Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Long, Long Reply

Hey! Thank you! Your comments, and your stories have made this even more meaningful to me. Some readers have shared their thoughts on FB as well, and I have been very moved by those insights as well. This was a brief, sincere reply in the comments, and then my brain started waking up, and deep thoughts and other musings came to light, and now we have this long, long reply...

I feel so fortunate, realizing what tremendous support Maria enjoys from the people in her life... starting with her brothers, who have always had a natural inclination to be gender blind. They see "people" and have equal expectations of boys and girls to be talented, intelligent, capable, kind, funny, friends. They expect their own sister to be capable as well. It's not as though they have an agenda for her to be intelligent, or unbiased... it's simply an instinct. They believe.

They believe Maria can assemble Lego parts, design, and create. They believe in curiosity, and stories, and reading aloud. They respect each others abilities, and they adjust their pace for one another.

The bonus is, they have an amazing circle of friends! Friends who are role models, whether they realize it or not. Friends who have overcome their own obstacles to declare: 'I love what I do, and I do what I love. My gender does not determine my interests or my abilities.'

I congratulate all the children, and young people I know who are living their lives true to their selves, true to their convictions, sincere in their respect of each other. I know that issues of gender bias are not a struggle only for girls. And as I reflect on the children I know, I am awestruck and delighted to realize what an amazing gift they are to each other, when they are themselves. Being fair, being intelligent, and respectful of our abilities, and interests, benefits each of us, male and female alike. And it is awesome to see this in action, to see kids we know taking their place and pursuing their interests, taking on new skills, wearing their colors.

Lord, don't let me sound preachy... sometimes my deep thoughts challenge my beliefs, and I am simply thinking aloud here, addressing my own head and heart.

Growing up, a lot of these ideas of feminism, and breaking gender roles, equality, equal education opportunities, racial equality, were theories, they were institutionalized programs, they were discussions and debates. Not just the idea of equality, but what or how to achieve it, what equality meant in application. They were controversial, challenged. They incurred a backlash. I grew up in an experiment, in a tug of war between tradition and idealism. It was great, and terrible. Certainly, we still see the struggle, and some are still grappling with the fact that equality means justice for all.

Okay. So we have a long way to go, but the thing that got me going on this epic "comment reply" to the original post is that I am thankful to, and awestruck by, the people I am privileged to know. They get it. Is it taught? Is it an accepting environment, nurture, nature? I am inclined to believe they are simply brilliant and marvelous. I hope our society is genuinely making a shift, that we value children, people, enough to accept them, to want them to feel that their interests, preferences, and talents are valid, that respect begets respect.

And! Maria is growing up with all of these brilliant and marvelous people! And when I worry about the bullies, the messed up messages about her place in the world, when I fret over sexism, racism, and all the other isms, I only have to remember she has her brothers, who love her and support her, and she has the encouragement and example of some of the most amazing young people imaginable. Across generations, in our home, in our community, around the world, Maria has been influenced and inspired by poets, artists, engineers, laborers, healers, farmers, teachers, men and women, boys and girls, thinkers, and believers.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Raising a Learner

:: Maria's concept: BeeWoman! "Saving the world, one garden at a time!" At Comic-Con she told a reporter, "When I grow up, I want to be myself." ::

Houston, we have a problem: some people are still confused about what girls and women are capable of, and those people are sending out the wrong messages.

Raising a daughter, a little girl, to be a woman, makes me ever more aware of all the messages buzzing around... in marketing, in the news, in retail stores, on book shelves, on the playground, and in schools, even in my own beliefs. I addressed my own re-introduction to the power of femininity, the natural attraction that some people have for pink. But my concerns and awareness of girl issues has expanded as Maria's world and exposure to messages about her place in it has expanded. And, frankly, I am concerned.

When it comes to limitations and expectations, I try to set no boundaries for Maria. That is, I will never say: "That is not for girls." And let's assume I am intelligently addressing those things which are clearly in the realm of possible for either a girl or boy: science, technology, engineering, art, math, music, mud, power, robots, invention, creation, caring, nurturing, jumping, sliding, slamming, spitting, singing, dancing, jeans and T's, tutus and wings. Not only do I want her to freely choose these activities and accessories, but I expect her to try, to fail, to try again, to improve, to practice, to excel, and to share. And when the going gets tough I think she should gracefully bow out, leave it to the boys, learn her place, giggle and make excuses ask for help, try harder, make a different approach. She won't have to go pro, and master it all, but in the end I want her to do what she loves, whatever it is, and respect herself for all the things she wants to learn, tries to learn, and continues to learn. Forever.

