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A Child is not a Punchline

Life hack: it doesn't take a lot to be a great parent. More than praise, techniques, attention and all of those important things, the primary ingredient in being a great parent is simply wanting to be a great parent.

Today, at an undisclosed location and event, let's call it "shmockker shmractice," I sat with a group of parents and watched children do stuff. One of the children was mine because, hello, I love children but I don't sit around and watch kids all day.

Wait. I'm a teacher. Yes, I do, actually.

"Pfft, well, I guess we can write off the World Cup."


"I guess I should tell him the point is to actually kick the ball."

::more laughter::

First, let me admit.

Guilty as charged.

But also? Feeling guilty about being guilty.

Over the past year, I've made an effort to nix sarcastic remarks about my children. I rarely did it in earshot, but I'd do it when I thought they couldn't hear me.

You might say, Duh, that's funny. Everybody does it.

My children as a punchline, even if the joke is mine, is not an energy I'm ready to accept. So, I'm trying to stop. I'm making an effort to say nice things about my children whenever I can. Maybe people think that's stuck up.


It's called gratitude.

Everything that is wonderful about my children was already there the moment they were born. The only thing I did that sustains the awesome rests on not messing up the awesome. The compliments I spout about my children are not compliments about me. They are truly about them

I theorize that people make fun of their children to other parents because they see it as a form of self deprecation. Some of the best comedians today are masters of this. As an audience, we feel relief because we feel vulnerable most of the time and it terrifies us. Then, here's this guy or gal who's making fear into something funny, so, hey, this putting yourself out there, warts and all, is not so bad.

When it's done "right," self deprecation can inspire people to be braver and more open about who they are. Self deprecation when it's done "wrong," though, looks like this: I am going to say shitty things about myself because I feel bad about some aspect of myself. I will say these bad things because if I say them first, well, then, maybe you won't say them. If I say them in a funny way, then I can join in the laughter first instead of being laughed at. I'm afraid to be wrong. I'm afraid to feel foolish. I will hide that fear here in these jokes.

Oye. This is not healthy.

Furthermore, you are wrong. There is nothing worse or more shitty about you than there is about any of the rest of us. You are fine. Those bad things you're saying about yourself aren't even apparent to the rest of the world. Many times, we only notice them when you point them out.

Back to the children, though. Because it's always about the children. I think people say sarcastic things about their children's behavior or performance because they're accustomed to self deprecation as an expression of insecurity.

Most of us give a lot of lip service to the idea that we know our children are not extensions of ourselves. This most of us excludes my mother, who I recall said exactly, "you are an extension of me" to me at many points in my life. Yes. Seriously. They call Chinese American moms "Tiger Moms," but they don't realize that tigers are indigenous to the Asian subcontinent. Indo-Pak moms wrote the Tiger Mom manual. Chinese moms just stole that noise and mass produced it at a more affordable rate and had a better marketing plan. Like they tend to do. 

Cerebreally, we know that children are not extensions of us. They are their own beings with their own personalities, desires and dreams. On a gut level, though, we forget that. This forgetfulness is most apparent when our most vulnerable moments are relived.

Like watching the kid play organized team sports.

Or competing in a spelling bee.

Or being in a play.

Or swinging a golf club in front of an audience. 

Or anything that might have produced failure anxiety in us as children. 

In those moments, we become our children, and so we engage in this false self deprecation.

We make jokes about how they're never going to play in the World Cup (btw, who says you get to decide that based on one lousy practice, buddy?). Or how they definitely don't have a career in art based on some picture they brought home.

We say these things because we think, it's my kid.

But. Here's a thought: he or she is not your kid.

Oh, relax they're not the mailman's either.

That child is their own person. She belonged to herself from day one. You are responsible for her. That is not the same thing as ownership. If it were, there wouldn't be two separate definitions for these words in the dictionary.

Making fun of this child is not self deprecation. It is plain, old deprecation. And that is simply unkind.

You have the honor of helping children unfold into the human they are destined to be. They will grow into a being that is wonderful and amazing, and all you have to do to make that happen is to let it happen. Beleive that they are good, wise and wonderful from the onset. Stop worrying. Stop trying to control them. They're not lions that need to be tamed.

They are the epitome of human perfection. Children are ALREADY perfect. We erode this perfection when we neglect to acknowledge it. We slowly destroy it by imposing our own fears upon them and assuming that thier destinies hold for them what ours held for us.

Be kind to them. 

Kindness is tricky to implement. Sometimes, kind means buying them stuff, many times it means NOT buying them stuff. Sometimes, it means saying yes, other times it means saying, NO WAY. Sometimes it means acknowledging their disappointment, often it means helping them move on from it. 

