Phil is a Douche


I’m sitting in the waiting area of the car wash in Toluca Lake right now. Mr G is en route to LAX. His flight was delayed but not canceled so I’m giving his car a wash to make his homecoming a bit easier. Breezier if you will.

I was up at 5am and it’s currently 5pm so it’s possible that my candor comes from exhaustion as it’s been ten days without a partner in crime or perhaps from hunger. I forgot to eat lunch.

The line to pay the cashier was moving slowly because there was a little bearded hipster driving an Audi SUV who wanted them to “re-wax” the horrible job that they did.

When the cashier hurried away to ask a manager about how much to charge him I said to him, “That does not look promising.”

And he went on with quite a diatribe about how it’s his boss’ car and not his credit card and they didn’t do a good job and he didn’t want to get in trouble.

Naturally I followed up and asked him what it was like to be a personal assistant. He replied with, “I’m actually an intern.”

“So you’re in college?” I asked. “You’re getting cars washed for college credit?”

He told me which college he attended and it’s a well-known film school. He explains that he worked for a guy named Phil who needed his car washed. He explained to me that it’s a very expensive Audi (it’s not, it’s a mom car). The bearded hipster was nervous.

Without thinking I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Phil is a douche.”

Bearded hipster intern looked at me and his eyes bugged out almost like we were in a cartoon. It was truly a remarkable moment so I took advantage of having his attention and continued my diatribe. “Phil should wash his own car you’re not a personal assistant you’re an intern. You’re supposed to be learning about TV or film and you’re supposed to be doing actual work not going to a car wash.”

I took a breath before continuing, “How much are you paying to wash Phil’s car? Are you paying for an education?”

He then muttered something about having actual work and reading scripts and thinking aloud that he might be learning something. I think I put him on the defensive.

Unable to resist one last potshot I mentioned, “Well I guess you’ve learned how to not be Phil when you’re successful.”

Oddly he didn’t thank me for my input. But seriously folks? My kids are going to intern one day. If I hear they’re washing mid level executive’s cars there will be hell to pay.

Do You Help Your Daughter or Your Son?


Last night at dinner Jane regaled us with a story where a male classmate told her to get out of the computer lab, “It’s for boys.” And she went on to other things at warp speeds (as 15 year old girls often do) when I had to give her a, “Whoa, whoa, back up! What did you say to this kid?”

“Nothing. I just finished my program first and asked him if needed any help.” And then she rolled her eyes and went back to talking about whatever it was that she had moved on to.

She’s aware that she’s the only girl in the room at times and one of only a few girls most other times but she’s never felt unwelcome (and still doesn’t). Top down there doesn’t seem to be any difference between boys and girls.

So when a teacher creates a lovely environment and a school gives every child every opportunity and then a little boy tells a girl she doesn’t belong in a computer lab what are we to do?

To be clear my daughter was not bothered by this. She just mentioned it as an example of why she doesn’t like this boy, not as an example of his empowerment or a trend at the school.

This isn’t a women’s issue. This is a kid’s issue. What are we telling our boys? How are we teaching them? When they see memes like Make Me a Sammich do we tell them that those are the young men with short careers ahead of them?

Via Know Your Meme

There seem to be two prominent boy cultures right now. One being the Nerd/Gamer/Geek culture which is emerging from deep roots in misogony and the other is sports which has it’s own issues. I have a lot of hope for tech (no clue about gaming because I’m simply not immersed). When you look at the leaders in technology and see men around my age with great early success know that there’s a good chance that they began in porn. I’m not saying this to out anyone or cause trouble but rather to explain that 20 years ago when people were building networks and sites the most profitable ones revolved around women showering in front of webcams. It was a boy’s club because how many women wanted to be the only one in the room with her clothes on? And the women that did work in porn production were a special hybrid of smart and tough.

As the older guys phase out I have no explanation for how a child could believe that computers are for boys. I certainly hope that no one tells my son that history is for girls. He happens to love it.

My daughter doesn’t seem to need any help feeling like STEM is for her. All parents talk about anymore is the importance of STEM, almost to the point of completely ignoring the humanities. Mercifully this talk is limited to parents who are school shopping (or hopping as the case may be) and not the sort of talk I hear from teachers and academics.

Having both a daughter and a son I’m finding that there really are no girls issues or boys issues.

Meanwhile the US Department of Labor put out this webinar for women and STEM (where women hold just 25% of the jobs).

I don’t really have any answers but I have a lot of questions.

Discipline and Punishment in the Second Grade


I thought I knew what discipline meant. The Latin root is disciplina which encompasses education, training and order. Tufts says that disciplina is instruction, tuition, teaching, training, and education and I’d always known discipline to be a benign word, positive even as it relates to children and education. Unfortunately I was wrong. You see, when I look it up at Webster’s the first definition is that discipline and punishment are synonymous and that “instruction” as a synonym to discipline is now obsolete.

definition of discipline

Academia needs to either reclaim the obsolete use of the word discipline or jettison it altogether in the lower grades. I cannot see a scenario where second grade teachers would need to punish children for academic infractions in order to have them learn.

