Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Just a friendly reminder that MomsRising will be live-tweeting from the White House tomorrow — and you all are invited! To join us, follow the #MomsatWH hashtag on Twitter at 9 a.m. PT/ 12 p.m. ET. You can also ask questions via Facebook @momsrising. Thanks all!

Singing children’s praises to bolster their self-esteem is losing ground to more rigorous curriculums, in which praise is fine-tuned, according to a story in the Washington Post.

Parents published an article, “Six Secrets of Kids Who Rarely Get Sick,” which is timely considering I am desperately trying to avoid illness before my half marathon at the end of the month. So far a fever and cold have hit DH and DD. DS has a cold, and I am feeling rundown but have not had any other symptoms. Ugh!

In related news, Parents ran an article on natural remedies for everything from sore throats to head lice.

From the Boston Globe: A mom challenged Rick Santorum for his comment that no one in the United States dies from a lack of healthcare coverage. Good for her.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


What Are You Good At?

I used to be horrible at receiving compliments. Whenever someone would compliment me on how I looked, I would shoot off a “This old thing?” type response. Years ago, an ex-boyfriend set me straight. He said, “You really have to learn how to take a compliment – I wouldn’t say that you looked great if I didn’t think you did.” Since then, I have tried hard to just answer with a “Thank you”, instead of responding with reasons as to why anyone who was paying me a compliment was wrong.

The other day, during a family picnic, my sister asked the following question to everyone within earshot: “What are you good at?”

Everyone fell silent and struggled to find an answer. In fact, I’m still working on my response.

UPDATE: Upon reading some of the responses, I’ve come up with my answer to this question. I am good at being a mother. I enjoy it. I make it fun. And, I am sure that I can safely assume that my children would agree with me. :)

So now, as a self-esteem exercise, I want to pose the question to you – “What are you good at?” The only rule – of course – is that you don’t mention your job (or anything related to it) as you’re obviously good at that!


Successful Parent

A friend and I were kvetching yesterday about our parents and their “favoring” of our younger siblings… in my case, my 28 year old live-at-home brother was just gifted with a hand-me-down 2005 car without second thought, and in hers, well, her sister played the same sport she played in high school and wound up being wildly successful, having received parent-funded private lessons, league play and other aids they couldn’t afford when she was a teenager ten years ago. We vacillated between feeling like whiny 15 year olds and rationalizing our frustrations.

In the end, we both agreed on a rather common mantra of young parents- we will strive Not To Be Like The Parents in this area, strive to be “fair and equitable.” I realize this is probably a losing battle, or so subjective as to be impossible to gauge.

After the conversation, DH and I discussed what, if anything, we could achieve as parents to feel “successful.” We came up with this:

We will consider ourselves successful parents if our children have a healthy self esteem.

Doctor? Factory worker? SAHM? Corporate CEO? We couldn’t care less. Gay, Straight? No never mind. As long as our children know they are loved, they are worthy of dignity and respect, and they have a sense of self worth, we will consider ourselves successful. Everything else is gravy.

What is your definition of “successful parenting”? Is the concept even achievable?


Muslim communities organizing Girl Scout Troops

How many of us MTs were Brownies or Girl Scouts when we were kids? How many have daughters or sons in the scouting movement? Remember those camping trips, the years of selling cookies door to door, sewing or ironing badges onto our sashes? For a lot of us, I’ll bet scouting was just a normal part of growing up, something that we didn’t think too much about doing.

But for some, scouting is a means of integration and fitting into the American Dream. According to this gently written New York Times feature, some Muslim communities are founding Girl Scout troops and the girls participating are flaunting their membership to the community at large. Article here :

Sometimes when Asma Haidara, a 12-year-old Somali immigrant, wants to shop at Target or ride the Minneapolis light-rail system, she puts her Girl Scout sash over her everyday clothes, which usually include a long skirt worn over pants as well as a swirling head scarf.

She has discovered that the trademark green sash — with its American flag, troop number (3009) and colorful merit badges — reduces the number of glowering looks she draws from people otherwise bothered by her traditional Muslim dress.

“When you say you are a girl scout, they say, ‘Oh, my daughter is a girl scout, too,’ and then they don’t think of you as a person from another planet,” said Asma, a slight, serious girl with a bright smile. “They are more comfortable about sitting next to me on the train.”
Scattered Muslim communities across the United States are forming Girl Scout troops as a sort of assimilation tool to help girls who often feel alienated from the mainstream culture, and to give Muslims a neighborly aura. Boy Scout troops are organized with the same inspiration, but often the leap for girls is greater because many come from conservative cultures that frown upon their participating in public physical activity.

