Monthly Archives: November 2014

Controversy, Sacrifice & Raising Bilingual Children

This morning, I opened up an email from my online friend, Adam, from over at his blog, Bilingual Monkeys, and he mentioned that his recent post, “The 5 Biggest Sacrifices I’ve Made to Raise Bilingual Children”, is getting a lot of response, and even generating some controversy.  I thought you might like to read it and see why.  All my best.



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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in parenting


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How Not to Dress Like a Tourist

  • [Another re-post of my writing at Sidelines.  Enjoy!]

    You have your plans set, your tickets are in hand, and the excitement of your coming trip is so deliciously thick you can cut it up into slices. You are heading to some new place full of brand new sights, scents, and scenery. You have never been there before! You’ve read the brochures, talked to your buddies, seen the reviews and the panoramas online, reserved your room and your transportation is arranged. Now for the matter of what to wear. What, then, will you wear?

    OK, you don’t want to look like a tourist. That’s a given. No one wants to look like a tourist, but not many succeed in avoiding that picture. You know which one that is: Totally out of place, either in style or in formality. I am not even talking about that stereotype of the big Hawaiian shirt-wearing Dad and Mama with her khaki skirt and sneakers. A little forethought all by yourself should help you shy away from that picture. I’m talking about just about blending in, if that’s at all possible for you.

    Some examples of touristy wardrobe choices: You go to a farmers market in a poorer part of a new town wearing too much expensive jewelry and your best Jimmy Choo boots. You show up at Chianti’s in Tokyo wearing sweatpants and a pair of well-worn sneakers, expecting the best treatment (you’ll get it, but you’ll also get “the look.”) You shop in Rockefeller Plaza wearing your Hawaiian shirt. Do it if you want to, and more power to you. You’ll just look like a tourist.

    Here is my main piece of advice: Go online and search for recent photos of locals who live and work in the areas in which you are going to travel. Going multiple places? Pack accordingly. Don’t try so hard to blend in that you overdo it (i.e. start wearing saris to the market in Sri Lanka unless you know how to drape them), but a little common sense goes a long way.

    Are you conservative? What are more conservative, professional people of your gender and age wearing at the cafes and restaurants at your destination? Are you more artsy or individual? Check out the range of “what’s acceptable in public” where you are going, and then express yourself. Just be sure you are not wearing something that may be culturally offensive or mark you negatively. If you have no idea what might be offensive where you are going (and you are slightly worried), a simple and clean pair of nicely-cut jeans and a flattering, conservative shirt with a few pieces of jewelry might be just right. At the very least, checking out the locals online may give you a helpful perspective.

    Personal style is so personal. If it doesn’t bother you to stick out as a tourist, go for it. Just for those who want to blend in a bit more – which might afford you a broader experience of a new locale than a “tourist”might experience, I just gave you my advice. Hope it helps.

    What other pieces of advice are out there?


Posted by on November 22, 2014 in fashion


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My Response to “The Looming Storm in Ferguson”

[This is my response in the Comments section to a post about the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, where I used to work as a JTPA/WIA youth summer jobs program recruiter and certification specialist with the Urban League over 15 years ago.  The post is called “The Looming Storm in Ferguson” by Kyle Gillespie, and I’ll post a link to it at the bottom of my response in the reply section, when I can find a good link.  Prayers are up for all involved.]

While I have a problem with several points made here concerning the death of yet another man’s not-yet-even-grown son at the hands of a police officer (one possibly with a chip on his shoulder and a mote in his eye), I agree mainly with most of what @Victor Matoush has said in response to the post. While the awareness-raising is mostly a phenomenon outside of the Black communities (within, it is already a known potential factor in any interaction with police), it is important that now people in broader communities and throughout the world see what American mothers and fathers of minority communities have been seeing for years despite a blind eye from larger authorities, but are now beyond tired of witnessing. Michael Brown’s daddy is doing the best he can to ask for some almost otherworldly calm in the midst of his own grief and mourning. The looters and rioters are detractors from the real fear, rage and anguish being expressed on the streets of Ferguson, a lower-income community for sure, but one with proud older people who have held high dreams for their youth in the face of economic and social barriers that have tried to decimate the community for decades. Add to this what seems like a constant reminder that their children are valued less by the ones who should be protecting them and you have more than a tinderbox accidentally lit – you have a firestorm whose flames keep being fed by more and more instances of “accidental shootings” that people are urged “not to link”. How can we not? Autopsies are clinical, scientific, purportedly objective things. Pain and loss and anger are not.