So, where is the problem?

The problem is in the pink aisle at the big box store, where every toy is telling her that her sole focus and purpose is to reach the point when she can dress like a slut. I was going to write euphemisms and sweet talk it, but what six year old wears eye shadow, padded bras, lipstick, and platform shoes, and why would I want to give her a doll that carries a credit card and an ass-tattoo?

The problem is in stores carrying T-shirts that read (and I am not making this up:)
"Allergic to Algebra" and "I am too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me."

Hilarious, right?! Hahaha... so facetious, and smart-alecky. So tragically hip. Or simply: tragic.

Seriously. Girls are smart. Smart enough to pay attention to all the messages we are sending, and whether it is a "joke", or not, they are learning that being stupid is kinda cute, funny, acceptable and being smart is not so sexy, not so funny, and "hard."

A friend from my own childhood was posting the article about the obnoxious T-shirts on FB, and she shared something really interesting. Jen Hazelnut Rat said: "Having frequently heard, as a young child, that "boys tend to be better at math than girls," I was easily influenced by this extremely inaccurate and damaging misconception. I ALLOWED THIS LIE TO HOLD ME BACK IN SCHOOL, AND THEREFORE, LIFE. These shirts shouldn't even be viewed as "funny.""

This was such an eye-opener for me, such a familiar and kind of sickening truth. Starting in third grade, I was told by teachers, and visitors to school, that 'studies show-prove-tell us that girls fail to excel in math, and that it starts happening later in grade school and junior high. That boys are inclined-destined-naturally talented in math.' And the message was repeated periodically throughout grade school. Some teachers would counter this with a message about how girls should try harder, pay attention, focus, overcome, but I was still taking in the "fact" that my math skills were doomed, and, frankly, having an excuse for why I was struggling with tough assignments was awfully convenient. I believed.

I believed it was pointless to ask for a better teacher, it was useless to get a tutor. I believed that I might as well focus on easier subjects, and forgo a career in medicine. I believed that it was a matter of fate that I found math challenging. By the time I reached junior high, and did have good teachers, and was getting intelligent messages, I think I was kind of hard wired to expect less of myself. In some ways I overcame, and achieved more than I might have, but I did not feel any compulsion to believe in myself in a way that mattered to my choices in school. And this story has been my weird little secret all these years... so I was stunned to learn that someone else suffered the same absurd tragedy.

Jen and I are raising our mighty fists of righteous indignation and shouting: Dumb is not sexy-cute-funny-cool-justifiable-excusable! And corporations marketing Dumb are corrupt, disreputable, and reckless. Shame!

I love girls, and boys. I love children. I want the message to them to be about inclusion and opportunity, about respect, about acceptance. I want Maria to feel that her interests matter, that her curiosity is the starting point for a lifetime of learning opportunities. I want Maria to see failure as a part of learning, that it is not a final statement about her abilities, but a sign that she is doing something challenging. Challenging is good. Hard work, effort, sweat, practice, and determination are great.

Maria loves robotics, FIRST, 2102 Team Paradox, and being in the mix of metal shop activity and creation. She is wholeheartedly interested in design and manufacturing. She loves ASIMO, and in St Louis she saw as many ASIMO demonstrations as she could, even making friends with Tiffany, ASIMO's presenter. Even as young as six, she dedicates her time and interest to learning and participating in FIRST and Team Paradox as much as she can.

She wants to meet people, learn more, and share her passion for her interests, and we are fortunate to have opportunities to give her the experiences she enjoys. So, imagine if two years ago, I implied that robotics is only for big kids? or if I hinted that girls don't build robots... it's messy-hard, it's for boys? What if we reinforced the messages that math is for smart kids, or the ones with talent? What if she struggled to learn to count to one hundred, and we said, "That's okay, pretty soon you'll be like most girls and fall behind in math anyway, so let's not worry about it."

Maria did struggle to learn to count to one hundred, and I said, "Keep trying. You'll get it." And we practiced together, and we played at it, and we took our time, and now we all hear her count to one hundred, every day! and to one hundred and twelve, and adding five hundred plus five hundred, and asking "What do you get when you add six hundred and six hundred?"

