Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Fair

I just got back from volunteering at the Book Fair at Boo's school. I love working at the Book Fair. First, you get to hear the parents of young children wandering through with their kids, each family speaking in their own language.

Do you think George Monkey might be in here?

I want that train book!

Let's look for one we don't have at home.

Then you get to hang out with the other volunteers, who may not have a lot of experience with volunteer work. They want to organize and divide the work sensibly, which is fine, but I find it amusing when they don't want to step on my turf. "Oh, you're putting stickers on those books? You do that shelf, and I'll do this shelf, then."

Really ladies, the job is to get it done. There will be more to do (and more after that) so go ahead and jump into my shelf. I don't mind at all.

After that, the kids start coming in. At Boo's school, students aren't allowed to bring money when the classes visit the Book Fair. Each child gets a clipboard with a form on it so they can make a wish list. The lists are then sent home to parents. I love watching the younger kids make recommendations to one another. This morning I was working at a table full of LEGO and Star Wars books. Some of the boys were reading jokes to one another out of the joke books.

When the Middle School students arrived, it was a whole different thing. They handled the books with care, always putting them back where they belonged, and of course they used more discrimination in their shopping. And yet, their unfettered joy when finding a favorite author, a book they enjoyed when they were younger, or a funny poster was a pleasure to see and a reminder that they are still children and not yet fully teenagers.

I already bought a pile of nerdy books that I want to have around for Boo's reference as she gets into more complicated writing and learning. This afternoon, I get to take her shopping for keychains and erasers, and maybe she'll even pick out a book or two.

One never knows.

Best week of the year!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

An open letter to all Atheists everywhere

Dear Atheists,

Can we all please stop pretending that religion makes no sense at all?

I get that you don't believe in it. That's cool. I don't believe in God either, and I'm working my way down the whole religion thing.

But I understand why it appeals to people, and I get the internal logic.

See, all you have to do is assume that God exists, and that [insert faith tradition] is instructions from Him, and there you go: it all makes sense.

Is the base assumption logical? No. There's absolutely no evidence to support that hypothesis. But if you want to understand the actions of the religious, that's all you have to do. And you're smart, right? That's why you don't believe things without evidence. So you can do a simple logic exercise.

What triggered this rant? (I hear you cry.) Well, the other day, Richard Dawkins tweeted:

  1. Sharia law "is legal to them". Oh great. So I'll go out and break English law and plead that I was obeying "Dawkins Law". What rubbish.
  2. Oppressed & abused women believe the falsehood that Sharia "law" is law. Who is telling them the lie? "Scholars"?
  3. British women beg old fools called "scholars" to grant divorce from marriage that was never legal in the first place.
  4. BBC investigates Sharia in UK: But why so keen for Sharia divorce, when Sharia marriage not legal in first place?

From this we are meant to infer that Dr. Dawkins is baffled by the behavior of Muslim women. There is absolutely no logic to what they are doing. After all, their marriages are dissolved under British law, and that should be enough for them.

Well, it isn't. They might want to get married again someday, and under Sharia law, if they don't get a Sharia divorce, they can't get another religious marriage. And if your whole community thinks that's important, it's pretty damned hard to say, "Well, science says it doesn't matter," and walk away.

Let me explain this in terms you can understand. Humans are pack animals. While some humans have been known to leave their pack of origin and to join a new pack, this is rare. Most humans will sacrifice greatly to remain in the pack. Those humans who are rejected by a pack tend to exhibit signs of great anguish, which can lead to depression, desperate attempts to be accepted by the pack, or even destructive behavior. Most humans will follow the rules of their packs even when this defies logic and often even when their own self-interest is compromised in other ways, reducing their individual social power or even depriving themselves of necessities.

So while the evidence may show us that these women will not suffer in hell if they do not get their Sharia divorces, these women believe that they will, and therefore they operate under that assumption. It's not scientific, but it is logical. Even if individual women don't believe in God, they may seek a Sharia divorce so that they can be accepted by their communities, because the thought of leaving the community forever is too painful.

Religion satisfies many human needs, and it polices many societies. We may wish it would go away. We may even work to end its influence. But let's not pretend we don't even know what's going on.


The Jewmanista

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Let's get real

I got some pushback on Facebook about my assertion that teachers would be happy to work more, assuming they'd get paid for it.

And it's true: not all teachers want to work more.

But I'm tired of teachers getting accused of that like there's something wrong with them.

