Wednesday, September 17, 2014

DSI = Doesn't Sustain Impact

Last year, soon after I wrote this post, my sister sent the children a Nintendo DSI.  It had been her son's and since he had received something new, he wanted to pass it on to his little cousins.  I wasn't at all keen on them having it because I'd noticed that our children are quickly obsessed with electronics.  Especially our boys. 

I know the story of the forbidden fruit, but here's the thing: If we allowed our kids to play video games as much as they wanted, I'm fairly convinced that is all they'd do. Even when Charlie and I have moments of cool parent'ness and let them play Wii on weekend mornings, they'll be down there at 6 AM and we have to PRY them off it, hours later to do something totally necessary like, say, eat breakfast.  And when we do pry them off it, they are cranky and angry and totally unpleasant.   

Maybe one day they could play for an hour and just turn it off on their own volition. 

But for our children, that day isn't today.  

We host a Sunday small group at our house and two of the boys who attend are approximately the same age as our boys. Each week, they would bring their Nintendos to play.  So after a month of pleading, I finally made the concession that on Sundays, ONLY, the boys could play with the DSI.  Singular. There was only one, so they'd have to cooperate and take turns. What typically happened was that William would monopolize the game and Henry would be somewhat content to watch. As for the girls, they weren't at all interested and would rather play dress up or ride bikes in the yard. 

What I noticed during the next several weeks of allowing them this opportunity to play the Nintendo, is that their personalities changed.  Instead of engaging with our guests that would come to the house, they'd be completely zoned out on a computer game.  And maybe I'm just hypersensitive but it felt like whenever they had quiet time at home, even on the perfectly beautiful blue sky days ... all they wanted was to play that little handheld.  Instead of their imaginative spirits that would take flight and build forts out of cushions, they were grumpy and aggressive with each other, and with me.   

So very soon, I wasn't too happy about having the Nintendo in the house and was regretting my decision to let them play with it at all on that one day per week.  

One day after school, I was home from work with the children and we sat down together and made the most amazing marble run.  We were talking and laughing and enjoying a snack together, when all of a sudden, William subtly notices that Henry is MIA.  I'm not fully conscious of William looking for his little brother, until I hear Henry screaming from the other room.  

Henry had disappeared from our little fiesta and tip toed in to the bedroom looking for the Nintendo that William had hidden somewhere.  He found it under the bed and had crawled under there to inspect the game in peace.  But William blew his cover by seeking him out and when he found him, he grabbed him by one foot and yanked him out from underneath the bed.  On the way out, Henry smacked his head on the frame and was crying as William pulled the Nintendo out of his hands and yelled, "YOU CAN'T TOUCH THIS, IT'S MINE!" 

By the time I arrived on the scene, Henry was hysterical, William was hysterical and I was ticked off beyond belief that a little plastic electronic device had caused such turmoil in what moments earlier, had been a picture perfect moment.  So I did something that I'm only slightly ashamed to admit. 

I took the Nintendo away from them and lifting it over my head, let it fall to the floor.  Not once, not twice, but seven times.  It eventually broke and I picked it up and threw the whole thing, games and all, in to the trash.  As I did, I said to my astonished children, "Remember this ... PEOPLE not THINGS are what matter in this family."

During a conversation with my mother, I confessed what I had done.  It wasn't my proudest moment, I know I could have handled it better and I thought I swore her to secrecy, but maybe not because the story got back to my sister who had given us the Nintendo. She told her son, who called me and asked me, "Aunt Jenny, did you really break my Nintendo and throw it out?"  

Um, yes.  And perhaps if I'd been in a better place, I would have made a more rationale choice like donating it to the Children's Hospital.  But in that MOMENT, my central processing unit wasn't working so well and looking back, I can hardly blame my children for losing their cool when I so colossally lose mine. 

But the fact remains - I do not want our children consumed with electronic devices.  I know it's inevitable and one day I'll have to come to terms with that as they navigate technology.  Or maybe it's hypocritical because Charlie and I have five computers across the two of us, along with one iPad and two cell phones. But for what it's worth the only time I'm on the computer is for work, bill paying or to update my blog for posterity. (The whole family also uses it for live-streaming music, movies, and FaceTiming with family.) Technology is awesome! Technology is great! 

But as for now and for the near future, the only electronics that our children have and can use WHENEVER THEY WANT are the ones that they make. 

This is Henry's laptop, made of magnets. 

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This is Henry on his cell phone, also made of magnets. 

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This is Elizabeth's iPad made out of construction paper.  

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She has all kinds of apps that are totally awesome.  

