Archive for September, 2009

Make directives positive

September 30, 2009

laughing in the gardenA simple thing to keep in mind as a parent in order to make communication more effective is to lead by listening and understanding, but when you need to direct your kids, try telling them what you would like them to do rather than focusing in on what you do not want them to do.

For example, “No more video games,” is not as constructive as, “Why don’t you do your reading now.”  Likewise, when siblings quarrel, “Stop fighting!” is not as useful as, “Please be kind” (or even, “let’s have a chance to hear what each of you are saying and feeling”).  I know that no words are magic spells that get our children to be happy, healthy and compassionate, but setting the example through positive words and behaviors, over time, has powerful influence over the general emotional climate in a household.

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A Tale of Three Cities

September 29, 2009

No thanks

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”  So begins “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens (released in daily bursts, one hundred and fifty years ago), which could also serve as an apt commentary on the state of education as it stands, if not in America, at least in Los Angeles where I’m privy to its vicissitudes.

Education in Los Angeles is a tale of at least three cities:  private school, good public school and not-so-good public school.  It is also a tale of one city—a city organized, as perhaps all cities are, by money.

When our first child was approaching the age of school, we set to educate ourselves about what to do—and in a city where the in-the-know parents position themselves from preschool so as to be accepted to the “right” private schools, we were a day late and more than a few dollars short to the picnic.

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Yom Kippur

September 28, 2009

Chaim-Hersh WEIS-Chaim-Hersh ben Sruel-Dov[1]

I have heard it said that we need to know where we’ve been in order to know where we are going.  For the Jews, today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar—a day where tradition holds that the lives (and deaths) for the year are sealed.  I am not particularly religious, and I am interested in all different faiths (as well as bold atheism) and in how whatever truth may exist contains such diverse perspectives.  Still, I need to know where I have been, and today’s post is partly about that—about a family history that had been like a tattered page of erased smudges and then out of the night and the fog, appeared Eva Blanket.

As the sun set over Hollywood last Friday evening,Eva stepped out of the elevator of the Mondrian hotel, having travelled from Australia, and in that moment two drops of one mutual great-grandfather’s blood were reintroduced in the flesh.  As my wife and kids, and her husband and son, wandered amongst the groovesters by the pool in a scene that was way too cool for schul, I wondered if Chaim’s spirit was more pleased or circumspect.  Just as Dorothy wasn’t in Kansas anymore once she landed in Oz, Eva was not in Oz any more now that she’d landed in La La Land… and none of us where in Hukliva… the tiny crossroads town where it had all began, and been all but erased completely. 

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The stag by the road

September 27, 2009

rock star the spotted horseI know that if you live in the country you see deer all the time, and even in LA you see them in the canyons sometimes, along with coyote, racoons, opposum and skunks… living alongside us in our finger-hold lives on this sometimes burning, sometimes shaking terrain.  But in my years in LA I’ve personally only seen one stag, and it was in the mist of dawn and it quickly bounded up into the brush of a canyon.

And maybe that’s why I can’t get the stag that I saw last week out of my head.  My wife and I were driving down Laurel Canyon Boulevard at 2:45 in the afternoon last Saturday when we looked over and saw antlers bounding down the sidewalk.  I tapped the brakes, afraid it might veer into the road, and at 35 miles per hour we were traveling side by side.  The car next to me also slowed in awe of the sight.  I kept anticipating that it would either turn into the street or go the other way into the yards of houses, but it just kept tearing down the sidewalk, approaching Ventura Boulevard.

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Asperger’s at eleven

September 26, 2009

barkI once worked with a ten-year-old boy with Asperger’s who changed entirely at age eleven.  While he had always been socially awkward and withdrawn, rarely making eye contact and showing the “classic” nearly obsessive, and exhaustive, level of interest in one particular, and narrow, subject (arachnids).  We were slowly working our way to a relationship, some dialogue, and the faint glimpses of a give and take when fifth grade came to a quiet close.

And then, when the special needs school started up again and our therapy along with it, I was dealing with an entirely different kid.  He was surly, depressed and his non-communicativeness took on an angry edge.  I wondered what had changed, and part of the story seemed to be that his father would get frustrated and could be verbally harsh, which was particularly destabilizing to this very sensitive child.  Yet another reason for the change in personality was that this boy’s brain had reached the stage of myelination, where the neurons develop a sheathing that make the brain faster and more capable of abstract thinking.  (for more on this see  While this affects all kids during their development, this was a keen illustration of a person who truly was quite “different” from the norm, and as his brain developed, he came to more fully realize his situation.  It was good-news/bad news: good because he had enough social relatedness to feel awkward, yet bad because it only lowered his self-esteem and deepened feelings of isolation.

