The Power of Love

My son’s guitar teacher was freaking out the other day over the impending arrival of his first child. Beyond a healthy birth, he was consumed with anxiety over the care and feeding of an infant, all the way up through guiding his teen. So I told him the secret of parenting, what makes the sacrifice not only tolerable but wildly enjoyable, and he calmed, and smiled, allowed excitement to peek through.

It’s never talked about—that intense, profoundly magnificent feeling a parent gets the moment their child is born, and forever forward. It’s expected we love our kids, and therefore taken for granted, which is a shame, because the intensity of that feeling is so spectacular and unique.

I’d listen to my contemporaries talk about their children before I had kids. They spoke of the long nights with crying, colic infants, “the terrible two’s,” “the f***ing four’s,” surviving the teen years. Sometimes they’d comment their Kylie had made the honor role, or that Jordan had just got first chair for his violin, and their entire countenance would light up. But those moments were rare compared to the complaints.

Like most women, I simply assumed I’d have children. I planned to have two kids in my early to mid-30s after I’d established my career and proven my own greatness. But it wasn’t until I was almost 40 that I became pregnant with my son, my first baby to survive after six miscarriages.

Nine and a half months of pregnancy, connected to the infant growing inside, and everyday was fraught with wonder, and fear. Five days of labor, and the moment I held my son for the first time, minutes after delivery, his tiny warm body on mine, a tsunami of humbling awe so overwhelmingly powerful swept through me it literally took my breath away. And as I kissed his downy head, his hands, each finger, I realized the joyful contentment, the sense of energized completeness, that electric connection I felt to him, for him— was love.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the intensity of love that could be attained until having children. I’ve been lucky and had loving parents, a few dear friends, the love I now feel for my husband, passionate and true. But it doesn’t touch the intensity of the love I feel for my kids. Virtually every time I am with my children, snuggle with them, kiss them goodnight, or just see them across a room, I feel that all encompassing love fill me up and consume me with tenderness, compassion and humility. Now 9 and 7, and they still takes my breath away. Everyday.

People who never have children, or don’t devote their life to raising them— as with adoption— will never know this level of love. In their lifetime, they will never understand the feeling that we call ‘love’ can be this intense. I’ve heard many of my contemporaries say with conviction that they’ve never wanted, and will never have kids, with rationalizations like “I’m just selfish, I guess.” But the truth is they’re only robbing themselves.

Life’s greatest gift is our ability to feel. We all experience pain and sorrow, happiness and joy to varying degrees. The unspoken gift of parenting is getting to feel the fulfillment and richness of that intense love integrated into every aspect of our lives, motivating us to be positive examples, and challenging us to consider others, and the future beyond ourselves.

The price of living with this intensity of love is the amorphic fear of losing it, which is why parents worry so much. Through the tantrums and the tears, the joy and the fears in sharing life with kids, the ultimate reward in parenting is the privilege of loving our children.

LOVE Defined

My sister is dead, I told the bank manager.

But she isn’t.

She lives in Washington with her husband, having moved from L.A. where we were both born and raised.

The bank manager expressed his condolences and accepted the paperwork from our lawyer to remove her name from our Trust. My sister was to be replaced as the potential guardian of our children should my husband and I die before they’re of legal age to take care of themselves.

I told him she was dead to remove her from my psyche, distance myself from loving her. Five years ago, she told my DH she didn’t want any contact with him, me, or our kids, her then 8 and 5 yr old niece and nephew, in a response to an email my husband sent her.

She’d missed our daughter’s birthday again. Three months later, she sent her a present with the one she sent for our son’s birthday, and spelled her name wrong on the card. This wasn’t the first time her actions, or lack thereof hurt our kids. She’d disappointed them many times, missing birthdays and special events with a quick message left on our answering machine she couldn’t make it after promising to come. Many times she insisted I tell my kids she wasn’t coming after informing me on the day she was supposed to arrive.

Her sins were many, and mounted with the years without apology. My husband got tired of it, emailed her five sentences politely informing her the spelling of our daughter’s name, and requested if she was going to send them birthday gifts to please do it on or around their respective birthdays.

My sister decided he was asking too much and emailed back that “though I am deeply in love with your kids, and it breaks my heart to do so,” she was withdrawing from their lives entirely. She informed my husband she would prefer no contact at all, with any of us, though she’d established what my children believed was a fairly close connection, email exchanges with my son, calling every few months to touch base with both kids.

She has, in fact, exited our lives almost completely. She sends the kids birthday cards when it strikes her fancy—two weeks late to our daughter last year, but managed to get a card to our son within days of his, professing her deep affection and love for him. It took all my will not to shed the card in a million tiny pieces, her sentiment to him for her self-image alone.

Love is an ACTION, what we do, not some abstract in our heads, my DH and I teach our kids. “Don’t profess love in words without taking actions to show it,” we parent. “And don’t accept words of love without seeing the actions that actualize their sentiment.”

Choosing to terminate her relationship with my kids deeply hurt our son. Our kids relationship with my sister was important to them because the few extended family we have left are not close by. My mom died when our oldest was just 5, so she never really got to know our kids. She did love them though. Deeply. Profoundly. And they got that. How did they know?

  • She came to visit often.
  • She called them on the phone every couple days.
  • She mailed them presents on time, and called to sing Happy Birthday on their special days.
  • She spelled their names right.
  • She stayed abreast of their lives through me, my DH, and through the kids, consistently showed interest in their interests and feelings, and shared her world with them.

My mother often extolled how much she loved the kids, to me, to them, to anyone who’d listen, but she also showed it, so my children knew it was real.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I knew when she was gone my connection to my remaining family would fragment. She was the conduit that kept us together, in contact, a feature in each other’s lives. She fervently believed people come and go, but family is forever, the folks with which your love and loyalty should reside.

In a thousand lifetimes I cannot repay my mom for her precious gift of love I now model to our children. But I cannot buy into her belief [and society’s rhetoric] that family and love are synonymous anymore.

The day my dad called to tell me of my mom’s cancer diagnosis, after I hung up the phone I said to my husband, “Well, that’s the end of my family.” Within a year of my mother’s passing, my sister and father checked out of my life, and the lives of our kids, too busy with their own to bother with me or mine.

My father, like my sister, practices love more in the abstract. He never talks to his grandkids, never calls [even me], never asks to talk to them when I call him, rarely even asks about them. He doesn’t acknowledge their birthdays anymore. I got tired of reminding him with multiple calls and emails weekly the month before their special days, then daily the week before. (Her body ravaged by cancer and near death, my mother insisted my father take her to Toys R Us, then bought each of our kids their next birthday gift and made him swear to mail them on time. She was hoping to establish a tradition (an action) for my father to adopt for his grandkids after she was gone.)

The rare occasions I call my dad, he always professes how much he loves my kids, how important they are to him, though he does nothing to actually show them this. He never did, I just didn’t notice, as my mother’s effusive love overshadowed his love of self. When I mention his grandkids, he reminds me to tell them that grandpa loves them, and misses them. But I don’t. I tell them, “Popi says hi.” I don’t want our children to ever get the impression it’s acceptable to say you love someone when you take virtually no action to show it.

Love, like potential, is meaningless unless put into ACTION.

Screw a Border Wall, Let’s Build a DOME

My daughter came home crying from her job as a barista for a local Boba Tea cafe.

“They don’t like me, mom! I’m doing the exact same level of work that all the new kids are, and they keep calling ME out cuz I’m not Asian.”

Several other barista type jobs at various locally businesses to which she applied told her flat out they only hire Asians (which, at least in my neighborhood, includes Indians, from India). Since most of the fast food and convenience stores here are owned by Asians, this has severely limited her choices for simple, flexible, part-time work.

A month ago, on the first day of this first job my daughter’s ever had, she came home and said, “My manager called me their ‘diversity hire,’ since I’m the only White person who works there. It hurt my feelings. He made me feel like I didn’t get the job cuz I deserved it.” Every day since, she’s come home with other racist comments most of her managers continue to make.

Our daughter has a 4.3 gpa, is a hard worker academically, and socially. She is the only White person in her group of friends. She’s worked very hard, and continues to do so, to be a part of this Asian crowd, that is now well over 75% of her high school in an East Bay suburb of the San Francisco Bay area.

My son wasn’t so lucky. Boys going through puberty are all about bravado, one-upping each other. Girls are about connecting, communicating, building their community. Our son was excluded and bullied for not being “A”sian, throughout middle and high school. He had no friends at all, though he tried again and again to ‘fit in’ with them, from Karate to Robotics to Chess clubs and more. It broke his heart daily, and mine as well, watching my beautiful, open, kind kid ostracized for being White. He will likely struggle with a damaged self-image the rest of his life because of those formative experiences.

Yet, neither of my children are racists, like so many of their Asian friends and associates. My daughter gets bullied often, even from her ‘friends’ with thoughtless comments: “I only date Asians. I don’t find White girls attractive,” from the 4 out of 5 boys in her group. My daughter would love to get asked to proms, on dates. She watches her Asian girlfriends get asked out. She does not.*

These are REALITIES for all of us, Asians and Whites, here in the global melting pot of the San Francisco Bay Area, and yet my children are still not racists. Why, when so many are?

My daughter and her best friend had a sleepover the weekend before Thanksgiving, and her BF told me their family didn’t celebrate the holiday. Her mother was a tech-visa transplant from China in her early 20s, and had no association with U.S. traditions. She did not adopt them for her kids, regardless that they are native born here. My daughter’s BF confessed she’d always dreamed of celebrating Thanksgiving, like most of her friends. Well, of course I invited her, and her mom and brother, right then. She was so excited she texted them, and the girls were jumping up and down, cheering, moments later with her mother’s response.

The seven of us ate turkey, and stuffing, and shared stories of thanks around the table that night. We played Pictionary after dinner, and laughed and laughed. When the kids exited the scene to play video games, Yi, my husband and I spoke of relationships, politics, religion, ignoring social lines of polite conversation. And though we have radically different perspectives, and I did not feel a personal connection with few common interests, a profound one existed between us. A single parent, having divorced her White husband over a decade earlier, and raising two kids, a boy my son’s age, and a girl, my daughter’s best friend, Yi loves her children the exact same way, with the same intensity as I do mine.

Globalization is a REALITY. It’s happening, right now. Most first world nations are being inundated with immigrants looking for that illusive ‘better life.’ Like it, or not, global integration is here, and, as my husband, and our kids know, it is mandatory, simply must happen, for humanity, and our very small planet to survive us.

My husband is a software architect. He’s been creating and deploying SaaS offerings for over 25 years here in Silicon Valley. Every job he’s ever had in the software industry, and trust me, he’s had a lot of jobs, he’s worked almost exclusively with Asians. While offshore H1B labor has been brought here by the tech industry since 1990, this massive Asian influx globally was not anticipated. In the last five yrs, the companies he’s worked for, whether the staff is 30 or 3000, in IT, or any other department now—close to 60% are of Asian descent. And yet, my husband is not racist, though he’s been passed up for many positions by Asians on work visas and H1Bs.**

“One wish,” my mom asked my sister and me on our drive home from elementary school back in the old days. “Anything you want, what would it be.”

“World peace,” I’d said. It was the mid-1970s, and a common catch phrase, but I meant it. Without war, or economic disparity, I believed in our creative potential to problem solve, and our unique ability to work together to realize our fantastical visions. I didn’t know about the hunger of greed then, insatiable, and colorblind.

It has been particularly hard on my kids, this globalization process. It deeply saddens me that they must suffer the slights of blind prejudice, just as the Asians in past generations had to suffer the racism of the ignorant Whites here. It terrifies me—the global competition for fewer jobs my kids will be competing for after college. Yet, I still advocate for globalization. This very small planet must integrate, or we will perish, and likely take much of the life here with us.

My daughter worries she’ll never meet anyone to date, yet alone marry, but I assure her she likely will. And it’s even likely that man will be Asian, since 36.4% of the global population are Asian*** and more than half of them are men. “It doesn’t matter where someone came from, what their heritage, or place of origin on the planet,” I’ve preached to my kids. “Choose to be with someone kind.”

A border wall surrounding the U.S. entirely will not stop Asians from flying in from China and India, Korea, Viet Nam, Indonesia and other emerging Asian nations. Nor will it stop the Middle East, South Americans, Cubans from coming here. Seeking to keep us separate is a fool’s play. Communication is key to build bridges over our differences, allowing us to meet in the middle and mutually benefit from our strengths. Ignorance and mistrust breed with distance. Nationalism is just thinly disguised racism.

Asians, Latinos, Syrian’s, and Palestinians, are all different cultures, not separate races from Caucasian. We are one race, the human race. Globalization—the blending of cultures—is hard for everyone, scary, new, threatening to our social structure, but a must if humanity is to survive, even thrive. The beauty of interracial marriage is the same thing that bonds Yi and I, as parents. We both passionately love our kids. She can’t possible hate Whites, since her children are Asian/White. Combine two cultures, at least on a localize level, defeats racism, as most every parent loves their kids with intensity Yi and I do. It’s one of our best bits about being human—the magnificent, spectacular, all-encompassing love we get to feel, and share.

*Regardless of the sociology, it is unusual in the extreme to see an Asian man partner with a White women (though common the other way around), both here in the States and abroad.

**Hiring offshore for less money, now being exploited by every social network from Facebook to YouTube, to Mr. Trump’s summer staff at his Mar-a-Lago estate, lowers the pay rate for all of us. It’s no wonder U.S. income levels have been stagnant for years.

***As of July, 2019, there are approx. 1.43+ billion Chinese (in China), or 18.41% of the global population. Indians (in India) are a close second, with approx. 1.37+ billion, or 17.4% of the total world population. Combining just these two Asian cultures, their world population is 4.1 billion people, or 36.14% of the world population, and that is just within their respective countries, not actual global numbers including visa work-holders and undocumented immigrants abroad.

https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/china-population/

On Being Cool

Had a meltdown on my tween son when he asked, yet again, for an iPad at breakfast this morning.

Before the iPad he wanted a laptop. He insisted he needed my HP the moment I purchased my Toshiba, though could give no reason why he had to have it since he had a powerful PC with an enhanced graphics card for gaming in his room. After weeks of needling me I finally gave him my old HP to share after backing up [mostly] everything. He loaded the same games he had on his PC and played them in bed on the laptop for about a week, until he inadvertently downloaded a virus [that ironically sold security software] which destroyed every program, every file including seven years of my labor. Between ‘mostly’ and ‘everything’ turned out to be the Grand F**king Canyon.