YES, we want people to go into teaching because they love kids and want to educate them. But who chooses a job in a vacuum? If you have any choice of career in your life, you consider all the aspects:

What kind of work do I want to do?

How much money will I make?

What kind of benefits will I get?

What is the schedule?

All of those things (and others as well) go into someone's work decision. And that's part of the reason teachers are so angry at Chris Christie. He's trying to change all the rules, and that's really stressful when you're talking about someone's job. It can also be a deal breaker, depending on why you went into teaching in the first place.

When Hopper started teaching (this is his 9th year) the deal was:

Fairly low salary, offset by incredible job security (tenure), great benefits, very good time off (in which to supplement low income) and a secure pension.

Christie has already lowered the pay, reduced the benefits and threatened the pension. He's changed the rating system and dearly wants to end tenure. Now he's after the time off. So yeah, I can see why some teachers would give up the job, not because they don't love teaching, but because the deal has changed to the point where they feel they can't do the job anymore.

That doesn't make them bad people.

Also, there was a time when teachers were respected by the general population. Now, they're public target #1.

Stop acting like teachers should take whatever is dished out because they love their jobs. They deserve to be treated like professionals and paid like professionals.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Special Interests?

According to stuff I'm hearing on Facebook, Chris Christie now claims that he wants a longer school day and longer school year, but "special interests" are blocking him.

Now, this article is rather vague. All it says is that Christie wants more hours of classroom time and the Teachers like having the summer off. It doesn't tell us anything about the negotiation or Christie's proposals or even who blocked them. But let's start with his accusation.

Yes, many teachers enjoy having the summer off. Many are parents of school-age children and find it convenient to be on the same schedule as their children so that they don't need child care. If the whole state increases the school year, that won't be an issue. Other teachers simply enjoy a long vacation. Christie seems to be implying that there's something wrong with taking a 10-month job, with commensurate pay, and then enjoying the time off. That seems quite ethical to me.

Of course, the implication is that the teachers like the time off so much that they refuse to negotiate for a longer year. That has me wondering, because I know many teachers who believe that a longer school year would be beneficial. However, they can't afford to work a longer year at their current salaries because right now they use the time in the summer to work a second job. Losing that income would be a problem.

And that makes me wonder whether Christie offered to pay the teachers for the extra time he wants them to work. Actually, since the Governor doesn't decide the pay of teachers (districts do) I wonder if the teachers are even the problem. Perhaps the districts told the Governor that they can't afford to pay the teachers for extra time without raising taxes.

Or maybe the teachers asked Governor Christie how the extra time is to be used. See, extra time in the classroom doesn't magically improve student performance. You have to use the time productively. A longer school day may or may not help--it depends how tired students are at the end of the day. And a longer year won't help if the time is just spent on more test prep.

And then there's money for facilities. Many schools in New Jersey are not equipped with air conditioning. I'm not saying that air conditioning is a necessity, but if I was a teacher negotiating a longer school year, I'd sure be asking for it. Teaching a room full of kids in NJ in July or August without air conditioning would be a tough job for even the best teacher.

Or maybe the Special Interests the Governor refers to are parents who don't want their kids in school all year round because they should have some time to play. Or because the parents want to send their kids to camp so they can have some alone time. Or because they want to take family vacations around the world. Lots of people think summer vacation is a necessity for children.

I'm really tired of the Governor making these vague comments that make teachers look lazy. Give us the details. With whom were you negotiating (and on what basis, since the State doesn't negotiate teacher contracts) what was your suggestion, and what was the objection to your plan? What you're saying now means nothing.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Useful Assessment

On Thursday, we went to see Boo's Third Grade Presentation. Each third year student at her school has to research and write a report on an assigned topic (this year they were all about plants) and then present the report to an audience of parents, school staff, and first through eighth graders.

During the Presentation, the second graders each stood up with a first grader and read a "Who Am I?" about a specific plant. Then the first grader would hold up a picture of the plant and say its name.

From first through third grades, the children learn about public speaking in a step-by-step, age-appropriate manner. They learn how to be a good audience. There was no teasing or jeering from the older students at the presentation. In fact, there wasn't even talking or obvious distraction. They were a respectful audience, probably because they had all been there and empathized with the experience of the first through third graders and the nerves one has getting up before an audience for the first time.

They also, of course, learn about the research topic each year. Boo has had the Solar System, The History of Communication, and Classification of Plants. She learned a lot from each presentation.

