What is success?

Yeah, I posted this article on Facebook, with its irresistible headline, Want to Raise Successful Daughters? Science Says Nag the Heck Out of Them. And I made the requisite joke (“I’m on it”), because I have a daughter, and not surprisingly, she complains about my nagging. But can we get serious for a moment? The researchers’ definition of “success” is so far from mine I barely recognize it. (Fortunately, I’m not alone–all praise for Challenge Success!)

Sure I want our daughter to be able to stay employed, and I hope she doesn’t get pregnant until she wants to. But “attend college” and “have high-paying job” don’t even make it into my top ten wishes for her successful life. Here they are, in no particular order:

Be loving, my darling. You give your heart so readily. I hope you always do, even as you resist anybody’s attempt to take advantage of your openness.

Be happy, and be okay with not always being happy.

Take care of yourself, take care of others, let others take care of you when you need it.

Do something–lots of somethings–to make the world a better place for your having been in it.

Weep for the suffering in the world and rejoice in the beauty in the world.

Challenge yourself: learn things you didn’t know and try things that scare you. Don’t stop!

Be honest.

Don’t tolerate injustice, even when you aren’t the one getting the short end of the stick–do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Be courageous. Courage takes many forms, but often what will require the most bravery is questioning your own assumptions.

Wherever you glimpse meaning, pursue it wholeheartedly.

If along the way, you want to go to college, Mommy and I will help you do it, and if you want to get out of a job that others might call “dead-end,” we’ll be here to cheer you on. But I don’t give a rat’s patootie about job titles and diplomas. I will be happy and proud beyond words if you are successful in the ways I’ve just listed. If I ever nag you about lesser things, like making the honor roll or pursuing a promotion, do me a favor: just roll your eyes and show me this blog post.

Visual interpretation of music

In Oaxaca our only music players are our laptops. So I often pull something up on YouTube just to listen, paying no attention to the video, slide show, or whatever is on top of it. That was the case when I typed “beethoven quartet” into YouTube early this morning and picked the first one that popped up. I noticed it was some kind of animation, which I figured was gimmicky, but I didn’t care. I was making art, I was in a late-Beethoven, chamber-music kind of mood, and I wasn’t even going to look at the screen.

Until I did. And it was riveting. After a few minutes I called to Mookie and gave her one of the earbuds. She was so taken with it that I gave her the other one, too, and went back to my art, in silence, smiling. A few minutes later, this child who says she “isn’t that into music” except perhaps the Beatles said, “Look at this–you have to see how it does slurs.”

The animator is Stephen Malinowski, and he has a YouTube channel with many more animations of music he loves.

Disadvantages of Oaxaca (English version)

(I wrote this last week as a Spanish assignment. The Spanish version is here.)

Mookie loves Oaxaca, but she misses her friends. I would too. It’s easier for me and Mookie’s Mommy; we each brought our best friend along, and many of our other friends are people with whom we usually communicate by phone and internet even when we are in San Francisco, so we don’t miss them more than usual. It’s different in the case of a nine-year-old girl who is accustomed to seeing her friends daily in person, not on Facebook.

She was hoping that at least one of her friends would come for a visit, but the summer went by, and now they have returned to school. At first, when we suggested that she chat with a friend via Skype, she said no–clearly, Skype doesn’t come up to standard. She wants to play together and show them her current house. But we set up some Skype calls anyway, and now she really likes seeing her friends that way.

Mookie also misses Japanese food. For one dinner, I made miso soup (free advice: nori cannot substitute for wakame–it falls apart), and Mookie made sushi for another dinner, but they didn’t come out like they do in a restaurant. But yesterday, Joy found a Japanese restaurant here in Oaxaca! We are going there for lunch today.

Desventajas de Oaxaca (versión en español)

(I wrote this last week as a Spanish assignment. The English version is here.)

A Mookie le encanta Oaxaca, pero ella echa de menos a sus amigas. Yo haría lo mismo. Es más fácil para mi y para la Mami de Mookie; nosotras dos trajimos a nuestra mejor amiga, y muchos otros de nuestros amigos son personas que nos comunicamos usualmente por teléfono e internet aún cuando estamos en San Francisco, entonces no los echamos de menos más de lo usual. Es diferente en el caso de una niña de nueve años que esta acostumbrada a ver a sus amigas en persona cada día, no por Facebook.

Ella estaba esperando que al menos una de ellas viniera para una visita, pero el verano pasó, y ahora han regresado a la escuela. Al principio, cuando sugerimos que ella charlara por Skype con una amiga, dijo no–claramente, Skype no cumplía el nivel exigido, porque ella quería que ellas jugaran juntas, y quería mostrarles su casa actual. Pero organizamos unas llamadas por Skype en todo caso, y ahora a ella le gusta mucho ver a sus amigas de esa manera.

Mookie tambien extraña la comida japonesa. Para una cena, yo hice sopa de miso (consejo gratis: nori no puede sustituir al wakame–se descompone), y Mookie hizo sushi para otra cena, pero no salieron como los de un restaurante. Pero ayer, ¡Joy descubrió un restaurante japones aquí en Oaxaca! Vamos a ir allí para el amuerzo hoy.

(Muchas gracias a Lázaro Rojas Rodríguez de la Spanish Immersion School)

More tattoos!

This time our henna tattoos started fading much faster and we almost didn’t document them in time. Mookie has the dandelion turning into birds, and I have the yin/yang and sun.

We had the nicest conversation with the artist while he worked. I’m looking forward to the next one, a couple of Fridays from now when these have faded completely and we head to the market in El Llano again so that Mookie can go to the Minions bouncy house they always have there and we can get new tattoos.

Rey de las abejas

On the last day of Mookie’s curso de verano (day camp) at a local Montessori school, she was in a patriarchal little production about the king of the bees. Why do people insist on thinking about bees as male (I’m looking at you, Jerry Seinfeld)? The choosing of the queen, now that could be a matter of some drama. The choosing of the king bee, who then gets to depose the old queen by choosing a new one? Not actually a thing.

Despite all this, we were proud that our Mookie had the role of the king bee. This was particularly impressive since she was the only child in the program for whom the production was not in her native tongue. On the other hand, it appeared that she was also the only one who’d been in plays before, so her familiarity with saying one’s lines loudly and slowly and facing the audience at all times might have landed her the part.

Here, the king-bee-to-be sits reading as court dramas unfold all around him:


The staff insisted that the costumes not involve anyone buying anything. Now that is economic equality in action–though of course, some people have more costume-appropriate stuff at home than others. There were many, many tutus and butterfly wings in evidence. Being far from home, we didn’t have any of those things lying around the house, but Mookie fashioned an excellent crown decorated with bees–not pictured here, since she hasn’t been crowned yet in this scene–and the costume she is wearing was put together by the kids and staff.

I love this picture:


The talk, chapter 4

We have had “facts of life” talks at least three or four times before. This time I was the one who brought it up, noting that if Mookie’s school is like mine, this is the year when the girls have a session on menstruation, which Mookie may miss since she won’t be back until after Christmas. Mookie was stunned that this comes along at such an early age, but I explained that while it’s not likely that she’ll get her period when she’s nine, some girls do, so we don’t want them to go to the bathroom one day and be terrified. She got all that, and has in fact known for several years that monthly “bleeding” is normal and painless. (Explaining cramps can come later.) So that launched another conversation. Mookie wanted to know why on earth this happens when she has no intention of having a baby for a looooong time. Actually, she is quite firm on “never,” but she does grasp that some women would like to be ready for this project eventually–but why at 9, or even 14?

I think I should produce an animated film using my approach, since it amused Mookie, especially when I offered a comparison with the usual way these things are explained.

Usual way, in pamphlet from Playtex with a soft pink cover:

Meg and her mom had a long talk over a cup of cocoa. . . . “But why does it happen?” said Meg. Her mom said, “When a girl is becoming a woman, her body makes a special place for a baby to grow” . . . “This is called a sanitary napkin, or ‘pad’ . . . ” (They’re always big on pads, which no woman outside the Playtex marketing department has ever called a “napkin.”) “Thanks, Mom!” said Meg, hugging her.

Feh. My way:

We’re animals, right? And one of the things animals are geared to do is . . . make more animals. Cats: Let’s make more cats! Jellyfish: Let’s make more jellyfish! [Producer’s note: Can’t you envision the animation here? Very Finding Nemo, right?] Humans: Let’s make more humans! So when it’s mature enough, your body says, “Okay, time to make some more humans! Uterine lining . . . ready to go! Whoa, no baby this month? Okay, out it goes. We’ll do it again next month. It’s next month now, still no baby? Okay, bye bye lining!” You’re right, it’s completely crazy. There really ought to be an on/off switch. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I only wanted one baby in all that time! And you’re it–no more babies–and it’s still happening! Yeesh!

Mookie asked a very reasonable question that’s on everyone’s mind but that the pamphlet doesn’t think a fourth grader needs to hear about: What do you do if you don’t want to have a baby? The abstinence-education-only folks would be pleased to know that the first thing I said was that if you don’t have sex, you won’t get pregnant. They would be less pleased to know that I included the all-important phrase, “with a man,” and that the conversation went on from there. Not with a lot of detail; we didn’t figure she was really interested in the full list of Ways People Keep from Getting Pregnant, and sure enough, she was content with the basic fact that there are a bunch of different ways.

Joy joined in to explain abstinence-only education. Even Mookie, who is nine and thinks the whole idea of wanting to do this stuff is a little odd, grasped that other people do want to do it and that telling them “just don’t” is about as helpful as saying “just don’t eat chocolate.” She also understands something the abstinence-until-marriage “educators” don’t: that once married, people still need to know how to keep from having babies. Unless they take the easy route and marry someone of the same sex.