On the one hand, I felt a bit sad for Asma in that she felt had to consciously find ways of signalling her status as a “good American”, but mostly I felt fond pride for a fellow Scout (and not a little bit of respect that a 12-year-old has figured out that embracing certain symbols can have positive reverberations. I think she’s headed good places, this one!). I was a Brownie and Girl Scout – went all the way until I was 12 years old. I still have my sashes at home. My mom was scout leader for both my sister and I, and I loved the experiences, particularly camping. I’d love Jess to join a troop and would most likely volunteer as a troop leader as well.

Girl Scouts have evolved their organization to meet the needs of these new community members. For example, the Girl Scout Promise, which traditionally asks girls to promise to serve God, now allows substitution for, say, Allah. From the Girl Scout’s page on the promise:

The Girl Scout Promise
On my honor, I will try:
    To serve God* and my country,
    To help people at all times,
    And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
The Girl Scout Law
I will do my best to be
    honest and fair,
    friendly and helpful,
    considerate and caring,
    courageous and strong, and
    responsible for what I say and do,
and to
    respect myself and others,
    respect authority,
    use resources wisely,
    make the world a better place, and
    be a sister to every Girl Scout.

  • The word “God” can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on one’s spiritual beliefs. When reciting the Girl Scout Promise, it is okay to replace the word “God” with whatever word your spiritual beliefs dictate.

Girl Scouts America haven’t just evolved their operations for religious communities- the site offers translation into Spanish, for example. Of course, the program has changed from what I remember doing in scouts; a lot of it back then (yes, about 20 years ago now, egads) focused on arts and crafts, first aid and things like that. Now, according to the site, the program is broken down into eight areas of concentration – Leadership and Self-Esteem, Community Outreach and Education, Environmental Awareness, Financial Literacy, Health and Wellness, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, The Arts and Travel.

So what about you, ladies? Is scouting still relevant to today? Do you have good memories of scouting, and are your children scouts?


What Makes a Good Teacher?

Being the first in my family to go away for college, I heavily relied on my high school teachers in New Hampshire to not only prepare me academically, but give me letters of recommendation and actually help put together a college application.

My business education teacher let me come to her class during my study break so that I could type my essay. (I had no computer.)

A reading teacher in the English department drilled me on SAT questions after school. My sophomore year English teacher, who took me under her wing, convinced her to help me. She received no payment for her time. My mother thanked her with a flan.

My senior year English teacher spent her lunch breaks helping me craft an essay. I visited her a year later when I was home from school, and she told me she still shared my essay with her students. I almost cried.

Seriously, these lowly paid women made a huge difference in my life inside and outside the classroom. They instilled in me a lifetime of learning. To this day, I have utmost respect for teachers and have sometimes flirted with becoming a teacher, too.

Most recently, Bay Area Parent ran letters from readers who remembered their favorite teachers, evoking some of my fondest childhood memories:

We’re only up to second grade so far, but here’s what I feel makes a good teacher. Noticing special things about each child and teaching them accordingly. He or she should not assume anything about a child, based on appearance, older siblings, the parents, etc. Children are a bud, ready to bloom, with a teacher that will let them do it their own way.

One of my favorite moments during my daughter’s first grade year was when her wonderful, seasoned teacher, Ms. Kono, called each student up on the last day of class, and, in front of everyone, told one thing that was special about each kid. She took the time to really notice what was unique about each child — how they had the most energy of any student, or the fanciest handwriting, or how they loved animals.

It really made each kid feel great, whether it was a “scholarly“ quality or not. It mattered that they were a special person, not just a proficient student. That’s the kind of compliment that will encourage anyone to do what they do best, not just encourage those who are best at readin’, writin’ and arithmetic.

Heidi, Berkeley

The teacher’s perspective:

A good teacher is fair, open-minded, reflective, collaborative and creative. He or she is organized, open to change and new learning, and constantly renewing her knowledge about teaching and learning.

A great teacher has all these qualities plus a supportive principal, district and parent body. She works in a well-funded school/district where supplementary services are provided for students who need them. A fantastic teacher is given the support of the community she serves; is provided extra time for planning and working with colleagues for school improvement, and is paid a fair salary for the 80 plus hours she works every week educating future generations.

Great teachers care more about their students than about the subject matter they teach and grades, and see students as developing individuals with special needs.

Can you tell I’m an educator?

Veronica, San Mateo

Let’s ride down memory lane. Who were your favorite teachers, MotherTalkers? Why?


Dancing Makes It All Better

For a few months now, videos of dancing prisoners in the Phillipines have been circulating on Youtube. I saw these videos as amusing and wondered what they were all about. So I looked up “dancing prisoners” and found this article. What I read about this prisoners, really touched me.

The prison overseer, Brian Garcia, has made dancing MANDATORY. All 1,500 prisoners must dance up to five hours a day. If they refuse, they lose privileges…mostly conjugal visits.

Welcome to the Cebu Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines. Once infamous for its gang violence, the prison is now famous for its dancing prisoners. Their hard work has spawned one of the unlikeliest hits on the Internet — a reworking of Michael Jackson’s 1980s smash hit video “Thriller.” Filmed by the prison boss, it has drawn more than 6 million hits on YouTube.

You can see the “Thriller” video here.

The result of this dancing?

The prison boss says there has not been a violent incident in nearly a year and a half. “They are just not hostile anymore,” he says.

The dancers are a mix of accused murderers, rapists and drug dealers. They are led by a choreographer who is accused of mass murder. One of their biggest stars is a transsexual, awaiting trial on methamphetamine dealing charges.

But, can dancing have that big an impact? I decided to test out the theory. A couple of nights ago, I was reading my internet news when I heard Karina and Cristian fighting. It sounded like a knock out/drag out fight. They both ran over to me to “referee” and appoint who was right and who was wrong. I didn’t listen. I just got between them, and…started dancing. Within five minutes, they were laughing and dancing and had forgotten what the problem was.

I guess dancing DOES make it all better.


Is Your Kid Oversensitive?

This Ladies’ Home Journal story resonated with me as I have always been a “thin-skinned“ person. (I know, I chose to be a journalist!) I am afraid that Ari is taking after me, as it doesn’t take much to hurt his feelings.

The other day we were watching the Power Rangers and I started pretending doing a karate chop on him with an exaggerated “hiyah!“ Despite my playfulness and exaggerated moves, I scared him and he burst into tears. (Okay, I am so not taking this kid to karate classes again!)

From the time he was a baby, he never cried at physical pain, which DH and I found bizarre. He would bonk his head, or when he was a toddler, casually walk into the house with a bleeding body part — yet, shed no tears. But when we say “no“ — not even in a loud tone — or gently reprimand him, that is enough for him to bawl.

While the LHJ story was focused on women and encouraged us to embrace our inner-wimp — I mean, sensitivity! — it did offer tips on how to raise more confident children.

“An environment that responds to the needs of sensitive children may result in their moving through life less fearful and self-conscious,” explains Dr. Jacobson. “But inhibited children with overprotective parents can become even more fearful and touchy if they’re constantly criticized.” And let’s face it, this happens a lot. Consider the people-magnet cherub who coos at everyone and then think about the infant who is frightened of strangers and wails when she’s startled. “The compliant baby gets more positive attention, which helps her become even more secure,” explains Paul Dobransky, M.D., a Chicago-based psychiatrist. “Because people are less drawn to the sensitive baby, she gets less positive attention. Meanwhile, if the parents of a highly sensitive child get upset by the child’s tears, angry outbursts, moodiness and reactions instead of helping the child modulate her distress, the child can feel ‘unseen’ and possibly unloved. She can become even more sensitive and the parents more frustrated.” Before long, I’d wager, that timid tot will be an anxious little worrywart who feels slighted by the most innocuous remark.

I can see that. Ari was the baby who always cried, which we often joke almost made him an only child. Eli is constantly smiling, which is why we tell people that she is the “easier“ baby.

But I felt better about my sweet, hypersensitive boy as the article pointed out that overt sensitivity can be an asset.

Cruelty, at least, is a malady that rarely strikes the sensitive. And, in fact, while it’s easy to dwell on the downside of being thin-skinned, the pluses are many and varied. “Sensitive people encourage others to feel that their opinions matter, they’re usually good listeners and they’re naturally empathetic,” Dr. Jacobson says. “And because they are so acutely aware of their own imperfections, they tend to be patient with the imperfections of others.”

Lyndoria Davis, a divorced single mom from Round Rock, Texas, has long struggled with being “one of those people who takes everything personally.” If someone doesn’t speak to her, she is quick to assume that it’s because she has said or done something to upset that person. On the flip side, however, Davis says, “my family tells me that my sensitivity makes me a kind, considerate and compassionate person. I take a lot of pride in that.” In Davis’s case, being sensitive contributes to healthy self-esteem.

Hypersensitive people tend to have strong instincts and intuition, and are able to work in group settings in a cooperative matter, the article said. But beware: It can be a hindrance for women in the workplace.

“In multiple studies, women have been shown to be more intuitive, which makes them more sensitive than men,” says Judith Orloff, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. “Studies also reveal that women show more empathy and patience, whereas men are inclined toward problem-solving and are more comfortable with the language of logic than of emotion. In Western culture, especially, males are taught that it isn’t macho to be sensitive and show emotion. Women are given more support to express their feelings than men are.”

“It’s less that women are more sensitive than that they have more invested in getting along,” adds Dr. Legato, the author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget. “Women like to bond with others and work toward the goal of mutual cooperation. Males, by contrast, tend to be oriented toward immediate results.”

While these “feminine” characteristics may foster deep personal relationships, they can be a hindrance in the workplace. “As a kid, I was always a ‘crybaby.’ Now, at work, I have trouble confronting people without getting upset,” admits one graphic designer from Kansas City. “I hate it that my behavior confirms the stereotype that women are too emotional to compete in a male-driven corporate world.”

I can completely relate to the graphic designer. I, too, had a few crying incidences at work, and remember feeling ashamed like I couldn’t hack it or was giving women a bad rap for it. Still, I don’t think I am as sensitive as this mom:

“I don’t think I’m too sensitive, but my kids have a knack for pressing my buttons,” says Becki Woodsmall, a mother of five from Bedford, Indiana. “The other day, for instance, my daughter was programming her new phone with a distinct ring for each family member. Innocently, I asked what mine was. My son-in-law suggested the song with the line ‘It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to,’ laughing. My feelings were hurt big time, but I knew if I showed it, matters would only get worse. So I swallowed my wounded pride.”

The idea, in short, is not to become less sensitive but to be less reactive to your sensitivity. You’ll never be a tough cookie, but you can look like one, at least some of the time.

Good advice. Are you or your kids overtly sensitive? Where is the line between healthy self-esteem and “wimpiness?“ Go ahead, and talk amongst yourselves. Just don’t hurt my feelings.



Miracle Pill?

A few years ago, a comedian friend of mine invited me to one of his shows. He was going to provide the whole V.I.P. treatment; no waiting in line, free food and drinks, sitting at the headliners table…everything you could think of! I called a friend of mine, and invited her to go with me. She couldn’t. Her reason? She was taking a new EXTRA STRENGTH herbal diet tea, that had her in agony with cramping and excessive diarrhea. I asked her why she continued to drink this tea if it affected her in this way? She said, “Because it’s the only thing that works.” Huh? I was confused.

Don’t get me wrong, I can be as self-obsessed about my body as the next person. My problem is laziness. I can’t follow through on exercise, I can’t follow through on diet, and I can’t follow through on any crazy fads either. Oh, I’m tempted, but…I don’t follow through.

One night, I was watching television and a commercial for a new diet drug came on. It was advertised at an obscene price, with the tag line saying, “It’s this expensive because it works.” I was tempted…but didn’t follow through.

Now, there’s this new MIRACLE DIET PILL called Alli, the first FDA-sanctioned diet drug to be sold without a prescription, which sells for $59.99 for a bottle of 90 pills.

Glaxosmithkline, the company that distributes this new diet drug, offers the potential for greater weight loss than dieting alone if you do everything right. The downside? Unpleasant and embarrassing side effects.

In a theoretical 3,000 calorie-a-day diet with about 100 grams of fat, the drug would eliminate about 225 calories.

But it can also result in what the manufacturer describes as loose stools and gas with an oily discharge. “It’s probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work,” the drug’s official website says. (The drug maker’s literature and website say side effects can be minimized with a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet.)

Oily discharge? Um…I think not. I mean, I’m intrigued, but I probably won’t follow through. Let’s face it, I’m too lazy to bring an extra change of clothing to work…

So, I ask you fellow MT’s, what is the craziest diet regimen you’ve ever followed?


The Eye of the Beholder

Last weekend I read a story in the SFChronicle about About-Face, a SF-based organization dedicated to improving females’ body image and self-esteem. Sounds good in theory. In practice, it gets a bit tricky.

The San Francisco nonprofit is determined to equip women and girls with the knowledge they can use to dismantle these messages that tell them they must be tall, thin, blond, tan and sexually available to have any value.

“We give them the tools they need in order to understand what they’re seeing so that in a way they can start to inoculate themselves against any negative images that the media perpetuates,” says About-Face Executive Director Jennifer Berger, “and there are plenty.”

About-Face runs media-literacy workshops for San Francisco schools and groups like the Girl Scouts and the American Association of University Women.  When I taught middle school kids, I created a media analysis unit  that had a broader focus than About-Face’s. The students really enjoyed mucking about in pop culture and talking back to TV, radio, and magazine ads. I asked them to analyze the admaker’s intentions: How do they want to make you feel? How effective are they at making you feel that way? My aim was to cultivate in the kids a more critical and cynical eye, to put a little distance and dispassion between them and the ads that bombard them.

But the unit included a twist. I taught at an arts magnet school, and a good many of the students had dreams of someday making a living doing their art. The truth is, many creative people end up in advertising: writers, filmakers, singers, artists, dancers, musicians, set designers, costume designers, and actors. I wanted the students to learn to be critical of both the message and the artistry of ads. And to be able to tease those aspects apart. I can appreciate the beauty of a clothing ad without feeling anything about the product or about my deficiencies. That seems like a good place to be.

About-Face is going for the same end-goal, which is “inoculation” against manipulation, but they advocate a much more activist approach. They encourage women and girls to begin campaigns against the advertisers that create offensive ads.

What constitutes an offensive ad is definitely in the eye of the beholder. Check out About-Face’s Hall of Shame, where they’ve posted ads they consider toxic. Some of their analyses jive with my own. I am repulsed by ads that suggest violence against women or pedaphilia. But others just don’t rate with me. Like this one for Oil of Olay lotion. I interpreted the message as “Don’t waste your time on complicated beauty rituals. Just use this simple cream.” They interpreted it as dissuading women from pursuing their dreams and discouraging a work ethic. Of course, I also never read the small print on body care ads.

Some of About-Face’s merchandise also felt off-the-mark to me. One T-shirt reads “implants are a bust.” Tell that to the cancer survivor who has had breast reconstruction. Why is that empowering to women, when it is shaming a particular subset? Likewise, another T-shirt reads “Goddesses have Hips.” I don’t have much in the way of hips, so I guess I’m no goddess. Can women only feel good about their own body type by putting down other body types?

I wish that advertisers used more body types. But I feel that it is terribly unproductive to aim vitriol at skinny models. Those are women, too, and while some may starve themselves, others are just built that way. They probably endured taunts and ugly comments about their features and bony frames for years before they staggered onto a catwalk. I don’t know the secret to widening our culture’s standard of beauty, as depicted in the media. But I know that hating a subset of women with a particular genetic profile won’t accomplish that.

I was a late bloomer who bloomed minimally when I bloomed at all. Here are some of the nice descriptors that adult women called me during my prolonged adolescence: “stork,” “annorexic,” “beanpole,” and my favorite, “concentration camp survivor.” No one is immune to destructive body image messages that ricochet from every direction, undermining female confidence and solidarity.

While I’m calling out the aspects of About-Face’s work that I don’t resonate with, they actually do compile a lot of good information, and I appreciate that they encourage women to act. For instance, you can learn about Bratz’ new padded bra for 6-year-olds and they provide the company’s phone number so you can register your outrage.

I also resonate with About-Face founder Jennifer Berger’s message about women shifting their body focus from form to function:

…(I)t’s really hard for women to think of their bodies in terms of how they help them live: Legs that give them the power to walk, lungs that give them the ability to breath, etc.
“As John Berger, the historian, has said, women watch themselves being looked at. We see ourselves from the outside all the time. It’s really difficult to inhabit your body and thank it for the things it does for you.
“Talk about not stylish — that is so not cool to think about all the things your body does for you! I sound like a kindergarten teacher when I say that, but it’s completely necessary to think about your body that way. Once we start thinking about our bodies that way, we’ll stop abusing them the way we do, with constant dieting and constant criticism…”