This is how you tell whether children have learned something. Incidentally, it's the same way we find out whether adults have learned anything. I work at a university. I watch adults give reports on their research all the time. The grad students I work with are jealous that Boo is learning this skill so early--some of them didn't learn it until graduate school.

In participating in these projects over three years, Boo has learned research skills, she has worked with others and individually. She has learned about non-fiction writing. She has learned public speaking skills and how to be a good audience member. She overcame her nerves and felt successful. And she worked hard and then had that work acknowledged by her learning community.

I suppose that some people might say there is no way to quantify what the children have learned from this process, or whether or not their teachers are effective. Boo has never taken a test in her life. She has never received a grade or a report card. And yet I feel confident in saying that she has learned a great deal at her school and her teachers are very effective. How do I know? Regular conferences with the teachers that take about 45 minutes twice a year. Constant additional communication via e-mail, phone, and in person. Displays of student work around the school. Presentations I'm invited to like this one. Watching Boo grow and develop and engage with the world in a different way than she did before.

That's how you evaluate a school. It's also an assessment of student learning, but one that teaches useful skills at the same time. Nothing about that Presentation was a waste of time.

So why isn't any of this happening in public school?

Oh, and all the work for the presentation happened in school. None of it was homework.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Think it over

I am now going to be one of those people who uses the tragedy at the Boston Marathon to pursue my own agenda.

This particular agenda is protecting one's privacy on the internet.

Earlier today I was reading an article about Martin Richard, the eight-year-old boy who was killed at the marathon yesterday. His mother and sister were severely injured at the same time, and Martin's father released a statement today acknowledging the support he has received from friends and strangers and asking for privacy while his family grieves and recovers. This is not the article I was reading at the time, but it includes the statement.

At the bottom of the article I was reading (which I can't locate now) was a series of pictures. At first, I assumed they were pictures that had been released by the family along with the public statement, but after scrolling through a few--one of Martin holding a sign asking for peace, one of his family posing, and a third that looked like it might have been from Communion or a similar ceremony, I started to get a creepy feeling that I was looking at family photos. And then I noticed that the credits on the bottom of the pictures were not to photographers or the family, but to Facebook and Twitter.

I stopped looking at the pictures.

I don't know how Mr. Richard feels about these pictures being public. After all, I saw nothing compromising, just the kind of photos we all have of our kids and families. The three pictures I saw were all posed, with the subjects looking at the camera. Maybe these were the pictures Mr. Richard would have chosen to give to the press. There's no reason why they shouldn't be.

But did he choose them? Or were they taken?

When we post pictures on Facebook and Twitter, they no longer belong to us. They become the property of Facebook and Twitter. In many cases, those photos are searchable on Google. So if one of us should suddenly become the subject of a news story, our photos, being part of the public record, are fair game for the press.

We all worry about our young friends and relatives who post photos that are compromising--of drinking or risky behavior or inappropriate dress--but we often don't think about the pictures we post of our minor children, and what may happen in the future.

That cute picture of your baby in the bathtub? Visible to future high school boyfriends. That post about your high schooler's poor behavior? Open to college admissions. The one where you talk about getting drunk because your kids are driving you crazy? Available to your ex in divorce court.

Now, I have taken a strong line on this personally. I don't use names on this blog because I don't want anyone to be Google-able. Sure, if you know anything about searching, you can find out who I am. I'm not trying to keep my identity totally secret. But there are a few steps you have to take between reading this blog and finding Hopper or Boo. If you Google one of their names, this blog will not come up.

On Facebook, I do use Hopper's name, because he is an adult, he's on Facebook himself, and he sees what I post. If he wants me to remove a post about him or a picture of him, he'll ask me to do so.  But I don't use Boo's name or her picture. Not ever.

There are a few reasons for this. One is that I don't know everyone I'm friends with on Facebook. Oh, I did know them all at some point, but how do I know that guy I went to elementary school with isn't a pedophile? I don't.

The other is a bit more rational. Boo cannot consent to having her picture on Facebook. She's not legally able to because she's a child. And she can't fully understand the implications of posting pictures of herself. The internet is forever, and I don't want her pictures to be available to strangers because, although my family is currently pretty anonymous and uninteresting to the world at large, I don't know what may happen in the future. I also don't know what may be embarrassing to a teenager in a few years.

Now, I believe in a parent's right to embarrass her child, but only on purpose. That is to say, if she chooses to be embarrassed by my choices about me, that's her problem. I can't control that and I'm not going to change who I am because a teenager decides that comfortable shoes aren't cool. But she shouldn't have to be embarrassed by old pictures of herself on the internet. I reserve the right to show those pictures to anyone I want in the privacy of my home, but I don't have the right to give those pictures a life of their own that is out of my control.

So please, before you post that baby picture (or that sonogram) please think about whether you really want it to live on the internet forever. Because it will. Forever. Available to everyone.

Just think about it.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Yesterday got away from me. We finished prepping the garden (I'll post pics soon,) had dinner with family, and were all so tired that the evening just ended before I had a chance to write or post the pics.

I have something I want to write about, but it doesn't seem appropriate to post it in light of the tragedy in Boston, so I'll wait.

I hope your friends and family in Boston are OK.

I give thanks to those whose first instinct was to help others during this emergency. And even more thanks to those whose first instinct was to run, but who turned around to help anyway. We need to rely on each other in times of need. It's good to know there are people out there that strangers can rely on.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A long day of hoeing

Chalk up another active day with Boo and Wonderdog for me! We prepared the garden today (mostly) and we're trying living mulch this year. Basically, we're planting a carpet of lettuce, arugula, mesclun and basil all over the garden.

Preparing the garden is always a lot of work, but it was fun today. Boo was building fairy houses, Hopper was destroying the roots of weeds, and I was planting the living mulch. Meanwhile, Wonderdog was enjoying just being outside with the family. He didn't even get a walk today and yet he's sacked out on the couch, totally exhausted from all the fun he had.

I'm really excited to see what grows from all the seeds I planted today, if anything. It's a risk--the planting date around here is May 15th--but it's a small risk. We spent about $9 on seeds today.

Tomorrow when I finish the job I'll take some "before" pictures so that you can enjoy my garden along with us!

Friday, April 12, 2013


Baseball has merit pay: players get paid more if they win.

Merit pay is no better for baseball than it is for teachers.

With merit pay, a player on a bad team is actually not motivated to win: he's motivated to make himself look good so that another, better team will want him. He's also got a motivation for negotiating pay that is too high for the team to afford so that they will choose to trade him.

What if baseball instituted a system in which players instead got loyalty bonuses and a pension? Not a huge pension, but enough money that they know they'll be okay once they can't play anymore. I think it would improve the game in various ways.

1) Players would be more invested in building a solid team and working together. After all, these are the guys you're going to be with for your career.

2) Players would be more willing to take reasonable risks (like pitching an entire game) that might benefit the team. After all, if your arm gives out, you'll still have your pension.

3) Managers would be less likely to ask players for unreasonable risks. After all, you're going to be paying this guy whether he's playing or not. So it's better to let that pitcher rest an extra day and keep him healthy for the long haul.

4) Players would be more invested in their communities. When you know you're going to live somewhere for a long time, you put down roots.

5) Fans would be more invested in the team. It's more fun to follow guys you know, and it makes the team feel more real. You can point to particular people who are part of the team and not just the logo.

As it turns out, the same benefits apply to longevity bonuses and tenure in teaching.

1) Teachers become invested in the kids and families they are working with. They learn to work together over the years in ways that benefit everyone. I've been working with another Hebrew School teacher for the past seven years. We're now really good at working together, helping each other when we need it, and pooling our resources so that the kids get the best of our individual strengths and are impacted as little as possible by our individual weaknesses.

2) With tenure, teachers can take risks that might otherwise jeopardize their careers. They can teach that controversial book. They can make an accommodation for a child who needs it that might be seen as unfair. And when they're treated as professionals and not automatons, they're motivated to do those extra things that are personally costly sometimes, like staying late to help a kid when you should go home, or spending your whole weekend making a really great lesson.

3) When test scores aren't defining everything, administrators can give a teacher what she needs to be the best teacher she can be. They don't need to justify everything or supervise by checklist to make sure every teacher is doing the same thing. Every teacher shouldn't do the same thing. Every teacher should do what she does best so that the students will be inspired and will be getting the most the teacher can provide.

