Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

I'm a sucker for those radio stations that change over to an all-Christmas format in December.  This year the Bay Area has two, and since holiday tunes make for kid-safe listening we've been tuning in an awful lot. After a few weeks of carols I noticed some trends and have confirmed a few with a neutral outside party (my mom). I now present my findings on this vital topic.

For stations that play Christmas songs 24 hours a day, they sure lack variety. With decades of favorites to choose from, they seem rely mostly on Jingle Bell Rock, Winter Wonderland and The Christmas Song. And at least 4 out of 10 times that I turn on the radio, Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is playing. This song was was released in 1994, for those wanting to feel time rushing past them.

Christmas 2011 is treating Karen Carpenter very well. In past years I'd hear "No Place Like Home For the Holidays" or maybe "Merry Christmas Darling" but this year the entire Carpenters Christmas Collection getting plenty of airplay. She's got a wonderful voice, and even if the songs all end up sounding the same I usually don't try the other station if Karen is on.

Each year a song seems to be rediscovered and then immediately played to death. A few years back "Baby, It's Cold Outside" received a much-deserved return to the standard holiday rotation. Not so much for this year's apparent darling, a slight creepy 1992 Frank Sinatra/Cyndi Lauper duet of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."  Three weeks ago I'd never heard this song, and now I hear it daily. This "duet" is an unnatural hybrid of the pop-punk diva's vocals slapped alongside Franks' original 1957 recording.  Why now, 19 years later, does this song merit a revival? Ah, but it could be worse. There is an entire album of Elvis Christmas "duets" with 2008's hottest female country stars that mercifully has not caught on, at least not around these parts.

Novelty songs seem to be on the outs. I've only heard "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" once. Nary a Jingle Cat in sight. The wackiest song I've heard is "I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas" which features a 10-year old girl with a nasally twang longing for a hippo hero. I kind of love it.

When it comes to the more traditional carols, "Do You Hear What I Hear" garners more air time than any other. The powerful Whitney Houston rendition certainly contributes, but plenty of other versions have popped up in the Christmas rotation. Why this song, this year? It remains a holiday mystery, like how Santa fits down the chimney and why I'm the only person who seems to love fruitcake. But I'll keep the dial tuned until December 25th. Who knows, maybe I'll hear some Jingle Cats before Christmas Eve arrives.

(For a less traditional holiday soundtrack, check out my 25 Days of Christmas Songs, the gift that keeps on giving, if what you want is funky holiday songs.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Loving the Taste of Life

Have you seen this? I hate this.
nothing tastes as good as skinny feels kate moss

"Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." Kate Moss said it in 2009 and the pro-ana community (yes, there is a pro-anorexia community) has really latched onto it. I see it pop up with alarming regularity on Pinterest and Tumblr and other sites that collect and spread ideas. Often they are part of thinspo galleries, photo collections of below-weight waifs meant to serve as "thinspiration" for those similarly starving themselves.

One thing I notice among all these collections: The sickly-thin girls are almost never smiling. They are smug, they are proud, but not happy. Because when the rush of seeing their thin frames disappears, they are still not loved. And that's what they are after. They starve themselves to reach a place they have decided will make them perfect, where they able to be loved and to love themselves. They are trying to get rid of themselves so they can find what they lack. It's a race to nowhere. No matter how thin they get, they are still the person they are.

The visible measure these girls have chosen is false. Because the truth is fat people find love all the time. And average-sized people, and skinny people, and people with crooked teeth, and people missing an eye. Love is not about how you look. It's about loving who you are.

To the worthless notion that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, I offer this quote from the movie Spanglish:
American women, I believe, actually feel the same as Hispanic women about weight: A desire for the comfort of fullness. And when that desire is suppressed for style and deprivation allowed to rule, then dieting, exercising American women become afraid of everything associated with being curvaceous, such as wantonness, lustfulness, sex, food, motherhood. All that is best in life.
A life locked in pursuit of an empty ideal is a tortured life. The things we can love about ourselves are countless. To live a full life we must look beyond our appearance and feed the longings of our soul. That starts with forgiving, with healing. It can never come from what we do or don't eat.