Prior to the laptop he needed an iPhone. He’s had a cellphone since the 5th grade, when he started walking the quarter mile home from school. In the two years he’s had it, he forgets it at home most of the time unless I remind him to bring it with him. More often than not the phone has no charge because he doesn’t remember to charge it. Though all his friends have cellphones, he’s exchanged numbers with no one, and this seems fairly typical among his contemporaries upon inquiry.

Before the iPhone he had to have a video camera, which he used a few times to tape episodes of Sponge Bob off the TV so he could view them later through the camera’s viewfinder. That lasted about a month until he tired of it and he hasn’t touched the camera since.

An iPod was before the video camera. I use his iPod when I’m recharging mine since in the four years he’s owned it he’s used it maybe 10 times collectively.

He sat at the kitchen table this morning eating his cold cereal telling me how badly he needed an iPad. They are so cool, he insisted, giving me his puppy face, and good for school, though was unable to define how since a PC with internet access was all his middle-school required. He kept at it throughout breakfast, bargaining away all other gifts for his upcoming birthday in exchange for just one iPad2.

And I blew a gasket.

He wanted too damn much! He asked for too much with no purpose. What the hell was the point of all these things when he didn’t even use them?

To be cool, mom, he said through tears.

His palpable shame was a knife through my heart. At 12 years old, crying had ceased to be acceptable except in tragic situation, and me yelling at him wasn’t one. I sat down at the table adjacent to him and stared at my son, fighting tears from overwhelming me as well.

Being cool isn’t about what you have, I reminded him gently. Cool is about what you are, who you are, what you do that makes you special, separates you from the crowd. He was a straight A student, in advanced at math, played electric guitar, but every accomplishment I pointed out just made him cry harder.

None of that matters, he insisted. No one cares about that stuff. And being a nerd might pay off later but right now no one his age knew or cared who Bill Gates was, he said, throwing my refrain back at me.

Your dad would ask why cool matters, was the lame response I came up with. I knew cool mattered, even to me, but especially for a kid becoming a teen.

It just does, my son assured me. And I’m not, he added shakily, unable to stop the new round of tears.

My heart in my throat and struggling to swallow back my own tears stopped me from lecturing, but I again reminded my son that iPads and iPhones and video cameras are tools, nothing more, and possessing them doesn’t make one cool.

Yes, mom, he patronized me. But an iPhone is still cool, and so are iPads. I felt him lighten before I saw him grinning to himself.

They are cool, undeniably, which makes the engineers who invent Apple’s products cool, but not so much the people who use them. I needed to be sure he understood what cool really is, and perhaps remind myself as well.

Michael has an iPhone and an iPad and he’s totally popular, my son insisted. Everyone likes him. He has tons of friends and no one picks on him, ever.

Cool means Popular when you’re 12, and I suppose even for adults. Most of us want to be liked, admired, feel special, unique, seen as cool. But I knew Michael wasn’t popular because of his iPad and went about trying to enlighten my son without losing his attention. I spoke of Michael’s extensive involvement with his church, attended by many in our area. I pointed out Michael’s rather jovial demeanor, and reminded my son that his friend was also an avid sportsman, into soccer, basketball, baseball…etc, the ultimate key to cool for kids in school.

Perhaps Michael’s popularity had nothing to do with his iPad, I suggested. And to further my reasoning I asked, If Evan had an iPhone or iPad do you think he’d be more popular?

Evan is a jerk, my son proclaimed. He’s mean and rowdy, and he has an iPhone, mom. His eyes seem to sparkle with awareness of his own words. Then he smiled. He got it, and I smiled, too, for about a second, until his expression darkened again. But I’ll never be like Micheal, do what he does. I’m not discovering religion any time soon, and I suck at sports and don’t really care about ’em, and I’m not exactly what you’d call upbeat.

And I’ll never write like Stephen King, or Ray Bradbury, or John Fowles—

Who are they?

Famous authors you’ve obviously never heard of. Forget it. Tell me, who else is cool, dude? Name five, other than your friend Michael. Anyone, doesn’t have to be one of your contemporaries…

Greenday, he looked to me for approval.

Okay. Who else?

Death Cab [for Cutie] (another rock band). Thomas Edison. Einstein. And Jason, at school. All the girls really like him.

I laughed. Why?

I don’t know. He’s short but kind of buff already, I guess. He’s on the track team and the basketball team and he tells everyone he lifts his dad’s weights. He’s really into working out.

And what do all five you just named have in common?

He fiddled with the remainder of the Crispex in his bowl as he pondered my question.

They’re all good at something.

And how do you get good at anything? yet another of my canonical refrains.

Practice.

You bet. Find something you love, that turns you on, and work at it, my beautiful son. Practice your guitar more and become a great musician. Invent a new video game instead of playing someone elses creation. Learn how to program and develop apps, show us you need an iPad as a tool to create with.

He brightened, smiled at me. I had his full attention again, my reason for slipping in the iPad comment.

Owning an iPad is easy, my baby, and meaningless, just one of many who do and more who will. Creating with one is cool. Cool is as cool does, kid. Pursue a passion and you’ll be engaged, entertained, and so enraptured in the process you won’t notice or care if you’re popular. And how cool is that! ; – )

The Difference Between Men and Women

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. In fact, 99% of all household product commercials still show the women cleaning up, even when the men create the mess.

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 our 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, 19, and a 16 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 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. (Is it too much to expect a 16½ 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 in books. Maternal instincts—reproducing and then caring for our offspring—is genetically encoded in our DNA. In fact, her reaction is not uncommon for most women.

Violent movies and video games are targeted at men because they are by far the predominant audience to engage with them.

Times truly are changing, though. Want part of a mastodon, a small ice-age relic? 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 than men. Most of us don’t need a man’s support to survive, or even thrive. Technology, from the Pill to the personal computer has made it possible for women to control our own destinies, and function equally along side men in 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, for first time in our history, technology is providing us the ability to become an egalitarian race, and close this great divide.

 

 

 

Learning How to Learn

My daughter is studying for her SAT—her college admissions test. I never took the SAT because I got a D in Algebra in high school, twice. I took the class again, to advance to geometry, but got the same grade, forced to take it from the same teacher that didn’t explain anything the first time. No, it isn’t “just the way it is,” Mr. Mulvaney. Even algebra has a reason for why it works the way it does.

I didn’t take the SAT because I was afraid I’d fail it with no math background. In fact, every time I even thought of math, I felt anxious. I was a failure, stupid if I didn’t get it, as most of my classmates seemed to. I couldn’t apply to a California university, or any four year college worth attending without taking the SAT. Instead, I attended Jr College for two years before transferring over to CSUN. I studiously avoided math classes, as they were not required after high school.

Fast forward 5 years, and I want to apply to graduate school to study Education. Not only will I have to take GRE, which will have math, but before that, to apply to the best colleges, I have to have teaching experience, in a real classroom, which will require I pass the CBEST, which has math. Panic. How was I supposed to pass any standardized test when I never passed algebra, and never advanced to higher levels of math that was sure to be on these tests?

Enter my friend, Bert. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll teach you algebra, and geometry, and any other basic math you need. You’ll pass the tests.”

He had to be kidding. “I failed algebra twice! I’ll never be able to learn all the math I need to pass these tests.”

“Don’t be absurd. You are one of the smartest people I know. Of course you can learn math.”

The familiar terror was choking. Did he not hear me. I FAILED IT TWICE, and never advanced. I’m just not a math person. “I suck at math!”

“Not likely,” he said with confidence. “More likely, you got turned off of it by some careless teacher, and the gates in your brain shut down. All you need to do is get out of your own way. Open your brain back up, so you can learn what you need to know.”

“I’m an artist, a qualitative person, not quantitative. I hate math.” I was trying not to kill his delusion that I was smart.

“But you need to know it to pass these tests, to do what you want with your life. You have some worthy goals. Make them happen. I’ll help you.”

I didn’t want his help. I didn’t want to learn math, or, more likely not learn math, prove to him, and myself, how stupid I really was. He was being so kind it was impossible to keep defending myself. But I still did not believe him. I knew I wasn’t smart enough for advanced math.

“Here’s the deal,” he said, when I didn’t jump at his offer. “Remember the show Get Smart?”

Ok…“Yeah.”

“Remember the opening? Max enters that hallway with the thick metal doors that slide open one by one as he approaches them. And each slams shut behind him as he walks down the hall?

“Yeah.”

“Well, that’s what your brain is doing when you think of math. The doors, or gates to learning are shutting down in your head. You are so freaked out because some lazy teacher made you feel stupid, and you bought it, hook, line and sinker. Stop it! You’ll make a great teacher, or professor, or whatever you want to do with education. Learn math, and move forward.”

“You make it sound simple.”

“But it is. You just have to open the gates in your brain that make it possible to learn, well, anything.” He smiled. I did too, couldn’t help it. With his words, he’d just introduced hope.

We were sitting at Jerry’s Deli, in L.A., at the time. Bert takes the pen the waiter left to sign for our bill, and an unused napkin, and writes out a quadratic equation. I frowned, felt anxious. Here we go. Now he’ll see how stupid I really am.

“I can see by your face, you’re already freaking out.” He laughed. I scoffed. “This is good!” He was clearly excited. I felt pissed off, embarrassed. “Let’s explore that feeling. Talk to me about it, what does it feel like?”

“I feel scared, and stupid.”

“That’s your first two gates. Big, thick, metal doors shutting you out of learning. So, let’s start with feeling stupid, because that’s likely why you’re feeling scared, that I’ll see you, or you’ll see yourself, as stupid.”

“OK…”

“Do you think you’re stupid?”

“With math!”

“Our brains don’t work that way. You can’t just be stupid in one area. Either you have a functioning brain, or you don’t. Most of us have functioning brains. Are you telling me you don’t believe you do?”

I thought about that. Of course I have a functioning brain. I graduated college. I got good grades, even in high school, except for math. “I have an OK brain, I guess.”

He laughed. “So, there goes your first gate. Poof! It’s gone. It was bullshit anyway. Good riddance. Every time you think of math, or we work on equations, notice how you feel. Pay attention to how your brain is operating. Examine the messaging it’s feeding you, and the bullshit it’s telling you. Qualitatively break it down to check if it’s right. Every time your brain says, “I can’t do this. I’m not smart enough,” call BULLSHIT. YES, I AM SMART ENOUGH! Then go back to the problem, and work at figuring it out.” He took a sip of his tea, and smiled at me. “Work at it long enough, and hard enough, and you will.”

The gates in my brain…I could literally feel them all of a sudden. Bert was right. Every time I even thought of math the gates in my brain shut down. And not only with math. Every single time I found it hard to learn something, anything, I now could see it was me, getting in my own way, allowing my brain to convince me of bullshit. All I had to do was examine my own feeling more carefully, embrace the ones that supported my success, and reject those that didn’t.

I learned algebra and geometry in a three week refresher course offered through the CBEST testing program. I passed the test, and subsequently my GRE, and though I never followed through with my graduate degree in education, as my career, and having kids became my priority, I now teach at some of the top universities on the planet.

I now know, with enough hard work, I can learn, well, anything.

PAY ATTENTION!

Regardless that these are babies, child or adults feel connected, safe, when the people in our lives SHOW they care about us, what we want, how we feel, and why. Shutting down, shutting those we ostensibly care about out, to self-protect, is destructive in the extreme.

From the clip:

“When she’s grounded, is comfortable in her world, she can explore, meet other people, try new things, as she’s got that safe base she can rely on.”

In other words, communication builds trust, and trust is the foundation of love.

What is EVIL?

What is EVIL?

It is not murder. It is not lying, cheating, stealing, or breaking any of the 10 Commandments, or Hitler, or Donald Trump. It is NOT a state of being. EVIL is an ACTION, or lack thereof.

True EVIL is indifference.

We are ALL indifferent at times. Every time you pick up your cellphone behind the wheel, you are demonstrating you don’t care about anyone else but yourself. You are 26 times more likely to injure or murder others looking at your mobile while driving. You are actively participating in EVIL, as you are indifferent to anyone but your own desires.

Hitler was indifferent to the horror, the suffering, the murder of 6 million Jews that he initiated. So was every commander who followed his orders, and every German who turned a blind eye to protect themselves, and let it happen.

We are on par with Hitler every time we text while driving.

Church, even Christ won’t save us from our sins of indifference.

The effects of indifference reverberate. You cause an accident while texting, and hurt my kid, and I no longer care about you, your kids, your life. In fact, I hate you. I want to see you harmed!

Every time indifference is demonstrated it generates more EVIL.

Indifference lets corporations like PG&E murder 8 people in San Bruno when the utility diverted the money needed to fix the pipes into bonuses for top paid execs. When COMCAST demands full payment for delivering half the service, they are practicing EVIL. So are the customer service representatives working for them, who claim they’re ‘just doing their job, as they are told to,’ like Nazi Germany, where neighbors became indifferent—didn’t really care what happened to the Jewish kid that their kid used to play soccer with.

Every time we don’t stand up to indifference, we are participating in EVIL.

Indifference is like a genetic disease, handed down through the generations.

Parents who don’t give a shit about their kids, raise kids who don’t give a shit about anyone (even themselves).

Educators who care more about their pensions, putting in 2/3rds of a workday, and working only half the year, teaches indifference to everyone but themselves.

Students (without wealth) who are indifferent to learning, don’t study, don’t do the work, choose YouTube or gaming over doing academics, become front line canon fodder in the military as the only paying job they can get, or end up criminals, or homeless.

Drivers, indifferent to everyone else while they fulfill their desire to upload a Snap, murder close to 4,000, and injure up to 500,000, one half a MILLION people, kids, dogs…etc., a YEAR. Think you know how to drive and text at the same time? Your indifference is supporting your ignorance, which is only surpassed by your arrogance.

EVERY DAY, half or more drivers I see are chatting or texting away, and I fight the urge to ram my car into them. If they stop where I do, like the store, and I pass them in the aisle, I want to spit in their face, for no other reason than to get them to PAY ATTENTION TO SOMEONE OTHER THAN THEMSELVES.

When a COMCAST customer service rep tells me to get another modem, knowing it won’t make my internet connection any better because they know, and COMCAST knows, they don’t have the bandwidth to support the neighborhood’s wireless devices, I become irate, rude, indifferent to their plight, as they are to mine.

Every time we encounter indifference, we become more indifferent.

Stand at the Pearly Gates, and the first question St Peter is likely to ask is were you GOOD or EVIL in your lifetime. Lie, and go to hell. Say you’re GOOD, and believe it? If you spent more of your life addressing and responding to your own needs and desires than anyone else, count on going to hell.

Assuming, like me, you are a non-believer, why worry about anyone else if the only reward is in this life? Take as much as you can get, seems to be the attitude of so many these days, religious or not.

While self-interest is the foundation of our nature, indifference is not. It is taught, shown, modeled by all of us, at times. We begin life as solipsists, then grow to narcissists through our teens and early 20s. Maturity means we’ve expanded our awareness beyond just ourselves, and often put our own desires aside to actively care for others.

Indifference, to justify doing whatever you want (from lying for COMCAST, to driving a fuel-guzzling SUV, to texting behind the wheel of it) chips away at our humanity with every slight. This toxicity of EVIL ultimately endangers every living thing on this planet. Demonstrate you don’t care about me, and I won’t care about you. We self-protect, which ultimately serves no one, not even ourselves.

CARE BEYOND YOURSELF, and SHOW IT, and we not only insure our survival, we give our childrens’ children, and way beyond them, a chance to experience living, and the opportunity to thrive.

4 Simple Steps to Better Relationships

romancegifThe first year of my marriage didn’t go according to plan. The creative, smart, strong man I thought I married appeared as the jobless brat who refused to take on consulting while he toyed with his latest algorithm instead of engaging with me.

I’d waited 36 years to marry, ten years behind most everyone I knew. I’d waited to find a best friend to share life with. I had this idea of the man I wanted to be with since childhood. He’d be smart. Very smart. Massively creative, anything less would bore me. Financially stable, able to support a family with his skill set. And fun, of course, loved exploring new places. Cute was a must. I had to be physically attracted.

My husband had all these things and more, even after we married. And similar goals of having a family remained intact, but something changed between us. The best friend I wanted became the burden I carried the poorer we got. I couldn’t support us both on my salary alone. Ten months into our marriage we’d gone through most of my life savings. He had none, used the last of his for our honeymoon.

Working tirelessly at developing technology for profit, my dear husband’s response to going broke was making his already complex software even more complex. Marketing was a mystery and easily avoided by immersing himself in his muse. He seemed more intimate with his computer than with me. Many a night I had to please myself while he was downstairs making it with his 64-bit Alpha, coding.

There were many good days, long drives and hikes along the Pacific coastline, filled with conversation that flowed from one topic to another in a smooth, endless dialog. Those days bonded us, reminded me why we married, how much I enjoyed his mind, his perspectives, his passion. But things got harsher and more contentious. Eleven and a half months into marital bliss I lost our first baby in utero eight weeks into the pregnancy. And my husband engaged with his muse while I mourned alone.

Time and again that first year of our marriage, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that considered divorce. Yet, he arranged to celebrate our first anniversary with a second wedding ceremony, in an empty courtroom in front of a judge who reiterated the vows which we repeated. Our first wedding was with a large crowd of family and friends and I’d always wanted an intimate affair.

The commitment was between me and my husband after all, not extended family. I was really that naive.

A chasm was growing between us. I’m sure he felt it too. He was just better at ignoring it, and me, which personally, I found infuriating. And I was so very lonely, and when prodded, my husband admitted he was too. We were stuck in a downward spiral which I couldn’t live with, in a relationship I didn’t want to abandon, but ultimately fear of missing my childbearing years starting from square one dating again compelled me to stick with my marriage.

I narrowed the root of our discord down to three possible scenarios:

  • He feed off other people’s pain, which would make him a psychopath.
  • He was indifferent to anyone’s needs but his own, which would make him worse than a psychopath.
  • He didn’t know any better.

It was improbable I’d married a psychopath. My husband was guilty of distance, but never violence. Indifference was impossible to work with. Trying to motivate people to care—that don’t—was a fool’s play. So I went with the third possibility. He didn’t know what was wrong between us, or how to fix it, so he froze, paralyzed by uncertainty.

My husband is a mathematician. Like the metal doors and iron bars that slammed shut behind Maxwell Smart as he walked down the hall to Control, my dear husband’s brain shut out chaos. He craved order, created it in tidy mathematical models with strict parameters. Feelings were messy, but exploring them was downright unnerving for him.

My dad once told me the difference between men and women lies in our nature. Men are self-oriented, internal. Women are maternal. Producing life grounds us outside ourselves. Therefore it is the woman’s role to coax the man outside himself, bring him to her—even their children.

It was my job to figure out a method, a series of clearly defined, linear steps we were both beholden to take that would make our marriage work. I felt certain once a path was apparent my husband would gladly take it with me, if for no other reason then to end the perpetual arguing. And though it took me several months, I eventually came up with an equation, and presented it on our vacation, because timing is everything.

