On The Way, in Oxford

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I was in Oxford, England for a conference last June.  My visit just happened to coincide with the summer College Balls.  I took this photo of students ready for the ball on my way to a meeting.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “On the Way.”

A Mother’s Love is a Force of Nature

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Mother and daughter in Nepal

There are more than 2 billion mothers in the world today by some estimates. In my travels, I have seen the special role that mothers play in making the world a better place for all children.

A mother’s love is a force of nature, whether making sacrifices to ensure that her daughter is able to get an education or fighting for justice for their children. The mothers of the disappeared (ANFASEP) in Ayacucho, Peru lost their sons during the long, violent conflict in Peru.   For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out who killed their sons and where their remains are.  

Mothers of the Disappeared in Peru
Mothers of the Disappeared in Peru

With their love, mothers are changing the world – one kid at a time.

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Me with my daughter in Norway.

Happy Mother’s Day – and thank you – to each of you mothers!

The Beauty of Teens

Photo credit to my son Sevrin
Photo taken by (and used with permission from) my son Sevrin at his high school sailing team practice.

As I write this, there are seven teens asleep in my basement.  My son and his friends came back from their high school dance in high spirits last night. Laughing and joking loudly, they boisterously descended on my kitchen, devouring everything within reach (even some chips that I thought I had hidden pretty well).  These guys were the human equivalent of an invading colony of army ants, foraging insatiably through my refrigerator.

Now these boy-men are dead to the world, asleep in a puppy pile on my basement floor.  And I have to be honest – I am loving every single thing about these teens.   In fifteen plus years of parenthood, I have grown accustomed to – perhaps, in some ways, inured to – the many and diverse aspects of wonder in babies and children.  But I find myself surprised and overjoyed at the sheer beauty of teenagers today.

My friend Doug describes my feelings perfectly:

I continue to be dumbfounded, flummoxed, and gobsmacked by my kids, in all sorts of great ways.

The conventional wisdom is that teens are “challenging”.  And, no question about it, there are challenging aspects of parenting teens.  But I think teens get a bit of a bad rap in our society. I know I’ve had many people say to me over the years, as I struggled with sleep deprivation, no “me” time, etc. etc.:

 “Just WAIT until you have teens!”

But now I am starting to wonder. I wonder if it could be possible that I was misinterpreting these statements for all these years?   Instead of a dire warning of impending misery (based perhaps on my then-existent sleep deprived misery coupled with a tired, old societal cliche), is it possible that what they actually were trying to say to me was:

“Hang in there, it WILL get better! Teenagers are the BEST!

Because now that my oldest son is 15 and a freshman in high school, I am finding that this stage of parenting is a comparative cakewalk.   Here are a few reasons why:

Teens have the capacity for So! Much! Joy! The photo above, which my son took of his high school sailing teammates at practice last fall, illustrates what I mean. Teens can make anything fun.  Sure, there are pretty major hormonal changes and brain development going on that help explain this facet of teen behavior. But I also think that teens are just not afraid to show it when they are having fun.  Somewhere along the way, most adults seem to lose the capacity for emotion that they had as teens.  We keep it in, stuff it down, don’t laugh out loud. Living with a teenager is a good reminder that sometimes you just need to turn up the music and dance around wildly.

You can reason with them.  This will come as a pleasant surprise to parents who have spent more than a decade living with toddlers and young children.  And I say this as a mother who freely admits to having resorted to Tootsie Pop bribery – believe me, one day your child will in fact become a rationale human being.  Stuck in a situation that he would (no doubt) have preferred NOT to be in recently, my teen son summed it up like this:

“I understand what you are saying. I understand why I should do this. I’m just frustrated, that’s all.”

Then he sucked it up and did what he had to do for his family.

The social relationships of today’s teen reflects a lot more equality. My son is friends with both girls and boys.  Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual.  I don’t know about transgender yet but I have no doubt that he wouldn’t give a rip.  My teen and those he hangs out with just don’t seem to care that much.  This is a huge step forward from when I was a teen myself.   Sure, there is still plenty of drama.  But things seem to be, somehow, just a little bit less – fraught. And so much more accepting. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I think that is totally great.

