook a meal." While I think it's great for everyone to learn lots about produce, and my own kid works in our garden and accompanies us to the farmer's market frequently, I don't think it's absolutely necessary, beyond what one needs to cook the things one knows how to cook.
  • From Devon, I'm adding vote, hold a baby, and make a budget. 
  • Another comment from Devon made me realize I had left out reading. Reading! Of course. It's one of the original three, after all. 
I'm going to go back and update the original list. Thanks for the comments!

Here's the Job

Parenting is a complex job, no question. You're trying to get to know a little person who keeps changing. You're trying to help her grow into a capable adult who is competent, secure, and unique. There aren't really rules for parenting. Every day is different.

However, there are certain things I believe every child should learn before she is launched into the world on her own. Here's a list of those things:

  • Sew enough to fix a loose button or torn seam
  • Use a hammer, screwdriver, wrench and drill 
  • Assemble Ikea furniture
  • Cook a basic meal, including grocery shopping
  • Read a recipe
  • Do laundry
  • Clean a house
  • Transplant a seedling
  • Drive a car
  • Swim
  • Balance a checkbook
  • Change a diaper
  • Write a thank-you note
  • Read a map
  • Ride public transportation
  • Take a taxi
  • Iron a shirt
  • Care for a pet
Updates from comments (click here for sources):
  • Change a tire
  • Pump gas
  • Vote
  • Make a budget
  • Read
Of course there are people in the world who can't learn these things, but these are the skills I think adults need to take care of themselves. If you can do these things, you aren't dependent on other people. You may choose to outsource any or all of these tasks, but if you know how to do them, you have the option to downsize, to live on a budget, to be on your own. And that means freedom.

Don't get me wrong--I hope that Boo grows up to be prosperous, and that her life is full of love and people upon whom she can depend. But everyone I know enjoys doing some of these things. Knowing how to do them allows one to avoid being scammed when hiring others. And if she ever does get into a situation that's bad--if she's suddenly without money, if she needs to get out of a bad relationship, if she finds herself lost in a strange city--she'll be able to fix it herself.

To me, that's the job of being a parent. My mother calls it "planned obsolescence." But I think it just feels a lot better to know how to do things. When I met people who went to college without a hammer, I was shocked. When I hear about adults who don't know how to do laundry, I judge their parents. Because this is the job.

What have I forgotten?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

PMS: A Conversation With My Body

Dear Readers,

I keep rewriting this because I keep thinking about it. I'm not sure where it's going. If you're checking to see if I've written anything new, you might want to read this again, because it keeps changing. And I don't seem to be able to move on to a new idea yet. This one is still percolating. So I'm afraid that rewrites of this are all you're going to get until I'm done. I hope it's interesting.


Body: Oh, my God!

Me: What?

Body: What the Hell?!

Me: What?! What's the matter?!

Body: We're not pregnant!

Me: Oh. That.


Me: I know. I didn't think we were pregnant.



Body: WHY? WHY? WHY?



Me: Groan...

Body: (grumbles) Every month! Not pregnant! I can't even believe this happened to me again.

Me: Seriously, body? This shouldn't come as a surprise anymore. We're almost forty. Isn't this done yet?

Body: I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU WANT! We have one job! ONE JOB!

Me: Program Coordinator?

Body: NO! Give me chocolate.

Me: Okay.

Body: And salt. Eat some pizza!

Me: We're getting pimples. Maybe we should stop. Or exercise or something.

Body: No stopping! No moving! No thinking! Give me grease!

Me: But I like thinking.

Body: You like thinking? Think about how you haven't made any babies. And the other things you didn't do. Think about that time you meant to do that thing and you never did.

Me: Um...

Body: And those people who died. Think about them.

Me: Which people?

Body: All of them! Your grandmother. And the people who died in that avalanche. And the murder victims.

Me: [sniff]

Body: [Turns up the hormones]

Me: [Weeping]

Body: Oh, and think about all the things you have to get done. The refrigerator is dirty. I think you left something at work. And you're probably late for something.

Me: I am?

Body: Probably. And I think you also forgot to do something important.

Me: I think I did!

Body: Also there's something creepy in the kitchen.

Me: There is? What is it?

Body: I don't know. Something. Give me more chocolate.

Me: But the creepy thing in the kitchen.

Body: You're right. You'd be safer in the living room. Go lie on the couch.

Me: Yeah, the couch. Good idea.

Body: No, don't lie like that. Your back hurts, remember?

Me: Crampy.

Body: I think you're sleepy.

Me: But that thing I have to do! And the sad and the busy...

Body: You'll never get it done anyway. You never finish anything.

Me: I'm going to do it now.

Body: You can't. You have a migraine.

Me: Headache!

Body: See? You never finish anything because you're a terrible mother.

Me: I suck.

Hopper: [Coming home from work] Hi, honey! Want to go out to dinner?

Me: I hate you! Go away and leave me alone!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stay out of it

I think maybe the people who are against gay marriage don't really get what marriage is about. Also the people who think adoptive families aren't "real" families.

Maybe these are the same people who think your wedding is the best day of your life.

A wedding is one day. One. Out of your whole life. And while sex is an important part of marriage, it's really hard to spend a whole day doing it, especially when you've got jobs and kids and a lawn to mow. One of the reasons people like marriage is that when you get busy with raising kids and working and whatever other responsibilities you have, it's hard to spend time finding someone to have sex with. It's convenient to have your sex partner living in your house. (And for those who choose to reproduce, it's also handy to have the other person responsible for that kid's existence around to help with the work of parenting.) But most of your day is spent doing other things, like sleeping and going to work and changing diapers and driving your kid to school and doing laundry.

I believe it's generally better to have two people around and in charge if you're going to raise kids. Not everybody chooses to do it this way. I know some great single moms. But parenting is a job that runs 24 hours, seven days a week, and it helps to have another person around to share the work load. And I have to say, for that job, it doesn't really matter what genitals you have.

It's true that I don't want to marry a woman. But there are lots of men out there I don't want to have sex with, either, and I don't begrudge them spouses, so why would I stop two women (or two men) from marrying each other? It makes no sense.

Same goes for adoption. Giving birth is one day (hopefully less) of your life. Throw in pregnancy and I'll round it up to a year. Which is a significant amount of time, I'll grant you. But my parents have been parenting for forty-three years now, and they don't mention the part where my mom was pregnant very often. As far as my brother is concerned, I'm pretty sure his birthday was the parenting day my mom liked the least out of his whole life. My birth story comes up from time to time because it went a lot better, but mainly my mom talks about the getting me part more than the birth part. Guess what? I have a "getting her" story about Boo, too. And it's much more appropriate to tell at the dinner table.

Then there are people who say they have a special bond with people they're biologically related to. I don't really buy that one, either. I'm close with parts of my family, and not close with other parts. I'm a lot closer to my third cousins on my mom's side of the family than I am to my first cousin on my dad's side. You know why? Because I grew up with my third cousins in my life, but my dad wasn't speaking to his sister for parts of my childhood, so I didn't really grow up with my first cousin.

Which brings me back to marriage. I already knew I could love someone like family whom I wasn't related to before we adopted Boo. Because I had already done it with Hopper.

That's right: adoption and marriage are essentially the same thing. And that's the point. When you decide to make a family with someone, you do it. And then you get to go through life together, hopefully making happy times happier for each other and sharing the burdens during tough times. That's what marriage is, and that's what having kids is, except that in a marriage you try to shoulder the burdens equally, and when you have kids you start out with all the burdens and kind of ease your kid into the burdens she has to carry for herself.

To do that, you have to believe in it. You have to want to do it. That's all. Skills help. Love helps. A good sex life helps. You know what doesn't matter (beyond personal choice)? Gender. Race. Age. Health status. Cognitive ability.

So stay out of other people's choices. There is nothing more personal in this world than how someone chooses to make a family. Whether they choose to be single, to live in a commune, to get married, to have kids--as long as they're not in an abusive situation and they're freely choosing it--it's not anyone else's business.