So to counter the damaging message proposed by the icon above I offer these images featuring the amazing model Yanderis Lodos. And unlike the catchphrase at the top of this page, these are TRUE. No one body type is perfect. Not every size is healthy. But loving the person you are has absolutely nothing to do with size.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Must Stop

My reaction to the Penn State scandal, which is just one of many where children are broken apart and those who see and know do nothing to help. I tried to make this shorter but couldn't.
Please share if you can. Everyone needs to know this.

The text version, with some sections I cut out.

THIS MUST STOP. If you witness a child being sexually abused, CALL 911. Do not discuss what to do with a boss or a school administrator or a church leader or a parent or a friend or the perpetrator. CALL 911.

What you are witnessing is a CRIME. The worst part is the victims think they are the ones doing something wrong. Give them back a tiny piece of their shattered lives by saying: THIS IS A CRIME and IT IS GOING TO STOP.

If you hear of or suspect sexual abuse, REPORT IT. Tell the Police or Child Protective Services. If you witness sexual abuse, STOP IT. If intervening is not possible due to fear, safety or chock, get to a phone can CALL 911. Make sure the police are on their way to stop it if you cannot.

Know This: The perpetrator has done this to other children before, and will again. UNLESS YOU STOP IT.
This is not a matter to be handled quietly.
It is a CRIME to be handled by the POLICE.

Let the perpetrators of sexual violence against children know:
WE WILL NOT PROTECT YOU ANYMORE. We will not allow your power, prestige, reputation, and influence to hide the fact that you are molesting children. This is not horseplay. It is SEXUAL ABUSE.

These crimes are horrific. That people shield the perpetrators for the sake of friendship, to protect a family name or to avoid scandal is DESPICABLE. They are accomplices in what occurs. Their silence and protection of abusers enables them to rape or molest again and again.

Any ONE PERSON who knows has the power to stop it. But fear or friendship or reputation become more important than children being molested. NO MORE.

We WILL NOT turn a blind eye to abuse. We will let children know THEY ARE MORE IMPORTANT than any job, church, team or school. THEY ARE MORE IMPORTANT than the PERSON HURTING THEM.

Abuse of children will not end. What must end is OUR SILENCE.



The world is a dangerous place,
not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing.
- Albert Einstein 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Half-Baked Birthday

I'm annoyed by the trite things I find myself scribbling in birthday cards or posting on Facebook walls. While not untrue, "Wishing you a great day!" is hardly the warm personal message that a birthday deserves. There is so much I love about the people in my life. I'd like to let them know how great they are instead of just telling them to "Have a good one."

This blog has been slowly sputtering to life, and I'm still looking to find my groove here. I want to keep on task with writing, and giving my friends more thoughtful birthday tributes seemed like a great motivation to write often and spread some happiness. Since they are a more specific and personal type of message than my general blather I created another blog for my birthday blurbs, Half-Baked Birthday.

I don't have a master list of people who I'll be writing messages to. A lot is going to depend on how much free time I have - often not much with two kids underfoot. Blurbs for some people will just pop out. Others, especially people I'm close to, are harder to write. I might not know when your birthday is. (If you don't tell Facebook, it doesn't tell me!) And like most of my projects, this one may get derailed for a while if life intervenes. I may not get to you this year, or at all, but that doesn't mean you aren't wonderful and amazing. If you'd really like one just ask. A subtle comment like "Nice idea" or "I really like these" will also let me know you'd appreciate one on your special day.

Until then, Happy Birthday Wonderful You.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Food: Strawberry Mice

This one isn't so much a recipe as a way to make an ordinary bowl of fruit something special. At Lucas' preschool there was another birthday boy on his big day, and that boy's mom was already making cupcakes. The teacher suggested I bring in strawberries, but a pile of fruit didn't seem very celebratory to me. A quick internet search revealed the wonders of strawberry mice. I didn't have any of the decorations they suggested, so I improvise with raisins for ears, frosting for the nose & eyes, and a pretzel tail. I dropped each into a cupcake liner so they would be easy to serve at school.

As you might expect, they were a big hit with the 3-year-olds. All the kids were so excited to eat their mice. Three months later Lucas is still talking about them. Strawberry mice are a popular item at his play kitchen and whenever we play the drive-thru game. From now on I'll skip the baking and make fruit-based animals for special occasions.

Strawberry Mice

There are endless ways to construct your mice. Here are some ideas.