4) My dad taught at the same school for 41 years. He knew families, sometimes even teaching the children of former students. And he brought in stuff. My dad taught Biology, and he found every sample from the real world he could and kept them in his classroom (he could do that because he was in the same classroom for all 41 years.) Every trip to the beach of my life involved looking for shells and horseshoe crab castings that Dad could keep in his classroom. He had live animals in tanks, too. And he even argued with the OB when I was born until the hospital let him have my placenta. If he taught a different subject every year or was shuttled around from classroom to classroom, he wouldn't have been able to keep a collection like that, and that would have been a loss to generations of students.

5) Kids look forward to having that teacher who teaches the amazing class. When I was in school, I couldn't wait to take Shakespeare with Mr. Valmoro. This is partly because I love Shakespeare, but it was also because he loved Shakespeare. His class was amazing and everyone knew it. In fact, I knew ahead of time which teachers were teaching which classes most of the time, which is part of how I chose what class to take. These days, with the idea that every teacher should be able to teach every class, that relationship is gone and students are missing out.

Merit pay doesn't work.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Screens are bad, except when they're not

Recently I was asked how I feel about screens in classrooms. 

I can't answer that.

You may have noticed that I tend to have opinions about things, and I'm generally not shy about sharing them, especially when my opinions are well-researched and science-based. If you ask me about children zero to three and screens, I'll tell you my opinion:


I don't care if it's an educational game on the iPad, or Sesame Street, or Angry Birds. It's not good for your child's brain. I feel so strongly about this that I made Boo turn off the iPad when my 1-year-old niece was attracted to the screen. 

There are exceptions, of course. Boo watched a few hours of TV in her 0-3 years when we were on an airplane, when she was sick and screaming while I waited for the Tylenol to kick in, and (of course) the Olympics. And I was able to take this principled stand because my husband came home at 3:45 every day and took over baby care. And I have only one child. So if it's 4:30 and you're going to kill your three kids if you don't turn on the TV, then by all means--turn on the TV. It's easy for me to say I didn't have to--I didn't have to. 

As Boo has gotten older, we watch more TV together. She loves movies, so we watch a lot of those. We also like watching some educational stuff together--nature shows, shows about Ancient Egypt, and science shows. Sometimes when I can see that Boo is too tired to handle herself well, we even watch these things on school nights. And she loves Tabletop

And this is why I can't answer the question about screens in classrooms. Because every situation is different, and while it's clear that very young children learn by doing things and don't learn by watching things (screen-type things. They do learn by watching actual things, like a person building with blocks) this becomes less true as kids get older. However, it is pretty much always true that people learn better by doing than by watching and so there should always be a healthy dose of doing in the classroom. 

On the other hand, some things have to be demonstrated ahead of time, and video or computer-based animated text can be good at that. Some things you can't bring into the classroom, like Tibet, and photos or video are great for showing those things. Some things need to be documented, and SmartBoards allow the teacher to keep a record of what was written on the board, which is really useful sometimes. And some things are just too dangerous, too expensive, or too restricted for kids to do themselves. (Just try getting a permit to take a field trip to a construction site.) Video is great for those things.

SmartBoards are also a great way to teach kids how to use computers, which is something we want kids to learn before they graduate high school.

Can you teach these things without SmartBoards? Of course. Can a SmartBoard be a total waste of money? Absolutely. But in the hands of a masterful teacher who knows how to use a SmartBoard well and integrates that tool into a lesson, it's a great thing (for older kids.) 

I would NOT want to see a SmartBoard below first grade. Younger than that, kids should be doing things: building, practicing reading and writing skills, counting, making things, and playing with other children to develop social skills. I would want to see it used sparingly in the younger grades for the same reason. Up to about age 9 kids have not fully developed abstract thinking and still need concrete examples (doing things) in order to learn. And they need lots of time to play.

But after about age 9, most children have developed the ability to think abstractly, and they can then learn from screens quite well, although as I said, learning should always involve a healthy dose of doing stuff. 

So how do I feel about screens in classrooms? If they're used well, they're great. If they're not, then they are a waste of money. What you need in a classroom is a great teacher, and then you should buy that teacher the tools she needs to teach the way she teaches best. It's really not about the screens.

But at home, less is more. I should say that I love TV. I considered getting a Master's in it. Seriously. So it would have been really easy for me to turn on the TV when Boo was little and watch all the kid shows. I would have enjoyed it. But whenever I was tempted, I thought, "What will we do if I don't turn on the TV?" Again, if the answer is, "I'll beat her to death," then please--turn on the TV. But if the answer is frisbee (as it was for me on Monday, when I played this game with myself for the eleventh-billionth time) or reading a book, or having a chat, then don't turn it on. Do the other thing instead.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Free Cone Day

You know what makes me mad? Free Cone Day is always on a Tuesday. It's like some kind of conspiracy against Religious School Teachers.