Monday, October 21, 2013

All in a muddle

What finally got me going after 20 days of not blogging? This tweet:

“If her name begins with A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z, she wants the D.” Source

Not only was this stupidly tweeted by a teenaged boy who's been accused of raping a thirteen-year-old girl, it's indicative of a mindset that perplexes me. So I've decided to analyze the mindset.

First, I'm trying to understand the point. Is it that all women want sex? Okay. Asexuals aside, that's true enough to be pointless. And of course it disavows the existence of lesbians, which is ridiculous enough to be beside the point. 

Perhaps he means to suggest that all women want to have sex with him? Ludicrous, of course, but maybe he thinks that bolsters his image somehow? 

I guess my question is, why would you point that out? It implies that someone has made the counter-argument, which is that some women don't want to have sex, and he is contradicting that statement. Perhaps even that one shouldn't listen to women who claim they don't want to have sex, because they really do. 

Which brings me to the next question is, why would you ever question someone saying they don't want to have sex with you? If someone says they don't want to have sex with you, and they secretly do want to have sex with you, what are you risking by believing them? You're risking missing an opportunity to have sex.

Disappointing, perhaps, but surely not devastating. 

Consider the reverse. If someone says they don't want to have sex with you and they really don't, and you have sex with them anyway. 


So what's the mindset that would allow someone to tweet such a statement? Especially AFTER said person had been accused of rape. I can't begin to understand that. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Grow up

So, the government shut down because Republicans can't accept that they lost about a bazillion votes on Obamacare and that's the way democracy works. Sometimes you lose. When you do, you need to move on and keep doing your job, because millions of people depend on the government for stuff like parks and food and securing mortgages. You may think we'd be better off without government, but we're not.

This pisses me off.

Grow up and go back to work, so we can all do what we need to do.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Appley Goodness

Today we took a break from the drama going on in Russia and a break from work and we drove up to the Hudson Valley to go apple picking. It was a beautiful day, Wonderdog got to come, and Boo had a great time running through the trees, picking one "perfect" apple after another, eating the best fresh mozzarella we've ever had and freshly cooked, still-hot donuts, and drinking "butter beer" (disguised as Boylans Cream Soda so Muggles wouldn't recognize it), listening to the band and playing with the bunnies.

It was awesome. I love being on a working farm. I love the Hudson Valley, which is where I went to college. And I was pleased that this farm is working toward becoming organic. They also have chickens who are allowed to graze under the apple trees, where they eat pests and (I imagine) enjoy themselves immensely. (They weren't out under the trees today, with the hundreds of city people flooding the orchard.) So we bought eggs, too, and they're blue on the inside!

Apple recipe #1 was apple/cheddar omelets that Hopper made for dinner. Apple recipe #2 is an apple crisp that I threw together after dinner. We're going to throw it into the oven while we watch Voyager, and when the episode is over, the crisp should be ready to come out of the oven. I have some heavy cream we can pour over it, too.

Tomorrow we're making baked apples (me), apple pie (Hopper) and probably I'll make at least one batch of applesauce since we have a bushel of apples and the apple peeler/corer/slicer is very easy to use, but hard to clean, so once it's out we like to process as many apples as we can. And I can probably send some applesauce home with my parents, who are coming over in the afternoon.

Apple picking is one of the reasons I love seasons.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sad News from Russia

I'm devastated by the developments in Russia this week. One region has completely banned international adoptions, our friend Pavel recommitted to the ban on Americans adopting from Russia, and although I can't find confirmation of it, I'm told that a third orphan died in a Russian orphanage. This child was one of the 300 children who met prospective adoptive parents in December. Presumably, this child may have been saved by medical interventions available here in the US.

This morning, I thought I was getting depressed. I showed all the signs. Then I realized that I'm just sad. I'm sad for the children in Russia. I'm sad for my friend and the rest of the prospective adoptive parents caught in limbo as they fight for the children they feel in their hearts to be theirs. And I'm sad that Russia seems to be retreating from the world again, that Russians are once again being oppressed by a dictator, and that the weakest among them--the children and a picked on minority (Jews 100 years ago, homosexuals today)--are once again victims of a political tyrant.

I wanted to write more but I just can't.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


I don't think I'm going to post tonight. I have a serious thought kicking around in my brain, but I'm not ready to share it yet.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I'm really sick of Republicans trying to repeal Obamacare. Accept it, people: you lost the election in 2008. You lost it badly. You lost it because your policies failed. And the American people elected the Democrats in a landslide because we wanted comprehensive healthcare reform.

You managed to stop real reform and arrange a huge payday for the insurance companies. Obamacare is a Republican plan. That is called compromise.

So the system worked just the way it was supposed to. If you hadn't stopped Al Franken from taking office, it might have worked a little better, even.

But now you're all about sour grapes. You lost, so you're claiming Obamacare doesn't work, even though its main provision hasn't yet gone into effect.

Well, let me tell you: I've been getting my birth control pills with no copay for a while now. That's put more money in my middle-class pocket that I tend to spend on good, job-creating things like take-out pizza or gas for my car. So that's working for me. I don't have to pay for my checkups anymore, either.

I also know a whole bunch of people who can't wait to buy that affordable health insurance that's supposed to arrive on Tuesday, but we can call that a failure because it hasn't even started yet.

Why do you want the poor to suffer? I don't get it. This is supposed to be the best country in the world. It's certainly one of the richest. So let everyone go to the doctor without ending up bankrupt. Is that really so much to ask?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Conversations with Wonderdog

Wonderdog: Watcha doin'?

Me: I'm listening to the radio.

Wonderdog: You're in the car.

Me: Yup.

Wonderdog: You know what would make you really happy? If you came inside and pet the dog.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Our Special Group

When Hopper and I decided to adopt, I started to do research, because that's how I roll. I looked at websites for adoption agencies and read about the differences between domestic and international adoption and talked to my cousin who had adopted from China and, once we settled on international adoption, read the State Department website for every country it's legal for Americans to adopt from.

And I found

I've heard that things have changed over there, but in those days (lo, these many years ago) there was a great community in the forums at I made a couple of internet friends with whom I'm still in touch online (Hi, Andy, Heather and Crick!) and then one day somebody noticed that everyone in the Russian adoption forum was from New Jersey.

Long story short, we started a support group. There are currently nine families in the group. Six of us were from that original group. One came along a couple of months later. One joined us a few years after that when her two boys came home, and one is a recent addition whose prospective daughter is one of the 300.*

Over the years, this has proved to be a priceless connection. Not only because all of these families have become dear friends, but because of the support the group provides. It is refreshing to be with a group of people who understand and value your family structure. I remember the first time I met these women in person, one of them asked me, "Why did you decide to adopt from Russia?" And I realized that she just wanted to know. She wasn't saying I shouldn't adopt, or should adopt from somewhere else, or should know this or that about Russia. She just wanted to know because she was also adopting from Russia. And I relaxed parts of my brain that I didn't know were stressed.

Since that time, we've been through babyhood and preschool and now most of our kids are in fourth or fifth grade. October marks the tenth anniversary of one of our kids coming home, and over the next year most of the children in the original group will mark their tenth adoption anniversaries. It's been fascinating watching this group of kids grow together. My favorite, now, are the pool parties, because Boo loves swimming so much and it's fun to watch all of the kids having epic water battles or teaching each other to do cartwheels off the diving board.

All of the kids are doing well. One, who was adopted at age five or six, has some serious psychological issues, but I imagine she was removed from her birth parents for a reason, and she has traumas other than an orphanage in her past. However, she has discovered a tremendous artistic talent which her parents have nurtured and her talent has gotten her into a specialized high school program where she is flourishing. Update: 9/23/13 This girl's mom points out to me that she knows about ten other kids in her daughter's grade who have the same psychological condition her daughter does, none of whom was adopted. And that with the help she's been able to get, her daughter has bonded with her family, learned English, worked hard at her talent--really hard--and is doing well in school. She also has normal friendships, age-appropriate levels of drama, and a good relationship with her brother who was also adopted from Russia at age 3 a few years ago.