Body: Strawberries
Ears: Raisins or slivered almonds
Nose & eyes: Mini chocolate chips or dark icing in a tube
Tail: Thin shoestring licorice or sections of thin curved pretzels

Slice the top of the strawberry off at a shallow angle so their "noses" point more out than up. Add a nose at the tip of the strawberry, then add the eyes. Use a toothpick to carve out little dents to place the ears and tail in.

They look cutest if the eyes and ears are close to the nose. It takes a few tries to figure out how your mice will come together, but you'll find yourself with a batch of cute critters in no time.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

No Thyself

Lately I've been trying to make myself a priority. The life of a stay-at-home mom means giving nearly every part of yourself to others. The kids demand most of my attention and energy, and what's left over goes into running errands, staying on top of chores, paying bills, scheduling appointments and making sure everyone else is alright.  Then maybe, if there is any time left, I can do something for myself. With the schedule I keep, that something is nearly always sleep. I'm determined to change this before I lose my own identity completely. The problem is, I don't know what to do with myself.

Of all the people who know me, you'd think the one who knows me best would be me. I live in this skin, peer at the world through these wide-open eyes and hear all the thoughts that click around this brain of mine. But when it comes to knowing myself I seem to have a rather large blind spot. I've tried those personality assessment tests (No, not the Scientology one, thank you very much.)  and I can't choose an answer. I'm never sure if I should put down they way I usually behave, what I value but rarely accomplish, what I'm hoping to be, or some mix of the above. I'm all over the map.

In my quest for identity I've been given an assignment: Ask friends to write things they appreciate about me. The idea is learning what others see in me might help me see myself more clearly. I balked at first. Blatantly asking people for compliments seems a little uncouth. But I realized this happens all the time, usually in the negative. We complain about something - a bad day, a rejection, an insult - and then people rush to praise us. Your boss is an idiot. You're a terrific cook. They don't know what they're missing. Why not skip the self-pity and go straight to asking for the good stuff?

So now I'm asking you. If you're so inclined, let me know what you appreciate about me. What am I good at?  What do you think of when you think of me?  Post it or send me an email or whatever. Or don't. I won't be keeping a list of those who don't respond and imagining they secretly hate me. It's not a tally of BFFs, just an little experiment to see if I can see myself better through the eyes of those that know me.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Food: Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Skewers

This is a super easy and very tasty meal that takes little prep and always impresses guests. You need an hour or so to marinate the shrimp but the rest of the prep and cooking takes only minutes.  

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Skewers - with fail
Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Skewers
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 to 1 1/2 pounds peeled, deveined shrimp (med or large)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper
Lemon wedges

- In a bowl, mix salt and sugar. Add shrimp and stir gently to coat. Cover and chill 45 minutes to 1 hour. Rinse shrimp well and drain; also rinse and dry bowl.
- Return shrimp to bowl. Add olive oil, parsley, lemon peel, garlic, and pepper. Mix to coat. Thread shrimp on metal or soaked wooden skewers, running skewer through the body once near the tail and once near the head end of each shrimp so it looks like the letter C.
- Lay shrimp skewers on an oiled barbecue grill over hot coals or high heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level only 2 to 3 seconds); close lid on grill. Cook, turning once, until shrimp are bright pink and opaque but still moist-looking in center of thickest part (cut to test), 5 to 6 minutes total. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over shrimp.
 - You can also grill some seasonal veggies (like asparagus coated with olive oil) and serve with bread to round out the meal.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To enjoy what you really are.

It was hard for me to leave my job to raise my kids. I always intended to stay at home when I became a mom. I had a good career in product management for social websites, a role and a field I'm pretty indifferent about. But it's a job I'm good at, one that comes easily for me. Apparently it does not come so easily for others since it pays pretty well. I was always surprised when my employers were impressed by what I did as a matter of routine, and downright shocked at how much they were willing to pay for my work. It's nice to feel valued. Even though the job wasn't one I enjoyed much, being highly praised and well compensated made lack of interest less of a problem.

When I became a mom I found it hard to justify leaving my job. Was I really going to walk away from that paycheck, and from the recognition and sense of accomplishment the workplace provided? The answer turned out to be no. Not at first, anyway. When my boss offered me a flexible part-time gig, I took it despite my strong feelings about being at home with my child. It seemed too good to pass up. And it was good, very good, for a while. But as time passed the demands both at work and at home increased, and I had to make a real choice. Go back to work or do what I really wanted and stay at home.

For years before motherhood I had looked at changing careers, but fear held me back. I was really good at product management. Who knows if I'd be good at something new? I certainly wouldn't make as much if I started over. So I stayed doing what I knew I could instead of seeking something that represented me. I made this choice over and over, feeling more stuck with each passing year.

Having a baby was a free pass, a built-in excuse to step away from the easy path I was on and take time to figure out what I really wanted to pursue. And even then I couldn't take that first step. After struggling with the part-time role for a year, I longed to be at home with my son but didn't make a change. I took the cowardly route and waited until I was pregnant with my second child before finally quitting. I didn't have the confidence to choose for myself. I needed the excuse of another baby to do what I really wanted.

I still beat myself up about all this. How could I have left work? Why didn't I have the courage to quit when I wanted to? Am I just lazy for wanting to be at home with the kids? Shouldn't I keep a better house if this is what I m supposed to be doing? No matter what the line of thinking, my inner self can find a way to cast doubt.

In the midst of this doubt-fest, my husband tried to be a supportive as a baffled spouse can be. He kept telling me to do whatever would make me happy. If no one has ever said this to you, let me tell you it's one of the nicest things a body can hear. Of course it wasn't enough to get me to actually take action, because I didn't believe my happiness was worthwhile enough to matter. Still it's wonderful to hear. It's helped me make peace with the choice I've made.

But I won't be at home forever. And unless I can figure out what I'm passionate about and start pursuing it, I'll end up picking up where I left off in my old career. I don't want that. Not for myself or for my children. I want them to charge after their dreams with gusto, and trip along the way and change course and keep on going. Success is not a finish line. It's the joy you have while plugging away every day. I want this for them, and I'm too afraid to go after it myself. They will be too if they don't have a better example.

I was watching the 1990s teen drama “My So-Called Life” and was struck by what the mother character said to her daughter. “That's all I want for you: To enjoy what you really are.” It's what I want for my children. I can give that to them by giving it to myself. First I need to find out who I really am. I need to make that a priority, make time for discovering myself. Then I need to enjoy what I've found. I suspect that's going to be the hard part.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Food: Broccoli Cashew Salad

I'm great at buying vegetables but not so consistent about actually preparing and consuming them. I was looking for a way to use up some broccoli and found an interesting salad recipe from Paula Deen

The problem was I didn't have most of the ingredients. I used cranberries instead of raisins, which was simple enough. I had no tomatoes on hand so I left those out. She called for sugar, which seemed unnecessary. I also didn't have bacon, but it seemed the salad would be lacking without it. A quick scan of the pantry revealed cashews, which seemed a fine substitute and had added the benefit of keeping the dish vegetarian.  I stirred in some some leftover cooked orzo to make a more hearty dish. The result was a knock-out salad that makes eating raw veggies a pleasure rather than a chore.

The amounts below are guidelines - add more or less to suit your taste. One thing I've found is that the onion really brings it all together. I'm not a raw onion fan, but I always make sure to add a bit to make the salad shine.
Broccoli Cashew Salad

    * 1 head broccoli
    * 1/2 cup cashews, roughly chopped
    * 1/4 cup chopped onion
    * 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
    * 6 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
    * 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, 
halved  (optional)

    * 1 cup cooked orzo pasta (optional)
    * Salt and pepper to taste
    * 1/2 cup mayonnaise
    * 2 tablespoons white vinegar

Wash and trim off the leaves and stalk from the broccoli head. Cut the head into florets and 
(if desired) the stem  into bite-size pieces. Place in a large bowl. Add the chopped cashews, onion, raisins or cranberries, and cheese. Add tomatoes and orzo if using. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, mayonnaise, salt & pepper, stirring well. Pour over broccoli mixture and toss gently.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Friday Food: Watermelon Feta Salad

watermelon feta salad recipe - with fail
Writing often with kids about will take some doing, but I want to get into the habit of posting regularly so I'll give myself an easy weekly post. I'll share the simple yummy recipes that have become staples in our house.

First up: Watermelon Feta Salad. I first came across the surprising combination of flavors at Thea Mediterranean. Michelle took me out for a much-needed dinner-and-a-movie and we shared this fresh summery salad. The sweet-tangy-salty combo was easy to mimic and soon became a summer staple in our kitchen.

Watermelon Feta Salad

  feta cheese, crumbled
  mint leaves
  sea salt

Chop watermelon into bite-sized cubes and place in a large bowl. Chop mint leaves into thin threads and add to bowl.  Squeeze in a little lime juice. Add the crumbled feta and a pinch of salt. Mix lightly and taste to adjust the flavors as needed. Chill before serving.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing the Wrongs

The thought of writing terrifies me. Wait. That's not true. The thought of writing is blissful. The *act* of writing is what induces terror. I say I want to write, but I never do it. Why? Because I am a coward.

I started this blog to confront my fear of failing, to embrace the part of myself that knows I can do amazing things if I'd just take a chance. After two measly posts I went right back to my old routine of thinking about writing instead of just writing. But it's never to late to succeed, or in my case, fail. So I'm stretching these stiff muscles once again, starting gently and hoping to find that once I get going it's as pleasurable and freeing as I remember.

As eager as I am to write, I am more eager to do things that prepare me for writing. Well, I pretend it's preparation, but in fact it just helps me avoid actually turning out words. My desk could stand to be uncluttered. In fact, a remake of this entire space would certainly spark creativity. I should make an outline of all my story ideas and potential subjects. Really what I need is to create a writing schedule to keep myself on task. A nice pretty organizer would help inspire me. I should go Google that right now...

And another day goes by without writing. Somehow none of those other tasks get completed either, or they don't end up helping. The fear remains. Just what I'm afraid of remains a mystery.

Not today. I'm writing, despite not having any good idea what I'm getting at here. Despite this being a personal screed rather than a topic of interest to a wider audience. Despite my fears.

I have so much I want to write about. Parenting issues. Profiles of astounding people. The myth of perfection. A celebration of the ordinary beauty we fail to see around us. I can't write it all, so I don't write any of it. Focus is required, but deciding where to begin is numbing. I miss my school days where the writing was assigned: what, when, how long were all settled for me. I flourish at writing on topic to a deadline. When it comes to deciding what to write, my lack of confidence kicks in. Not a lack of confidence in my writing ability, but that my opinion is worth anything, that what I pick to write about has any relevancy or merit beyond myself. That I matter.

My head knows the answer, but the rest of me is going to take some convincing.

Now if you pardon me, I need to search for a pretty notebook, and maybe a nice basket to organize all this desk clutter. I know it won't help my writing, but why let that stop me?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Weekly Reader Goes Down the Toilet

I was heartbroken to learn that Weekly Reader is shutting down for good. I have such fond memories of this little classroom magazine which covered general news and interest stories in a bland generic manner. It was clearly meant to teach kids and offend no one, with topics like presidential elections ("Who Will Win?"), the space shuttle program ("Ready for Liftoff!) or the annual article about the boy who lived in a bubble.  My brother Paul & I loved it, and as with many things we loved we ended up making our own version. Ours was part mockery, part tribute, but mostly fart and poo jokes. I was around 10 years old so "bathroom humor" (as our mom called it) was big-time funny. Thus Poo's Weekly Reader was born.

Looking back through the 13 issues I'm amused not only by our awful potty-mouthed jokes but also by how dead on our parody was. We mimicked and mocked every aspect of the 1980's Weekly Reader, down to the little bug that appeared in the side bar and asked an obvious question designed to get kids thinking. We'd take turns writing the different sections, rotating them with each issue. For all this work we never showed them to anyone else. It was purely for our own enjoyment and to make each other laugh.

I haven't been about to track down any 80's versions of the Weekly Reader online, but I did my best to annotate this version, aptly covering the "Ass Olympics."  Enjoy! Or cringe! Or both!

Ah, youth. Now off to wash my mouth out with soap.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

With Veil? Or: I'm Not My Alter Ego.

When asked to name my favorite or best anything, I never can. My appetites vary with the situation, so the song or dessert or vacation spot I adore at the moment isn't likely to top the list later on. I certainly can't pinpoint the best day of my life. But there is a day that I acted out of character and loved it. It's without a doubt my favorite version of myself, if there is such a thing. An alter ego that emerged because I was wearing a veil at a bar.

My bachelorette party was terrific. An evening of crazy fun with a great group of ladies. At the last stop of the evening, a bar in downtown San Jose, my bridesmaids presented me with a list of tasks I had to complete before the night was through. Nothing too outrageous, but definitely not the sort of thing I'd usually be up for. As talkative as I can be I'm not all that bold or confident with strangers, especially in the see-and-be-seen atmosphere of a bar. Suddenly I'm a insecure teen all over again, hoping to staying invisible and get through the night unscathed.