Teens can contribute.  Carrying in groceries, washing dishes, shoveling snow – it struck me recently that my teen son is doing a lot to help keep the wheels of of our unwieldy family of of five moving forward. This is huge! A total sea change from the days of constant care and feeding of babies and small children when the parents are always, always DOING for the kids.  Sure, you often have to remind a teen to do a chore.  But if you give them the challenge of responsibility, by and large, they will accept it.

They expose you to new – and sometimes wonderful – things.  My son introduced me to Avicii way before his music made it to the mainstream; that was just the beginning of the new music he has exposed me to.  The other day, I was doing laundry and I heard him in his room playing his guitar and singing “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved”.   I had never heard of The Script or this song before.  But before suddenly,  I was loading the dryer with tears in my eyes.

But it’s not just music. My teen curates movie and program selections us (his lame parents) based on our tastes. His recent recommendation of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to his dad was spot on.   I’m sure I would never have even heard about the growing popularity of eSports if not for the influence of my teen, who competes for his high school Starleague  team.   I’ve also learned several iPhone tricks that I would never have figured out on my own.  And, by the way, my in-house teen tech support can’t be beat!

Teens are more connected to the global community.  My son, who plays eSports, routinely chats online with teens in other countries.  Thanks to his fantasy geopolitics team, he knows much more about what is going on in Iran and Ukraine than I do.  Part of this is without question due to changes in global society and technology that have made our world smaller and more interconnected for all of us.   But I think this increased connection across borders can only be good for the future of our planet, particularly when it comes to solving big problems (like, say,  human rights abuses.) I am hopeful that this is the generation that begins to truly live out Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Teens know how to find the information they need. Today’s teens came of age in the era of Google – they know how to use a search engine.  But I am referring to more than just their search skills.  What I mean is that this is a generation that has a unique attitude towards information as being infinitely accessible and independently attainable.  Information is easily and immediately obtained, disputes are easily settled.  Pearl Harbor happened on Dec. 7, 1940 or 41? (1941) Pizza dough is two weeks old and slightly gray? (edible) Who wrote the Art of War? (Sun Tze) What are the requirements for an out-of-state resident to get a driver’s license in New Hampshire? (this one for my nephew Eli, another great teen.) In a sense, this attitude makes them a generation of empowered autodidacts.

Teenagers are downright hilarious.  My son, his friends, and the other teens in my life crack me up.  They make me laugh all the time.  They have mastered puns; they have evolved into excellent purveyors of sarcasm. They get (and make) jokes that reference popular culture  – even when the popular culture being referenced occurred well before they were born.  (For example, they totally got it when I described them during their kitchen rampage as “Gremlins who had been doused in water and fed after midnight”.)

And they can be so very creative in their humor!  For their vocabulary homework for Spanish class, my son and his friends made this video.  The assignment was not to make a video; the assignment was to come up with a dialogue that involved specific Spanish vocabulary. But remember my point about how teens can make anything fun?

Teens give you the gift of revisiting things that you’ve done before – but with a new perspective.  Here’s just one example: If I didn’t live with a teen, I may never have gone back and re-read books that I read in high school.  Classics – books like The Giver, Of Mice and Men, and To Kill A Mockingbird – where  I fully recall the plot and the major characters but not the details.  The author’s tone, poignant quotes, turns of phrase that knock your socks off.  All the things that really make these books classics? These I had forgotten.  I was surprised to discover how much my perspective has changed on some of these books, my opinions shifting and resettling after years of life experience.  I empathize with some characters that I used to have nothing but disdain for; I’ve lost patience with others that I used to love.  When my son gets a new reading assignment, I now see it as an opportunity.  I started re-reading Romeo & Juliet because my son, describing the priceless hilarity of his teacher reading 500-year-old bawdy humor out loud to the class, reminded me that “Shakespeare was a BOSS!”