And that is our "worst case scenario." Other than that, we've got a totally normal group of kids. Perhaps there's a higher than average rate of ADHD diagnosis in the group. A few kids are on medication for it and get special help in school. A few see therapists. Out of eleven kids we have six IEPs, including the girl I described above. We also have one child who is classified as gifted and who skipped a grade. But all of the children are in regular schools, mostly public schools. All of the children are in intact families. No disrupted adoptions. There have been no calls to the police or DYFS. No trips to respite care.

Update 9/23/13: Another mother in our group pointed out that we have three moms in the group who adopted/are adopting as singles. One of them got married after her first adoption and went back with her husband to adopt a second child from Russia. One has been a single mom for ten years. The third is the one caught in the ban. But my friend points out that some people find it hard to socialize in a mixed group of singles and couples. We never have. Sometimes we meet just moms, sometimes whole families. Whoever can come, comes, and we hang out.

I don't mean to suggest that adopting a child from an institution is easy, or that we haven't all had our moments. One of the great things about having a support group is having people you can say the horrible things to--the things you think at your worst moments--and know you won't be judged and your words won't be thrown back at you later, because your friends have all been there too. When one of us does have a problem or a worry about a child, it helps to be able to mine our collective brains which are chock full of information about post-adoption issues from attachment disorder to post-traumatic stress to every learning disability you can name. Whatever the problem, one of us has consulted a Social Worker or an adoption agency or a book or a website or a Teacher about it. Together, we know pretty much everything, and we can always come up with a plan of action.

But really, that's just that village Hillary Clinton wrote about, right? Because parenting, like life, is a series of problems you have to solve. And I'm glad I'm not in it alone.

*If you're not up on international adoption politics, Russia has banned adoption by Americans and about 300 children who already met their prospective parents are not able to complete their adoption processes. Sadly, my friend is one of the prospective adoptive parents who got stuck in this torturous limbo.

Friday, September 20, 2013

It's not a deficit

Why do they call it Attention Deficit Disorder? When you experience it from the inside, there's definitely no deficit.

There may be a deficit of attention paid to the thing you want me to pay attention to, or even the thing I want to pay attention to. But it's not a deficit.

It's more like a raging river of attention. Or a fire hose of attention. 

Calling it a deficit makes it sound like I don't have enough attention. But that's not the problem at all! The problem is how very much attention I have. ALL. THE. TIME. 

And it's not really a disorder, either. I humbly submit that it's a kind of genius. That's why so many people who have ADHD are so damned successful. 

Because I have ADHD, I notice things you would never pay attention to. I can notice tiny, tiny details, like the little bugs that were floating in my mojito one night at dinner. My ADHD saved like fourteen people at my table from drinking bugs! That skill is why people with ADHD make great biologists. And I can smell things that Hopper has no idea are going on, which is why people with ADHD make great chefs. And I'm a slow processor, but I think about things really deeply, which is why TV so often pisses me off with it's inconsistencies, but it's also why so many successful entrepreneurs and artists are people with ADHD. 

I'm not saying it's easy. I realized this because of all the things I forgot yesterday. It started with forgetting my iPod, and then I realized how I use podcasts during my commute to help me with everything else. 

If you think of my attention like a raging stream, then the podcast is like a channel I dug off to the side. It channels enough of my attention into one thing that the rest of my attention can be focused on what I need, like getting to the bus station and buying tickets. With the podcast, my eyes can just concentrate on where I'm going, and then see the ticket machine and remind my brain it's time to stop and buy tickets. Without the podcast, everything becomes input. Every sight, every sound, every smell, every person going down the street triggers a story in my head. I'm narrating all of it to myself, connecting those things to other things, constructing theories, inventing plot lines, and noticing useless minutiae. It's no wonder that I forgot my sweater and walked right past the ticket machine without making a purchase. But it's not because of a deficit of attention. 

People with a deficit of attention are stupid. They just don't care about anything, or they don't notice anything, or they can't be bothered to think about it. That's not what having ADHD is like. Having ADHD means noticing EVERYTHING and thinking about everything and worrying about what's going to happen next. 

So yeah, maybe you missed the part where the teacher was giving directions. 'Cause you weren't paying attention to THAT. You were paying attention to the way the poster is hung on the wall and the way Janie did her hair and the question the teacher asked ten minutes ago that really has you puzzled and how it connects to that thing you read in that book and how are you going to get to your next class and what kind of bag would be the most efficient for carrying your books and if you have homework from this class, will you still be able to watch TV tonight or is it better to just forget it? 

Above Average Attention. That's what they should call it. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rescue pets Part 3: Henrietta

Henrietta was the first pet who was just mine. I had grown up with dogs--Eurydice, a mutt from the pound who was just a wonderful pet; Sheba, an Afghan Hound we bought when I was in second grade, after Eurydice passed on; and Nigel, a Standard Poodle who we got when I was in eighth grade after Sheba died an untimely death from epilepsy--and a cat named Solomon. Sol died a week after I graduated from college, and my parents said they weren't planning to get another cat (they've since had two) but that I could get a cat of my own provided it was a female and I agreed to take her with me when I found my own place to live. And provided that I wait until after the summer.

At the end of the summer, I resolved to do things the right way. I had agreed to humor Brother's girlfriend by adopting my cat from the shelter near their apartment in Brooklyn. Their dog had come from their and it was a great shelter. Also, at that time they kept their cats for adoption in the pet supply store they operate, so it was a great place to visit. Cats were everywhere--on top of shelves, in bins of dog biscuits, on the windowsill. It was hard to even focus on all the cats, and the more time one spent in the store, the more cats would become noticeable. I decided I would take two trips to adopt my cat. The first just to look and identify some candidates with a clear head, and the second to adopt.

We took our first trip and everything went according to plan. We enjoyed hanging out in the shop, and I spent time with several eligible cats, settling on two possible candidates.

The next opportunity we had to get to Brooklyn was the afternoon of Rosh Hashana. When "Rosh Hashana/Cat Day" arrived, I was excited. One of the two candidates was going to come home with me and be my very own pet! I had been dreaming about them. I had names picked out. We put Nigel in the car so he could meet the cat we'd be bringing home, we met Brother and his girlfriend and their dog, and we all headed over to the store.

On the way into the store I noticed a small orange cat looking out the front window. Each cat had a collar on with a name. This one's name was Cisco. Male--no good. Then Tony, one of the Directors of the rescue, said that the cats I had picked out were not good candidates for me. Neither would make a good only pet, neither got along well with dogs. I'd have to start over.

For three hours I toured the rescue with Tony, meeting cats, talking about my priorities, visiting the resident goat, and getting more and more confused. Finally, I asked Tony for help. He offered three choices: a tabby kitten, an older cat who was sweet, but unmemorable, and a quirky little cat who lived in the store and loved to follow Tony around. Her name was Cisco.

Henrietta sure was quirky. She loved to run, especially at around 10PM. She loved to look out windows, and learned in every one of the seven homes we shared the best window to get a view of me coming home from work. Her tongue stuck out all the time, at least until almost all her teeth fell out (she ended her life with four teeth. Nobody knows why those four remained.) She loved dogs. I've never met another cat with such intuition about dogs. It was like she was bilingual. She made friends with every dog she ever met, and then outsmarted them all.

Henrietta was with me from just after college until Boo was two years old. Through seven moves, through boyfriends and jobs and grad school and marriage, Henrietta was my family. I still miss her.
Henrietta in her later years.


I forgot to post last night! So much for resolutions.

However, I have the best excuse ever.

I was snuggling and reading books with Boo, so my computer wasn't on.

Tonight, however, I will be better. I will be writing about another rescue pet, redshirting in education, or sequestration. I haven't decided yet.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rescue pets, part 2: Wonderdog

Anne Wheaton has inspired me to write my pets' adoption stories. Yesterday I wrote about Cat. You can check out Anne's tumblr, Rescue Pets Are Awesome, and you can donate to the Pasadena Humane Society through the Team Wheaton Page.