We were climbing on the gigantic slabs of granite rocks and exploring the spectacular rugged shoreline of Acadia National Park in Maine. Humbled by the grandeur all around us, we connected in the shared moment. That’s when I unveiled my latest plan to improve our interaction.

  1. We are a team.
  2. What does my partner need/want?
  3. What do I need/want?
  4. Compromise, until each feel heard, and get something they want.

Four simple steps, in this exact order.

First define the goal, I explained. The proceeding steps are the methodology to achieve #1. To effectively manage discord we first must acknowledge we are not competing, we’re on the same side trying to work together to solve the issue at hand. Next, if I know he’ll considered my needs and desires before his own, and he knows I’m looking out for him before myself, we can build a foundation of trust knowing we’ll be there for each other before ourselves alone. Finally, meeting close to the middle is mandatory. At least, understanding must be achieved before archiving an issue. At best, both parties get most of what they want. And as a sidebar—giving in doesn’t mean ‘losing.’ Concessions are more easily given by referring to step #1.

My husband paced me across the granite slabs but with much more grace as we climbed the rocky shoreline. His slender form moved easily across the rock. He scrambled ahead to help me with a vertical climb, then reached down to give me a hand up. A moment later we stood on cliff’s edge overlooking the Atlantic. “Other than I think you’re hot, I married you because I knew you were smart. Anything less would have bored me.” He smiled at me then stared out at the ocean, big waves striking the shoreline sending plumes of mist around us.

We walked and talked and climbed for the next five hours, breaking down each of the four steps with specific case scenarios. After analyzing and massaging the data the rest of the weekend, and each step passing QA of course, it was agreed upon to give them a go.

For our summer vacation this year we took the kids to Acadia in Maine to share with them the park’s pristine beauty. My husband spoke of our earlier adventures there, and told the kids about our long talk. He quoted the four steps in order and explained why each was important, then pointed out how applying them to most interactions strengthened communication and improved relations. A big wave sprayed us all, and as we laughed with the mist twinkling around us I spied my husband staring out at the sea and flashed on our moment there so long ago, what he’d said, and smiled.

We will be celebrating our 15th anniversary this coming spring. And though it isn’t always bliss, our marriage has been a lot less rocky since we adopted the four steps on that Maine shoreline all those years ago.

Making a Difference

Typically on Sunday mornings my husband and I share articles from the New York Times. He’ll often read me pieces while I prepare breakfast or visa versa, and we’ll discuss the ones that pique our interest. The year end edition of the Sunday Magazine runs detailed obituaries on a handful of famous and infamous people who died that year. Though many are well known—actors, x-presidents and the like, some are more obscure, but they all share one thing in common. They all had [at least] 15 minutes of fame.

As my husband read on from person to person I began to feel more and more irritated. Where was the balance with the everyday hero—the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom? Their stories are equally interesting as some one hit wonder, or marginal actor. Even the most common among us had lives that mattered, that touched many, and deserve to be told.

On my mother’s death bed she asked me “Did I make a difference?” She stared at me with sunken eyes, her skeletal face practically begging me for an affirmative answer. And I gave her one. And, of course, it was true. She was my mom. She made a difference to me.

She turned me on to love, light, color, beauty, nature, music, art. She would often point out a vibrant flower, stop everything to view a sunset and be truly awestruck by its magnificence. She genuinely liked people. She was open to most all ideas as long as they weren’t filled with hate, or born of ignorance.

My mother was a humanitarian, and without prejudice, and she taught me to respect all things equally.

She was a wife for nearly 50 years. My father used to call her his ‘sunshine.’ Laughter and joy came easily to her. She exposed him to simple things—good talks during long walks, exploring new places, trying different foods. She sang all the time, had a beautiful voice that blended perfectly with my father’s melody.

My mom was a passionate and devoted teacher. She created a magnet ocean science program she taught to underprivileged and gifted kids that is still active today. I’d met several of her students, decades later while with my mom in the market or mall, who claimed they became oceanographers and biologists because of her influence. She loved kids. They were uncomplicated—what she pretended to be, even wanted to be, but wasn’t. She was childlike in many ways, always curious and loved learning.

As I sat on her bed and ran through her list of accomplishments, her expression became sadder and sadder, and my “turn that frown upside down” mother started to cry. She wanted to give so much more. She had so much more to give, but she realized, laying helpless in bed and gasping for every breath, her time had run out.

Two weeks later I stood over her grave and refused the dirt filled shovel the Rabbi handed to me. I knelt down and scooped a handful of moist, sweet earth from the freshly dug ground, smelled its musty richness, then let it fall off my hand and run through my fingers as I released it onto her casket. And then I silently thanked her for teaching me to recognize natural beauty and engage with it at every opportunity.

My mom died of cancer at 73. Over 100 people attended her funeral. Another hundred or more have contacted our family since her death to give their condolences—lives she touched, who will touch the lives of other, and so on.

Andy Warhol was wrong. Most of us live and die in obscurity.

But we make a difference.