Although not yet fully formed, you can see in a teen glimmers of the person that he or she will become.  Teens today have opinions and they speak up for themselves. (My son has even shared his opinion on this blog before.)  They are not afraid to like something just because the LIKE it, even it it is not the current thing.  I was surprised that one of the first songs my son taught himself on guitar was Semisonic’s Closing Time – from 1998, the year before he was born.

Perhaps because they are more open and expressive than previous generations have been, you can catch glimpses of today’s teens’ developing inner selves.  Between this and his external behavior, I feel like I can truly see the proto-adult that is growing in my adolescent son – and I really, REALLY like him.  The guy who stays cool in a pinch.  The guy who doesn’t hold a grudge. The guy who can be counted on to be there for his friends.  The guy who always walks the girl home at night (for safety reasons).  I look forward to watching him grow into the wonderful adult that I can now say that I feel sure he will become.

My middle son turns 13 in two weeks.

With him, I’m looking forward to discovering the beauty of teens all over again.

Closing time
Open all the doors and let you out into the world

Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Yeah.

Believe In The Beauty of Your Dreams

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Sunrise and mist on Lake of the Isles. October 11, 2014. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

 

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

                                                                                                               –  Eleanor Roosevelt

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Dreamy.

 

What You May Not Know About Dorothy Parker

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I’ve been reading a lot of Dorothy Parker this week.  The weather last weekend tickled a memory of a Parker poem called Indian Summer.  I looked it up and was hooked by her rapier humor all over again.  I devoured The Portable Dorothy Parker when I was young, but have found upon rereading her work that age has given me a greater appreciation for poems like Indian Summer.

 Indian Summer

by

Dorothy Parker

In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please,
And change, with every passing lad,
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!

 Dorothy Parker is best known, of course, for her razor-sharp wit.  During her long writing career,  she worked as a journalist, book reviewer for The New Yorker, and drama critic for Vanity Fair.  In addition to writing hundreds of poems, she wrote short stories, plays, and screenplays (she received Oscar nominations for her screenwriting in A Star is Born and The Little Foxes).

While she is well-known for her “flapper verse” and as a member of the Algonquin Roundtable in the 1920s, fewer know about her commitment to social justice.  During the 1930s and 1940s, Parker became an increasingly vocal advocate of civil rights and a host of other human rights issues in the U.S. and internationally.  She was blacklisted as a Communist in the McCarthy era, ending her screenwriting career, but she continued to speak out in support of civil rights.

Parker died in 1967 at the age of 73. In her will, she bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  She had never met him, but admired him.  When King was assassinated shortly thereafter, her estate was passed on to the NAACP (which still receives royalties on all Parker publications and productions).  Her will was contested by her executor, Lillian Hellman, so for years Parker’s cremated remains were kept in her lawyer’s filing cabinet. When the NAACP finally was able to claim her remains in 1988, they designed a memorial garden outside their Baltimore headquarters as Dorothy Parker’s final resting place.   A plaque in the garden reads (in part):

Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights.

For her epitaph she suggested, “Excuse my dust”*.

*Some biographies say that she had suggested that when she was buried, her tombstone inscription should read “This is on me”.

Either way, you gotta love this brilliant pioneer for social justice who once said,

“Heterosexuality is not normal, it is just common.”

What’s YOUR favorite Dorothy Parker poem or quote?

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Get Ready For International Happiness Day!

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Happiness in Nepal

Wondering why there are so many videos of people singing Pharrell Williams’   “Happy”  going viral this week?  Here’s the answer:

March 20 is the second annual International Day of Happiness!

The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in 2012 recognizing March 20 as a day to acknowledge that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal” and recognize “the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples”. This year, the United Nations Foundation and Pharrell Williams are teaming up to encourage people to support the United Nations’ efforts  to create a happier world for people everywhere.

Some people are already asking why in the world we need a day to celebrate happiness.  What could an international day and a celebrity singing an upbeat song possibly do to make an impact on serious global problems?