Our sweet Darwin (pictured during a walk for BARC, where we adopted both him and Henrietta) Passed away less suddenly in 2010 after a long decline. When he passed, I was relieved that his suffering was at an end, but I missed having a dog terribly. I missed him specifically, but I also missed

the routines of having a dog--walks, giving a biscuit when you walk out the door, having someone sleep on your feet while you watch TV. It wasn't like Henrietta's death, where I was so devastated that I couldn't imagine having another pet. I needed another pet.

I thought I'd start researching on Petfinder and give myself a few weeks to find the perfect dog. See, I had found out a year or so before Darwin passed that I'm mildly allergic to dogs and majorly allergic to dust mites, so we thought it would be good to get a dog that doesn't shed. Poodles and Doodles are popular, which means both that they're hard to get from rescues and always present at rescues. 

But just a few days into my search I happened upon a litter of puppies at a foster care in Westchester, NY who appeared to be partially wirehair. There were eight of them, and I liked the idea of choosing a puppy from a litter so that I could choose the friendliest and calmest pup. However, we couldn't get to the rescue fair that weekend, and by the time our application was processed by the rescue organization, there were only two puppies left. I took a chance and called the foster.

This was the perfect foster mom, because she specialized in puppies. She had had about a hundred litters go through her house over the years, sometimes whelping the puppies there, sometimes taking in pups that were rescued elsewhere. These pups, she said, were unusually smart, already taking to house training at only eleven or twelve weeks old. And one of the two pups left, she said, was the friendliest and most laid back of the litter. Pretzel was the kind of pup you could do anything to. He didn't care as long as he was getting attention.

That sounded good to me, so we made an appointment to meet them. The rescue was over an hour from home, so we decided we'd all go. When we got there, I watched the pups play and I thought they were too energetic and aggressive. The foster dad said they were puppies. Hopper didn't see a problem. Boo said, "Please can we take one home?!" (Never bring your kid to look at puppies. Just don't do it.) 

Sure enough, Pretzel came home with us. 

Don't get me wrong, I love Wonderdog to death. He's just as smart and sweet as the foster lady said he was. And it's because of him that I've gotten into Obedience and joined a dog club. But he's just as assertive and energetic as I thought he was, and he's not the dog we wanted. Too bouncy by far. Very much a terrier. 

But he couldn't be sweeter and we love having him around. I've never really bonded with a dog the way I've bonded with him. He's my buddy who would follow me everywhere if he could. 

Rescue pets are awesome. 
Wonderdog took first in his category, got a Companion Dog title, and was Highest Scoring Mixed Breed. Cat is unimpressed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rescue pets, part 1: Cat

I've been really enjoying the new Tumblr by Anne Wheaton called Rescue Pets are Awesome. (If you keep your eyes peeled you might get to see Cat and Wonderdog one of these days.) It's inspired me to share my pets' adoption stories here. Cat gets to go first, because she's older.

It was the spring of 2006 and with the thaw came mice. As it turns out, this happens every year--the mice migrate or something and they appear for a couple of weeks and then move outside. But this was our first year without a cat in the house, so we were noticing it for the first time. My beloved Henrietta had died rather suddenly of liver cancer a year before, and although we briefly had a foster cat named Gary, the idea of adopting a new cat hadn't even entered my mind.

We tried everything humane that we could find. A live trap that I would set every night and Hopper would check every morning. If there were mice, he'd wake me up and I'd drive them to a nearby park and release them. One day we caught four! But after a while, the mice learned to avoid it, or we had caught all the dumb ones, or all the mice that liked oatmeal mixed with peanut butter.

We tried a sonar emitter, and that did nothing. One night, Hopper saw a mouse standing on the kitchen counter right in front of the device, not bothered at all. We didn't want to use poison because Boo was only three and we were afraid she'd get into it. I won't use kill traps, and those sticky traps give me the heebie-jeebies. We were at our wits' end.

"We should get a python," I said one evening. This has been a long-standing theory of mine. I think all offices should have pythons. They can fit in the walls, people aren't allergic to them, and they're not poisonous. They could humanely keep the rodent population down without using any kind of pollutant.

But Hopper pointed out that his mother is terrified of snakes, and he didn't really want to live with a loose python anyway. I stood in my kitchen and tried to think of another animal that eats mice. I thought and I thought.

When it finally occurred to me that cats make nice pets, I was shocked to realize what my brain had done to protect me from my grief over the loss of Henrietta. She had been my pet from the time I graduated college, and my bond with her was deep. For a long time, she was my immediate family, and getting over her death was hard. But surely it was ridiculous to let my house be infested with mice when the answer to the problem was so obvious.

So I proposed that we get a cat, and began to do my research.

This was a tricky problem, because we had a three year old child and a dog (Darwin) who was afraid of cats. Darwin had come to us from my parents because when they rescued him, they found that their cat wouldn't let him into their house. Hopper and I were planning to get a dog anyway and Henrietta loved dogs so we took Darwin in. But not every cat is as wise in the ways of dogs as Henrietta was. Henrietta had lived in a pet store and learned a great deal about dealing with dogs.

So it was important that I find a good foster rescue that would know their animals well. I found Angels of Animals and had several long e-mail exchanges with their director. She advised me to adopt a kitten, but I had sworn never to do that, so she found an adult cat that I could come visit.

When I got there, the cat in question hid under a cat tree. I sat down on the floor to wait her out, and a black kitten climbed into my lap. This kitten was so happy to see me, and so friendly, I couldn't believe it.

But, true to my word, I made arrangements to foster the older cat to see if she'd fit in at our house.

In the middle of the night, I woke Hopper up.

"I think we should adopt that kitten," I said. He was confused. "She's so friendly, she's just a mush. And that other cat will take a lot of work. I just don't have it in my heart right now. I need a cat that's going to MAKE me love her."

So we went and picked up the black kitten. She had lived in the foster home with a four year old boy, so she was undaunted by Boo. She was terrified of Darwin at first, and he of her. They lived parallel lives for the first few months: Cat on top of the bed, Darwin under it.

Eventually, they made peace with each other and even seemed to enjoy one another's company.

It took me a while to stop resenting Cat for not being Henrietta, but I got over it. Now, she's still a mush, loving human contact above all else, riding on our shoulders, sleeping on our bellies, and even tolerating Boo's magic tricks and costumes and whatever else she dreams up.

Anne Wheaton is right: rescue pets ARE awesome!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Orange is the New Black

Hopper and I finally got a chance to hop on the bandwagon with everyone else and watch Orange is the New Black.

I think we made it about 10 minutes.

Naked women and people sitting on the toilet doesn't make a show edgy. And if you need to work that hard, I don't need to waste my time watching.

Also, I agree with Merrill Streep: nudity is not acting.

Look, I'm sure that it's a faithful representation of life in prison. Probably you see a lot of naked women in the shower if you're a woman in prison. And I don't doubt that the night before she went to prison, Piper Kerman sat on her toilet and cried. That's a real thing people do. But there's a reason I stay out of prison.

I wanted to watch Orange is the New Black because I was moved by Piper Kerman's story on The Moth Podcast. You can listen to it here. But that story was great because it made me feel like I was there. I could understand in a small way what it felt like to be in prison through listening to a story about the small problems Kerman experienced. Understanding the day-to-day troubles that Kerman experienced in prison allowed me to relate to her.

A story like that is a kind of art.

You know what's not art? Real life. If the women are actually naked and talking about each other's bodies, it's not art. It's just criticism of women's bodies. Art, even documentary, has to offer the viewer a chance to make a leap. It takes you to the place where you can insert your own connection. And while I can relate to sitting on the toilet crying, when I see someone doing it, panties down and snot flowing, I feel like a voyeur, not a viewer.

Sometimes art puts us in that position, so that we can confront our own status of privilege or entitlement or otherness. I'm never a fan of that kind of art, but it has its place. But in this case, we are meant to relate to Piper's character: she is the white, middle-class woman who unexpectedly finds herself in prison with women of color, career criminals, and others who appear to be profoundly different from herself. In The Moth story, we are brought into the experience of life in prison precisely because we relate to Piper and she speaks our language. When she describes her experience, we can imagine what it would be like for us, because Piper appears to be just like someone we might know.