Maria loves to dance, and she loves to dress-up, and cook. She has plans that she is firmly committed to, to open The Best Restaurant Ever. She draws and paints, she sews. She swims, and runs. She is learning how to read, and it hasn't been easy, but she's getting it, and she loves it. She loves our time in the garden, and learning from her brothers.

Last week she wore her skirt with robots printed all over it, and when I picked her up from school she said: "The girls at school told me I shouldn't wear this skirt, because 'robots are for boys, and I was being silly.'" And, I am relieved to add that she was appalled at their statement and beliefs. She went on to tell me, "I told them, 'there's no time to talk about this right now. But you are wrong, and when I tell you about 2102 Team Paradox, you will know robots are for everyone!'"

Maria, all of your life you can choose to explore the world, take adventures, meet people, and try new things. Sometimes you will love what you try, and sometimes you will struggle. Sometimes people will tell you 'you cannot do this,' but trust your instincts, and when you don't like one "expert's" opinion, then find another expert. Failing is only bad if you give-up without doing your best, without trying to do better. Failing is part of learning. Learning is part of living. Some things you may not be good at, but you decide when that is; do not let studies or statistics label your abilities. Your success is largely a reflection of your interest and your effort. It is a good idea to ask for help. It is a good idea to offer help. Knowledge, instructions, and skills are not privileged information, but sometimes you need to work for them. You need to let your curiosity lead you to books, ideas, art, music, classes, tutorials, mentors, your community, and then be engaged in your education, because you can learn. I hope you will always find a way to do what you love, and love what you do.

Never give up! Never surrender!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Respect, and Thanks

Respect was one of the themes emphasized in the first month at Maria's school, and this week she was recognized at assembly for demonstrating exceptional qualities of respect for herself, her peers, her class, and the world. Parents were invited to step up on stage with their child. Grandparents were in attendance. We enjoyed refreshments afterward.

I didn't know how sweet it would feel to see Maria so delighted about receiving this recognition. I'm happy I could be there, with my camera. It's one of those simple gestures that winds up feeling like a very special occasion.

And I would like to add: Maria is in a wonderful school. Thank you, Karen, Marla, Carol, Anne, Yanina, Janice, Mim, Dawn, Angelica... some of the great people who paved the way, and make us welcome.

99,963 and Prolly More

Since May of 2009, there have been 99,963 visits to Chickenblog.


I wonder how many visits there've been since May 2002. Prolly a lot.

*Prolly means Probably, and it's how Suki spells it. I like how it sounds. Suki's been a wonderful addition to my life. I prolly will have to follow her to college.

It would be really cool if something magnificent happens as soon as the one hundred thousandth visitor comes by Chickenblog... something as big and exciting as the anticipation and excitement I am feeling about this random, impending milestone.

Most visited post since May 2009: His Pinkness. I like to think it is because Ferris was adorable and pink, but the more likely cause of the popularity of this post is a nickname Ferris had: l-o-v-e-r b-o-y. If you don't know this already: key words will bring trolls down from the mountain in search of posts with particular topics of an inappropriate quality. They must be sad trolls when they visit here.

Three, of the top ten most popular posts, are for FIRST and 2102 Team Paradox, which is positively delightful. Go Robotics!

Sorry for all the navel gazing. Statistics are kind of fascinating though.

This morning our dining table was covered, as it is most mornings, with stuff. I only rarely get actually angry about our table being a work bench. I spend more time wishing our kitchen were bigger, and had room for a larger work bench table, because I love that everyone wants to be together, doing their projects and work.

It is Fall.


Officially? I don't know, but all the signs I need are here.

Welding masks and gloves means that Fall ROP Metals has started, and Geoff and William are learning to TIG weld, which is just so unbelievably cool. I am putting in an order for a real chicken coop, with aluminum framing, and a swing set. Oh, and also some laundry lines. Thank you.

In and Out ink drawings means Alex, and Suki, are in AP Studio Art, and completing assignments that illustrate an interior and exterior of the same subject. Alex chose to draw a mother and child. The mother has had a few bio-robotic parts implanted. I am just happy that she can function, and enjoy loving her baby. AP Studio Art brings a lot of stuff to the table. Art.

We have pumpkins. Too soon? Too Halloweenie? I can't help myself. I absolutely cannot wait for pumpkin carving. We love carving pumpkins, early, or late, in the season. But, it is only September, and so I will refrain from sharing the rest of our seasonal activities... but how about a clue?

We have our theme for Halloween at The Bird House...

I prolly shouldn't say any more.

This has been most random.

Thank you.

Have a beautiful day.

*::WOW... Word of the Week: Prolly means : without much doubt; reasonably true.

1:02 pm: 100,026 visits.

I don't know what this means on a cosmic scale, but I am grinning intently.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Suki Doo and Donuts

Suddenly the weather shifts. The mornings are cooler. There's fog.
And so you make donuts for breakfast, and send the kids off to school.

That is all.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Q and A Time

Good morning. I am happy to report that it is a cool and overcast morning. Inside, all the Birds are sleeping, and outside, all the Birds are busy. Seems like a good time to play a little catch-up here at Chickenblog, answer some questions, putter around.

My previous post was a picture I managed to capture of one of the Mini-bots, SheBot. Back when Zelda hatched her first clutch of chicks we got one chick that looked like Dean Kamen, and the rest we decided should be known as the Mini-Bots, in honor of the 2011 FIRST FRC game, LogoMotion, and Mini-Bot challenge. Of all those chicks, only two were hens. Happily Kamen is a hen and the other Mini-Bot we named She-Bot, or Sheba.

Judy in Kentucky, asked: "What a pretty little chica! (It is a chica, isn't it?)

Sheba is a egg laying hen. Her mother is a white Silky named Zelda, and her father was a big strutting, villainous, Polish rooster named Edison. Sheba and Kamen have tufted, feathered hats from their Polish side, and incredibly soft-soft feathers which I attribute to their Silky mothers. They are not easy to photograph because of that almost monochromatic feathering, and also because they are flighty, skittish feather heads, with no sense about trusting me, their kind and generous patron. Sheba and Kamen are pretty little chicas!

From Flartus came this inquiry:"Well, I just discovered your Burning Man updates on your sidebar, so that's like a post for me. Perhaps Alex can guest blog for you about some of his adventures? His "voice" on the text you quoted sounds...familiar, somehow."

First of all the sidebar updates from Burning Man are archived for now. I even have a draft of a post I was working on, post-Burning Man. I was not there. Geoff and Alex went, and we called it "Art Camp," because going meant Alex missed the first week of school, and we did not feel like defending our decision to let him go to a remote desert with fifty thousand Burners... exhibitionists, artists, hippies, radicals, expressives, engineers, geniuses, brilliant, sometimes nekkid possibly stoned, interesting individuals.

Secondly: They would go again. After a week on the Playa, in the Black Rock Desert, with all those interesting people, where for twenty-fours a day there is music, art, lights, and dust everywhere, they came home dirty, tired, elated, inspired, and loaded with riveting tales of dusty glory. I figure after a twenty-four drive getting home, with four teens sleeping and eating in the Green Goose, if Geoff says he would go back, then it must have been worthwhile.

For thirds: We are still cleaning. And cleaning, and cleaning. The Playa is a dry lake bed, and what they call "dust" is as fine as baby powder, and it goes everywhere. But it is not like silica. It is alkaline. Corrosive alkaline dust that goes everywhere is a pain in the posterior, especially when you get to the coast and moisture affixes the dust to everything. Suki and Alex gave their bicycles a vinegar bath to counter the corrosion factor, but Alex will still need a new chain, and further detailing and tuning to recover his poor bicycle. The Green Goose needs new filters, and more vacuuming. And also, more vacuuming. Yes, twice.

And Fourthwise: The pictures Geoff took are awesome. And their stories are awesome. And If I can get Alex to share, I promise I will post these on CB. Maybe I should record him, when he and his brothers are talking about desert bicyle obstacle courses, Camp Geoff, and art cars, desert ships, and sleeping in a geodesic dome.

Alright, so I don't get lots of questions, or frequent inquiries, but it was fun answering these two comments. Every morning, I love going to my computer, and stealing some time for myself, and this is when I read your blogs, the news, and emails. Some times I respond right away, and some times I get called away by the late hour, or a hungry six year old. But I never fail to be bolstered, encouraged, amused, and delighted about hearing from readers. So, thank you for visiting Chickenblog, and for sharing your thoughts.

The chickens are calling, the six year old is on the move... inside and outside, the Bird House is waking. Time to look busy. And you? How are things in your bird house?