Probably not.

But since I started working at Columbia during the day, I can never go, because I don't have time between working in New York and teaching in New Jersey, and I don't have the heart to ask Hopper to stay home with Boo after she's in bed so I can get free ice cream without him.

Although today that would have been slightly more legit since he's on break this week and totally had an opportunity to get free ice cream any time between store opening and whenever he started making dinner. And he forgot to go.

So no free ice cream for me except for the ancient ice cream bar I found in the Temple freezer that was left over from a party two months ago and clearly melted and refroze at least once.

I enjoyed it.

Here's my best Free Cone Day story.

It was about 1999 and some friends from work and I decided to head down to the Times Square Ben & Jerry's to pick up our free cones. The line was long, as you would expect on Free Cone Day in Midtown at lunch time, but it was really well organized--workers were handing out flavor lists all along the line so everyone could decide what they wanted before getting into the store. The line moved quickly, but it was long enough that you didn't really want to stand on it twice.

When I got into the store, I saw my cousin, whom I hadn't seen in years. I had heard he was working there and that he was living near my brother in Brooklyn, but it was still really cool to see him. His family and mine hadn't been close in a long time, but when I was a kid he used to come by sometimes and he was always fun to be around. And I knew that he always made a point of being in touch with my Nana, and that meant a lot to me.

He saw me and I introduced myself and then he recognized me. He was crazy busy managing the store, but he grabbed me and asked me what I wanted and while he scooped my cone he asked me how life was going. I gave him the quick update, and then he told me that he and his wife were waiting for a baby girl from China. Seriously awesome news, especially since I was planning on moving in with my brother soon, which meant we'd be neighbors and I'd have a baby to play with!

It was a conversation that would change my life, and I didn't even know it. They did adopt the baby from China, and she's an awesome teenager now who I'm proud to be related to. But a few years later I got married, and when Hopper and I decided to adopt, we went to my cousin for advice. Because of his advice to attend an adoption conference, we discovered our agency.

I can't draw a straight line from an ice cream cone to Boo, but there's a distinctive knotty string that gets from point A to point B.

I owe it all to Ben and Jerry. Thanks, guys!

PS: Free Cone Day is my favorite Humanist holiday. What could possibly bring people together in a spirit of friendship better than free ice cream?

Monday, April 8, 2013


I took Wonderdog on a nice, long walk with Hopper today AND I played in the park (frisbee and soccer) with Boo today.

And this is my second blog post.

Take THAT, resolutions!

Also--beautiful spring day today. Huzzah!

Yom Hashoah (Contains swear words. Unusual for me, but there it is.)

You may remember that a few weeks ago I was wondering about the wisdom of the Passover story. Is it right to teach our children that we are separate and chosen?

Well, today is Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Rememberance Day), and that brings on a whole different way of thinking. We observed the holiday yesterday at Religious School, and when you say the Sh'ma right after thinking about death camps, it turns into one big "Fuck you, Nazis!"

It feels good.

Really good.

The only other time I felt like that was the first service I went to after 9/11. I was living in Brooklyn at the time and teaching in Manhattan, so in addition to my own experience of the city I lived in being attacked, I had students' reactions to deal with.

I was teaching Religious School at the time in a small congregation in Park Slope. Our first day of school was supposed to be September 12th. When I arrived at the church where we rented space, there was a police officer at the door. I had to identify myself before being let into the church. The idea that my congregation could be in danger--that we didn't know if it was over yet--was a new anxiety to add to the pile.

I remember sitting in a circle outside in the churchyard. It must have been the Saturday following 9/11. When we said the Sh'ma, it felt wonderful. I was still alive, still Jewish, and not going to shut up.

Have I mentioned that it feels good?

But really, what's the better way to stop genocide? Teaching about the Holocaust hasn't stopped it. Sure, the Jews have been more or less OK since then, in most places, but in this list of the top 5 genocides in history, two happened after the Holocaust, and that's not even counting the more recent genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur. Genocide continues to this day. So is it better to keep teaching our kids to be proud that we are still here? Or is it better to teach kids that all people are entitled to equal rights? That everyone should be free and have access to food, clean water and an opportunity to find meaningful work?

People say that not raising our kids Jewish will allow Hitler a posthumous victory, but I wonder who is kicking Hitler's philosophies harder: people like me, who raise their kids to practice Judaism, or people like my brother, who married an Asian woman and had mixed-race children who aren't being raised with any religion? Or maybe it's my dad, who has blond hair and blue eyes and grew up Christian, but converted to Judaism so that he could marry a brown-eyed brunette with bad vision and crooked teeth. (Take that, eugenics!)

And I won't even start on what Hitler would have made of international adoption.

To be clear, I'm not for a second suggesting that we shouldn't teach about the Holocaust. We should remember it, and the other genocides, too. We should make Turkey acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. High school kids should learn about the banality of evil and we should all stand against genocide.

But I wonder to what extent genocide is a side-effect of tribalism. If we could somehow come to believe that we are all humans and that divisions are artificial, how could genocide exist? There has to be a "them" to extinguish in order for someone to commit genocide. If we were all "us," what then?

Okay, that's not going to happen until the alien overlords arrive. But I still have to decide what to teach my kid.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


We finished watching The Guild (have you watched it yet? You should.) and we found out that Season 5 of Eureka is now on Netflix!

Evil Wil Wheaton is evil. And so much fun! And Dr. Parrish rocks ugly sweaters, which lets us all reminisce about Wesley, so life is good. Also Colin Fergison and Neil Grayston and Niall Matter (so easy on the eyes.) Plus Eureka is just awesome. Oh! And Felicia Day! Everything is better with Felicia Day.

And Wil Wheaton says Eureka's technobabble is better than Star Trek's, so...

And in season 5 everything's gone all Matrix so anything is possible.


But I have to go now. My cousin just posted this on Facebook and I MUST WATCH. Go on. Click the link. You know you want to.

Hiking with Wonderdog!

I've just been checking out Frogman's website and I've decided my page will be more successful if I include more pictures of Wonderdog. And so, without further ado, here are some pictures from our hike last week:

King of the mountain!


Why are we stopping? I don't like stopping.

We had to portage him over some of the streams. 
That's not Wonderdog--that's a bear!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Conversations With Cat and Wonderdog

Cat: Hi.

Me: Hi, Cat!

Cat: Whatcha doin'?

Me: I'm framing Wonderdog's awards. It's kind of tricky work because if I don't do it exactly right the certificate won't fit in the frame, so I'm being VERY CAREFUL.

Cat: I'll help by walking on them!

Me: Aaaaaaaaargh!


Me: Look, Wonderdog! I'm hanging up our award certificates that we got because you're such a smart dog!

Wonderdog: I like to be around when you do stuff.

Me: See, first I hold up the frame to see where I want to put the nail.

Me: Then I hold up the nail and hammer it in.

Wonderdog: Alert! Alert! I hear knocking! Someone's at the door! Guard dog on the case! Alert!

Me: SUCH a smart dog. [sigh]


Cat: Whatcha doing now?

Me: I'm knitting.

Cat: How 'bout I sit on your face?

Me: Murmur murmur can't see.

Cat: No good? I'll sit on your shoulder!

Me: What are you, a parrot?

Cat: Purrrrrrr.....

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tired blogger is tired.

I took Boo and her friend to the Bronx Zoo today, and it was awesome. Chalk up another active day with Boo!

I'd like to wax nostalgic about my relationship with the Bronx Zoo and zoos in general (I've been to zoos all over America and also Toronto, London, Paris, Barcelona and Moscow) but all that fresh air and walking...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

So sorry, no ranty rants for you. (Opinionated blogger is opinionated, and also sleepy.) But tomorrow night I'm going to see Antigone so hopefully I'll have something intelligent to say when I get back.

G'night, interwebz!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The best way

Hopper went out tonight, so I couldn't watch The Guild. As I often do when Hopper goes out and I'm spending an evening alone (since Boo is in bed,) I went on YouTube and entered "Dan Savage." I found this conversation about adoption, which is excellent if you've got an hour to kill and want to learn about adoption.

Many things they talked about were familiar to me, but what inspired me to write tonight is the notion they mentioned that many people assume adoption is "second best" or "a last resort."

It's not.

Oh, sure, there are many, many people who come to adoption because they have tried every possible treatment for infertility and it didn't work. I'm not denying that.

But if you were to ask around (and you shouldn't--it's none of your business) you'd find a surprising number of people who, like me and Hopper, just wanted to adopt.

