Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On Family

The day my father called to tell me my mom had cancer, I hung up the phone, turned to my husband and said, “Well, that's the end of my family.” I said it, but I didn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it, though I knew it was true my mom was the glue that bonded us to each other. I'd been an integral part of a family for 45 years. I was the baby, the last born of three, and my mom raised us all with the philosophy that friends come and go, but family is forever. And I believed her, in fact, adopted the ideal as real.

After I moved from my parents' home I came back for every holiday, talked to my mom several times a week, called and sent gifts for special occasions. It never struck me as odd that when I called home and my father answered he'd simply hand the phone to my mother. It nicked my feelings when I gave gifts to my sisters three kids for every birthday, holiday and achievement, and they never even said “Thanks,” but my mom assured me, “kids are like that these days.” Behavior I'd never accept from a friend became acceptable because my sister's kids were 'family.'

During the last bit of my mother's illness our family spent even more time together. We gathered at my parents' home, the one we were all born and raised in, sat at the kitchen table and talked in hushed voices, my mom slowly dying in the bedroom down the hall. I spent hours, cross-legged on her bed talking with her, but when she died we were unable to resolve the lifetime of discord between us.

There was, and still is no doubt my mom loved me, deeply, profoundly, passionately. She showed it, consistently calling me to stay connected. And even though our talks frequently devolved to arguing about how she felt I should be living, she never abandoned me, exited my life despite how harsh it was between us so much of the time. 'Friends come and go but family is forever.'

Ten years after my mom's death, I have no relationship with my father. He does not call, doesn't return my calls when I call him. He does not know his grandchildren anymore, has not seen them in seven years, doesn't call them, acknowledge their birthdays, has no clue how old they are, or how proud he should be of my great kids. It didn't resonate as strange that my mom always signed both their names with every card and gift she sent her 'grandbabies.' It was the woman's role, after all, to take care of such things in the world I grew up in.

My sister stopped talking to my family five years ago. Though my kids had established what we all felt was a loving relationship with their aunt since birth, about two years after my mom's passing my sister informed us in an email that it was too much of a bother to maintain any relationship with her niece and nephew. She, too, has not sent them a card or called them since. She refuses to talk to any of us since my DH sent her a three sentence email asking her to please send our daughter her birthday card on her birthday instead of three months later with the card she sent for our son's birthday. Oh, and he asked her to please spell her niece's name correctly on the cards. My sister felt this was too much to ask of her, and exited our lives, an action she never would have taken when our mom was alive.

For the first couple years after my mom died, I called and emailed my father regularly. If I got him on the phone, which was rare, I made sure to have my kids talk with him. Per my mother's teaching, I thought it important my children maintain a relationship with their grandfather. I called him. He never called me. A month or more before my kids birthdays I'd remind him in weekly voicemails and emails to make sure he'd acknowledge their special day's. When I forgot to remind him (for the fifth time) a few days before his granddaughter's 7th birthday, he sent nothing. And it's been that way since.

Ever look at your life and think, “this can't be mine”? I had a family once, for almost 50 years they were woven into my life's story. My kids had family beyond their parents. Their grandmother, even their aunt (until my mom died) graced them with that profound measure of security the actions of love provide. They believed in their grandfather's love as well, simply by association, since his actions were always rather lacking.

Both my kids claim it doesn't bother them their aunt and their grandfather have checked out of their lives. They graciously remind me that they have their father's mom, and his sister, their other aunt. But they live back east and we haven't spent near the amount of time as a family as we did with mine when my mom was alive and just a few hours from the Bay. I find it impossible to believe being abandoned by my family as they have been doesn't nick them internally a bit. My son, and now even my daughter will not give my sister the honored moniker 'Aunt.' The rare occasion she's mentioned, they refer to her only by her given name, on par with some transient friend they once knew.

I no longer have the foundation of my family I thought I once did. I see now that 'family is forever' was my mother's wish, not reality. Her desire to retain the family connection she lacked in her own home growing up was so raw, and our love for her so powerful that while she was alive we all honored her need. This year, for the first time in my life I didn't sent my dad a Father's Day card, nor called him to acknowledge the day. I'm just so tired of pretending his abhorrent behavior is acceptable. Thing is, I can't stop wondering what I did so wrong that my father and sister would abandon my family as they've done. Both fervent Republicans and religious zealots, they clearly feel we have nothing to say to each other anymore. Maybe we never did, and I just didn't notice, languishing under the security blanket of perceived love, the spillover of actualized love my mother extended so freely.