Second grade is a tricky year and it’s an important year (as they all can be) to have a skilled teacher. Developmentally 7 year olds are wiggly creatures who are only just beginning to really organize their thoughts. They are boastful and self centered and if you criticize them they have a tendency to shut down. Seven year old children need to be gifted with opportunities to succeed in the classroom so that they may continue to love school and learning.

On my Facebook timeline I see two mothers with second grade children who are constantly missing recess due to missing homework or being made to run laps. I can’t even address the inappropriateness of homework before the third grade. Entire books have been written on the subject and we would be wise to pay attention to academics like Afie Kohn who remind us that there is no evidence that homework has any academic benefit in elementary or middle school.

Let’s ignore all of the research, sigh deeply and recognize the fact that we are in America and American education equates more work with more learning regardless of research to the contrary. This means homework will be piled on as early as Pre-K. My son had Pre-K homework and absolutely loved it. My son is the child that American schools were designed for, he is a lucky boy. Most children don’t enjoy homework. Homework robs children of valuable daylight hours where they can play and learn from experience rather than from books. Again, that’s a soapbox for another day.

Here we are in a situation where a seven year old child has homework. In addition to bringing home and then completing said homework the child is then supposed to get it into their backpack, bring it to school and deliver it to the teacher. My 15 year old sometimes has difficulty with that. When a seven year old child forgets to bring home, do their homework, put their homework in their folder, put their folder in their backpack or take the homework out of the folder and give it to their teacher what’s a teacher to do? Some teachers withhold recess. Other teachers make the children run laps.

If you are a principal, head of school, headmaster or on a board of directors I’d like to ask you to fire all your teachers who take away recess from children or punish children with running. I’m not saying this to be inflammatory or provocative, I am saying this because I love children, I love education and I love getting good teachers in classrooms.

If you are a parent who has a child who is being punished with exercise, punishment can include being forced to exercise or the witholding of exercise, there is an important document you should print out and present to your head of school or board of education. The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) released a position statement in 2009 that should be required reading for all. It includes statements such as:

Administering or withholding physical activity as a form of punishment and/or behavior
management is an inappropriate practice.


Examples of the inappropriate use of physical activity include:
• Withholding physical education class or recess time for students to complete unfinished
school work or as a consequence for misbehavior.
• Forcing students to run laps or perform push-ups because of behavioral infractions (e.g.,
showing up late, talking, and disruptive behavior).
• Threatening students with physical activity or no physical activity (e.g., no recess, no
game time), and then removing the threat because of good behavior.
• Making students run for losing


Exercise used as punishment is considered a form of corporal punishment in many states (e.g.,
California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii). Corporal punishment in schools is illegal in 29 states
(Dupper & Dingus, 2008) and is defined as “physical pain inflicted on the body of a child as a
penalty for disapproved behavior” (National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in School,
2006). Furthermore, many national professional organizations, including the American
Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association for State Boards of Education, the National
Education Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Dupper & Dingus,
2008) have advocated for bans on corporal punishment. State boards of education in Hawaii
and California prohibit withholding physical activity or using it as punishment.


Some of this is easier if you live in Hawaii or California because our states mandate that our children are given time to move their bodies. Here is a database maintained by the National Association of State Boards of Education which may help you find information about your home state. Even without regulation we have to ask ourselves if we can look at a child that’s this age:

seven year old boy

ask them to complete complicated, multi-step tasks and then when they fail to meet expectations punish them either with exercise or with confinement. You don’t need an advanced degree to know that’s wrong.

 Photo credit

UPDATE: I need to add that the only reason I feel free to post about this particular issue is because it isn’t an issue at my child’s school. And yes, I love that place, and no, you cannot know where it is. Yes, after Alexander leaves in two years I’ll update this again so y’all can send your kids somewhere in LA where kids are educated and respected.

Winning the Lottery Fantasies


This American Life follows kids at Harper High School

I went to elementary school in Manhattan Beach. California had the best schools in the country and Manhattan Beach had some of the best schools in the state. Every morning my mother would leave the house about 15 minutes before us and head East to Watts in order to teach her students. My classrooms were bright and airy, my teachers were local to the community and beloved. Manhattan Beach wasn’t affluent at the time (though it would become so in later years) but all the kids came to class well fed, well loved and in in clean clothes.

My mother’s students came to school hungry, dirty and abused. Some were squatters, some were children of addicts, many were children of gang members and one child came to school and couldn’t sit in his seat because his parents had burned his genitals with a cigarette. This was a third grade classroom.

When the Manhattan Beach schools weren’t a good fit for us (meaning there were only great and not excellent) we went to private schools. My college education was incredibly adequate and nothing worth celebrating but everything I learned in those early years was enough to tide me over. We learned how to learn, which is arguably more important than learning things, whatever those things may be.

My mother, for her part, taught gifted reading and routinely took kids who were not identified as gifted into the programs. She made them read and she made them love it. I’d often hear her talking about how she could teach a kid to read from the back of a cereal box. Unfortunately many school kids may need to learn that way. The money is running out.

We spent a good bit of time at my mother’s school in Watts. It was a scary place for me and a familiar one all at once. We were the only caucasian children there and their blackness wasn’t what made the kids different from us. Even when they were the same age as us, they were older in ways that I could never articulate. I’m pretty sure they knew how to do things that we wouldn’t learn until we lived independently, there was a weariness that kids in the South Bay didn’t quite have. They were very different but I liked them because I knew these were my mother’s other kids and she loved them. The schools were dismal with no color, no lawns and loads of security. The smell was musty, it smelled like defeat.

There weren’t a lot of success stories in Watts but there are a few and I know my mother clings to them. It makes her entire career worth something and when she talks about one student in particular I know she’s as proud of him as she is of her own blood children. It’s a particular joy that only teachers in the roughest parts of town will ever know. He’s her one in a million.

The last two weekends This American Life aired a special where they followed students and administrators at Harper High School in Chicago. It’s a high school that saw 29 current and former students shot in a year. It’s a dangerous place to be a child and a very dangerous place to be an adolescent. The stories spoke to me, they reminded me of my mom’s other kids.

The most remarkable commentary comes at the end of the second part when they ask the principal of Harper High what she would do if she won the lottery and she spent 4 minutes and 38 seconds talking about all the ways she would help the kids. I share her fantasies. I long for a world where kids are gifted books of their own, where they play on lawns and wear clean clothes that will keep them warm in the cold or cool in the summer. Safe neighborhoods, after school sports and arts in the classrooms would absolutely delight me. I’d like to know that sick kids could go to the doctor or just stay home where someone could care for them and if I was dreaming really big they’d all get computers and learn how to make that powerful tool work for them.

This morning I poked around the house fantasizing about buying books and good food for the kids in Watts. I can’t even imagine what I’d do with a winning lottery ticket.

How would you spend a windfall?

Jane is About to be Grounded for the Rest of Her LIFE


Earlier this week I got an email. Here is the exact text:

Just letting you know that Jane volunteered for the 6:45-7:30 shift at the pancake breakfast.  If this is a problem, please let know!
I’ll leave the front gate popped open so people can get into the school.
See you then!

What am I supposed to say? Perhaps, “Listen if you want Jane on your doorstep before 7am may I suggest a sleepover at school?” Or maybe, “Sorry, that’s when we milk the cows.”?

After setting three alarm clocks last night I woke up late this morning. Clocks in my room and each of the kids’ rooms had failed. More likely I’d failed at setting them properly. At 6.05 Mr G tapped me awake whispering, “Don’t you have to get Jane to school early today?” I flew out of bed and woke the kids, threw my hair in a ponytail and got them to school on time. Cow milking time that is.

We had a nice breakfast with kids and parents from the school and I ran home to make myself presentable. I was home for 30 minutes and then ran to the school we’ve applied Alexander to for 6th grade.

There were a lot of parents there and only a few spots for admissions. The head of school gave a spiel and then there were questions. Lots and lots of questions from the parents. Most of the questions were about admissions and financial aid, which seemed weird and like a total waste of time because the applications were due months ago and acceptance letters will be mailed in a few weeks. Either you’ll get in or you won’t, either you’ll get financial aid or you won’t. I wanted to know more about the academics and I swear I almost dropped on one knee and proposed to the headmaster when he went on a tangent about self esteem being a crock of shit (my expletive not his) and went on to explain that kids need to be challenged but then you have to back off a little too. It’s like a dream come true and if Alexander doesn’t get in I think I’ll be crushed.

Conversely if Alexander does get in I think I’ll be petrified.

After the admissions event I had exactly 25 spare minutes to walk the dog and run to the LAPD. There’s a non profit that supports the LAPD traffic division and I was invited to one of their meetings. I thought it was weird that Alex invited me to attend and suggested I text him when I get there. I go to meetings all the time. I don’t need hand holding… I was wrong.

Luckily I parked my car and arrived at the same time as Alex because we walked in to a giant room of uniformed officers and a few detectives. To say I was intimidated is a gross understatement. I was having a pretty good hair day (my friend Jeannie asserts that our power lies in our hair) and I realized in that setting it didn’t make me look better but rather more hopelessly suburban. At least I’m out of the station wagon.

The meeting was interesting but brief. It’s scheduled to be two hours but I could only stay for one because I had to bring Alexander to the eye doctor for his two month post operative exam. The results were as I suspected, wait and watch, but probably another surgery. If I hadn’t have been so fucking tired I might have cried. So I guess I won’t punish Jane for volunteering at that ungodly hour.

We left the surgeon’s office, ran to get Jane from school, returned home for smoothies and homework (just 20 minutes of it mercifully) and then I ran kids to soccer and tennis. I’m home, hitting publish and then running to get my kids. They should be smelly and tired.

I know I am.