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This is Pandora with all the different music she likes to listen to. 

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This is FaceTime. 

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And this is Angry Birds.  

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If you push the button of the application that you want to play, she'll reach inside the folded construction paper and pull out the appropriate item.  I play Angry Birds with her all the time and you'd never guess, but it really is a total blast. 

(For at least two minutes, and then we go outside to play, or read a book.) 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

chicken in the bread pan, pickin' out dough

I'm not sure I ever mentioned it, but last year, our Carolyn really, really, really wanted to play the violin.  We listen to a lot of classical music in the house, and we had recently attended the symphony and WHAMO! she was begging to play.  I was so excited because I've always loved the idea of our children playing an instrument.   

In fact, when they were little bitty preschoolers, no more than four-years-old, I had contemplated signing them up for Suzuki music lessons.  I drove to the studio, parked my car, looked through the big glass window at the sweet little children in a semi-circle around their instructor, playing their teeny violins and I grabbed my checkbook.  But then I opened what must have been a sound-proof door and the sounds of the squeaking, oh my good heavens the SQUEAKING, nearly made my eardrums bleed.  I dropped my checkbook back in to my bag, grabbed my ears, and ran.   Maybe if there was one child, I could have done it ... but there was no way I could manage it with three. 

My sanity is too important to me.

So last year, Carolyn expressed an interest in playing the violin and so we went out and rented her one, and then signed her up for three months of private lessons.  

Here's how it went down... 

Violin comes home, Carolyn is thrilled. She pulls it out of the case and drags the bow across the strings and rejoices in having her OWN! VIOLIN!  She sleeps with it that night.  

The first class happens and she is very attentive.  The assignment from that first class comes home and she practices for at least 15 minutes a day for all of three days.   The next three weeks are torture for her and us, as we remind her to practice - and she doesn't want to - and we feel like loser parents taking her back to class where she has learned nothing over the past week.  

We still have two months of private pre-paid classes and because Carolyn is 100% disinterested, we ask Elizabeth if she'd like to play the violin?  "Sure, I'd LOVE to!" she excitedly exclaims.  She pulls out of the case what is now considered to be HER! VIOLIN! and she drags the bow across the strings and sleeps with it that night.  

Showing up at the next private lesson, the instructor barely bats an eye. With the large volume of students that go in and out of the studio, I'm not sure he even noticed that we swapped out the sisters, despite the fact one is more than 6-inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than the other.  Elizabeth's enthusiasm for the violin sustained for approximately ninety six hours and then the next three weeks we were telling her to practice, and she was dismissing it and we were back in Loser Parent Mode. 

With one month of private pre-paid lessons remaining, we swapped out Elizabeth for a semi-interested William.  This time the instructor noticed and said, "I sense something different here...."   Yes indeed, the toe-head blonde boy is not nearly as interchangeable as the brown haired, freckled faced, blue-eyed girls.  Fortunately, the instructor was very understanding and cooperative and after one month, William had also reached his maximum saturation with playing the violin and it was returned to the music store. (Although, if there had been a fourth pre-paid month, you can bet your rosin I would have tried to swap out William for his little brother.) 

This year, in fourth grade, the children are offered the opportunity to play a stringed instrument. 

Guess What?

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We rented three instruments for a year and have not only invested in the insurance, should one of the instruments be inadvertently backed over by a minivan driven by parents who are trying to MAKE HASTE! and get to school on time because the cello cannot go on the bus, we also invested in some excellent ear plugs for all of the practicing that they will need to do at home.  I'm hopeful that with the positive peer pressure of their friends, most of whom are also playing a stringed instrument, our two violists and one celloist, will learn to play "Ode To Joy" between now and June.   

My husband is hoping for something a little more contemporary and has recently introduced our children to The Charlie Daniels Band.  For the past two days, he's had "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" playing on repeat. The kids love the tune and are feeling very inspired. 

Fingers crossed it sticks. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

my mother's daughter

On Sunday nights, we host a small prayer group through our church.  Tonight, we all sat outside and the kids ran around and played in the distinctly crisp fall air.  As I was cleaning up, one of the woman from our group asked if I wanted to keep the used Red Solo cups that were in perfectly good shape and after a very brief moment of hesitation I said, "YES. Let's keep them: reduce, reuse, recycle!" I then brought them inside and stuck them in the dishwasher - nestling them tightly so they don't flip  upside down and fill with water during the rinse cycle.

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Charlie, as he was cleaning up the kitchen with me, spied the plastic cups filling the top rack of the dishwasher and said, "What are you doing? Don't you think this is a little ... um ... redneck, Jen?  You're washing plastic cups!"