Ten years later I still mourn the loss of my mom, virtually daily. I'm also grieving the loss of my family. But unlike losing a loved one to death where the sting of loss lessens with time—every birthday, occasion and achievement that passes without my remaining families acknowledgment fuels my internal rage, and taints these events with a deep and abiding sadness. And I'm truly lost what to do about that. As long as they're alive, I don't know how to let them go.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Great Divide

I'm a guy's girl, meaning I've spent most of my life hanging out with men instead of women. Like the freight train comin at ya, I prefer men's straightforward nature, their directness, their unwavering, solution-oriented trajectory. Men are simpler than women. Not less intelligent, just not round-about, underneath, from behind.
Women, by contrast, are the poison in your food. Eons of subjugation have forced us to become puppet-masters to get what we want. Not a judgment call, simply a fact that until very recently might was right, and men assumed they controlled the household with superior strength—at first to kill the mastodon and be the provider of food, and in the modern world, until recently, be the supplier of money. Back as late as the 1990s, women were still, and believe it or not still are, the primary homemakers, caring for the kids, shopping for and preparing the meals...etc.
Notice I said, “men assumed they controlled the household.” Well, you know what happens when you ass (of) u (and) me...; }
Seriously though, probably pretty early on, like cavemen times, women figured out how to get men to do what we want using our wiles—wits. Genetic transfer of memory over thousands of generations of women passing on how to be manipulative eventually became woven into the DNA and imprinted on our XX chromosomes.
Regardless of why women became...complex, the fact that we are scares me about us. Women don't only manipulate men. Quite often our children, sometimes even our friends. I'd much rather face a freight train because if I'm paying attention I can get off the tracks before getting slammed. This also plays to why I'm a guy's girl, why most of my friends have been men.
I knew I wanted kids for as long as I can remember. Two boys, I'd told any possible stakeholders, because boys are easier to raise. I now have two kids—a boy, 15, and a 12 year old girl, both of whom I'm madly in love with. Beyond proud, I'm humbled to know them. True to their 'nature,' my son is very direct with his feelings, practically the instant he feels something. He rarely lies, probably because he sucks at it, his facial expressions to the pause in his delivery clear indicators he's not telling the truth or copping to. He's a consummate whiner, but he respects the family rules and parental restrictions. My son is trustable, for which I'm eternally grateful. My daughter, on the other hand, listens carefully, expresses just the right amount of contrition and understanding with every lecture, then does whatever she wants, whenever she wants if she can get away with it.
Went to kiss her goodnight a few nights ago and she was underneath her blanket watching Manga comics videos on her cellphone. She'd been viewing nightly since we took away her Kindle two weeks ago for watching videos on it instead of reading. Reading is all she's allowed to do on the tablet, per our agreement when she got it for her birthday. (It's not too much to expect a 12½ year old to honor such an agreement when she gets plenty of electronics time on the weekends.)
While my son barely notices his reflection, my daughter spends hours in front of the mirror, preening. For eons a huge part of a woman's value was/is defined by our physicality, so it's natural, part of our nature now that our looks are important to us, or at the very least, more important to us than most men. My son likes violent movies. My daughter does not. She is deeply affected when families split up, or a parent or child dies in films and even books. Maternal instincts—reproducing and then caring for our offspring is genetically encoded in our DNA. In fact, her reaction is not uncommon. Violent movies and video games are targeted at men because they are by far the predominant audience to watch or log onto them.
Times truly are changing, though. Want a mastodon? Buy one on Amazon. Most educated women who pursue a career path can pay their own way through life now, even if we still typically make less then men. Most of us don't need a man's support to survive, or even thrive. Technology, from the Pill to the pc has made it possible for women to control our own destinies, and function equally along side men in most of today's business environments.
Sociological shifts in behavior are glacial, and true sexual equality is probably still a few generations in coming. Perhaps our great grandchildren will share equal incomes, and split the household tasks of rearing the children to doing the dishes equitably as well. From the dawn of man to present day the divide in humanity is not our race, religious orientation, education or income level. Our greatest division has been between men and women. I'm humbled to bear witness to a quantum shift in our evolution, that, first time in our history, technology is providing us the ability to become an egalitarian race, and close that great divide.

I love you, honey. Thanks for riding the crest of this wave of change, and truly becoming my partner through life.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer Viewing 4 Kids

Hello my beautiful kids,
Below you'll find a list of links for your viewing pleasure! 
1. EVERYDAY pick either 1 (one) video, half hour or longer, or, a combination of short clips within the same subject that equal half hour or more.
2. View video/s.
3. WRITE a paragraph to a page summary about the video you viewed. (Spelling and grammar errors: Every word spelled wrong you will list in a separate document, and the end of the week you'll be tested on the misspelled words. A score of 100% is mandatory. The test will be retaken until all words are spelled correctly. Grammatical errors must be corrected, regardless of how much of the summary needs to be rewritten.)