That night, though, something clicked. This was my bachelorette party. I had on a veil. People's opinions of me were irrelevant. That white piece of tulle was a license to behave however I wanted. I marched up to guys and demanded shots. I enlisted the bartender to help procure items on the list. No one refused me. Everyone smiled and seemed happy to help. I was completely empowered and loving it. My friends were shocked at how fearlessly I attacked the list. I was shocked myself. Within an hour they were scrambling to create another list with tougher challenges. No sweat for this party girl.

It was a revelation to see how naturally people responded to confidence. And it had been so easy. Despite my tendency to play the wallflower I'm not exactly shy. The night hadn't been just bravado. I felt as bold as I had acted. This is it, I thought. This is how I'm going to interact in the world. As if strangers were happy to talk to me. As if no one would think of refusing me. As if there was a veil on my head every day.

And of course, it never happened again.

I went right back to being the person I was before. Unsure in new situations. Reluctant to take charge. Worried about what people might think of me. We expect an eye-opening experience to forever change us. But soon enough we are back in our routine. The dreams of taking up painting again after seeing the masterpieces in the Louvre or promises to live each day fully after losing a friend too soon, these fall aside as the rhythms of our days settle back into what we've established. The current of our everyday lives has more pull than the soul-stirring moments we imagine will reshape who we are.

Still, we're not untouched by our experiences. My veiled alter ego wasn't invented. She emerged. And sure, she was lots of fun, but I'm not all that certain she's the person I want to be. That's probably why I didn't transform after that amazing night. But she's in there, and she can come out again. All I have to do is let her. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Practicing Failure

A twelve-year-old aspiring scientist watches his latest invention go awry, covering his host family in peanut butter & jelly. The boy hangs his head and mutters that he can't do anything right. Before he can continue the family enthusiastically congratulates him on his spectacular failure. Failures teach us much more than successes, they explain. If you never fail you'll never truly achieve great things. Inspired, the young boy is determined to improve rather than abandon his invention.

It's a scene from the animated film Meet the Robinsons, a movie with flying cars, talking robots and time travel. And yet the above scene is probably the most unrealistic part of the story. What parent celebrates failure? Even when we remain positive about our children's missteps we usually do so by encouraging them to keep reaching for success. "You'll get it right eventually," we tell them, or "Almost! Keep trying." When they finally succeed our enthusiastic praise drowns out this weak encouragement. Kids know the score. Failures are mistakes, and doing it right is what matters.

How we praise our kids makes a real difference in how they learn and act. Too much praise can distort a child's motivation. Instead of trying to complete a task or find an answer they angle for our approval. Often they aren't even sure what right is. They simply look to a parent or a teacher to tell them if they've succeeded. That becomes all that matters. Their understanding of what they are doing is secondary, or may not matter at all, as long as they manage to keep doing things right in our eyes. Failing in this case is not a learning opportunity but a tragedy to be avoided at all costs. Though they are capable of much more, they play it safe and stick to the easy, the known rather than take on a challenge.

So what's a parent to do? I've found plenty of resources that shed light on the problem (most notably How Children Fail by John Holt) but it's less clear what the solution is. I almost typed "what the right thing to do is" there. Here I am writing about celebrating failures and I end up seeking that perfect answer! Leading by example may be the best we can do. Parents are going to make some spectacular failures. If we can think of messing up as a good thing, a chance to improve, maybe our kids will too.

To start, I need to hover less as they develop basic skills so they can explore on their own. The coolest things my son did as a baby came from him alone, like strumming a guitar, twirling a bamboo pole like a ninja, and winning a dance contest he didn't know he was in. Had I been too eager to jump in I'd probably have derailed the activity and prevented the breakthrough. A baby doesn't need me to get excited when he strums the guitar for the first time. The sound is the reward, and he should get to revel in that for himself.

When I play with the kids I need to just enjoy it and lay off on the constant words of encouragement. If they start to show interest in something I should let the accomplishment - or failure - stand for itself. So maybe instead of being taught how to do everything, they'll invent their own ways of exploring the world.

And if I fail? That's me learning how to be a better parent.