What can I say?  The older I grow, the more thrifty I become.

I'm sure it's just a matter of time and I'll be washing sponges.

Monday, September 08, 2014

william's welcoming committee

Last Thanksgiving, when the triplets were in third grade, they had to write a letter that they read before their class and creation, regarding something (or someone) for which they were thankful.  We were very grateful that our family was in town, en masse, because the readings were all happening at the exact same time, and seeing as we are not able to be in three places at once, we were able to divide and conquer each of the three classrooms where the readings were occurring.

Charlie and I were present in Carolyn's classroom to hear her sweetly read how thankful she is for her family; my sister Eileen and her husband Clark were present in Elizabeth's classroom to hear her sweetly read how thankful she is for her siblings and bunny; and my mother and nieces were present in William's classroom to hear how thankful he is for his little brother, Henry.  Which really surprised me, when they told me about it later because they don't always act very "thankful" for each other.

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My mother told me that a child in William's class - a boy who was brand new to the school - had been summoned to stand up several times, but was too shy to take the stage.  Just before the session was finished, he quietly stood up and whispered to the teacher that he had a few words he would like to share.  He then walked to the front of the room and bravely read to the large audience of his peers and their families, the fears he had about being brand new to the school and how frightening it was to be in a separate class from his twin sister, for the first time.

But, he continued, this year he was so thankful for the boy who talked to him and sat with him and introduced him to all the other kids so that he wouldn't be alone at recess or during lunch. He was thankful for his new best friend, William. 

As it turns out, Carolyn is best friend's with his twin sister and the children are together in separate classes again this year.  Carolyn with Anna and William with James.  We learned today that the two girls both registered to play cello this year; while the two boys are both registered to play viola. None of this had been previously discussed ... it just sort of happened, similar to their friendships.

Today, I was talking with their mother and she told me that there are are two new boys in William and James' class.  When she was volunteering in the classroom early last week, she said that the two new students were really keeping to themselves ... but when she went back on Friday, William was pulling those boys out of their shells by introducing them to people and ensuring they had people to sit with during lunch.  She smiled and softly shaking her head said to me, "You've got such an incredibly special kid there, he has an unbelievably kind heart for a nine-year-old."

Dear God, please help me to remember this when he bickers with his siblings, or does any of those things that make me want to put my head in my hands and pull my hair out by the roots.  He really is an incredibly special kid and he is growing more awesome, every day.  Please also help him to feel better ... he's been quite ill for the past six weeks and I'm hopeful that what multiple doctors think is acid reflux, will soon be abated by Zantac and a mattress that is inclined at a 30-degree angle.  There's nothing better than hearing how kind your child is to others ... and nothing worse than seeing them sick.

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(This is what he wants his next tank to look like.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

yes, it's true ... and wow it's exhausting

I'm sure I've mentioned it at some point before ... but even if so ... it bears repeating that I'm the first and only woman that has ever worked in the technical services group of our organization. This group is predominantly comprised of men that are >50 years old and are endearingly referred to as the "gray beards."  It's been very flattering, and an absolute honor, to be chosen to work amongst this group of highly qualified and respected individuals.   

That said, even though I've reached this somewhat "pinnacle" of career success, when Charlie forwarded me an article today about women in the workplace, I felt myself furiously nodding my head and saying aloud, "YES, TO THE OH MY GOSH CUBED." And then, because I am nothing if not a loose cannon dead set on knocking down barriers for the career progression of women in industry as effectively and efficiently as possible, I forwarded it on to my supervisor and suggested that he bring it up during his next Diversity and Inclusion Networking session.   

(He hasn't responded yet.) 

After I read, and then re-read the article, I informed Charlie, who had originally sent me the article (and I'd therefore assumed that he had read it the whole way through), that the Stanford biologist that was interviewed, is related to our family.  Joan Roughgarden is our brother-in-law's sister and I'll be darned if this isn't just one more piece of evidence that the universe is, indeed, unfolding as it should!  

Here's the article, in the off chance the link above doesn't work. 

Why Aren't Women Advancing At Work? Ask a Transgender Person.Having experienced the workplace from both perspectives, they hold the key to its biases.