A. MONDAY MORNING start a file titled: SUMMER VIDEOS on your desktop.
B. Put the summaries you write in Open Office for each video viewed in SUMMER VIDEOS file.

1. NAME OF VIDEO in title or subtitle.
3. Why you chose to view this particular video (or several videos within a single subject)?
4. Did you like it? Why? or Why Not?
(This 1-4 list must be above the summary paragraph for each video viewed.)

VIDEO LIST (ONLY CLICK ON VIDEO LINKS as there are a huge amount of ads on these sites. NEVER PRESS ANY DOWNLOAD BUTTONS. EVER! All videos should be viewed through your browser window, i.e. the internet. Do NOT download them to your computer!):


SHORT CLIPS--Select several videos in any one section to total at least half hour worth of viewing: http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/videos.html


Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Folly of Perception

I’ve been on the outside looking in since I was a little kid. Failing to assimilate, I worked at cultivating unique and different. After achieving this coveted perception, I no longer wish to possess it.

Unique often translates into strange. And as the mother of a 10 and an 8 year old, I do not want to be perceived as strange or different. I want to blend like homogenized milk and give my kids the platform to fit in, be a part of. What I don’t want is for either of my children to be, “that kid with the weird mom,” though I fear I may already be there.

My kids still hold my hand, and not just in parking lots or crossing the street. They both still love to snuggle. I am their first choice to talk to, confide in, way beyond even their dad, which makes me feel valued, respected and deeply humbled all at the same time. I realize this level of intimacy probably won’t [and perhaps shouldn't] last as they grow and find their own path, but I don’t want my kids to ever be ashamed of me. I want to be proud of them. I want them to be proud of me.

I try to fit in. I go to the soccer games and the ballet classes and I wait around with the other parents and try to blend. But I don’t. And I get that they notice I don’t. I look different. I’m one of the oldest among them, by a good margin. My kids came late, after six pregnancy loses. I dress for comfort so most everything I have is rather loose. I don’t wear make-up. My hair is long and fine and all over the place. It refuses to stay pulled back in the scrunchy. I never quite look ‘put together.’

But looks aren’t the only thing that separates me.

Through the years I’ve come to realize that I don’t think like most people, and the glass wall between me and most of humanity is not just me being paranoid. There is a casualness the parents seem to have with one another as they discuss their kids, or some celebrity or popular new show. I stand there and nod my head when it seems appropriate, but I don’t watch much TV, and really don’t care that Kyle is playing basketball now which conflicts with his sister’s dance schedule.

I’ve tried engaging more personally, ask about jobs, interests outside of family, broached news and current events, but taking a position and endeavoring to discuss it has mostly been met with nods and polite blank stares (like I so often wear). Everyone is careful with their words—politically correct and upbeat. I’m neither, and over the years I've learned shutting up avoids discord. The conversations usually segue back to their kids and related activities around family, school, church, and I invariably check out of the exchange and focus on the event at hand and cheering on my children.

The game or recital ends but everyone stays and continues talking. I’m on the outside again, feels like I’m lurking while I linger to give my kids time to play. I stand there watching them all integrate, proud of my children for choosing to, and of myself for giving them the opportunity when I’d rather just leave. I watch the parents gaily chat and wish I fit in like that. The folly of unique and different is it’s really quite lonely.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Proud to be Fat

#Litchat hosted an author on Twitter who'd written a book on accepting herself for being fat.

And I had a problem with that.

Annoyed with the conversation—the politically correct yet ignorant people stroking the author's ego with praise, I joined in the dialog.

I tweeted, “As a society, we need to stop making excuses for poor diet and giving into every whim. Self-discipline is key, not self-acceptance.”

The author tweeted back, “I can't help being fat.”

The following 5 tweets were from the politically correct folks slamming me for being rude to the author.

My next tweet to the author: “Are you one of the less than 2% with a thyroid problem or other medical condition to account for being overweight?”

The author didn't respond, but the PC tweeters did: “Why so intolerant and provoking to the guest host, @jcafesin?” This was retweeted at least 5 times.

While it's politically correct to have 'tolerance,' for fat people, it serves only the PC tweeters, helps them look kindly at themselves in the mirror, assure themselves that they are a good person. But are they? Promoting acceptance of bad/destructive behavior led to Nazi Germany, among other global and local atrocities.

