After the Visit

March 31, 2008

Random Granddaughter and her mommies had a good visit.

I have to leave for work shortly, so I do not have time to write much right now.

RG started to have two meltdowns, but achieved control of herself before completely melting herself and everyone around her.

Her preschool career has turned into a major soap opera.

She really can read a little right now.

More when I get a chance.

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Before the Visit

March 30, 2008

Mr. Random: It would be nice if Random Granddaughter could visit us once without having a meltdown. What are you fixing for lunch?

Mrs. Random:  I am making deviled eggs.

Mr.: Does she eat deviled eggs?

Mrs.: I am making plain eggs as well. She can have any kind of eggs she wants. Though not green.  If they stay for dinner, we will have chicken. Very plain chicken. From now on, until she learns to get over her fusses about food, they will eat very plain food when they come to visit.

Mr.: Well, we will see if that works.

Mrs.: Well, she will be bored. There’s not enough things to do to amuse her here.

Mr.: I checked out some books from the library. Easy reader books now that she is learning to read. Also, she is bringing her shovel. She can dig. She can put dirt into the wheelbarrow and push it down to the garden.

Mrs.: She can’t push the wheelbarrow by herself!

Mr.: She’s big for her age.

Mr. Random on the telephone to Mommy: Did you get my message last night? I emailed you some ferry tickets as an Acrobat attachment?

Mommy: Yes, but our Internet was not working last night so we couldn’t get it. I don’t know if we be able to get the tickets this morning before we leave.

Mr. R: OK, well, we’ll see you when you get here.

As you can see, everybody is ready for the visit.

Waiting and springing

March 28, 2008

For a few days, the weather smelled and looked like spring. I moved some dirt. We tidied around the fences, in an effort to prevent the illegal aliens (also known as bunny rabbits) from crossing into our territory.

One morning Mrs. Random yelled, “Oh my G–!”

“What?” I demanded in alarm.

“I saw the first bunny. It was lurking out by the woodpile.”

I took down the air rifle. I loaded a pellet. I cocked the rifle. I fired the pellet into a stump. The stump promised not to invade the garden and eat carrots this year.

Yesterday, I got home from work. Mrs. Random said, “It rained all day. I couldn’t work in the garden. I cleaned house all day. The house is almost ready for the family to visit this weekend.”

I looked at the house. Every spot had been removed from the already spotless house (except for my spot, which is very spotty).

I said, “I am sure when Random Granddaughter comes to visit, she will think I will remember what a neat spotless house Grandma had when I came to visit her as a child.

Mrs. Random said, “Hmph.”

I said, “Where is the green eggs and ham book? I may not be allowed to fix myself green eggs and ham when RG comes to visit, but I will at least read the book to her.”

“It’s upstairs,” my wife said.

I imagine RG’s mommies will tell her on the way over to show good manners. I imagine she will forget as soon as we all sit down for lunch. (She is just visiting for one day, so there will be no dinner table manners adventures.)

We have lots of dirt for her to dig with her birthday present shovel if she digs it.

I imagine our family will carry on despite table manners traumas.

Upcoming Events

March 25, 2008

Two items to note about coming events.

Upcoming Visit

A four year old young lady is coming to visit us this coming weekend.

Grandma brought her some gardening tools last month for her birthday. Apparently, the shovel is the gardening tool of choice. Apparently she and best friend Mia each dig the shovel as the best among all the tools.
We have a big pile of topsoil up by our house that we are moving down to the garden to supplement the rocky natural soil. We may put RG off shoveling for life. Stay tuned for reports next week.

New Private Blog

I have been talking about my job too much. In a fashion similar to what another member of our community has done, I am starting another blog which will be members only. Probably the main purpose of the blog will be to whine about my job relatively safely. It’s not quite ready for opening, but will be available soon. If you need to get in you will need to know the blog address and you will need to have a wordpress user account.

You can request the blog address by emailing me at eman_modnar at yahoo.com and you can get a wordpress account at wordpress.com. (Correct email listed above to contact me.)
For people such as Pete, who are too discrete and sensible to have their own blog, you can sign up for an account without displaying your real or imaginary life for the amusement of thousands (or even dozens).

Mad Scientist Parenting

As young parents, my wife and I developed our own style of what I call “mad scientist parenting.” For example, I was impressed by B. F. Skinner’s emphasis on using positive reinforcement rather than punishment as a way of shaping a child’s behavior. 

I was impressed by Haim Ginott’s suggestion that adults should be polite and respectful to their children.

Here is a concise modern-day summary of his principles from a private elementary school in Ontario, Canada.

I was impressed with Fritz Perl’s suggestions that mental health comes from accepting and integrating the warring tendencies in our personalities rather than trying to deny and suppress those parts of our selves that make us feel uncomfortable.

We tried to raise a child who would be polite and respectful but also independent and able to stand her ground on matters of principle and values. I am fairly comfortable with how she has demonstrated those values and behaviors as an adult.

We tried to raise a child who was not afraid to speak frankly (though politely) to her parents. I am not going to complain a whole lot when I find I succeeded.

Next Generation Mad Scientist Parenting

Our daughter and her partner have developed their own style of “mad scientist parenting.” It’s not the same as ours. We don’t necessarily agree with everything they do, but there’s nothing in their approach to parenting that strikes us as dangerous or harmful. If we detected such tendencies, we would be in a difficult situation.

For example, I know someone (no relation) who believes that her daughter’s boyfriend is molesting her grandchildren. I try not to learn any more about this situation than I have already learned.

In my extended family (my side–not my wife’s) there were unpleasant incidents. For example, one of my sisters became pregnant as a result of statutory rape by a much older man. In my opinion, my parents were grievously at fault for allowing this to happen. This is not the entire story of unhappy incidents in my family. I’m not going there any further.

Words cannot express how grateful I am that my granddaughter with two mommies is being raised in a safe and sensible manner.

My wife and I are immensely grateful that we and Mama and Mommy seem to be in agreement on essential beliefs and values in regard to “family values.”

Parenting is a mysterious and difficult process; I don’t think anybody has the perfect formula or an impeccable understanding of how to do it “correctly.”

Our basic principles as grandparents are:

  • Don’t contradict Random Granddaughter’s parents in front of her.
  • Follow their expressed wishes on how to interact with RG.
  • Don’t argue with RG’s parents on non-critical issues that are essentially matters of style and opinion.
  • Treat RG’s parents in a polite and respectful manner.

It is obvious that they have thought a lot about their ideas of child rearing, and some of their ideas reflect changes in today’s zeitgeist of thoughts on child development and child rearing.

For example, Skinner’s ideas of positive reinforcement are now considered crude and dangerous. The book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes argues persuasively for encouraging positive behavior based on internal motivation rather than external bribes. Behaviorist psychologists (followers of Skinner) often used M&Ms to reward children in the same way as Skinner rewarded pigeons or rats with food in his operant conditioning experiments.

M&Ms don’t provide very good nutrition for a child anyway. (However, I don’t care if you feed M&Ms to your rats and pigeons.)

Mama and Mommy have asked us not to say things to our granddaughter such as, “You’re such a good girl.” As I understand their thinking: careful praise for specific behaviors is appropriate; general praise about a person’s character and nature can be dangerous and harmful. This web page conveys some of this thinking.

In some areas, we are in general agreement already with Mommy and Mama. When our daughter was small, we did not own a television. They are continuing that tradition and do not watch live television in their house and have asked relatives and preschools not to let RG watch television. As I mentioned a while back, on a recent visit (Christmas time) RG watched her first television show (on videotape): The Grinch.

That struck us as appropriate. The idea is not to keep her from ever watching television, or to turn it into a “forbidden delight” that other children get to have and she doesn’t and then becomes immensely attractive. The intent is for it to become a part of life that she can partake of sensibly with self-control.

We tried to feed our daughter a good diet and encourage her to develop healthful eating habits; RG’s mommies are doing the same. Again, she gets a sweet and a “goodie” from time to time so sweets do not become a “forbidden” goodie.