But I don't watch my friends crying on toilets. At least, not with their pants off. And if they'd done the shower scene that starts the first episode without showing any nudity, I would have been sincerely uncomfortable, but I would have been uncomfortable while relating to the characters. Instead, I was doing a double-take, then wondering if Hopper was sexualizing the women, then judging their bodies, then wondering what woman wraps a towel around her waist.

All of that took me out of the story. It separated me from the characters, because I could only think about the actors and their nakedness. I wondered about the purpose of the choice and the impact it was supposed to have on me and I was profoundly uncomfortable, but not because I was imagining what it would be like to shower in prison. Instead, I was uncomfortable because I felt like a voyeur inappropriately viewing women in the shower.

That's not art. Art is supposed to connect you to something: this separated me from itself. It's a shame. I think Piper Kerman probably has some more interesting stories to tell, but I won't be watching them.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bleary post-fast post

Ive got nothing. Fasting takes a lot out of me. So does thinking about what I did wrong. I hate thinking about what I did wrong.

I hate it when Yom Kippur comes on a weekend, because it's the most tiring day of the year, and now I've lost a day of weekend getting all tired and instead of taking time to recover tomorrow, I have to catch up on all the stuff I didn't get done today like cleaning the house and taking Boo to buy a present for the birthday party I also have to take her to.

AND we have to help build the succah for our Temple.

It's a hard time of year to be Jewish. There's just so much to do when all the holidays come at once. Christians were smart to put their two main holidays months apart. Also to arrange society around them so they are automatic days off. (Although I do feel sorry for the devout on Easter Monday.)

But I'm here. I'm writing. It counts.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll have something more outrageous to rant about, like politics or education or something. Or maybe I'll be able to reflect more on why I'm doing all this religious stuff when I don't believe in God.

After the morning youth service today, several congregants cornered me and asked if I would help lead the youth service next year. While this was flattering, I didn't really know what to say because we have someone who leads the service (which I enjoy) but they do have a point about it being helpful to have two people leading--it helps you know, for example, when you're supposed to listen and when you're supposed to read along, and it can be helpful with the singing, too. And I'd love to do it, but it's not really up to me, is the thing. So I said thank you a lot of times and I guess we'll see if they bring it up to anyone else.

In the mean time, I want to see what else I can lead. I'd love to start a more progressive service of some kind. Maybe I should approach our youth leader and see if any of the teens in our congregation want to help me write a service.

We'll see what happens.

In the mean time, I'm going to bed.

Make it a great year, everyone! Inscribe yourselves for making the world a better place.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Resolutions update

I'm about to shut down my computer for Yom Kippur. It's something I've been doing for the past five or ten years, and I find it helps me to spend a day offline. With that restriction, I have to rest, or think, or read a book, or talk to my family when I'm not at Temple, and that's a good restriction to put on myself once in a while.

Last year, I wrote this post about what it's like to celebrate Yom Kippur as a Humanist.

This year, I thought it might be a good time to check in on my New Year's resolutions, and how I started this blog. I've been keeping it up (pretty well) for nine months now, after all, so let's see how I'm doing.

So here's my Resolutions post. I'm not doing that well.

I'm glad I'm still writing, and this week I re-committed to writing every day, and except for Wednesday, which was 9/11 and I had a migraine and I just couldn't, I've done that. I'm pleased that I'm writing now, even though Hopper and Boo will be home any second and Yom Kippur will start and I will turn off my computer and there are dozens of excuses I could come up with not to write. But I'm about 100 posts below where I would have been if I'd written every day. Sometimes I think about posting more than once a day so that I can catch up, but I'm not sure how I feel about that, and I know it feels like cheating to post from work. If I posted every work day and then twice on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, that would go a long way to catching me up, though. For now, I'll forgive myself if I write mostly every day for the rest of the year.

Skipping to number three, I'm doing okay in the taking care of myself area. I'm pretty much sticking to the VB6 diet, although Hopper is getting lazy about cooking again since school has started. I need to step up in the cooking area, and with cooler weather coming and me no longer working on Sundays, I'll hopefully be able to cook a big pot of soup or something like that once a week. That would go a long way toward making our meals healthier and helping Hopper balance his workload.

I've been exercising a bit more lately, too. I'm really trying hard to make absolutely sure I exercise on non-work days, because it's pretty hard to get any (other than walking the 10 blocks between the bus station and work, and up and down the stairs) on work days. Hopefully it will be enough. Wonderdog is certainly enjoying it.

But I haven't done much beyond slacktivism to fight for what's right. There's a day of action coming up in my town, so maybe I'll get political. Unfortunately, it's the day after Hopper and I get to see Wil Wheaton vs. Paul and Storm so I'll probably be tired...

Resolutions are hard.

But these three things are still important to me, so I'm going to redouble my efforts. I have already done so on the working, eating and exercising fronts. I just have to get out there and change the world. Who's with me?

Thursday, September 12, 2013


I was reading an article about adoption, and in the comments, there it was: a post from an Angry Adult Adoptee (AAA.)

AAA's come in different shapes and sizes. Some are just angry at their parents. Some blame adoption for all of their problems. (My favorite of those was a 19-year-old woman who said that she heard you couldn't have a healthy relationship in your life if you didn't bond with your birthmother in the first six hours after birth, and that was why she was dating so many jerks. Hello? You're nineteen, that's why you're dating jerks!) But this guy was angry at the institution. He blamed adoptive parents for funding the adoption industry, and suggested that "infertiles" (there's a respectful word) could hold their heads higher if they used their money to help bio families stay together instead of funding adoption, which breaks families up.

I'm not trying to ignore the pain of adoption here. There is a real loss in the breakup of a family, even if the adoptee was too young to remember it. Some adoptees feel this more keenly than others. Some are interested in searching for biological relatives, others aren't. And of course any given adoptee can feel differently about adoption during different stages of life. Any adoptive parent should treat these issues with respect.

At our house, we talk about these things and check in with Boo to make sure she knows this is a topic we're not afraid to discuss. She hasn't brought up many issues of her own, so we make a point of talking from time to time about feelings that are common among adoptees--feelings of sadness around birthdays and adoption days, feeling different from other kids, wondering about biological relatives and so on--so that we keep a dialogue open. And I'm not saying we're perfect and Boo will never have issues about this, just that we're sensitive to the existence of these feelings in adoptees generally.

I also don't consider adoptive parents to be some kind of heroes. I don't expect thanks from Boo, or anyone, for being her parent. I don't think we did something selfless in adopting her, or that we're somehow better than people who parent their biological offspring. (Would they be "fertiles?")

But when I see this kind of anger, or the fake psychology that claims that all adoptees are damaged, fundamentally, by adoption, I don't know what to feel. I feel really sad for the person who's spouting, and hope he'll resolve his issues soon. It just feels so misplaced and unproductive. It's one thing to spend time processing your loss, but when it becomes anger of this magnitude, you have a choice to make. You can dwell on the biological family you lost, or you can think about the adoptive family who worked really hard to have you in their lives.

There has never in the history of law been an unplanned adoption.

It can't happen. As Dan Savage says, nobody wakes up the morning after a drunken escapade to find adoption paperwork completed and filed. And not only that, in most cases adoptive parents have to meet the child they're adopting before they can complete the adoption. So if you're parents adopted you, they didn't just want a child, they wanted you. In our case, we met Boo, then flew back across the Atlantic, returned to our childless home and our jobs (in my case, a job I was giving up to stay home with Boo) and then flew back to Russia because we wanted her so badly.

That's love, baby. And it's pretty awesome.

I'm not saying all adoptive parents are good parents: they're not. If your parents abused you, physically or emotionally, by all means cut them out of your life if you think that's the healthiest decision for you. But for everyone else, remember that your parents chose you, and that's pretty special. No, they didn't choose you like one chooses a puppy at a shelter, but they could have said no. They could have decided not to adopt you or not to adopt at all. Instead, they chose you. Don't hate them for it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

First Day of School, 80's Style

Every year on the first day of school, we had a ritual. After dinner, we'd head over to County Discount with our lists of required school supplies. Everyone did. So over the piles of Trapper Keeper folders and pencils and marble notebooks, you'd see friends and neighbors and that new girl from class you hadn't gotten to know yet.