Personally, however, I am looking forward to International Happiness Day.  The way I see it, we already have more than enough aspects of our human nature to divide us.  When people focus on what makes us different – our religion, our ethnicity, our skin color –  it  often leads to violence and conflict. Lives are shattered in big ways and small.  But every human has a very basic need, not to mention a strong desire, for something very simple.  We all want to be happy. We all want to see that our children and the others who who we care about have the opportunity that they deserve to be happy.

Our human capacity to feel happiness is a basic characteristic that we all share, regardless of our differences. 

In my line of work, I deal with a lot of human unhappiness.  So I think about these things all the time.  You would expect that it would make me cynical about people in general  – and particularly about something like an international day of happiness, complete with a celebrity  and an upbeat hit song.

But I strongly believe that our human capacity for happiness is a strength, and one that should be nurtured and celebrated in the midst of all that is dark and dangerous and painful in our world.

I took the photo above the last time I was in Nepal.  I keep it as my screensaver to remind me every day of the simple fact that we humans all have the potential to experience intense joy.  It makes me believe that our human capacity for happiness must one day trump our human proclivity to hurt each one another.  And this photo reminds me every day that everyone – every single person, regardless of who they are or where they live in world – should have the opportunity to feel happiness in the way that these kids in Nepal were so clearly feeling it.

International Happy Day is also a call to action.  It is a reminder that there is more that each of us can do to ensure that everyone is able to live their lives to their fullest human potential  in safety, dignity, freedom, and equality.   For all of us, these are the basic human prerequisites to happiness.  We need to keep moving towards the concept that none of us can be truly happy, until all of us have an equally fair shot at being happy.

There are a few things in this world that are truly global: One of them is that people want to be happy. Thursday, March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, and the United Nations Foundation and Grammy Award-winning musician Pharrell Williams have teamed up to encourage people to take action to support the UN and to create a happier world for people everywhere. – See more at: http://unfoundationblog.org/international-day-of-happiness-2014/#sthash.CuzHI1xW.dpuf
hursday, March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, and the United Nations Foundation and Grammy Award-winning musician Pharrell Williams have teamed up to encourage people to take action to support the UN and to create a happier world for people everywhere. – See more at: http://unfoundationblog.org/international-day-of-happiness-2014/#sthash.CuzHI1xW.dpufhttp://youtu.be/8bhfu1KnKjM

So go ahead and celebrate International Happiness Day.  In the United States, you don’t even have to wait until March 20.  Thanks to the international time difference, #Happy Day starts in just a few hours.   (And #HappyDay is already going strong on Twitter!) You can catch it all on the website 24 Hours of Happiness.com   Since March 10, people around the world have been posting YouTube videos of themselves “demonstrating their happiness” to Pharrell William’s track with the hashtag #HAPPYDAY and submitting it to the website.   On March 20th, Pharrell will spotlight the best submissions at noon in each time zone.

Here is the first one – from New Zealand!

See additional ways to participate here.   And whatever else you do on March 20, be sure to have a

Childhood Treasure

Little House

Recently, I bequeathed one of my childhood treasures to my eight year-old daughter – my box set of Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My daughter Eliza had to first prove herself worthy; I refused to pass it on to her until she had finished reading both Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.  

Little House in the Big Woods is the first “real” book that I can recall reading.  My grandmother Lillian started off reading it to me, but somehow, somewhere around the family goes to the “sugaring off”, I found myself reading it to her instead.  For the rest of my childhood, I read all the books in this pale yellow box again and again.

Even as a child, I picked up on the fact that Ma’s attitude towards Native Americans was racist and cruel.  It seemed wrong to me that Laura’s only occupational choices were schoolteacher or wife.  My daughter and I have been talking about these things as well.  It is a part of our history that is better to acknowledge than to ignore.  But my daughter likes the books because they include so many details about life in a very different time.  The books aren’t about heroes, but about ordinary people. Laura and Mary, Carrie and Grace, Ma and Pa, even Jack the dog are vividly alive for her.  Maybe next summer we will have to take a mother-daughter field trip to Walnut Grove, MN to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.

The real treasure for me has been watching her discover the same joy in reading these books that I experienced as a child.  Maybe one day, she will pass this treasure on to her own children.

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure.