Sorry, Mr. Robbins, My Mind Just Doesn’t Work That Way

Good Wisconsin cheese, local coffee and a new book.  I almost put my ski boots in the picture but thought that would be weird.  Not weirder than riding in a roast turkey, though.

Good Wisconsin cheese, local coffee and a new book. I almost put my ski boots in the picture but thought that would be weird. Not weirder than riding in a roast turkey, though.

Life is short.  Too short to drink bad coffee (as is advertised by the coffee shop I’m sitting in right now), eat processed cheese and to not give downhill skiing a second chance (God help me).  Well, I tried and tried to get into Nurtured by Love, the account by violinist Shin’ichi Suzuki on his “talent is learned” philosophy, but have struggled through the first third of his 142-page book.  As my frustration grew with trying to learn valuable insights on our son’s violin method my husband told me

Life is short.  Read something you enjoy.

His advice got my attention.  Because when I tossed aside How the Mind Works after wading through a dry first chapter on mental neurology, he said I didn’t give the textbook-sized volume enough of a chance.  And when a Tom Robbins novel opened with newlyweds roaring down the highway in a roast turkey, I thought that was the dumbest thing ever (bye-bye, book) and my husband rolled his eyes.  So when his newfound live-in-the-moment-life-is-short perspective gave me permission to close the cover on yet a third book, I did.

And I started reading Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday.  I was no more than five pages into this “primer on the future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising” when I could feel the difference in this month’s nightly reading ritual.  I was relaxed, eyes not straining to focus on the typeset, and before I knew it I had read 20 pages.

Do not get me wrong, I think Shin’ichi Suzuki’s philosophy and musical methodology are significant.  So simple and, frankly, genius.  Is Suzuki’s book a bad book?  No, not at all.  Neither were the other two books I gave the punt.  I think this talented man’s account was simply written in a way I could not appreciate.

In other words, my mind just doesn’t work that way.


The Principal Always Rings Twice

What do parents and doctors have in common?  Call.  Which means we must have some sort of electronic gadget within easy reach (surgical attachment, anyone?) so the school or the sitter (or the hospital) can get ahold of us at a moment’s notice.  The only difference is parents must take this responsibility round the clock, not every third weekend or weekday (which, don’t get me wrong,  is plenty tough).   But like doctors, we parents can have a degree of superstition about how to ward off bad news delivered by phone.  For me, my mobile is always in my pocket or purse…even when I meet my kids at the bus stop after school.  Because inevitably, if I leave it on the kitchen counter, the school calls.  Without fail.

But doggone it,  the school has found a loophole in my strategy:  call while I am brushing my teeth in public. Continue reading



My younger son loves to play games.  And not surprisingly, he loves to win.  He is so driven in fact, that he is a flagrant, and I mean flagrant, cheater.  As in he grabs a handful of cards from a deck and chooses the one he wants, right in front of his opponents.  Or he tries to break the rules by announcing just that and then shoots us the I-am-so-guilty-but-maybe-they-won’t-notice look.

Therefore, my son has been dubbed “Sir Cheaterpants.”

Fortunately he is a good natured boy and takes the ribbing well.  But his inclination to “stack the deck” in his favor has me thinking:

Should we let our kids win? Continue reading

Runway Model?

My daughter running full "tilt" down the hallway of the gymnastic center annex.

I am barely five-foot four.  There is nothing in my closet with a designer label (unless Osprey and Merrill count).  I firmly believe my own flesh-and-blood heels belong no higher than a couple centimeters off the ground.  So I doubt anyone would mistake me for one of the genetic enigmas we call “runway models.”

But the other day, something happened that could change that. Continue reading

Learning the Language of Music (Yes, There are Strings Attached)


I first heard about the Suzuki method of musical instruction when my sons voiced respective interests in learning violin and classical guitar.  After we talked with both instructors, and observed their differing styles in response to our inquiries,  I grew curious about the methodology that tied these teachers together.  So enter the book for October 2014:  Shin’ichi Suzuki’s book Nutured by Love.  Suzuki was an accomplished Japanese violinist who astutely observed that children learn their native tongue through simple repetition.  He felt that by using the same approach, with an understanding that ability is learned and not innate, children could learn a musical instrument.  So over the course of many years he cultivated the Mother Tongue Method of music teaching.  This style of music instruction does come with “strings attached:”  parental involvement and presence during lessons is required.  This a given, I hope this month’s book will help me I gain a better understanding of how my son is learning violin so I can become a better support to his at-home practice.

Nurtured by Love discusses Mr. Suzuki’s process through his personal experiences as a musician and teacher.  And if he can shed any light on tuning a violin without breaking a string, I hope to learn that as well.  So far I’m only on Chapter two of his book, so stay, ahem, tuned…

Overscheduled, Underworked


My son left this note for me at breakfast. But I guess he was willing to wait a day so he could practice with his biking team…

I’m just going to come out and say it:

Kids need to work more.

They need to scatter legos and build, build, build.  They need to challenge each other with board games and don old clothes, pretending to be a Spy Kid, Dorothy from Kansas or Captain America.

If play is a child’s work, why don’t they get to do it more often? Continue reading

For the Remaining 88 Percent

In my last post “Twelve Percent of You Really Need to Read This Post” (September 25, 2014), I wrote briefly about what to say when someone confides they are struggling with infertility.  As I thought more about it and received some feedback, I’d like to expand on what I said.

We humans want to fix problems.  We become uncomfortable with the unfamiliar.  That’s just the way we are.  And when a loved one comes to us revealing a painful ordeal, we want to help and make things better.  But some things we cannot change or influence and infertility is one of those situations.  Even if we have been there ourselves.  So a conversation can be very hard to have.  And in the fight-or-flight response of helplessness,  it can be so easy to make a verbal misstep.

But remember, we are only human.

So let’s give ourselves a break.  Not try so hard.  If your sister, a cousin or a friend comes to you and needs to talk about their struggles to conceive, just be honest.  It’s okay if your response is I’m not sure what to say.  But I am sorry.  Think of it this way.  If someone has the courage and the honesty to come to you with such a personal frustration as infertility, they are giving you permission to also be honest.  Just listen.  Be upfront.  Be supportive.

That’s all you have to do .

Twelve Percent of You Really Need to Read This Post

Actually everyone should read this post.  But of course, I am a bit biased.

No.  More than a bit.

Twelve percent of couples struggle with the inability to conceive naturally.  That number may seem small.  But even smaller is the number of women who break the silence on their sadness and frustration.  So when someone has the courage to broach the painful topic of infertility, it can be an awkward conversation.  For example, the course of three days I learned a new friend is expecting her first baby, another friend delivered her second baby, and yet another is facing…infertility.  The words of congratulations and expressions of joy come so easily with the news of baby tidings.  But even after a four-year struggle with infertility and the wisdom and emotional growth earned, I found myself struggling for words during the conversation that began with, “You had your twins by in-vitro…right?” Continue reading

Several Thousand “Octibels” Above the Ground

If you ever ride in this...

If you ever ride in this…

with a few of these...

with a few of these…

it never hurts to be prepared.

it never hurts to be prepared.

Not unlike many infants, my younger son at six months old had a penchant for squealing.  His whole body shook with unbridled glee as he opened his little mouth wide and let loose, eyes shining with the head-ringing volume he attained.   As proud as he was, and even though he was making the happiest of infant sounds, few others were as pleased as he was at his ability.  Case in point:  the crabby fellow air traveler who had the nerve to tell me he didn’t like being seated next to a mother and her baby on an airplane.  So I, not knowing what else to do with my happy child, went the passive-aggressive route, turning my squealing son right at him.  I realize that wasn’t the most mature move but a baby’s self-gratifying peals are no match for a mother’s feeble attempts at shushing.  The ear-piercing decibels stand.

Fast-forward nine years and my son still has pipes.  His twin brother less so, only because he is not as verbose.  His younger sister…let’s just say she has the range and volume of a velociraptor.  How my husband and I got kids with such robust vocals, I’ll never know, but it doesn’t change the fact that in an enclosed space, such as a thrumming turbo-prop airplane, my kids can raise a roof.

Take for example our family’s recent trip to visit the kids’ great grandmother.  Not only were they getting to see her and their grandma and grandpa, the kids were missing school to do so.  Needless to say, their own landing gear was at the ready as we made our final approach to our destination.  Of course my husband and I tried to tone down their excitement, given the kids were old enough to understand the reminder use-your-inside-voices.  But as all parents know, it’s hard to turn the tide on enthusiasm.  At least we tried.

But attempting to make our kids  be considerate of others simply did not cut it.   My husband may need reading glasses but he otherwise has the eyes of a hawk as he saw the lady in front of him type out this text message on her phone:

This flight is kaos.  There are three kids who are too many octibels too loud.  

Word for non-word, that is what she typed.

Spelling and grammar aside, was she right?  Without a doubt, yes, she was.  The kids were loud.  She was trying to watch CSI on her laptop.  And without another doubt, she was bothered.  I wish I knew, without her silent complaint, how our family could have been less disruptive.  Unfortunately the confined cabin space coupled with a turbulent ride made it impossible to remove the kids from their seats, even if to just the lavatory, for even a brief moment of relative quiet.  So our only option was making reminders about volume. Which only go so far.  At least the kids were happy and not motion sick and not kicking the seats in front of them.  Compared to what it could have been, was a pretty successful flight with three kids.

But that is my husband’s and my perspective.  We could have addressed our unhappy neighbor directly and apologized to the travelers around us as we deplaned.  We could give visibly unhappy seat mates permission to ask our kids themselves to talk more quietly (that actually happened once with my daughter and it worked).  Hearing from mom and dad that their behavior “might be bothering others” is nothing like hearing from the affronted individuals themselves. ( We also could have said to this lady, “By the way, chaos is spelled with a ch and I think you mean decibel, not octibel…” which my passive-aggressive side would have found terribly gratifying.  But that would have been rather rude.)  We certainly understand not everyone is enamored with our kids’ volume of enthusiasm and we can at least acknowledge to those around us how disruptive it can be. Next time we fly the friendly skies, we will be prepared to try to keep them that way.

But in another vein, shouldn’t autocorrect have changed the messy text above to:

This flight is laos.  There are three kids who are too many october too loud?

That’s what mine did, anyway.



It’s OK to be Cliche

Be grateful for everything you have. I was reminded of that recently after learning some tragic news about an admired acquaintance.   I took pause to enumerate all that is good in my life. I have my health. I have a marriage to a wonderful man that has lasted more than twenty years. I have three exuberant, healthy children that can drive me nuts (yes, that is a blessing!).   Then post-reflection I checked my email and began, almost reflexively, stewing about some thing and some one and some situation that was described in the time-suck that is my inbox. How quickly my feelings of gratitude were replaced by the ridiculous rumination on a very small “problem” that really doesn’t matter now and won’t matter next week or even tomorrow.   What IS important is every moment, person and gift we take for granted and could lose when life takes an unexpected turn.

Make a list of the good. Keep it ever present. Don’t lose sight and appreciation of all that is precious in life. Be grateful. Encourage others to do the same.

Be cliché and don’t sweat the small stuff.