Brother and I were each responsible for making sure we had all the things on our respective lists. Mom would help us find things, and wrestle through the crowd of other kids and parents, but we had to read the lists and check things off as we found them. And we had to carry everything, which could be a challenge.

I can still remember the sense of victory when I found the perfect lunchbox, and the stress of finding enough folders with pictures I liked to cover all my needs. I remember wondering, when County Discount went out of business, where I would get my school supplies in the future. (CVS) I remember the satisfaction of coming home with all my new things and setting them up just right, wondering what the year would bring.

Monday, September 9, 2013

September Melancholy

It started as I got my first glimpse of the school this morning. I thought it was odd, since I was at school yesterday and Friday, and the week before. But today was the first day of school, and the feeling started.

At first I thought it was the typical bittersweet feeling. Boo is getting older, and although I love who she is now, and I'm proud of her, and I know she'll have a great year, I miss my little(r) girl, my toddler, my baby.

But it persisted a little bit throughout the day as I was making invitations and prototypes for Boo's upcoming Harry Potter birthday party.

And then, when I was walking Wonderdog through the park I passed a small child hanging from a chin-up bar. He was shouting to his mom that he wanted to hang there for ten minutes, and she was explaining how long that would feel, and they were just discussing things, hanging out in the playground.

I remembered how lonely the playground used to feel at this time every year. One day the playground and the pool beside it would be packed with kids, and the next day they'd all be at school, and Boo and I would be left to play quietly by ourselves, without being bombarded by the big kids. It always made me a little bit sad.

And that's when I realized that I'm not sad because Boo is getting older, not really. I'm sad because summer is over. Today I took a vacation day so that we could spend time together on her first day of school. She had a half day, so it was easier to take the day off than to try and arrange someone else to pick her up, but also I really wanted to spend this day with her. We went out for ice cream and delivered her party invitations before she got involved in homework and projects and playing with Neighbor. It was nice. And I was the first one to hear all about her first day of school, which is important to me.

But after today, I'll be at work four days a week, and I won't hear about things until dinner time. I know, it's not like I'm moving to another city, and Boo is in fourth grade, which means she can handle staying for after-care sometimes when Hopper has to stay late at his school to do Teacher stuff, and the rest of the time she'll be with her dad. But it's a change for us. I won't be picking her up from school. I won't be around for homework time.

And summer is over. No more vacations. No more pool. No more hanging out in the evenings with no homework to worry about. No more fireflies. No more barbecues.

I know a lot of parents are happy that school has started. I guess I am too, in a way, because I know that Boo was getting bored having had no activities for the past two weeks. And Boo had a great first day of school and I'm looking forward to all she'll do this year. And I like my job and will be doing rewarding things there. But I'm sad that we're getting back to the grind, sad that we'll be spending less time together doing nothing.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

It's a hard job, but somebody's got to do it.

This guy is awesome. Let's just get that out of the way.

But reading about a manly-man loving his gender-creative son reminded me of another thing we talk about in the adoption community that maybe everyone should talk about more.

Let me back up a step.

When you're considering adoption, you're presented with lists of questions to consider to help you decide whether or not adoption is right for you. And that's a good thing. But when I was reading them, I kept wondering why they were for adoptive parents.

For example: Is it important to parent a child who looks and acts like me and/or my partner?

That's something we should really all get over before we become parents. Because if you have a biological child, she won't necessarily look or act the way you think she will. Now, sure, if you adopt transracially the appearance differences might be startlingly obvious to all who see you, and you have to be prepared to handle the comments and questions that come with that decision. But what if your biological child is born with Down's Syndrome, or is an albino, or has no legs? I once met Puerto Rican albino twins. You think that mom was expecting to have blond haired, blue-eyed identical twins?! But there they were, at a wedding I attended, salsa dancing with the best of them.

And then there's Matt Duron. He probably wasn't expecting to parent a gender-creative son. When he had dreams of having children someday, when he first found out he was having a second son, his daydreams were probably not about helping him paint his nails. But that's the son he has.

And we all have to parent the kid(s) we have. Not the kid we planned on. Not the kid we hoped for. Not the kid's older brother or sister. Not the kid we wanted to be. Not the kid we expected. Not even the kid we had last week or last month or last year.

You've got to look, really look, at the kid in front of you. And really listen to what she's saying. You've got to figure out what your child needs right now and find a way to give it to her. That's the job.

That's why it's so damned hard. We have our own problems, and spending a lot of energy figuring out who your child is and what she needs is tiring.  And sometimes our kids make us face the things we hate about ourselves, either because they bump up against them, or because they share them. (And sharing the qualities we hate about ourselves is the most frustrating thing a child can do, isn't it?)

But what I admire about Matt Duron isn't that he's able to love a child who is likely gay and/or transgender. There are a lot of really admirable and lovable gay and transgender adults out there, and they were probably pretty darned lovable kids. What I admire is that he sees his kid for who he is and provides what he needs, even when it's not the most comfortable thing for Matt. (And for those who didn't click through to the article, let me just be clear that what makes Matt uncomfortable is when his son tries to edit himself to avoid teasing.) And that's what we could all do better at parents.

So yeah, I guess most adoptive parents didn't plan things that way. Or a lot of us, anyway. So we're not parenting the children we thought we'd be parenting. But my point is, neither are biological parents. Nobody gets the child they wish for. They get a real kid, who looks like herself and acts like herself and makes her own mistakes. And that's hard for many of us to accept. But we have to parent the kid we have.

That's the job.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

10 Ways to know a Star Trek Crew is in Trouble

10 Ways to know a Star Trek Crew is in Trouble

  1. The Captain is tired and told to get some rest.
  2. An Away Team is on their way back to the ship at the beginning of an episode.
  3. Someone is in the holodeck.
  4. An Away Mission is going exactly as planned.
  5. Someone ignored Wesley.
  6. The Prime Directive is discussed.
  7. Kirk/Riker/Tom is in love.
  8. A baby is being born.
  9. An awe-inspiring natural event has just occurred.
  10. The crew is given shore leave.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Speaking Out for Russia

My heart is so sad when I think about what's going on in Russia right now. The violence against gay people is wrong, in and of itself, but it is also a piece of something larger. There is a propaganda campaign going on right now against "outsiders" and gay Russians are victims. So are the 300 children who met American parents who wanted to adopt them, but probably never will.

I don't know how far this will go. I'm not sure if we're playing into Putin's hands by protesting these laws. But this violence--state-sanctioned violence--cannot continue. I speak not only of those who have already been physically assaulted (again, a crime in its own right) but also of those who are hiding--adults who are in the closet and children who may not yet understand their sexuality, or worse, who do understand it but must live in a country where the adults express such violent hate for them, and where those adults who understand that homosexuality is just another orientation are commanded by the force of law to keep quiet.

In later years we will hear stories of the brave people who are acting in Russia right now. The teachers who are passing a quiet word or signal to their gay students letting them know that they're okay. The activists who are working quietly behind the scenes to make change, or to help people leave the country. The future martyrs who will keep fighting openly despite the danger.

I am sad for the victims. I am sad for those who are too afraid to live openly. I am sad for anyone who wants to do the right thing but doesn't know how. I am sad for the children who will never know families because of this, and for those who may lose their families if the laws keep tightening. And I am sad for the children like mine who look at the land of their birth and wonder why anyone would stop people from loving each other. Why can't adults who love each other live openly in love? Why can't families who love children adopt them?

Children don't understand "political gain." We can't explain to them that Putin is raising pogroms against gay people and keeping children from finding families to drum up support from his base. They just see the pain he is causing.

Today is the Global Speak Out for Russia. People around the world are protesting on behalf of the people of Russia who are prohibited from speaking out in favor of gay rights. I was not able to attend a protest so I am protesting here. Russia, your problems are not caused by "outsiders," but by your own politics. Give up your war against gay people and Americans wishing to adopt. Solve your own problems. The world has spoken.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pets are the best

This morning I walked out of the rental house carrying Wonderdog's crate. Hopper followed carrying a suitcase, and Wonderdog squeezed through the door before anyone could stop him. He followed us and stood, pathetically, watching us put things into the car.

"Do you want to get packed?" I asked him. "You can be packed now." I opened the door to the back seat just as Hopper was closing the trunk. Wonderdog made an Indiana Jones leap, aiming to get into the trunk, and bounced off the tailgate. Then he figured out the plan and got into the back seat to wait for us to finish packing.

When we got back to our house, I crashed on the couch. The rental house evidently had a bad case of dust mites (based on my allergic reaction) and I'm pumped full of Claritin which hasn't done much for my mental state. As soon as I hit the couch, Cat climbed on my chest and settled down on my neck to purr. She had been alone all weekend, after all, except for the gerbil. Cat's been following us around ever since.

There's nobody in this world who's as happy to see me as my pets.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Behind the Garage

I grew up in a middle class neighborhood of single-family homes with detached garages. It was built as a development, but it didn't feel like one. While there are many homes in that town that are similar to the one I grew up in, it's a big town, the streets are mostly laid out in a grid, and it's got a town center. And while houses may have a similar layout, there's enough variation that you don't feel like you're walking through a development.

But everybody has the detached garage, and all the garages seemed to have the same bump-out. In the 1950's when cars got bigger, people had to extend their garages. I guess at that time everyone kept the car in the garage. By the 1970's and 80's, nobody kept a car in the garage. It was the custom in my neighborhood to park one car at the curb in front of your house, and the other at the end of the driveway. We had rather long driveways, so that left plenty of room for playing ball (or whatever) at the back of the driveway, near the garage. The garage was for storage, and where you hung your basketball hoop.

Because of those bump-outs, each garage had a short, roofed section sticking out the back. At some point, Brother figured out that they were easy to climb onto, and they became our hangouts. One was a secret clubhouse for spies. Another was where we hid our imaginary diaries at pretend camp. Two houses down, we had a big hole behind the garage where our action figures had mega-battles.

Behind our garage was an extra bonus. We had a grape vine. Nobody knew where it came from--probably somebody spit some seeds back there at some point in history. But every year we had grapes. They were purple on the outside, with a thick skin that was probably full of tannens or something. I don't know because we never ate the skins. Somebody decided that the skins were probably dirty, but the grapes would be okay to eat without washing if we didn't eat the peels. So we'd squeeze the thick skins until the sweet insides squirted into our mouths, seeds and all. For a while, I was convinced that a grape vine was going to grow in my stomach.

It seems like we rediscovered that vine every year. We'd be minding our own business, playing spies or camp or fish store, and we'd have to go behind the garage, and there they'd be, forgotten from last year. I can taste them even now, and I wonder if the kids living on my street today have discovered them yet. There was nothing better on a hot day than to discover a sweet snack that didn't require going back to the Land of Grownups.

Please give if you can

This is something I find unbelievable. The anti-abortion crazies in Kansas seem to think they can do whatever they want--murder people, ruin lives--and the law isn't doing anything to stop them.

I mean, come on. A TEN YEAR OLD GIRL SHOULD NOT BE CARRYING A PREGNANCY TO TERM! I live with an almost ten year old girl. A pregnancy would destroy her body. These people claim to care about children, but I guess they only care about the ones who don't get raped and impregnated.

I can't even comprehend a doctor who can think of a situation in which a ten year old can carry a pregnancy to term and it would be healthy. Even in Elizabethan times they let girls wait until they were thirteen or so before they got married.

I'm so upset by this I'm at a loss to create a good argument. If you can, please donate to this doctor (follow the link at the top of the post.) We've got to show her and other doctors that there are sane people out there who will support them.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Advice for Teachers

Why are teachers afraid to declare that they know more about education than the general public?

So often I hear about schools kowtowing to parents or politicians who want more homework or more testing or test prep at younger ages. But we know what is best for kids. We have data. We have case studies. We have the examples of other countries that have tried different models. In fact, in the US we have fifty different educational systems to study, not to mention private schools and charters.

So why don't teachers and administrators seem to have the ability to tell parents and politicians about these facts?

If someone says you should assign more homework, ask them why. What are their goals? What kind of homework? Explain why you do what you do, and ask them to provide reasons (evidence-based reasons would be best) for why you should change.

If someone says that testing is important, find out what evidence they have that the test is valid. Explain that testing takes up class time and ask how they will account for that time. Show them the assessments you currently use and explain why they work.

If someone says your kindergarteners should spend less time playing, explain that playing is the way children learn at that age. Show them the learning that takes place in your classroom, and ask for evidence that the worksheets (or whatever) they want you to use are more effective at teaching math than block play.

It is the job of teachers to teach the public about education. You are the experts. You really do know more about kids and education than most parents and politicians. Act like it.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


I just found out I have ADD. This is mind-blowing.

I always knew I was disorganized at home. At work, I organize for a living.

I always knew my social skills were a bit "off."

I always knew I fell down the stairs more often than other people. And bumped into things a lot. And had bruises I couldn't explain.

I always knew I procrastinated.

I always knew I worked really hard for teachers I liked, and not at all for teachers I didn't.

I always knew I had to be careful if I was reading a book on a bus, or I'd miss my stop. Or reading a book while I was walking home, or I might miss my house.

I knew that I avoided difficult tasks, sometimes coming up with dozens of things that had to be done first.

I knew that I had depression and anxiety.

I knew that TV could suck hours and hours of my life away.

I knew I had trouble keeping track of several things at the same time.

I knew I sometimes got lost when I was driving. Or walking. Sometimes things just weren't where I thought they were.

I knew I tried too hard to please people.

I knew that when I was really interested in something, I could do it forever.

I knew that I sometimes forgot to eat.

I knew that I got discouraged easily, especially when I was a kid.

What I didn't know was that all of these things had one explanation: ADD.

I have what's called "Inattentive Type," which means that I'm not hyperactive. Inattentive Type girls are sometimes even hypoactive. I was never disruptive in school. My biggest problem at home was "laziness." And my room was always a mess. But I didn't have a learning disability and I did fine in school, so it never occurred to anyone to have me evaluated for ADD. They wouldn't have, back then, anyway. The only kids who were diagnosed with ADHD when I was young were the kids (mostly boys) who were so hyperactive they couldn't function in school or at home. I can think of one that I knew. One. Now, almost ten percent of the population is diagnosed with ADHD.

My only problem with that diagnosis is the last D: disorder. I realize that ADD has caused me some problems over the years (see above) but I really just think it's how my brain works. It has benefits too. I'm a creative problem solver. I have great attention to detail. I relate really well to animals, probably because I'm able to focus on them in a way that other people can't, so I learn to understand their body language well. And I love to learn. I imagine that's because it stimulates me intellectually which helps to keep me focused. But it's served me really well at school and at work. The only reason it appears to be a disorder is that we ask people (especially kids) to do things they're not suited to. If kids still had the option to become apprentices, or start farming at age 12, or whatever, ADD wouldn't be such a problem for them.

Maybe we should just call it "ADH."

Friday, August 2, 2013

On childhood athletics

I hate the current state of kids' sports, where everybody gets to play and nobody ever loses. One of the benefits of playing sports as a kid is that you learn how to handle disappointment and failure in a relatively safe environment. Losing that Little League game might feel like it's the worst thing that's ever happened, but it isn't cancer or homelessness or even school.

On the other hand, coaches often err on the other side and humiliate kids. That's where I think this "no losing" movement got its start. Because it hurts--it really, really hurts--to see your kid humiliated. It is a horrible feeling when your child goes from loving a sport and putting hours of effort into practice to never wanting to try that sport again. Even if that feeling is temporary and normal and understandable, it's not something you want your child to experience. And that feeling--the feeling a parent gets when she looks at her child feeling that kind of humiliation--might just be the reason parents lose it and punch coaches. I'm not saying that kind of violence is excusable or justified, just that I know where it comes from.