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Posted by on November 22, 2014 in parenting


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Kids and Restaurants? Eating Out with a Smile!

[My Sidelines writing – re-posting again!]

I know we must all have at least one nightmarish memory swirling around the thought of wild kids in restaurants!

Maybe that memory is of someone else’s darling leaning over the booth top at the diner, sticking out her petulant tongue at us while we try to enjoy our food, her parents completely zoned out on their little darling’s wanton stare.

Or maybe it’s that memory of someone else’s four-year-old weaving in and out of the restaurant aisles, up and down out of his seat, under the table or standing in his chair, while his overly loud parent threatens, or worse, is oblivious to it all because she assumes that is how children are “supposed” to act in public. The old “kids will be kids” excuse in action, overly employed by those who need some new techniques.

Or maybe your own kids decided to break out the old temper tantrum right when the waitress informs you that the kitchen is backed up and your food is on a delay.

It’s enough to make anyone want to avoid the issue altogether, keep a babysitter on speed dial, and proclaim no kids should be allowed in a restaurant before age, say, fifteen!

Don’t do it. Here, I’m giving you my Top Three Tips from a Mom of Many who has been there, done that, enjoys meals out en masse at restaurants with the kids whenever possible, and who still regularly gets compliments from strangers about “how well behaved” they are. (I used to be a little insulted, wondering why they’d assume my kids wouldn’t be good, but then I learned. I accept the compliments graciously now.)

1) Start at Home. Teach your kids table manners at home, and “play restaurant” with them sometimes. Find what shushes your baby the quickest (holding him close, a sharp “shh!”, distraction, crayons and post-its, whatever), and use the same technique as soon as the storm clouds gather over your restaurant table. Make sure you keep a few snacks to kill hunger pains in your bag, plus one or two quiet toys, for when you head out. Stop them gently from disturbing other patrons, even when the other guests are being polite, and teach them to enjoy themselves with you.

2) Start early. As soon as you’re less paranoid about strangers’ germs swirling around your newborn’s head, go on a date with your special other, baby in tow, and start getting baby used to the sights and sounds of restaurant décor, staff and other diners. Baby starting to cry? Soothe and step out for a moment, if necessary. Baby hungry? Learn the techniques of covert feeding (where nobody notices – sorry, but I’m not an advocate of boobs-out breastfeeding in restaurants. A nice blanket suffices. Start something if you want to.) Keep at it. Your baby will soon learn to navigate the restaurant environment, you’ll enjoy your meals more, and other diners will smile and coo at you — and your baby, too!

3) Start at “Family-Friendly” Restaurants. This way, when the best laid plans of mice and men don’t work, there will be baby-friendly seating and bathroom facilities for your convenience, and other, more understanding diners around you, cutting down on icy stares and grumbling matrons who forget they used to go through the very same thing. Choose wisely, looking at the type of guests, the menu fare, the surroundings, everything, then decide if it will be a good environment for your family.

Lastly, don’t ever be afraid to get up and walk right back out the door if your child is misbehaving at a restaurant. Actually, we’re asking you to do so. Nothing works 100% of the time. Ask the waiter to wrap your food to-go, give him a tip, and go. Everyone, including your child, will be happier in the end. If you need to discourage your older child from acting up in public a second time, promise they’ll stay home the next time you go, and follow through. Leave them with a sitter. They’ll learn that lesson quick.

Most restaurants are for the enjoyment of everyone, including your children. Again, choose wisely before you decide to take your child, prepare well, and then go enjoy yourselves!

I’d love to hear your favorite tips, too.

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Posted by on November 16, 2014 in parenting, restaurants


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Snow Day Madness: (A Little) Common Sense

[Another re-post from my Sidelines writing!]  

I know this will spark some controversy among working parents and school administrators, and that’s OK.

This needs to be said: Schools should not stay open when snow and ice make driving conditions dangerous.

Keeping schools open endangers lives unnecessarily, forces teachers to teach to half-empty classrooms (which makes them have to repeat lessons and turns them into glorified babysitters), and clogs rush-hour traffic in the evening, made worse by black ice and overconfident drivers.

Here come the impassioned protests:

Number One: I don’t have a babysitter! This is a legitimate concern, so let’s tackle it. When your child reached school age, one of the first things on your checklist needed to have been deciding who would care for your child when school was out. Your possible options: Your spouse or significant other if his or her job is more enlightened or flexible, your retired parents or relatives (pay them), Before- and After-School Programs (each state has limited funds to help off-set the costs – check with your local social services office), neighborhood day care facilities, company child care (if you are so lucky), drop-in day care (still relatively new and untested, but available in some locations), or seriously, if everything else falls through, staying home with your child. I know that some employers are anti-human and will penalize or otherwise stigmatize you for being absent for this reason, but there needs to be more thought about that as well, with all of the technology around that allows for telecommuting like Skype, Google Docs, Learning Management Systems (LMS), and smart phone and tablet apps ad nauseum. Many larger employers are being proactive and building child care centers on certain floors of their buildings, but smaller ones cannot, so here’s where technology and communication could help, except of course for hands-on service industries like healthcare and the restaurant business. If you are afraid you’ll lose your job, then it is even more important you line up appropriate child care first, then perhaps to work on your skills to get away from employers who cannot understand that your child trumps your job. Maybe it’s time to consider a career change or working from home. Our children are most important.

Number Two: Many low-income kids eat their best meal of the day at school, so schools need to stay open even in sub-zero temperatures! Compare “Best-Meal-of-the-Day after making it through snow, ice, sniffles and asthma acting up, and possibly insufficient clothing choices in sub-zero temperatures at the bus stop with overconfident drivers sliding behind them” with “OK-Ramen-Noodle-Lunch in the safety and warmth of their home, Grandma’s house, or the day care two blocks away.” No contest. We need to be doing more about hunger in our community’s households, if that is our concern. (And it should be.) Just as we open some schools in the summer to feed families who need it, we can open a few buildings on snow days for cafeteria-only use or for food bank pick-up for qualified families, if that is what is making an administration keep a school open on a seriously snowy day.

Number Three: I used to walk a mile each way through waist-deep snow when I was a kid, so others can do it, too! And you hated it. Enough said. It may toughen them up and give them the expanded experiences that our “lily-livered kids” may require in order to build character, but there are other ways to do this. Like preparing sufficiently and taking them for an organized hike, or taking them skiing, or having them help distribute blankets and hot chili when the local church makes its well-planned rounds.

Number Four: They are missing out on learning! They can read a book (oh my gosh!) at the babysitter’s house, explore educational apps that reinforce skills on tablets and computers, participate in planned activities organized by day cares, and actually, their everyday teacher can sit at her or his laptop at home, cup of cocoa in hand, and hold class remotely using the same LMS system the virtual schools like Connections Academy and K12 use every day, for better or for worse. She can call and email all of her students and have them report to a computer, cup of cocoa in hand, with a microphone by, say, 10am, for a lesson in her LMS classroom, where they can talk, watch whiteboard lessons and learning videos, even get in trouble remotely for talking while the teacher’s talking. I’ve witnessed it. Technology makes it happen.

As I made my way to school today at negative-degree temperatures, riding with another teacher who lives close by, as we passed cars stranded on the side of the road and a school bus idling near an overpass, and as we ourselves slid into the neighboring lane on the way to school and thanked God no one was there for that particular moment, I checked off one more reason why schools should close on a day like this: We shouldn’t be risking our children’s lives or our own for something that can be accomplished on another day. A prettier, sunnier, less dangerous day.

Your opinions are welcome, too!

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Posted by on November 13, 2014 in parenting


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Come Back, Sade, Come Back

[Yet another of my Sidelines posts.  Enjoy.]

Come Back, Sade, Oh, Muse, Oh, Sister, whose voice mesmerized us twenty years ago and whose voice emerged from the English countryside for a brief moment in time, just a few years ago, perhaps emerging from the moors but I wax romantic. Come Back, Sade, Oh Cousin, Oh Friend, who paralleled the heartstrings of so many women and captivated the yearnings of so many men. We need another concert from you just to get by.

After almost thirty years of allowing Sade’s music to be first the soundtrack of my young life, and then the fanfare of a new sensuality that proved to be a harbinger of twenty one years of marriage and counting, I found myself walking alongside my husband through the night air across the parking lot of Denver’s Pepsi Center towards Sade’s first concert in a decade, one we had dreamed of but never thought would happen, one we had imagined would have been transcendent among the Red Rocks at the base of the mountains, but really,we were so electrified to even be seeing Sade perform. A concert on a dusty back road would have been phenomenal. Her concert was just that. Phenomenal. Beautiful. Electric. Brilliantly and translucently colorful. She was our Sade still, her voice as mesmerizing as before the decades had passed. And like us, she was frozen in time.

It is said that Sade only comes out once a decade, but Sade, Oh Sade, don’t do this again. We are all fine living our lives traipsing between songstresses and balladeers, trying to remember amongst bills, and babies, and issues, and tragedies, that it is our generational music that keeps us and transports us to another time, but really! Sade, you make it all so much more beautiful. Come back! We need another concert from you. Just to get by.

We are waiting.

Do you have an artist who’s been gone too long, and you wish would come back while they are able?

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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in fashion, music, parenting


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Raising Book-Loving Kids: Does Assigning a Book Kill its Appeal?

[Another re-post from my Sidelines writing. I’d love to get your input.  Thanks!  Read on.]

Weigh in! Here’s a hot topic for parents and teachers alike who fight the battle to keep book-reading exciting and relevant in an age of electronics and instant gratification:

Does assigning a book kill its appeal for kids?

Being a Mom of Many, I actually have several “generations” of kids, and my eldest were the kind who needed their under-the-cover-flashlights taken and their bathroom passes revoked on a regular basis. They always “had a book going” and needed to be booted out of the hall bathroom where they hid from chores and jumped into their latest chapters. The second “generation” had more access to Youtube and Netflix, and the challenge with them is to convince them that the old cliché I repeat is really, really true: “The book is usually better than the movie.” Typically, they just look at me blankly when I say that, respond “OK,” and turn back to their videos. No contest, but no test either. “Sure, Mom.”

So this is to say that I am raising children from both sides of the great divide: The die-hard “Bookworms” and the “Movie Addicts.” So you would think that my answer to the above question would depend on which group I’m speaking of. It doesn’t! No bearing at all! It seems to me – and I am usually good at framing these things persuasively and attractively, as well as being pretty advanced in my negotiating skills – again, it seems to me that, as soon as I recommend or “assign” a book – classic, popular, whatever – that book gets relegated to the slush pile. It’s dead in the water.

Now maybe this is just a reflection on my persuasive skills, or the fact that my kids (and their friends) consider me a slightly-better version of a Tiger Mom, but unless I put them in a room bored, isolated, without electronics, and for a week or longer with nothing to do but to read that particular book, a book assigned by me has very little chance of being read – without coercion or deep incentive.

So and therefore: Moms, Teachers, Dads, Grandparents: Weigh in, please! If this is not your experience and you have tips that we all could use (because I’m about to confiscate electronics in this battle!!!), we would love to hear from you.

What’s your experience?

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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in parenting


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