All you have to do is not mess this perfect thing up by saying or doing too much.

The to dos are simple.

Say nice things about them both when they can hear you and when they can't hear you. Do it. All the time.

Frequently show gratitude for how capable and lovely your children are.

Don't give in to the easy bonding moments of tearing them down a little. A few bonding moments at shmocker shmractices might be lost here or there, but I think that's okay. I reject the notion of bonding over unhealthy expressions of vulnerability. When I look at my kids and I see them for who they are in all of their freaking majesty, and I am not even being hyperbolic there, there is no belly laugh born of sarcasm that can compare to giving in to that feeling.

As a mother, I want my chldren to see that feeling of recognizing their innate greatness when I look at them, and I can't get to that feeling if I'm too busy hiding my fears behind the quips that insinuate these children are one step above bumbling puppies.

I want my children to see their greatness reflected in my expression when I talk about them or look at them. As a teacher, I want your children to see this in your eyes, too: because I'm telling you the moment they see that, it will make all the difference in every way. For all of us.


Movie Bucket List

I saw an update from a blogger acquaintance, Jim, on my wall last week. I’ve only met Jim a few times, and he seems like a nice, very smart guy. I happen to be in platonic love with his soul mate Mr. Lady who makes Jim seem even cooler. Anyway. 

I fawn and flatter here in hopes that he won’t take offense to my reposting a seemingly benign status update that gave me what I think is the coolest idea I’ve had, like, ever. 

Well, maybe the coolest idea I've had this week.


This Facebook post got over two hundred comments. 

I was surprised to feel a somewhat initial visceral reaction to some people’s admissions. “I’ve never seem ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ ” for example. In case you don’t know, I am a HUGE fan. Like, nerdy comic book buying, own the entire DVD set, would write fan fiction if I had the time or guts kind of fan. 


Except. I’ve never seen Goonies and that, apparently, is some kind of crime against humanity.

There’s a tendency to think of pop culture as frivolous, but, you know, these shared experiences of music, literature and song transcend space and time and connect us in the most powerful of ways. They are shared moments in the production of globalized, communal history. 

As time goes on, I get less less comfortable with trying new things, so I had this idea that maybe I’ll try new things by doing old things that I haven’t done. Like, a cultural bucket list. Of course, I can’t really wrap my head around how experiencing a cabbage patch doll or buying an Atari at age thirty eight is going to really be the same as having one when I was eight. 


I like movies. 

Here’s my plan: 

STEP 1 (Completed): Find a crowd sourced list of “the best movies of all time.” I chose IMDB's Top 250.

STEP 2 (Completed): Among the top fifty movies, identify the movies I’ve not seen. Allow me to brag a little and say that the two of the top three movies on the list are my favorite movies. Godfather I & II. There are fifteen movies on the list that I’ve not seen. Notice many of them came out AFTER I had kids or a very long time ago.


#4 The Dark Knight (2008)

#8 Twelve Angry Men (1957)

#20 Seven Samurai (1957)

#21 City of God (2002)

#24 Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

#27 Leon: The Professional (1994)

#34 City Lights (1934), Starring Charlie Chaplin

#36 Spirited Away (2001) -

#38 The Intouchables (No, not the Untouchables 2011)

#40 Modern Times (1936)

#41 Sunset Boulevard (1950)

#43 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

#44 The Pianist (2002)

#46 The Departed (2006)

#48 The Dark Knight Rises (2012)


STEP 3: Watch the above fifteen movies. Not on the same day. One per week. 

STEP 4: Write a VERY brief post on each movie. I’m a geek in many ways, but I’m not prepared to graduate to the level of movie reviewing geek. I’ll focus on why I didn’t watch the movie when it came out and if I feel like my cultural competency has increased or something smarty pants like that. 

Goals like being healthier and cursing less seem more evolved, but I like the idea of doing this. I’m going to announce which movie I’m watching on the Monday before, so if you want to play along on social media, that’d be cool. I feel like making a hashtag for this is to market-y (which market-y stuff is awesome, but I’m not into that, right now, as previously discussed.)

Monday has passed, but I’m excited to get started. The plan for this weekend is The Dark Knight. And BEFORE you ask me HOW IS THAT YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS MOVIE? Remember, I’ll explain why next week.

 I would like to note, for the record, that Goonies? Is not on the list.



"I don't normally take selfies, but when I do... I make sure my wife makes an evil supervillain face."


Did Jared Leto Steal Someone's Part?

I first "noticed" Jared Leto in Oliver Stone's "Alexander." Not because he's dreamy - which he is. Hephaistion has always been one of my favorite "characters" in the Alexander story. Leto was wonderfully heartbreaking as Alexander's friend, companion and lover.  Just a great, great actor.

I studied acting for a small portion of my life a very long time, and I know a great actor when I see one. It's more about performance. They expose our own messy, beautiful humanity to us in a way that is both comforting and uncomfortable.

Anyway, enough acting theory. I haven't even seen "Dallas Buyers Club" because I'm very committed to catching up on "Supernatural" and I'm only on season 3 and commitment requires priority, etc. Apparently,Leto plays a transgendered character, and heated discussion has resulted from this casting of a straight (is he? I have no idea) man as a transgedered person. Man. I really, really want this to be a world where straight people can play gay people and the other way around.

Where a Democrat can play a Republican.

A Latino can play a Middle Easterner.

White can play black.

Wait. Scratch that.

We don't live in that world, though. The biggest indication of this fact is that we're still talking about it, and we're still talking about it because the casting of "privileged" individuals in the roles of minority characters continues to resonate poorly with those minorities. It underscores the feeling of not being seen, not being represented and thereby being invisible even when when attempts are made at making us visible in the movies.

When I was fifteen, I auditioned for "The Miracle Worker". I read for the part of Annie Sullivan. If you're unfamiliar with the work, Annie is the young, blind woman who teaches Helen Keller how to read and write.

She was also Irish.


I didn't get the part. It wasn't because I wasn't a good actress. Because I was. May still be. The United States' was sparse on Middle Eastern looking women in those first few years after the Civil War, so that was the real obstacle. The beautiful, pale complexioned, auburn haired girl that was cast as Annie ended up playing the part really well, so all's well that ends well. (See what I did there?) 

But, you know what? If we'd done a production that was set in India, I don't know which play that would be -- let's say an adaptation of The Far Pavilions -- most of the actors would've been white because the majority of Indian people would've been busy being doctors and IT Managers and that'd leave some parts uncast. The white folks would've worn tastefully darkened their make up and perhaps donned darker wigs. Their elegantly fashioned costumes would have helped propagate an adequate suspension of disbelief and after all that, and nobody would have even noticed that they weren't Indian.

Except actual Indian people. They would notice because even the best make up in the world cannot make you something that you are not. It will only offer the suggestion of what you're supposed to be representing.

There is an undercurrent of a point being made about how those who inhabit the fringes of visual hierarchies are simply offered as "suggested" members of the broader reality being constructed. A whispering bubbles beneath the darkened eyeliner, the painted face, the boy in a dress, "Acknowledge their presence, but you don't have to think about them as actual real people if you don't want to."

Jared Leto is a fine actor -- an incredible actor. I'm glad he won an Oscar because that guy had me at Hephaistion. My admiration for Mr. Leto aside, though, I maintain his casting is a highly evolved, very subtle version of black face. You can say he's a bankable actor and there are financial considerations. You may be right, but I seldom find a speck of integrity or compassion in arguments that rely on "it's about the money" as the strongest point for their case. It may be about the money, but we should take a firm stand on whether we feel it's right or not.

The money ends up following our convictions at some point. 


Ice Day in #Memphis

When I grew up, we had "hurricane" days. 

My chidren get snow days. Except it wasn't a real snow day. Not like people in Minnesota are getting. Or D.C. Basically, it rained all night last night and then it sleeted and we're stuck at home. 

We live in a condo in downtown Memphis, so while other children who got snow days went out and built snowmen, we, with no actual yard, looked out the window.

A lot. 

Does that look like a lot of snow to you? That doesn't look like a lot of snow to me because it isn't a lot of snow. All that down there is ice with a delicately placed dressing of snow on top. So, technically, it was an "ice" day. Despite our fascination with ice falling from the sky, there's only so much three humans can stare out of a window.

So we cleaned.

Nuha's job was sweeping. As with everything Nuha does, there was flair involved.

Cleaning and lunch kept us occupied until exactly 12:53 P.M. at which point I may or may not have said, "Find something to do, I'm not your cruise director." My children having never been on a cruise looked at me like I'm crazy.

I have a friend who has a box of stuff devoted exclusively for use on days like this. A rainy day box. That's brilliant.

I have no such box. What I did have today was a science type kit that we bought at the St. Louis City Museum that I haven't let the children play with because it looks really, really messy and ... I don't think I need to elaborate.

And the excavations began.

A few hours ago, I received the notification that school is cancelled tomorrow, too. The children are still up. The husband is out of town. 

We've also run out of crystals.