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Trickster Chronicles—Why Teens Lie

September 25, 2009

cosmetic toe shortenting

From their nose to their toes, research suggests that our teen Pinocchios are pretty much bold-faced, inveterate and chronic prevaricators.  

Last week I wrote about why younger kids lie, but this week I wanted to focus on the adolescent aspects and implications of lying as explored in a New York Magazine article, “Learning to Lie” by Po Bronson (

Teens in a study by a researcher named Darling, at first said that they didn’t lie to parents but, when cleverly coaxed into trust and openness, 98 percent revealed that they did, in fact, lie to their parents.  Now when 98 percent admit to lying, it makes me wonder if the last two percent just might be lying about not lying. 

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Be a mensch, make it a better world

September 24, 2009

six-year-old self-portraitThe word “mensch” is Yiddish for “man,” but it’s not really a sexist word, as the true essence of “mensch” means to be a human being in the kindest and most generous sense of our best homo-sapiens Selves.

A recent New York Times Magazine article, “Are your friends making you fat?” by Clive Thompson ( raises some interesting notions that are particularly related to being our best Selves—as parents and in general.

The article focuses on two researchers, Christakis and Fowler, who found “that good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses…  Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems.  Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.”

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Chilly Scenes of Wintour—when the Shadow and the Mother are One

September 23, 2009


With two boys, twelve and fifteen, I would not have guessed that they’d be interested to go see “September Edition,” a documentary about Anna Wintour and putting together Vouge’s annual cash cow/glamour bible.  But kids keep us guessing, and they keep us on our toes.

The first reason they wanted to see “September Edition” was that they really loved “The Devil Wears Prada.”  It’s not that they care about fashion, it’s more that they were mesmerized by the Anna Wintour character; apparently, beyond Hitler and “Nazi Talk” (see previous post _ ) any mean authority figures really seem to scratch an itch for them.  Maybe it’s some sort of backlash from trying to parent without cruelty, yelling, manipulation and coercion (not saying I always succeed in my Alfie Kohn unconditional parenting, more that when you’re a kid you’re interested in what the bullies are up to—even if you’re glad they’re not necessarily your own parents).  Thus my kids were looking forward to voyeuristically watching the real life Anna Wintour harass and demean people as they ate their popcorn, just like the Meryl Streep meanie did in “Devil wears Prada.”

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So long Persephone, see you in the spring…

September 22, 2009

falconToday marks the autumn equinox (which means “equal night”), and while it depends on how far above or below the equator you are, the concept is of the time when there are just about twelve hours of day and twelve of night.  The equinox is also the halfway point between the summer solstice—the longest day of the year—and the winter solstice—the longest night of the year.  Thus today is the beginning of fall and a significant turning point in the circle of the year—a good time for contemplation of where we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going.

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Can I get a life line?

September 21, 2009

fairy princessImagine if you knew what you know now, and were suddenly your child’s age once again?  Most of us former clueless nerds would rule the school, based purely on our hard-won wisdom about how insecure everyone else actually is (not to mention how much more lovable our past selves are to us now, compared to how we felt about ourselves back then).

An exercise I like to do sometimes, and find healing for others, is to imagine your child self at a time of pain, despair, loneliness and general misery—a time when you could scarcely imagine becoming the person you are today.  Now imagine traveling back in time and, like an unseen apparition, putting an arm around your former child self and saying something to the effect, “I know you can’t see or hear me, but I’m here and I believe in you, love you and I promise that although things are painful, you will endure and there will be pleasures and adventures ahead.  Hang in, you are more loved than you know.”

Next, imagine your future self, twenty or thirty years from now, coming to you where you sit, reading these very words.  Open your heart to imagine an older and wiser self, one who thinks you look pretty young compared to them (and pretty cute, in contrast to what your current self might be thinking)—an older self who puts arms around you and and transmits to you the same abiding and unconditioned love as you are able to now, hopefully, give to your former self.  Trust that just as much as you wish that you could comfort, protect and empower your former self, your future self just might be sending you a like message.  For all we know this could be more than just an imaginal exercise…

So, let’s dedicate today to love for our past, and love from our future conspiring to make this very day pulse with the poetry of being alive, of loving and being loved.  And let’s place this bid for good feelings that come today and, hopefully, last long beyond tomorrow in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce