Alive but Distracted

January 29, 2009

I am alive and functioning, but not writing much. In my last two weeks of my job, I’ve had enough experience to take up a year of blog writing. Peru alone occupies a mental continent in my life; Korea also has taken me over. Today is my last day of work. I survived my 65th birthday; will I survive my last day of work?

Happy Birthday to Me

January 26, 2009

If you had asked me when I was 40 years old, “Random, are you going to make it to the age of 65?” I would have said, “Of course not.”My father had died  of a heart attack (his second) before he reached the age of 50, two days after I had stood up to him for the first time in my life. I had high blood pressure;  I had reactions to one of my medications that made me think I was having a heart attack; I figured it was only a matter of time before I keeled over; I figured it was only a matter of time before I ran out of time.

I have been in and out of psychotherapy at various times in my life. On at least three occasions, therapists have looked at me with a very serious expression on their face and said, “Don’t think you are responsible for your father’s death.”

I have replied, “No, I don’t think that.” I have thought, I don’t feel great about the whole experience either.

In any case, yesterday was my 65th birthday. I stopped at the drug store to use their copy machine. I copied my birth certificate and my wife’s birth certificate; We are filling out irritating forms for my tiny pension.

Today will start my last week of working for my employer. I will start collecting social security and my pension. I will turn in the laptop my employer lets me take home. As a birthday present I bought myself a new laptop. I was going to switch to Linux; the computer store was uneasy about trying to run a laptop on Linux; I decided not to be heroic; so I am running it on Windows XP. (I am avoiding going to Vista.) I did decide to stop using Microsoft Office Word; I am writing this on Open Office Write. It’s a little different than MS Word, but close enough for government work as the saying goes, even though I am about to stop doing government work.

The laptop has a fingerprint reader on it. I am shocked and amazed and frightened of trying to use it. I figure it will probably lock me out of my own new computer or lock my wife out. My wife has almost no fingerprints. She says it is because she rubbed off  her fingerprints off by working in offices all her life. I know it is because she comes from another planet. She comes from the same planet as David Rochester, or at least from the same solar system. Her planet is named The Planet of the Chickadees. She and David may be related; she is his long lost sister that he didn’t know he has.

My wife took me out to dinner at a nice restaurant. We listened to Prairie Home Companion this morning. Garrison Keillor told one of his Lake Woebegone stories. It was rather said, about a couple who were brilliant ice skaters but didn’t make the Olympics. He did a funny bit about how people in Lake Woebegone, descendants of Norwegian farmers, won’t give or accept high praise; “Not bad,” or “Pretty good, for you,” is about the most they can handle.

This is pretty much true of my wife. She doesn’t accept praise very well. Besides being from the Planet of the Chickadees, she was also born  in Lake Woebegone, or at least that planet’s version of that mythical town.

After dinner as we drove home I had trouble seeing in the dark because my eyes have cataracts and they are getting worse. She said, “Turn here!”; I yelled at her, “I am turning,” she yelled back, “No you weren’t” We made it home alive after only a couple more snarls.

I checked the phone for messages. There was one message. I listened to it; three people sang “Happy Birthday”; I could distinguish a high pitched voice above the other two, singing “Happy Birthday to you, Grandpa.”

Then we started working on the forms I have to submit for my pension. We yelled at each other about whether or not to apply for the optional COLA. It starts us lower. If we live long enough, we will end higher. Although I am a pessimist, I said yes; although she is an optimist, she said no.

We have been married for 43 years. We yell at each other at least everys other day;  about once a week we have a fight so bad we don’t speak to each other for most of the day. About once a quarter, we have a fight so bad, we think about leaving each other; though we have never gone so far as to talk to a lawyer. (We did visit a marriage counselor several times.)

We said, “We’ll finish the forms in the morning.” We went to bed. At night, I read a book to my wife. (We don’t watch television any more.) Right now I am reading her a book called Little Heathens. It a memoir by a woman who grew up on a farm in Iowa, raised in part by her grandparents, who were very strict and very religious. Our science fiction grandchild  who may be a genius some day is being raised by two mommies who are atheists with the help of two daddies, one of whom was a sperm donor. She visits our little house in the middle sized woods on an island. and looks at our big garden. We want her to know food comes out of the ground not from a shelf in the supermarket.

My wife and I kissed goodnight. We didn’t go to bed mad, though we are both quite mad. Today I am a day older than 65.

The Peruvian Matchmaker

January 21, 2009

I have at times tried to play matchmaker. Sometimes it has worked. Sometimes it has not.  

The word “matchmaker” implies a romantic connection, but matchmaking just means putting two people in touch with each other.  

Years ago, I was teaching a computer class in Portland. The class ran for two days. On the first day, I had the students introduce themselves. One person said, “I am an office manager.”  

Another person said, “I am taking this class to help me get a job.”  

“What kind of work do you do?” I asked.  

“Secretarial work,” she said. I asked the office manager, “Are you hiring at the moment?”  

She said, “Why, yes, we are seeking a secretary at the moment.”  

With my usual subtlety, I said, “I suggest you talk to each other during the class break, which will take place in about an hour and a half.”  

After the second day of the class, the student approached me and thanked me. “I got the job!” she said. As far as I know, lightening never struck like this again, but once in a while I have put two people together and something good happened.  

I have talked a few times about one of the volunteers I work with, Mary, a very determined woman from Peru, who came to the United States to go to graduate school in engineering. She offered to volunteer and teach computer classes in Spanish. The library system often fumbles the ball (as do I from time to time), but eventually they were able to get her started teaching classes in Spanish.  

I asked her once, “Why are you called “Mary” instead of “Maria.”  

“My father loves American movies. One of my sisters is named ‘Vivian’ after Vivian Leigh because he loves ‘Gone with the Wind.’” One of her sisters is a child psychiatrist and the other has a doctorate in linguistics. She told me that getting a lot of education is a tradition for the women in her family. In Peru, her counselor told her, “You are good in math. I recommend that you become an accountant.”  

I don’t think Mary is named after a particular movie star; her father just likes the American name “Mary.” When Mary meets another Hispanic person and converses with them in Spanish and introduces herself as Mary, they are puzzled. Mary is very patient and very firm and keeps reminding them her name is “Mary” until they get used to it.  

Mary was very polite and very determined when her high school counselor in Peru told her, “You are very good with math. You should be an accountant.”  

Mary is very polite, but also very determined. She said, “I don’t want to be an accountant. I want to be an engineer.”  

Mary went to college in Peru and got an engineering degree. Then she came to the United States, went to graduate school, and got a Master’s Degree in engineering and then got a job with a utility company.  

Mary is very short, and she looks just like I would imagine an Inca woman would look like, so I guess her ancestors were Indians, but she is an Inca woman with a Masters Degree in Industrial Engineering. I love people who don’t fit into neat boxes  

I retire at the end of this month. I suggested that Mary and I go out for coffee as I may not see her again, and I like her a lot. She is working for a utility company.  

“How are things going for you?” I asked her.  

“Very well,” she said. “I was rather bored, but then they gave me a promotion. I now have more responsibility and now I earn more money. By the way, I just received my American citizenship,” she told me. I congratulated her.  

I told her about my granddaughter and how she has been “diagnosed” as having a very high IQ and what a character she is.  

Mary said, “I would like to meet your granddaughter.” I said, “I will check with my daughter and her partner and see if I can invite you over for dinner with them and my wife and I so you can meet RG.” Mary also told me that she doesn’t think she is particulary intelligent; she just makes up her mind what she wants to do and perseveres until she accomplishes it.  

It is a tradition in my family to adopt relatives. My daughter had several excellent “aunts” we adopted for her. RG has an “aunt” who drives a bus in Portland. The people I call the “Friendly Neighbors” have “adopted” RG as a grandchild. There’s no reason why she can‘t have a Peruvian “aunt.” Actually, Mommy speaks some Spanish and spent some time in Puerto Rico.  

The day after I had coffee with Mary I was teaching a class and met some interesting people. Two work in sales. I helped them both with Excel. Julie is “American” and sells Swatch watches. Inni is Russian but sells real estate in Seattle. Julie has a lot of trouble with Excel, but said she needs it for her work and that my class was very helpful to her. Inni is very sharp at math and frequently corrected me on little errors I made during class because of my dyslexia. However, she said the class was very helpful to her because I introduced some information new to her.  

 After the end of the class, I talked a bit with Julie and Inni. I said to both of them, “I plan to start a part time business after I retire. It will involve a lot of sales work. I had a business once that failed. One of my weakest points at that time was in sales work. I realize I should pay attention to this part of what I plan to do.”  

Can I call on you to give me some advice on selling?” They both said, “Yes.”  

A quiet young man in the class came up to talk to me after I finished talking with Julie and Inni. He told me he needed to learn much more about computers. He looked and sounded Hispanic. He told me that he had been doing factory work but he wanted to go to graduate school and break out of his fairly menial work.  

“Where are you from?” I asked. “  

“I am from Peru,” he said.  

“I am retiring soon and I won’t be teaching any more computer classes,” I told him. “I would like to encourage you and help you pick up more computer skills, so you can go on with your education, but I won’t be available to do so,” I continued. I also said,  

“I know somebody from Peru who works as a volunteer and teaches computer classes in Spanish. She can probably help you learn more about computers. I will check with her first to make sure it is OK, but if it is I will take you both out for coffee and introduce you to each other.”  

Mary seems to be doing fine, but as far as I know she is unattached, and I get the feeling she is a little lonely. Who knows? I have seen stranger things happen than two Peruvians in the United States being introduced by an Anglo.  

As David said about how I met my wife, “You met your wife because of a prank call?”  

Also, the young Peruvian man is named “John.” He said, “My father named me John instead of ‘Juan’ because he likes American movies…”  

I am not making this up.

When RG was an infant, she was healthy, but clearly unhappy much of the time. The mommies and RG lived next door in the duplex we owned, and I frequently took care of her. She was frequently crying, though there seemed to be nothing wrong with her physically. I remember mommies and Grandma saying, “If only she could talk, so she could tell what was bothering her.”

I said, “I have a feeling you won’t like what she has to say when she begins to talk.

As she became a toddler and pre-schooler and began to talk, she often seemed frustrated. She often struck me as trying to decipher a secret code that adults used to get their way. At the time, it struck me as a perfectly normal part of growing up. Adults direct and control little children all the time, quite certain they know what is best and necessary for the children.

I have a secret sympathy for little children; I am kind of a toddler libertarian.

I have become quite a fan of the cherry vile philosopher/anthropologist Ernst Becker. I first came across his work when I read a transcript of a talk Becker gave in British Columbia in memory of Gestalt psychotherapist, Fritz Perls. I was thunderstruck when Becker talked about how we control little children for their own good (or so we think).

I am going to quote from Becker’s talk at length here. The entire transcript is available on Wikipedia. (It occurs to me that the syndrome Becker talks about, when carried to a monstrous extreme, might shed some light on David’s experience that led to his DID. I don’t know. David will have to evaluate whether my extreme intuitive leap makes any sense.)


 “In order to come of age, in order to become an adult, the child has to distort his awareness of the world and become somewhat dishonest about himself. He becomes dispossessed of his own senses; he is fragmented within himself by the mechanisms of defense; he is cut off from reality; and he doesn’t see the real world as it is because he has a certain stake in seeing it in a somewhat distorted way. And apparently it all starts in childhood, where the child tries to exercise his own activity but comes up against two people in his environment who in some ways continually block his own movement and his own satisfaction. They block the child’s assimilation of experience. This has been known, of course, since Freud. The child is blocked by the adult in the pursuit of pleasure. I won’t say that he is blocked always for his harm; he is blocked a lot for his own good. If the child goes to walk into a fireplace, the adult has to stop him. If he tries to eat poison, it’s a good idea not to let him do so. If he tries to walk off a cliff, you try to grab him. So the child finds that he is blocked by the adult at certain times. A lot of times he is blocked and frustrated by adults so that he can learn self-control. There is a sense in which the child has to learn proper self-control. These things we admit. But the thrust of the modern theory of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and all of Perls’s work, is that a lot of times the child is blocked in his experience because of the anxieties that are not his and because of threats that are not really there. These are the anxieties of the parents, the anxieties of the adult. His hands are dirty, and you make him wash before dinner because you are afraid of germs. He doesn’t know anything about germs, and anyway, how much chance would there be of his becoming ill?

“A lot of ways in which adults stop children occur because the adults themselves feel uncomfortable. He puts his feet on the sheets, you scream, “Get your feet off the sheets! I hate dirty feet!” Well, there’s nothing wrong with feet on the sheets, really. There are very few illnesses you could get from that. This is not Calcutta, after all. He fondles his ‘genitals; this makes the adult anxious because the adult has his own anxieties about sexuality. He breaks a glass, the adult becomes upset. He tracks dirt onto the floor; all of these simple things. I have a friend who went to beat his child for stepping into the roses. What are roses for except to be stepped on by children, in a manner of speaking? And yet, you can see where children have to take the burden of adult anxiety. The child internalizes anxieties that are foreign to him and artificial to his desires; unnecessary, we might say, to his own natural expansion into the world. The child needs the adults for one thing, really, more than anything else, and that is a feeling of value. He needs a feeling that he is loved, and a feeling that he is somebody of importance — what we call self-esteem. And the only way he can get self-esteem is by accepting what his parents say and do to him. He accepts the adults’ blocking of his actions because if he doesn’t they will threaten him with abandonment and withdrawal of love. So the child is really trapped. He has to accept what the adults are doing to him, and he accepts it willingly. This means that he develops a certain world view where he tries, by putting a brake on his own action and his own pleasure, not to displease them. So as he shapes himself, he shapes himself into an image that is pleasing to others. So right away, you see, you have here the fundamental dishonesty of the childhood situation. He takes pieces of the parents into himself — “You don’t do this”; he goes to touch something — “No! No!” “Bad! Bad!” “Good! Good.” And the first thing you know, he’s got a program, a conditioning, a superego. He comes to feel anxiety when he does “No” things, and he comes to feel pleasureful when he does “Yes” things. But these “Yes” things and these “No” things don’t come from his own organism, they come in to him from the environment. So the child is actually a creature, you see, of his training. There is a tremendous sobering radicalism in that idea, which I think is the real reason for the discomfort of Freud, still.

“So, the child, in order to maintain and build a sense of self-worth in what is fundamentally a tyrannical world, adopts these deceits. You see, the child has no power; if he doesn’t do what you say, you will correct him for it. So he’s living in a world of Stalins, really, and anything he does wrong he’s “corrected” for. He’s living in a world of giants; when you’re a child you live in a forest of knees. We forget that very easily; we were walking around bumping into people’s knees for a long time, and we have to watch out we don’t get stepped on — and sometimes we do. They say, “Oops! I’m sorry.” There are all these feet coming down on you. You don’t really see people’s faces for a long time. And in order to live in that kind of world, you more or less have to knuckle under to it.

“Now, in this viewpoint of human development, you can see that neurosis is inevitable; it’s impossible not to be neurotic. Each person is in some way off-centered; that is, his aegis over his own action has been delegated to someone else. Each person is in some way, as close as we can put it, off-centered. He’s not a responsible, spontaneous source of his own activity. Somehow that has been delegated to his environment. In some ways his awareness of the world has been blocked. If the parents don’t feel comfortable with the child’s genital area, he tends to not see it. He tends to think of it as a “no-no.” If his parents are afraid of germs, he tends to be hypersensitive to his hands. And so on. He has to see only what they see in order to protect himself.

“The neurotic style, then, and this is an idea that I think is becoming quite current now, is kind of a positive development since we all have it; we’re all neurotic. The only problem with people who are neurotic is that they think that they’re different. But everybody is neurotic, so we can all relax. Everybody feels guilty about sex, because sexuality means your body makes you guilty — not necessarily because of what the church taught you, but because the body is a hindrance to your own free subjectivity. The body is a standardization of yourself, the body is a physical thing. Your own free person inside of your body wants to be something more than merely a standard product of the species. So, as Rank pointed out, we all feel guilty with our body. We’re all neurotic.

“I say that deliberately because I think there’s a lot of bad propaganda going around about how not to be guilty, how not to be neurotic. As you’ll see as my talk develops, this is pretty nigh impossible. Neurosis is a kind of dishonest style that helps people, all of whom are more or less crippled, maintain their sense of self-worth. It makes them oblivious about their own dishonesty. Here’s an excellent example of this kind of obliviousness about one’s own dishonesty (what we call the unconscious): A friend of mine, and 1, and another person were coming out of a movie theater. The third person was a dependent type who didn’t have too much confidence in himself, but who was sensitive. I said, “How did you like the movie?” And he said, “Oh, it was a great movie, it’s one of the best movies I ever saw, tremendous! The leading role, the acting, the images, the directing, the real good camera work, and the plot especially was particularly well integrated; you had a real feeling of suspense. It was really a first-class movie.” And then I turned to the other guy, who was a very strong person with a lot of confidence but who was a little dull intellectually, and I said, “How did you like the movie?” He said, “Lousy!” Then the first person said, “Right, it wasn’t very good.” So he didn’t have the courage, you see, to maintain that position in the face of the stronger person who said it was bad. But the interesting thing about it: I asked him afterward, “Do you realize that in the space of about one-tenth of a second, you went from a positive, enthusiastic opinion to a totally negative one?” He said, “I did?” There’s an example of the unconscious as it works: the obliviousness of the person about what he’s even doing in order to maintain his sense of safety and security and self-worth. So the neuroses that we all have are a kind of stupidity — an inefficient and in some ways self-defeating self regulation. The person has given up awareness of himself and the world. He has given up authentic self-control and self-governing in order to have self-esteem and to somehow keep his action moving forward, even though his actions now reflect motives that are not his. but those of others.


The interesting thing, you see, is that when we are trained as children, we are too young to know what is really happening to us. When you look at your children, you feel this particularly poignantly. They’re running! They just run! They’re moving; they move in that door and out that door. And you stop them on the way through and say, “Hey!” And they run by. And they’re through again and then Bye. And you say, “Hey, where are you going?” and they say, “Hungry.” “Okay, here, eat.” “Yum-yum. Play, play!” And meanwhile, certain things are happening to them, and they don’t know what’s going on. In the first place, they don’t have symbols; they don’t have language for a couple of years, in order to understand what’s happening. But they’re getting a lot of messages from the environment: a lot of prohibition, a lot of patting on the head, and a lot of various things are being filtered into their neural system. And they don’t have symbols in order to cope with this. And they keep running. Gradually, when you go over this process for about five years, it turns out that they can only keep running straight if they do a lot of things while they’re coming through the door, which they don’t know they’re doing, in order to please you. So the result of the process is that when you grow up you’re running, but you don’t know why, and you don’t have any idea of what happened to you while you were running. This, if I may say, is the tragedy of man: that he is that kind of an adult who runs without knowing that he is running, which is another way of defining stupidity. Our best theories of mental illness now, even the most extreme psychotic dimensions, are theories of stupidity: people who don’t know what they’re doing, because they don’t know what happened to them.

“In a way, of course, this has to speak for every one of us. None of us was born with language, scrutinizing his parents with a critical eye. I can’t imagine such a monster. It would be a nice trick to play on the parents, when they look over and say, ‘Naughty, naughty! You wet the bed!’ And the baby says, ‘Oh, it’s only excrement, you know that’s not bad, a baby’s excrement.’ What if he could say that back to you, huh? And you say, ‘Look, but you did it on the floor!’ And he says, ‘The floor is a foreign substance which is easily washable. I will feel no anxiety about that.’ But, of course, the child can’t do that, which is what his problem is. He can’t make a simple objective clarification of factual experiences, and say to his parents, ‘Call reality, as they say, the way it is.’


 The idea of children’s instincts and authenticity being suppressed by adults was not original with Fritz Perls, of course. It probably originates with the French writer and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

 Fritz Perls was probably one of the greatest psychotherapists of the 20th Century, but the therapy he practiced was as much a form of entertainment as a helping process. (I saw him perform in public once.) In a way, he was an enfant terrible, an idiot savant, an intuitive genius who could decipher a person’s personality from watching their body language and listening to their voice.

However, he was also probably an amoral person with serious personality disorders. He practiced public therapy sessions, using them as much for entertainment as for therapy. He slept with many of his patients. He treated his wife and children very badly.

Becker was not an amoral person. However, in the discussion of authenticity I quoted, he does not discuss ethics. Because as soon as human beings interact with each other, we encounter the problem of how we are to behave toward each other. I am not a profound philosopher of ethics. The best I can come up with is that we should treat each other decently. It seems fairly obvious to many of us: don’t murder each other; don’t torture each other; don’t steal from each other; help other people when we detect them in dire need.

Sounds pretty easy, but we are always tangled in painful messes in how we interact with each other.

I don’t really know if my granddaughter is a genius or not. It is clear to me, however, that she is studying how people behave with great attention. “Buy me a stuffed animal,” she told me at the zoo. “You still have money in your wallet,” she pointed out. “What about the smallest, least expensive stuffed animal in the zoo store?” she wheedled.

“If you buy me a stuffed animal, I will take a nap,” she tried to bribe me.

As we drove home and cars ahead of her irritated her, she envisioned calling them on my cell phone and warning them, “Get out of the way! I am on the way to put out a fire!” she warned, putting on her fire chief hat and abusing her authority as a budding, four-year-old fire chief.

She is almost five and I am almost 65. I can still outwit her, but only barely. By the time she is five, I will probably be signing the deed to my house over to her. She will probably have her kindergarten classmates signed up for a Ponzi scheme.

I am a fairly obedient grandfather and I am willing to leave RG’s main child-rearing and moral guidance to her mommies, who seem to be doing a good job and who seem to be on compatible pages with my wife and me, though their style is different.

The main things I would say to RG are #1: be yourself and not what others want you to be and #2: treat other people decently. If #2 conflicts with #1, #2 takes precedence.

When young, my brother showed signs of being a sociopath. As he went into his twenties, he grew out of it. As far as I can tell, he is now a decent father, husband, and business owner; so people can sometimes grow out of dangerous directions.

RG seems to have the tools to manipulate people with great skill. She may grow into a charismatic and inspiring  leader; she may grow into a person who stays independent and does as she pleases without letting other people control her and without controlling other people in unethical ways; she may turn into a little monster.

It’s our job as parents and grandparents to help her be the best RG she can be; best in developing her capabilities; best in being a good person.

I plan to put all my RG posts on a flash drive and give it to her mommies with instructions to let her read them when she is 15 years old.

So, RG, if you are reading this now, and you are tempted to abuse your intelligence and your gifts, this is your grandfather speaking from the grave. Cut it out, now.

On the other hand, if you are turning into a wonderful person, you go, girl!

Danger Mouse

January 17, 2009

Part 11: Will RG Be a Professional Explorer or Shopper?



After her nap, I reminded everyone that the Friendly Neighbors had saved eggs for us and for the mommies. We knew that the Friendly Neighbors were not at home because they had told us they were going to visit their grandchildren on the mainland. Grandma said, “They left the eggs for us on the back porch. Leave the money in a little pouch they have there.”


The mommies asked RG, “Do you want to go with Grandpa to get the mail and the eggs?” She expressed eagerness to collect eggs.

As it was late on a cloudy winter evening, it was dark outside. RG and I brought flashlights and dressed warmly. In the past, RG clung to Mommy’s hand and avoided holding hands with Grandpa. This time she said to me, “Hold my hand.” She didn’t seem to worry a bit whether Mommy was coming along. In her other hand she held the flashlight and confidently lit the way. Along with the flash light, RG carried a supermarket shopping bag for transporting the mail and the eggs.

I thought, RG may be an explorer or a professional shopper.

As we walked down the gravel road, we had a very adult conversation. She pointed to the little vacation home Joe and Melinda are building on lot #2. She talked about their dog Leah who likes to jump up and lick RG’s face. (We live on lot #3.)

I told RG about the little boy who attends kindergarten and whose parents own lot #4.

We passed the Friendly Neighbors house on lot #1. “Their lights are on,” said RG.

“They are supposed to be away visiting their grandchildren,” I said. “I don’t know why all their lights are on.”

We got the mail and the country newspaper and put it in the shopping bag. RG explained to me the stripes on the highway told the cars where to drive. As we walked back to our private road, we saw a car approaching. RG explained to me that the car was on the other side of the highway and that we were safe. I thought, RG may be a safety engineer or a highway designer.

As we approached the back steps, more lights came on. I explained to RG that the Friendly Neighbors have “motion sensor” lights that come on automatically. She listened with interest. As we approached the back door we could see lights on inside. I said, “Bang the metal knocker in case they are home.”

Even as RG clanged the knocker, we looked through the window and observed the Friendly Neighbors watching television. Mrs. Friendly Neighbor opened the door and greeted RG warmly. In our family we often adopt relatives. Although RG has no shortage of cool grandparents, she has adopted the Friendly Neighbors as additional grandparents and they have adopted her as an additional grandchild. It takes a village of grandparents to properly spoil a grandchild.

 I gave RG the money for the eggs. RG has discovered money and is now very interested in economics. She handed the money to Mrs. Friendly Neighbor and explained we had come to get some eggs for Grandma and for the mommies.

Mrs. Friendly Neighbor said, “I have three cartons of eggs. Tell me which ones you want.” She laid out the cartons of eggs and opened them for RG’s inspection. RG looked at them and instantly decided which two cartons she wanted. RG has no trouble making decisions. Someday, someone may propose to her. She will not dither or keep them hanging. Within five seconds, she will say, “Yes, I would love to marry you,” or she will say, “I am sorry, [John or Mary as the case may be, or possibly John and Mary, as RG is a child in a science fiction future], but I think we should just remain friends.”

Without fussing she let me carry the shopping bag, now pretty heavy. As we went down the steps, she counted the steps (architect at work again) and held my hand.

Part 12: How Do You Measure a Small Child’s IQ?



As RG took her nap, I asked Mommy about how one tests a four year old child’s IQ. She explained in some detail. I didn’t take notes, so I can’t repeat what she as extensively, but her explanation made a surprising amount of sense. She said the SVBC employs a psychologist who loves his work and carries it out with great sophistication. For example, he asks vocabulary questions. He asks a child to explain a word such as “bicycle” and to give an example of how a bicycle is used.


Mommy said this part of the test is flawed by culture bias. “For example, a child such as RG who has gone to a Montessori preschool is likely to say, ‘A bicycle helps the environment because it doesn’t use up gasoline or put out pollution.’ A child in the ghetto may live in an apartment and not give an answer like that because she doesn’t have access to a bicycle.”

As I have lived and taught in a ghetto and as I have a very cynical attitude, I commented, “A child in a ghetto may say, ‘A bicycle is something to steal.'” As RG was not present, the mommies and Grandma ignored my comment instead of chastising me. They are more PC than I am but they tolerate my bad attitude because cynical people such as me are part of the “diversity” they value, though cynicism tests tolerance to its limits.

Mommy explained that the psychologist asks analogy questions as well. He will a give a child a list of three words and ask which two words should go together and why.

He also shows a patterns of shapes and ask a child to point out which shapes go together. “That test is really intended for six year olds, so they don’t include the results in the scores for four and five year olds,” she said.

I listened in wonder. The psychologist had written detailed notes and provided the mommies with a copy. Mommy read the notes to me. The psychologist noted that RG had greeted him in a friendly manner and jumped into the testing with interest, enthusiasm and confidence. I wondered, is this a description of the cautious, introverted grandchild I know who did not like to leave Mommy until she has checked out a stranger and gotten to know them? I also thought, even though she is only four years old and very introverted, she has become an introvert who has learned to act like an extrovert when it’s convenient and useful. It took me about forty years to pick up on that trick.

In the earliest days of IQ testing, people had used crude words such as “imbecile.” “moron,” and “idiot” to describe people at the low end of the measurement scale. Generally, society now avoids using these words.

What about the other end of the scale. What is a genius?  

“Only approximately 1% of the people in the world have an IQ of 135 or over,” one web site on measuring intelligence tells me.

If you are in the 99th percentile of children tested at a school for very bright children, what are you?

At the end of the psychologist’s report, he indicated that RG ranks in the 99th percentile of the children he tests. On a numerical scale, he put RG’s IQ at 146. I thought, What part of the phrase “young genius” don’t I understand? However, I also thought, What part of the phrase, “doting grandparent” don’t I understand?

My cousin Joanna learned Chinese and became a millionaire in Taiwan. Taiwan named a library after her. I hope Taiwan has a few more million dollars lying around and a few more libraries to spare in case RG’s interests turn to Chinese.

My uncle George earned a Pulitzer Prize and a “Macarthur Genius Award.”

I hope the Pulitzer foundation isn’t running out of prizes and the Macarthur foundation is saving a few prizes in case RG’s interests turn to music or some other prize worthy activity.

Part 13: How Do You Test a Child’s Social Readiness?



I asked Mommy about Saturday’s testing. The SVBC wanted to observe RG in her interactions with other children. Mommy has participated in some of this testing, so she is familiar with it, but she was not allowed to watch most of RG’s activities on Saturday.


Mommy was a little cranky about the testing. (This may be one of the reasons they don’t let parents watch most of the testing.)

She said most of the other children were siblings of children already attending SVBC, so they are more familiar with the school and the other children.

The three kindergarten teachers were present. I will refer to them as K1, K2, and K3. Mommy does not like K1 and does not want RG to be in her class. She considers K2 OK, but she likes K3 the best. She noted with approval that RG seemed drawn to K3 as she participated in most of the activities.

Mommy indicated confidence that she would be able to make sure that RG would be placed with a teacher Mommy preferred. She indicated there were certain code words a teacher who was also a parent could say to the other teachers and the administration to see that her preferences were followed.

When the children participated with other children in activities, RG seemed mostly drawn to one particular boy. Whether this tells us anything about her future sexual preferences I have no idea.

The children were given some construction toys and invited to make things. Mommy sniffed that the toys were rather peculiar and not much like the toys RG prefers to play with.

RG’s best friend Mia lives across the street. I have met Mia. She is also a very bright little girl. She has good genetics: both her parents have doctorates in science. Mia seems a little rigid and obsessive-compulsive. Once I was playing with Mia and RG. They were chasing me around the mommies’ house and screaming with laughter. Suddenly, I turned and started to chase them. RG quickly turned and ran away, continuing to howl with glee and demonstrating considerable flexibility in her ability to  “turn on a dime.” Mia stopped, shook her finger at me sternly and said, “No! We are chasing you! Don’t start chasing us!” I thought, RG shows some potential for being very flexible and adaptable.

Mommy said, “Mia’s parents tend to follow our lead in a lot of areas. They also had Mia tested at the SVBC. We thought Mia is smarter than RG, but Mia only came in at the 97th percentile on most of the tests.” I thought, Oh, dear, how can a child who tests at the 97th percentile at a school for very bright children ever keep up?

Mommy also said, “Mia tends to do better at tasks that involve organizing objects. She tends to be rather anxious and putting things in order makes her feel more in control.”

I have met Mia’s parents briefly and they seem very nice. Mommy said, “Mia’s dad also tends to be very anxious.”

As public school is still considered an option for RG, Mommy compared the public school “Talented and Gifted” program to SVBC (which is essentially a “Talented and Gifted” private school). Mommy sniffed very hard at the public school program. The public school T&G program just accelerates what is available to a child, she said. The SVBC expands what is available to a child and provides the child with more choices, she told us.

Mommy said that many T&G children become academically specialized at a very early age. For example, they may decide to learn all that can be learned about dinosaurs or they may become musical prodigies. Mommy is a very bright person and a talented violinist. I don’t know if her early years followed this pattern.

Mommy noted that RG is interested in many subjects and activities but not focused on any one subject. (I would say this was also true of my daughter. When Random Daughter was a small child, we knew she was very bright. However, as a small child and as she grew older she maintained interests and curiosity about many subjects.) Mommy said such  eclectic interests is a little more unusual among the T&G children.

Even though RD decided to study biology by the time she was in high school, she has always been very interested in a wide variety of topics. In college she always took a lot of classes outside her major.

RG’s dad is also a very bright person. It is very hard to know exactly what he does for a living. He has some artistic talent and some of his work involves graphic design. However, he does a lot of consulting work involving nonprofit organizations in Chicago, and even has some links to Chicago politics, even a bit of a connection to the people around Obama, perhaps. Mommy said he has tried to explain to her what he does, but she always ends up a bit confused.

Perhaps this indicates what RG will do. She may be a person who does a bit of this and that, only brilliantly. My wife, who doesn’t think she is very smart, does a bit of this and that, quite brilliantly I think. My wife calls it puttering. Perhaps RG will be the first person to get a doctorate in puttering, maybe even a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize in puttering. For that matter, perhaps she will be the first kindergartener to receive a Macarthur prize before she reaches first grade.

Part 14: What Can You Glean from the Garden in the Middle of Winter?



After the big snowfall melted, my wife rushed to the garden and dug up potatoes, carrots, and beets from the ground. As she returned from the garden with two baskets in her arms, I saw a big grin on her face.


My wife considers a garden that produces food year round the apex of food gardening achievement. This is perhaps possible in the Pacific Northwest. I doubt it will work all that well in North Dakota.

At dinner, Grandma served roast chicken. (We have not reached the point of raising and slaughtering our own chickens yet, though I know that achievement waits in our future.) Grandma served broccoli because she knows that is a vegetable RG tolerates. She served mashed potatoes because RG likes potatoes properly smashed to show them who is boss. Grandma beamed about how well the potatoes survived hiding in the ground under the snow. My wife served raw carrot sticks from the garden. Everyone exclaimed about how much better the fresh raw carrots from the garden tasted than “store-boughten” carrots.

RG likes carrot sticks. Carrots are very nutritious vegetables. RG’s mommies tell her she should eat nutritious foods so she can get her vitamins. Next time the mommies bug RG about eating her vitamins she will brandish a raw carrot at them.

 My wife served pickled beets. My wife loves pickled beets.

As a child, my daughter hated beets and refused to eat them. As an adult, she continues to detest beets.

 However, my daughter is learning to demonstrate food flexibility, perhaps to set a good example for RG. At dinner, my daughter told us that she recently attended a pot luck dinner and tasted some beets fixed in a new way and rather liked them. Perhaps Mama was letting RG know that adults over the age of forty learn new tricks, so when children get over the age of four, they also should keep themselves open to new experiences.

Bravely Random Daughter took a bite of Grandma’s pickled beets. Bravely RG took a bite of Grandma’s pickled beets. Bravely, Random Daughter and Random Granddaughter told Grandma they still don’t like beets. Bravely, Grandma smiled at her daughter and granddaughter and said it was OK. Even Grandma can be flexible.

For desert Grandma served cream cheese pie. She had used Organic Valley cream cheese to make the pie. Organic Valley is a farmer’s cooperative that produces organically grown or raised food such as milk, cheese or meat and is considered very politically correct among people who admire wholesome food. (Also, my wife and I have invested money in the Organic Valley organization.)

However, that night Organic Valley had failed my wife. She lamented there was something strange with the Organic Valley cream cheese she had purchased that week. It’s texture and consistency were peculiar.

 My daughter admitted she is not a big fan of cheese cake or even cream cheese pie, in any case. RG expressed enthusiasm for cream cheese pie, but after a couple of bites, she lost her enthusiasm. Grandma had hidden away a brownie for this eventuality. RG ate the brownie with enthusiasm.

Although the dinner at that point had been a triumph, my wife is never satisfied with anything less than perfection in her hospitality. Her face displayed discontent that desert had not pleased everyone.

After dinner, we watched The Grinch. This was RG’s second viewing of this drama. RG had watched The Grinch for the first time the previous Christmas.. It had been the first television drama she had been allowed to watch. At the time, RG had been a little shocked. “The Grinch is bad!” she said. “I was watching tee-vee,” she told her mommy, acting a little frightened, rather like a pre-teen who had experienced her first kiss or had just had her first sip of wine.

The mommies had sheltered RG from television as a toddler because they think (as do my wife and I) that television acts like a drug on the minds of small children. As RG gets older, they want her to regard it as a kind of intoxicant that is fine when used in moderation.

I observed RG as she watched the movie. She seemed to enjoy the story with judicious appreciation. I thought, Someday, RG may be a movie critic or a film director.

Part 15: Comparing Recipes Scientifically



The next morning Grandma fixed French toast for breakfast. Grandma has fixed French toast the same way for over forty years. Mommy and Mama have a book called Best Recipes which features scientific comparisons of recipes for various popular dishes. The mommies are quite entranced with this objective approach to food preparation. My wife has this book also. She is a little more sceptical.


After the mommies had extolled the glories of the Best Recipes French toast, my wife prepared it in that fashion. (However, after the mommies had left, my wife muttered to me, “I still think my recipe is the best one.”)

Breakfast was proceeding in a splendid fashion when things suddenly went amiss. We had all been discussing our various favorite dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. RG, listening to the conversation with interest, suddenly interjected, “We like to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” (implying the important point was not to miss a meal). Everyone at the breakfast table regarded RG’s comment as fairly witty and laughed heartily. Suddenly, RG’s face crumpled. She said bitterly, “You are laughing at me.” She got up from the table and stalked away.

My wife and I were not sure exactly had offended Random Granddaughter.

However, even geniuses may produce dramatic works that flop and even geniuses may from time to time suffer stage fright and fears of rejection, especially if they are introverted geniuses.

Next: RG at the park on the beach.






Part 1: Is Your Family Dangerous?

Cigarettes have warning labels such as SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.

Some families should have warning labels. Mine for example. David Rochester’s as well. The warning label for both of our families might say Possibility of Severe Mental Illness and Personality Disorder.

Part 2: Don’t Touch That Beautiful Lover!

When we first meet a new lover, we are often overwhelmed by the advertising slogans and the beautiful packaging. I Am Beautiful! Unwrap Me! We Will Have So Much Fun! I Will Provide the Missing Parts of Your Personality! Let’s Go to Bed and Frolic!

We may miss the tiny label that warns:  Sleeping with this Person May Be Hazardous to Your Emotional Stability.

Sometimes the person lives up to the advertising, though. My wife did not engage in a hard sell when I first met her. One of her labels said, I have small breasts. Nobody will ever love me. Another label said, I may look small but inside me is a big brute that can knock you out with a single punch if you are mean to me.

I guess one of my warning labels said, Needs a lot of work. Another of my warning labels says, Do not try to improve me.

We have been married for 43 years and my wife has never stopped working on improving me.

It gives her something to do besides puttering.

You just never know. A woman in a class I was teaching last week said of her late husband, We were married for 40 years. He was as good as it gets. I couldn’t have married a better husband. (This is the way I feel about my wife, by the way.)

This student said to me: This is how we met. He was on the third floor of a building and he saw me on the sidewalk. He said to himself, That is the woman for me! He came down the stairs and introduced himself to me.

You just never know.


Part 3: Are Colleges and Universities Dangerous to Incoming Students?

Universities and colleges also should have skull and crossbones warning stickers posted on the entrances. The University of California at Berkeley where I went to school as a 17-year-old should have warned:  Don’t Come Here If You Are Only Eight Years Old In Emotional Maturity.

Oberlin College should warn: War Zone: Stay Out of the Dorms. My daughter found a lover in her Oberlin dorm in her sophomore year. She and her girl friend moved out of their dorm in their junior year. They moved into a rooming house for students operated by a maiden lady named Miss Smith who kept  cats and  who had graduated from Oberlin many years earlier. Perhaps my daughter and her partner moved just in time to escape incoming mortar fire aimed at their dorm room.

The University of Washington should have warned me Don’t Come to Graduate School Here If You Have No Idea What You Want to Do with Your Life, just as Cornell should have given my daughter a similar warning.

Even so, you just never know. DW (initials of a brilliant young lady in my 6th and final high school who wanted to be an astronomer) got a warning from her father: Don’t go to a coed college! You will scare the boys! So she went to Wellesley. Then she went to California Institute of Technology to study Astrophysics, a school for people too smart for MIT. The warning label should have said, Full of Brilliant Sexist Pigs! DW was as tough as my wife. She got her doctorate in astrophysics anyway and now works on Hubble Telescope research, and mentors young woman astronomers on how to deal with sexist astrophysicist pigs.

Part 5: Are Incoming Students Dangerous to a College or University?

I had pretty good (if erratic) grades. I had decent scores on my SATs. No university required me to take a test that would have revealed my emotional immaturity. No test informed my admitting college: this person is a dyslexic introvert who suffers from severe ADDH.

No test warned Oberlin about David: this applicant suffers from DID and contains several alters.

Part 6: How Dangerous is the School for Very Bright Children?

My daughter’s partner, Mommy, teaches at a private school for very bright children. This school is testing and evaluating her birth daughter. As said child is Random Daughter’s adopted child, she has become our adopted Granddaughter, whom I call for blogging purposes, Random Granddaughter. In short, the SVBC is deciding whether they want RG and the mommies are deciding if they want to send RG to kindergarten at SVBC or to send her to kindergarten at a public school.

RG is a young lady with very strong opinions on matters affecting her, so at some point she may sit all of us down and tell us what she is going to do, just as my daughter once told my wife and me that she was going to skip her senior year of high school and enroll in an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program college in Canada called Pearson College.

One question would be how dangerous is SVBC, a school which seems to be a combination of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford for little children? After all how dangerous can that be? Perhaps no more dangerous than putting your child into a nuclear reactor to see what emerges after a few years of exposure to high levels of radioactivity.

Part 7: How Dangerous Are Very Bright Children?

On the other hand, how dangerous can exposure to a few very high IQ children be? Have you ever read a comic book or seen a movie called the X-Men? Would you like to have an X-Girl or X-Boy in your nursery? Do you read David Rochester’s blog?

Part 8: Can You Ever Have Too Many Cool Grandparents?

The mommies arrived after lunch. I had checked out a bunch of very cool library books for RG. Mrs. Random, designer of our little home in the middle-sized woods, had purchased a set of Lincoln Logs for RG’s home building efforts. RG, a child from a science fiction future with two mommies and two daddies, arrived with two super cool books from her latest grandparents.

One of RG’s mottos is You Can’t Have Too Many Cool Grandparents.

Her latest grandparents are the mother and father of RG’s second daddy, partner to her sperm donor (who is dad #1) Grandpa #5 is a very liberal Methodist minister in New York State about to retire to Colorado. His wife, Grandma #5, gave RG two excellent children’s books. The first is a popup book about an Italian Grandma who is a Good Witch. The popups are a marvel of the bookmaking art, as elaborate as Gothic Churches. The second book has translucent pages where one can see mysterious and wonderful figures in a magical forest.

Grandpa read several of the books he had brought to RG. Later RG read her new books to Grandpa and Grandma with astonishing fluency and great dramatic flair. “Is she actually reading those books?” Grandma asked.

“No,” I said. “I think she has memorized them.”

I thought, besides RG’s potential to be a fire chief, a ferry captain, or a train engineer (all careers under active consideration), RG may be an actress. She already has demonstrated great flair for being a drama queen. Spectrum, is this related to being a diva?

Part 9: Will RG Be an Architect?

RG took out the wooden blocks we keep for her. In the past, she had piled them in more or less random ways. My wife and I noticed she was stacking them neatly in an organized fashion, creating well-planned and well-organized little structures

Grandma brought out the Lincoln Logs. RG had obviously played with them before (we later learned her pre-school provided them as a toy) and set right to work constructing a dwelling. Her work added further evidence of her potential for a career as an architect. Perhaps I should take her to visit the female architect who designed our house under Mrs. Random’s direction. Mrs. Random, always very modest, says, “I didn’t do anything. I just told her what I wanted.” I sat like a dumb bump on a log while Mrs. Random told the architect what she wanted.

Part 10: Will RG Write a Book on Good Manners?

I admit this is a reach, but we noticed that RG is starting to become remarkably polite.

She hasn’t quite got “please” down as a reliably spontaneous term yet, but she is now strong on “Thank you.”

Her work with the word “No” in her terrible twos (which actually started at the age of 1½) was merely RG’s undergraduate work.

Now she’s on to graduate level work.  When she doesn’t want something, she quickly says, “No thank you” in a polite but decisive way.

I thought, Maybe RG will write a book on polite assertiveness.

 When Mama (my daughter) said, “You are very tired. You should take a nap,” RG went upstairs without a fuss and went right to sleep.

RG’s lap started late. The mommies told us she could stay up late that night to watch The Grinch and go to bed a little later than usual.

More on RG and her her college admission test results as soon as I get a chance.


January 15, 2009

We bought a truck today. It’s like a marriage, we have to see if the relationship will work out.

I am working on telling about the new events and new blossoming of Random Granddaughter. It’s quite a story and will take a little bit before I can start posting.

Too Much Going On

January 12, 2009

I am supposed to be headed into quiet retirement.

This weekend:

(1) I was thrust into the Madeoff Ponzi financial scandal. Not in anything that put me at risk financially, but in a dramatic and moving fashion.

(2) We had a visit from Mommy, Mama and Random Granddaughter. We had a wonderful time but there are momentous and dramatic circumstances involving our darling little granddaughter. It might take a novel to describe them. I don’t know when I will have time to do so.

Humorous Persistence

January 8, 2009

Jane wrote:

I am actually fascinated by your pledge drive thing and your persistence though, yes, I do completely fail to understand the humourous persistence bit..maybe it is a cultural thing.I wish I had the money to reward your persistence but I don’t. I am spending it all on making my very own bomb shelter and spanking new bullet proof evening gown.I am sure you will understand.


America’s star is fading and the stars of China, India, and Brazil are rising. However, I am quite aware that not every person in each of those countries is wealthy. Tonight I just read about a financial scandal involving an Indian computer country, so I suspect India is catching up with America not only in technology and wealth but in double-dealing as well. None of which applies to you. I don’t expect you to contribute to David’s pledge drive. For all I know David is  pulling himself up by his bootstraps at this very moment.

My wife and I are trying to buy a new used truck. We talked to a woman from Chile who had a truck that sounded good. She turned out to be a “flake” (American idiom for an unreliable person. Do they call people flakes in India? Is there a word in Hindi that means “flake”?)

We were then contacted by a salesman named Bruce from a dealer more than a hundred miles away. He has been pursuing me with humorous persistence.


I said:


Thank you for mailing me again with information about another truck. I do not mind your emailing me and I admire your enterprise. In fairness, I will say that my wife and I are very difficult customers and quite capable of driving you crazy. Part of our anti-sales strategy is that we fight in front of sales people. If I like something, she will say “No.” If she likes something, I will say “No.” How we have managed to stay married for 43 years is amazement to both of us.


He said,


Really enjoyed your email. The truck is priced at 7995. this includes a 24 month 100,000 mile Powertrain warranty.
Crazy is a very short drive for me!
Have a very great day!
That is an example of humorous persistence.
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