We all know the facts on obesity. If you don't, here's just a few from the CDC: 
● Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
● The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
● 70% of obese youth have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
● Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes.
● Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems.
● Obese children are likely to be obese as adults.
● Increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

While the PC tweeters strive to appear tolerant, they are, in fact, promoting bad behavior by accepting the authors premise that being fat is just dandy. Accepting obesity inadvertently teaches our children that there's nothing wrong with being fat. But this is a lie. Promoting self-acceptance of obesity, instead of teaching self-discipline, allows our kids to continue making poor eating choice, thus damning them to a host of health problems throughout their lives.

The PC tweeters praising the author's book, her position, then defending it against me was beyond ignorant, it was selfish. Another book on a positive self-image for being overweight we clearly do not need. Google returned 14,500,000 results for 'Books on Proud to be Fat.' Proud to be Fat is a powerful, though misguided movement, spawned by either overweight or politically correct people looking to feel good about themselves whatever they do, or are.

The Litchat guest author of the Proud to be Fat book copped an attitude that I was evil with my first comment. Conversely, had I had the support of other tweeters, my remarks could have been construed as refreshing, enlightening, rather freeing. Contrary to her tweet, it IS her fault she is fat, assuming she is disease free. My comments, and subsequent healthy suggestions empowered her with the knowledge she could in fact change, get fit.

Social media is filled with PC tweeters, Facebook updaters, bloggers...etc., that tow the politically correct line, generally serving themselves and no one else. The internet is an incredibly powerful communication tool. For the first time in history it's providing us a method to individually reach the masses, in which we can effectively help each other be better, smarter, healthier, reach our creative and compassionate potential. But we have to be willing to go out on a limb, stand alone among the hordes of self-serving ignorant and promote the truth.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Playground of Denial

My son is a freshman at California High School. He is currently enrolled in an online Algebra 2 course with BYU, which he is acing, achieving between 95 to 100% on his section tests.

Yesterday he went into his counseling office at school to drop off an application for final testing required by the state to prove he has achieved proficiency in Algebra 2. He handed the application to a counselor, who, unsolicited, informed him he would likely fail the Pre-Calculus class at Cal High he would be taking in 10th grade. She then assured him “most every student who takes the online Algebra 2 class fails Pre-Calc.”

He told me about this encounter when I picked him up after school. He was upset by her offhanded comments predicting his failure, especially since he's spending several hours a day, including the weekends online, working through the Algebra 2 class the school recommended, which will allow him to advance to the Pre-Calc class in the fall.

I emailed the school counseling center administrator with the following: “That this school counselor would confront my son with this messaging is beyond a poor choice on her part. It scared my son, entered doubt, and set him up to fail. Shame on her! Additionally, any school counselor with this kind of messaging should NOT be counseling students.”

Her response: “I know that [our counselors] would not tell a student that they would fail to pass the Algebra test. If he misunderstood her message, I am sorry.”

In the 12 years I have been dealing with the California public school system, no teacher or admin has EVER admitted to making any mistakes, has NEVER apologized for poor instruction or judgment, or their all too often lack of follow through.

Cal High has a 34% college readiness score, according to US News and World Report, which does a comprehensive study annually of US high schools. Cal High is failing, badly, clearly. My son, however, is a straight A student, and has been since 4th grade. He takes his studies seriously, obviously, and has earned trust, unlike Cal High.

I've blogged about problems with the public school system many times, and in particular this issue of denying personal responsibility, as every teacher and admin I've encountered has. The counseling admin at Cal High blindly defended her staff instead of, at least, looking into my son's allegation. Shame on her! Her school is failing to achieve even the minimal standards of advancing their students to college, yet, my son 'misunderstood' the ignorant counselor who did nothing wrong, according to her.

At the Parent Night last week, this admin stood in front of over 500 parents and told us that we should try and get our kids to at least achieve a D- in their classes because that way they get credit for the class. Again, shame on her!! What she should have said is if your student is getting a D in a class they should take it again, and again, until their grade is a C or better. But of course, that doesn't serve her, or the school. And since there is no accountability for teachers or admins success, they push for high school kids to get out in four years, educated, or not, isn't their issue. Too bad if these kids can't compete in the global economy because they don't understand the basics of math or science or how to write a paper, and therefore can't get into, or fail out of college. Not their problem. They still get their annal pay increases and their bloated pensions for working part time with summers and so many holidays, both federal and 'teacher work days' off.

The systemic problem with public education is NOT budget issues or lack of funding. Our public school system is in crisis, putting out kids that can't get into college and subsequently can't get jobs competing against foreign nationals who have the education and chops to do the work required in the real world. But the public school system isn't the real world. It's a protected haven, a monolithic autonomous monstrosity of teachers and administrators acting like bratty children on the playground of denial without adult supervision to hold them accountable for their behavior.

The only way to change this sovereign behemoth is to demand results from your kids schools. Demand teachers test frequently on material, a practice that's becoming non-existent, furthering the school systems lack of accountability. My daughter has had two tests in her 6th grade science class since the start of school in September of last year. And both were open book, which is also becoming common. With no real testing, there is no way parents can monitor student progress. Demand teachers test from memory frequently, and demand administrators hold them accountable for educating their students.

Bending over and writing checks, and voting for more and more funding through property taxes will not change our corrupted public school system. Parents and voters have a choice—Accept the status quo and expect their kids to be living at home well into their adult years while they apply for jobs that are given to more qualified candidates from private and off-shore schools, or go beyond just blindly funding them and get involved by demanding accountability and changes from our K-12 public education system. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pursuing the Creative Muse

How do you get good at anything?

How do you get great?
Obsession—Practice most all the time.

Pick any famous author, artist, musician, and they'll all have obsession in common. And while we, the public, enjoy the fruits of their creative labor, those closest to these individuals were/are generally left wanting.

Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, “was an indifferent and often inattentive father and husband.”

Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame, “worked 12 hours a day seven days a week, [and] his wife, Carol, tended to their daughters, Jodi and Anne.”

Adrienne Armstrong, wife of Billy Joe Armstrong of Greenday said of her husband after the release of the album American Idiot, “I think it challenged us to a new level, pushed us pretty far, the farthest I ever want to go.”

The creatives above are all men. All married and all had/have children.

Now lets explore a few famous women.

The romance novelist Jane Austen never married. She was, in fact, 'relieved in later life to have avoided the pitfalls of married life, not least the huge risks of childbirth, “all the business of Mothering.”' 

Georgia O'Keeffe, the surrealist artist “wanted to have children but agreed with him [her husband, Alfred Steiglitz] that motherhood was incompatible with her art. She needed to focus all of her attention on her painting.”

Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul has never married, “the very idea of what it means to be a wife and the responsibility and sacrifice that carries — I wouldn't have held that very well." And she never had children. “If I had kids, my kids would hate me. They would have ended up on the equivalent of the "Oprah" show talking about me; because something [in my life] would have had to suffer and it would've probably been them."

Ms. Winfrey had the guts to address the unvarnished, unspoken truth when she referred to the “responsibility and sacrifice,” in being a partner and parent. The investment of time, physical and psychic energy it takes to keep a marriage vital, and the even greater demands of being a conscientious parent, interferes, and often waylays the creative process.

Men have historically been the breadwinners in the family environment. And while this trend is slowly changing, the fact is women who seek personal excellence, especially in the arts, often have to choose between pursuing greatness and being, at least, an available partner and parent. Even today, men rarely have to make this choice. Regardless of this disparity, anyone, man or woman, obsessed with becoming great [at anything] should recognize the 'sacrifice' and costs to pursuing brilliance.

As a wife, mother, and a writer, my creative muse is constantly vying for prominence over the needs of my husband and especially my children. When my kids were babies, the creative process encountered fewer distractions. I could stay rapt in story, run dialog in my head while changing diapers or pushing them on the swing at the park. Small kids, small problems. Big kids, big issues. Now the parent to a tween and teen, my siren is often overwhelmed by the very real traumas and trials of adulthood my children face every day. To help them navigate these tumultuous times, I question, probe, even invade their space to stay connected, be there for them as a sounding board, a trusted confidant to lean on, to envelope them in a hug and hold them when they're falling.

I chose to marry, to have kids. And while I willingly choose to be present, available for my family, forfeiting the relentless pursuit of my creativity is a battle I engage in daily. Much of my fiction focuses on this internal war, as in my novel Reverb, through James Whren's obsession with his music, the cost to the lives he touched and the price he eventually paid absorbed in making it with his muse. My recent novel, Disconnected, explores the propaganda of the 1960s still being sold today, as Rachel struggles with the reality that we can't 'have it all,' be everything we want to be, and still be there for our kids and family.

We glorify the brilliant author, the renown artist, successes in business, often secretly wish to be one of the famous. But to become great at anything means obsessively working at the job or craft, honing a skill set with relentless practice, which is the fundamental reason why genius is so rarely achieved. The price those who solely engage with their creative muse must pay is actualizing a full and balanced life.