We wanted to adopt for many reasons. Personally, I could never understand why anyone would endure infertility treatments. I understand more now, but when I first learned about the idea, I was somewhere between twelve and fourteen and watching a story unfold on a soap opera. A couple was trying everything to conceive, and it made no sense to me. I simply couldn't understand why, with so many children in the world, anyone would go to extremes to get pregnant. I decided then and there that I never would.

And then in college and during my twenties, I started to think about the state of the world, and the number of people on this planet, and I wondered why I should ever want to bring another person into it.  (I'm going to leave my personal feelings about pregnancy out of this, because that's enough for another post, or maybe a book.) I simply don't understand why a biological child would be preferable to any other child--why anyone would think of adoption as "second best."

Of course I'm able to reason out why people would feel that way, but it doesn't resonate with me. To me, what makes a family is love and a shared story. If those things aren't there, then it doesn't matter how many genes you have in common--you're not really family. And if they are there, you're family forever, genes or no genes. I didn't figure out that my Uncle Phil wasn't actually a relative until I was about nine or ten, and then later on, I realized that he's more a relative to me than some of my biological relatives are, which is why my parents told me to call him "Uncle" in the first place.

I guess that's why I have so much faith in my marriage--Hopper and Boo and I are a family, so divorce isn't really an option for us, any more than I could divorce my brother. Yes, there are circumstances under which I'd throw my brother out of my life, but they are few and kind of hard to imagine. So the same goes for Hopper. Whatever happens to challenge our marriage, we'll just have to work it out. Unless he starts beating me up or something, he's stuck with me.

It's also why I don't really understand people who search for their birthparents relentlessly. I understand the basic impulse--to find out more about oneself, one's history, or a medical problem. And I love meeting family members I never knew before. A couple of years ago we were reunited with a branch of the family I had never met before. It turned out I had a cousin who lives about a mile from us who has two internationally adopted children about Boo's age. That was really cool, and I enjoy getting to know that branch of my family. If an adult adoptee finds her birth family and makes a connection like that, great! More people to love is always awesome. But I don't understand the need to search for people who don't want to be found. In my book, people who don't want me around just don't matter. [Update: 4/4/13 I am specifically referring here to birth families who don't want to be found or who reject the biological relative once contacted. I do not mean to suggest that birthmothers relinquish their children because they don't want them around. Placing your child for adoption when you cannot care for him or her is possibly the most loving act a parent can perform, and I would never want to belittle that or make adoptees feel like they were rejected at birth.]

All of this is really opinionated, and I want to make clear that I'm not judging other people's decisions and life choices. I'm just giving my perspective, and talking about what resonates with me and what doesn't. I have empathy for someone who wants to conceive and can't, or wants to make a connection with a birth family and can't, or feels the need to divorce. Putting myself in their shoes, I can understand what they feel and why they make the choices they do. I've had dear friends in all three of these situations and I support the decisions they've made because those are their decisions. But they're not the decisions I would make, and in this post, I'm only trying to talk about me and my feelings.

To me, adoption isn't second best. It's just another way to make a family. There are lots of ways to make families, and they're all good. (Well, you know--the legal ones. I'm not advocating kidnapping or rape or incest or whatever other horrible ways there are that families come to be.) For us, international adoption was the right way. I always tell Boo, "You're the best kid in the world. We know--we checked." And it's true. She's the best kid in the world for us. Our family just wouldn't be the same if we had come together any other way. For us, adoption wasn't second best, it was (and is) just right.

So please don't feel sorry for adoptive families you may know. And if you are an adoptive parent, make sure you express to your child that your family is just right the way it is, no matter what you thought would be the way you'd make your family when you started. Looking back, could you really imagine it any other way? Adoption isn't better or worse, it's just different. And different is cool.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Guild

I was going to write a grouchy post but then I watched The Guild and it's just the awesomest thing in the history of awesome so I'm not grouchy anymore.

If you haven't watched The Guild, you should. It's kind of a web-based soap opera about gamers, produced by Felicia Day (who is full of awesome sauce) and it's a lot of fun. Wil Wheaton is in it, starting in Season 3 and he's totally evil in the most delightful way. How could the show that produced this be anything but enjoyable?

We only have one season left to watch on Netflix and then we will have to watch Season 6 (the current season) on Geek & Sundry or wait until it comes out on Netflix. I believe Season 6 is the end of the show. But it's totally worth it.

Go now!