Other areas are really a matter of respect. As I mentioned once, they expressed discomfort with reading the The Cat in the Hat to a child her age. It’s not a matter of concern to us if she waits a few years before she encounters that book. My daughter’s small cat Sylvie provides enough of examples of both good and bad feline behavior to educate her about cats for now.

If my daughter doesn’t want me to do comedy skits for preschoolers with green eggs and ham or holding up PLEASE and THANK YOU flash cards, I will respect her wishes on it. I think being respectful of their preferences is simply respectful grandparenting.


To provide a little perspective about my thoughts on the etiquette and strategy of grandparenting, I will start with our experiences with our mothers.

The Beginnings

When my we were a young married couple with a baby living in Los Angeles, both grandmothers were eager to babysit for us and take care of our little daughter. Grandpas were not much in the picture. My father was dead; my wife’s parents had long ago divorced.

We were uncomfortable with their grandmothering.

My wife’s mother

For one thing, my wife’s mother did not like the name we had given our child. She never said anything directly about it, but she came up with her own nickname and always used it instead of the name we had given our daughter. We felt naming our child was our prerogative, not grandma’s province. We felt grandma using a different name then the name we had chosen was a subtle passive-aggressive way of denigrating our choices and skills as parents.

Also, at times, we would come back from a night out and realize that the babysitting maternal grandma had been drinking. She was not drunk, but her speech was a little slurred. We were not especially pleased and felt reluctant to have grandma babysit.

My mother

My mother had all sorts of suggestions about how to raise and feed our child. My wife did not regard me as a sterling example of a successfully raised child. My wife did not know my father very well, as he had died before we really started going together, so the only visible person to blame for my deficiencies was my mother.

Also, after years of psychological abuse from my father, my mother had developed her own subtle, martyrly style of passive aggression. My wife is a fairly straightforward person; when she wants to be aggressive she doesn’t believe in diluting it with much passive. My mother irritated her immensely and my wife did not want the paternal grandma her influencing our child very much.

We move away

When I graduated from college and decided (unwisely, to be sure) to go to graduate school, I enrolled in the University of Washington. Our decision to move a thousand miles from Los Angeles was not based solely on a desire to put space between our child and her grandmothers, but it clearly played a significant role in our decision.

Mama and Mommy live close enough that we can visit them and they can visit us with a couple hours driving and a 25-minute ferry ride. (RG probably doesn’t care for the drive, but she considers the ferry ride a big treat.) Four other grandparents have to fly across the country to visit RG. The remaining grandma has to travel from Oregon.

We are grateful for their choices in geography. We don’t want to give then reason to reconsider.

“It’s OK as a thought experiment, but I would rather that you not actually do it.”

Random Daughter is very tactful with her dad, but she was telling me that she doesn’t want me to do the green eggs and ham experiment when the Barely Extended Family comes to visit us in a week’s time.

My wife didn’t get the green eggs and ham experiment, either. I’m not going to try to make Random Granddaughter eat green eggs and ham. She can eat anything she wants (within Mommy guidelines) when she comes to visit. I was going to eat green eggs and ham in front of her, thereby proving that her grandfather is not only silly (as she describes me) but crazy as well.

Actually, that was not the only experiment I had in mind, though my daughter rejected experiment #2 as well.

Our weird family is very conventional when it comes to insisting that RG say “Please” and “Thank you,” to other people. “What do you say?” is often heard at the dinner table, just like in normal families.

Grandma mutters (when the rest of the family is gone), “She knows perfectly well what to say. Our daughter learned at an early age how easy it is to get adults to do what you want them to do if you’re just polite to them. Why is it so difficult for RG?”

RG is starting to read and write. She can recognize a few words. I bet she can recognize “Please” and “Thank you.” I was going to make giant flash cards that say Please and Thank You and hold them up for her at the dinner table behind the backs of the other adults.

Oh, well.

This morning, before I got ready to go to my high stress job (which I had taken because I thought it would be low-stress), I checked my Yahoo email accounts. I have three at the moment. Each is supposed to be less stressful than the others.

I saw an ad posted by Yahoo.

Although I am concentrating on making it to retirement rather than seeking a new job, I couldn’t resist seeing what they regarded as low-stress jobs.

Here are some of the titles with my comments instead of theirs.

Accountant. I am trying to get my taxes done in time. Then I will take my information (which is a little confusing) to my accountant and demand she get my taxes in on time and find a way to save me some money.

Pre-school Teacher. I went to six high schools. At the age of 4, Random Granddaughter has gone to four preschools. Her birth mother, a trained Montessori preschool teacher (who moved on to a higher stress job working at an exclusive private school) has been dissatisfied with every pre-school RG has attended. Although she is a very polite person, I suspect she has let the teachers at every school know that she is watching and evaluating their care of RG very carefully. She is about to move RG back to pre-school #1. I don’t know what RG will have to say about these changes. RG is a child who often expresses her opinion freely.

Nursing Assistant. I wonder why so many of the nursing assistants I encounter are from the Phillipines.

Financial Planner. Today, your assignment is to call your customers and tell them the state of their investment in Bear Sterns.

Massage Therapist / Physical Therapy Assistant. How many massage therapists injure themselves trying to get the kinks out of their tense patients?

Pastry Chef. Just don’t sample too many of your creations. You might get high blood pressure.

Graphic Design. My wife and I owned a graphics business. We provided services to many graphic designers. We did some graphic design work of our own. What part of the word deadline don’t you understand?

Desktop Support. “Hello, I have been on hold for four hours waiting for you to help me with my *!@% computer. It doesn’t work. I don’t see a key with the word any on it. There is no need to use that kind of language with me….”

Welcome to the world of low-stress careers.

I sometimes have a premonition that some event-usually bad-is going to happen before it happens.

This sensitivity to the future is not based on the “extrasensory power ” known in science fiction as precognition.

My awareness of the future is not based on the psychic power known to mystical nutcases as divination.

It is based a bit on intuition. It is based a bit on a lot of experience, usually with bad things happening.

It is not very precise. I gain no benefit from this non-power power.

For example, I once picked up the Portland Oregonian and read about a person on trial for murder. The accused was a former student of mine, Mindi Rahier. I did not know in advance that Mindi would turn out to be a murderess, but I was not surprised.

I had two thoughts as I read the story: Mindi always was a sociopath and Mindi always was a lazy, sloppy student who never did an assignment correctly.

I then had two more thoughts If I had been a better teacher, Mindi might have done a better job of getting her boyfriend to murder her husband and Maybe it was a good thing that I wasn’t that good a high school teacher.

Talking about the crime on the telephone with her boyfriend after the deed was just the kind of careless dumb blunder Mindi would do. As if it didn’t occur to her that the Portland police would get a warrant to tap her phone.

This is all true. I am not making any of this up. As David Rochester wrote recently, some stories would never work as fiction.

Mindi had been a student in an alternative school half-day program called Alternative Futures, based around futurology and environmentalism. We (the three teachers) tried to inspire our students to become activists and to make a positive difference in the world and to fulfill their potential. Some students who usually didn’t like high school thrived in our unconventional educational environment.

Some students didn’t thrive at all. Although the students had a lot of freedom, they also had to provide some internal self-discipline and an ability to structure their own lives and make reasonable choices.

Some were not suited for the freedom we offered. Mindi was one of the students who could only reach her potential with a lot of external structure around her. She did very poorly in Alternative Futures.

Mindi was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and sent to the Salem (Oregon) State Prison for women. (This is one reason I am using her real name, a departure from my usual policy of either making up false names or just using initials. I doubt Mindi is going to come looking for me with revenge in mind or is going to sue me for libel. I don’t know if she has access to a computer or gets to blog.)

There is a “rest of the story” footnote. A year or two after she was sentenced and started serving her term, I read one more newspaper story about Mindi. Many of the prisoners in the woman’s state prison were poor and illiterate. Mindi, the story said, was occupying herself in prison by teaching some of her fellow prisoners to read.

I had one last thought about the experience:

Maybe I hadn’t been such a bad teacher after all. Maybe I had inspired Mindi a bit. Mindi just needed a structured environment to fulfill her potential.

I work for a very liberal organization. It’s big on “diversity.” However, it has a very limited understanding of the word. In terms of employees, it is big on accepting people who wear different skin colors, who sneak into different churches, and who even have different preferences on whom to go to bed with, as long as they all respectfully conform to the same hierarchical, bureaucratic style of behavior.

As I once wrote on my old blog, in high school #6 of six I attended, I had a black girl friend (really just a buddy, but everyone thought we were a romantic couple).

Later, my wife and I moved to be closer to my job location (a very multi-racial high school). We rented a house right behind the high school. Every face on our block was black except my daughter’s, my wife’s, and mine. We felt a little awkward, but not much. We didn’t think about it that much after the first month we were there.

For a while, I worked next to a gentleman born in Morocco. Y didn’t eat anything during the day during Ramadan, so I knew he was a Moslem. An athletic young fellow, he competed during weekends in “soccer” matches instead of playing in “American football,” games, I guess because he grew up in Morocco, where they kick their footballs instead of running with them.

He was very close-mouthed about his beliefs, though just before he moved to a better job, I became aware that he is really probably a “radical agnostic” or something like that. For one thing, he went out with his co-workers for a drink to celebrate his new job (which pays much better and is much more worthy of his extensive talents). For another thing, we joked about my being of Jewish ancestry and he being of North African Islamic ancestry. As if it mattered to either of us.

Except here (and you are all sworn to silence) I won’t tell on him.

Our closest neighbors on the island are devout Christians. My wife, my daughter, and daughter out of law and I are more or less atheists. We now consider our Christian neighbors close friends. They seem to feel the same way about us.

RG (four-year-old Random Granddaughter) hasn’t told us yet what she is but as long as she is respectful to her two mommies whatever her belief is will probably be fine with me.

If I live long enough, maybe I will talk to her about what I call “meta-values” for lack of a better term. For example, saying “Please” and “Thank you” and only hitting people if they get fresh with you are meta values.

At times I have said stupid and offensive things in the presence of diverse people, though rarely, I think. When I realize I have done so, I say, “That was an offensive thing to say, wasn’t it? I am sorry I said that.”

They have usually said, “Yes, it was.” Then they have usually shrugged. I guess I have been lucky.

My main point is that when it comes to “diversity” and “tolerance,” I have “walked the walk” to a reasonable degree.

In my many jobs, I have never been a “good” employee. I have sometimes been a useful employee. I have sometimes been able to solve problems few if any other people in the company or organization could solve. I have sometimes been able to perform tasks few if any other people in the organization could perform. After they got done thanking me, my bosses are usually chewing me out in their next breath. “Don’t do it again,” they say.

From time to time, I have been in trouble. Next Friday, I have been asked to attend a meeting with my bosses. Although they didn’t say why (because in our bureaucracy, one of the rules is that one never says outright what is actually going on), we all know it is for me to get my reprimand and my plan for “personal improvement.” How much I will improve with less than a year to go to retirement is hard to say, but I guess I better pretend I will grow up quickly in that amount of time.

I am reminded of a joke. A mother was very proud of her son serving in the army. On the day of the big parade, the mother eagerly lined up with the rest of the bystanders along the parade route so she could watch her son march with his unit.

When she got home, her neighbor asked, “How was the parade?”

Mom replied, “It was wonderful. My son looked so handsome marching in his uniform! But his unit needs to practice marching a bit more. Everyone else in his unit was out of step with him.”

[I think his unit is called the “Diversity Brigade” or something like that. I think RG (Random Granddaughter) is planning to enlist in that unit as well, though as she is only four years old, it’s hard to tell, but she shows some precociousness for marching out of step already. It must be genetic.]