By 

Fifty years after The Feminine Mystique and 40 years after Title IX, the question of why women lag in the workplace dogs researchers and lay people alike. While women are entering the professions at rates equal to men, they rise more slowly, and rarely advance to the top. They’re represented in smaller numbers at the top in fields from science to arts to business. 
Some suggest that there is something different about womenwomen have stalled because of their personal choices, or their cognitive and emotional characteristics, whether innate or socialized. Another possibility is that the obstacles to women’s advancement are located within their environmentsthat they face barriers unique to their gender.1 
But while bias has been experimentally demonstrated, it’s hard to study in the real world: Just as it’s hard to isolate a single environmental pollutant’s effect on human health, it’s been near impossible to isolate gender as a variable in the real world and watch how it affects a person’s day-to-day experience. 
Until now. Trans people are bringing entirely new ways of approaching the discussion. Because trans people are now staying in the same careers (and sometimes the very same jobs) after they change genders, they are uniquely qualified to discuss the difference between how men and women experience the workplace. Their experience is as close to the scientific method as we can get: By isolating and manipulating gender as a variable and holding all other variablesskill, career, personality, talentconstant, these individuals reveal exactly the way one’s outward appearance of gender affects day-to-day interactions. If we truly want to understand women at work, we should listen carefully to trans men and trans women: They can tell us more about gender in the workplace than just about anyone.
Ben Barres is a biologist at Stanford who lived and worked as Barbara Barres until he was in his forties. For most of his career, he experienced bias, but didn’t give much weight to itseeing incidents as discrete events. (When he solved a tough math problem, for example, a professor said, “You must have had your boyfriend solve it.”) When he became Ben, however, he immediately noticed a difference in his everyday experience: “People who don't know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect,” he says. He was more carefully listened to and his authority less frequently questioned. He stopped being interrupted in meetings. At one conference, another scientist said, "Ben gave a great seminar todaybut then his work is so much better than his sister's." (The scientist didn't know Ben and Barbara were the same person.) “This is why women are not breaking into academic jobs at any appreciable rate,” hewrote in response to Larry Summers’s famous gaffe implying women were less innately capable at the hard sciences. “Not childcare. Not family responsibilities,” he says. “I have had the thought a million times: I amtaken more seriously.”
This experience, it turns out, is typical for transmen. For her book Just One of the Guys? Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality, sociologist Kristen Schilt interviewed dozens of FTM (female to male) transgender individuals. One subject noted that when he expresses an opinion, everyone in a meeting now writes it down. Another noted, "When I was a woman, no matter how many facts I had, people were like, “Are you sure about that?’ It’s so strange not to have to defend your positions." When they suggested women for promotions, other men said, “Oh! I hadn’t thought about her”they were able to promote women because their advice was taken more seriously. Personality traits that had been viewed negatively when they were women were now seen as positives. “I used to be considered aggressive,” said one subject. “Now I'm considered 'take charge.' People say, ‘I love your take-charge attitude.’"
The effects of FTM transition, however, aren’t universally positive. Race, it seems, has the ability to overshadow gender when it comes to others’ esteem. Black transmen, for instance, found they were perceived as a “dangerous” post transition. One subject said he went from being “obnoxious black woman” to “scary black man”and was now always asked to play the “suspect” in training exercises. 
“Men are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise, whereas a woman is assumed to be incompetent until she proves otherwise.”
What happens when the opposite transformation takes placewhen a man becomes a woman? Joan Roughgarden is a biologist at Stanford who lived and worked as Jonathan Roughgarden until her early fifties, and her experience was almost the mirror image of Barres’s. In her words, “men are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise, whereas a woman is assumed to be incompetent until she proves otherwise.” In an interview, Roughgarden also noted that if she questioned a mathematical idea, people assumed it was because she didn’t understand it. Other transwomen have found changes not only in perceptions of their ability, but also their personality. In Schilt’s work with transwomen for a forthcoming book, she found that behaviors transwomen had as men were now seen as off-putting. What was once “take-charge” was now “aggressive.” And they had to adapt; the transwomen quickly learned that “being the same way in the world would be detrimental to your career.”
Unlike those of us who have only experienced the world a single gender, Schilt’s subjects were able to see very clearly that “men succeed in the workplace at higher rates than women because of gender stereotypes that privilege masculinity, not because they have greater skill or ability." Bias is a hard thing to acknowledge. “Until a person has experienced career-harming bias,” wrote Barres in his response to Summers, “they simply don’t believe it exists.” And people tend to think the problem is located elsewhere: “Everyone thinks that there's bias out there, but ‘I'm not that person,’” says Schilt. 
But, says Schilt, bias is both more pervasive and less invidious. And addressing it is going to take more than just waiting around for the old guard to retire: The “fantasy of a demographic shift just isn’t true,” Schilt says. ”It’s our culture. It's how we organize gender, separate by gender, men's rooms and women's roomsit's so ingrained in us that these things are different. And it's not just men, it's also women who have the same ideas.” The experiences of trans people are bringing these factors to light in a wholly new and unclouded way. 
Of course, the sample size is small here. And there’s no perfect agreement on cause-and-effect. Chris Edwards, a trans advertising executive, says that post-transition, he was given greater levels of responsibilitybut he thinks it’s because the testosterone he took changed his behavior. He became less timid and more outspokenand was seen, at work, as more of a leader. Indeed, some suggest that transmen might experience these workplace benefits partly because, post-transition, they are happier and more comfortable, and that this confidence leads to greater workplace success. But if that’s the case, one would expect that transwomen, armed with this same newfound confidence, would see benefits. The opposite seems to be true. 
To truly understand trans people’s experiences of workplace gender bias, more research is needed. But the window to do so may be closing, as people are able to change genders at younger and younger ages. Puberty-inhibiting medications are becoming more mainstream, meaning young trans people can choose to suppress the development of secondary sexual characteristics from a relatively early age. (The treatment became available in the U.S. in 2009.) A child who identifies with the opposite gender and seeks treatment is now able to experience the world, for most of their life, as that gender alone. 
And the group of trans people who are vocal on the subject is already fairly small; many seem to feel they have much larger issues facing them. When asked how people react when she describes the different treatment she receives as a woman, Roughgarden responds simply, “I don't bring it up.” Ultimately, Schilt says, it’s not trans people’s responsibility fix gender bias. Roughgarden agrees. “We're trying make a life,” she says. “We have to live in our actual roles, we can't sit in a coffeehouse and complain about how this is the world. This is the world and we have to live in it. We have to navigate it.” 
1
It’s been shown, for example, that both women and men attribute women’s success more often to luck, and attribute men’s more often to ability. Women also received fewer rewards for sharing opinions and taking leadership roles. One study showed that a female fellowship applicant had to be 2.5 times more productive than the average male applicant to be deemed equally competent.
Jessica Nordell is a writer and multidisciplinary creative living in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