So what should coaches do? They should think about the purpose of the team. What is the goal here? The goal is not always the same, but if you're working with kids, developing them physically and emotionally should be part of it. Yes, kids need to learn to live with disappointment and failure. They need to learn to work as a team even when one player makes a serious error, or when "working as a team" means that some people have to sit on the bench.

But there are emotions that go along with those things--disappointment, sadness, anger, embarrassment--and those emotions are normal and more or less universal. So as adults, we should expect those emotions and help kids through them. Part of that is coping with them when they surface. Another part of that is managing how, when and where we tell kids disappointing news.

A really good coach can give a kid the news that she isn't playing, or isn't first string, or didn't make the team, in a way that makes her want to work harder next time. Ideally, the child will be told when she's alone, or in a small group of other kids receiving the same news. If the coach has to announce who's playing in a team meeting, then the kids who are disappointed should be pulled aside afterward. The coach can then explain why they weren't picked, what is expected of them now (Are they still required to come to the game? Will they be possible substitutes for the kids who are playing?) and what they can do to improve so that in the future they will be picked. Is it just a matter of age? (Not a lot of Freshman make the varsity football team.) Is it skill level? Would extra practice help? A private coach? New equipment? Do you feel like the child isn't giving her all and she needs to change her attitude? Or is this a matter of talent and does this kid need to understand that she will probably never be picked for the team?

All of this should be done privately so that the child is not embarrassed in front of the rest of the team. And it should be done in such a way that the child feels valued as a person, and so that her effort is assessed and appreciated. Most importantly, our expectations should be age-appropriate. A Junior in high school can reasonably be expected to understand that not everyone can play every game, and that the coach wants the best players to play. This isn't "fair," perhaps, but it's life, and a seventeen year old should be able to deal with her feelings on her own and/or have a support system (friends, parents, teachers) she can go to to for help if she needs it. A kid in elementary school, however, should not be expected to just deal with it. She may never have faced this kind of failure before. She does not have a sense of time that allows her to understand that she will probably get picked next year--next year is like next millennium when you're ten--and she doesn't have the emotional sense to understand that her anger, frustration and disappointment will go away after a time. She needs help from adults to receive and process this information.

So don't water down sports. Don't eliminate all disappointments and make it so that nobody loses, ever. Everyone has to learn how to lose, how to fail, and how to deal with situations that just don't seem fair, but are out of our control. But do think about the news you're about to give, and how the kid you're talking to is going to receive that news. Do give parents every opportunity to help their kid through the situation. Do give kids the option to deal with disappointing or potentially embarrassing news privately. Maybe even give them a chance to save face. ("No, I couldn't make it to the game." "I don't like to compete. I just come to practices to keep in shape." "The coach decided to red shirt me to see how I develop next year.") Do help kids learn from losses.

After all, that's what these programs are supposed to be about, right?

Monday, July 29, 2013

What Pets Add

Please, if you're juxtaposing this post with the one I wrote yesterday, remember that this is a "web log" and what I'm thinking about today just happens to be less important than what I was thinking about yesterday. It happens.

But this article pissed me off. In it, Allison Benedikt says that people shouldn't have kids and dogs at the same time.


My favorite comment so far comes from "Fundog:"

Don't blame the smart, loyal, loving family dog for your inability to manage your damn life.  

I know that Allison Benedikt just had a baby--her third--and she's probably feeling overwhelmed, as almost all mothers of young babies do. She's not sleeping properly, and she's having to deal with the reconfiguration of her family, as well as the honest to goodness demands of three children under the age of five. 

But her experience is not universal. We had Darwin before Boo came home, and we spent months getting him ready. Where before he had spent dinner time sitting on the couch with me, smelling my breath to see what I was eating, and then the rest of the evening sprawled out next to me on the couch, we taught him--before the baby arrived--that he was no longer allowed on the couch. We brought him to family events so that he was exposed to toddlers. We let him see and smell all the new baby stuff we acquired, and he spent a long time investigating our luggage when we returned from our first trip to Russia. 

We did our best to prepare Boo, too. After all, there were no dogs (or cats, for that matter) in her Baby Home. We included pictures of Darwin and Henrietta in the family album we left behind after our first trip. 

When Boo came home, we introduced them carefully to each other. We made rules for each (Boo, once she became mobile, was not allowed on the dog bed. Darwin could not come on the blanket we put on the floor for Boo to have tummy time.) and we plunked Boo into her stroller every afternoon so that we could take Darwin on his walk.

Henrietta passed when Boo was two years old, and we didn't get another cat right away. There were many reasons for this, but certainly the fact that we had a young child and hadn't yet decided whether there would be additional children was a factor. That's a decision you can make when you don't have a cat. We did end up getting Cat about a year later. When Darwin died, we didn't delay. Wonderdog joined our family almost immediately. 

It is true that Darwin didn't get the same kind of attention after Boo arrived that he did before. Nobody in my life enjoys the kind of attention from me that Henrietta got when the two of us lived alone together. But I think he lived out his days happily, and I know that Boo is better off because she lives with pets. In addition to the well-documented health benefits of living with pets, Boo has learned a lot about sharing our attention, paying attention to the needs of others, and responsibility. At 9 years old, Boo is now able to clean the gerbil cage, walk the dog, and will soon be able to change the litter box. She helps to train Wonderdog and comes with me to dog shows. And in losing two pets (so far) at two different developmental stages, she is learning how to cope with loss, too.

Having a pet isn't for everyone. Dogs, especially, require a great deal of time, attention and training. The adoption of a pet is something that should be thought through carefully, especially if one has or is planning to have small children. But there are many benefits--to children and adults--to having a pet, and those benefits should be considered as well.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


As it turns out, reproductive coercion is something that happens. That is, men sabotage their partners' birth control, or lie about condoms falling off, or intimidate/threaten/beat their partners to prevent them using birth control. Reproductive coercion is a form of abuse. Its purpose is to tie a woman to her abuser for life.

This is a terrifying notion. The idea that a man could betray me in that fashion, the idea that any woman could have to bear the consequences of that betrayal, and the idea of a child having to grow up in that situation is utterly frightening.

But then consider what else is happening to these women. Imagine being in a situation where your partner is trying to force you to become pregnant, or in a situation where you are already pregnant against your will, and then trying to get help.

In many parts of this country, a woman in that situation will be slut shamed. Even well-meaning doctors might assume that woman is a fool who doesn't understand how to use birth control.

Or, that woman could encounter a professional who "values life."

After being abused by her partner, this woman could be denied access to birth control by a pharmacist. She could be denied access to the morning after pill. In many parts of the country, there is no practical way for this woman to access RU-486, a pill that induces abortion, which would be a way that she could obtain an abortion without her partner's knowledge. In some states, if she is married to her abuser, he will be notified if she attempts to have an abortion at a medical center.

Can you imagine coming to the realization that your partner lied to you--put holes in a condom or claimed it fell off and he didn't notice, or hid your birth control pills, or flat-out raped you--and that you were pregnant as a result? Can you imagine being then told by your doctor that you should've known better? That although you arranged a doctor's appointment at a time when you were able to get away from your abusive partner, you have to come back in 24 hours because the state isn't sure you really want an abortion? That you can't have RU-486 unless you can come back to the doctor's office two more times, even though this is not medically necessary, and instead you could go home, take the second pill, and say you were having a miscarriage? Or that you can only have an abortion if your husband, the man who betrayed you so you could never get away from him, signs a paper giving you permission?

I desperately hope that reproductive coercion is rare. But even if it is, the idea that anyone is put in the position, in the United States, of being forced to bear a child and be tied for life to a man who abused her in that fashion is abhorrent. The fact that this exists is reason enough that safe, legal abortion should be available to every woman. Because nobody deserves to live that way. No child deserves the life that goes along with that. Adoption might be an option in a situation like that, but adoption could also result in the abuser escalating his abusive behavior. In any case, it's not up to me. It shouldn't be up to the government. This should never happen to anyone, but if it does, the least we can do is allow a woman the dignity of deciding what happens next.