... and they're off (again)

Today was the first day of school.

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We were awoken at 5 AM by William, who had a really, really itchy mosquito bite that required hydrocortisone and his mother to obtain the hydrocortisone for him.  He was then unable to go back to sleep because he was afraid he was going to miss the bus.  Carolyn and Elizabeth were up next.  I think it was around 5:15, but I can't be sure because my eyes wouldn't completely open.  Not even on Christmas morning are our children up as early as they were today.  I tried to convince them that their bus driver wasn't even awake yet - but they wouldn't listen.  And so it came to be we were at the bus stop approximately 30 minutes before the bus even arrived.
 
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I don't think I wrote about our awesome bus driver last year ... but he really is one in a million.  Mr. Yani, our amazing immigrant bus driver from Greece, would wait at the top of our hill - every single morning - for our often delinquent family to arrive.  Even though our bus pick up each morning is at 7:50 AM, Mr. Yani would put his huge yellow bus in park and wait for us until 8:00 every day - - snow or rain or shine.  We'd promise him that the next morning we'd be on time and we'd try, but very rarely could we actually do it. He always shrugged if off as no problem, because we're the last pickup on the way to school and even though he waits for us, he still manages to arrive at school with five minutes to spare. One day he told me, "My mother had a lot of children and it was crazy." Then he looked over the edge of his glasses and said, "Crazy but beautiful! Ya?!"

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It was because of his graciousness that we only had 12 tardy days last year as opposed to 112.  I feel so irresponsible writing that, but I'm honestly not sure what happens around here in the morning? Even on those days when I wake up extra early and am ready to leave the house on time, my children are caught in some kind of time warp and the next thing you know, it's 7:54:58 and I'm in panic mode because SERIOUSLY? HOW CAN WE BE LATE AGAIN?!  Sometimes I really think they do it on purpose just to see me lose my mind.

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When Elizabeth broke her arm, Mr. Yani brought her a stuffed monkey that was as big as she is. And when he would drop the kids off in the afternoon, if Charlie and I were not standing at the bus stop waiting to receive the kids - he wouldn't let them off the bus.  By all accounts, we live in a very safe neighborhood, but on at least two occasions, Mr. Yani put his huge yellow bus in park and waited for the two minutes it took us to arrive because, "You never know what kind of crazies are around and I don't want to let these little ones out of my sight if you're not here. Ya?!"  

Imagine my delight when I saw this morning that we have Mr. Yani as our bus driver again this year.  

And imagine his delight when he saw that we were all there, on time, waiting for him.

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I'm hopeful that this is the beginning of a new tradition.