Genetics or Childrearing?

At some point all adoptive parents ask themselves this question. Maybe biological families do as well, but I wouldn’t know about that. What I do know is that Crystel sings, not only in the shower but in her bedroom, in the living room, on her way to the bus and … you get my snowdrift … she is warm to the idea of singing anywhere. On the other hand, you don’t hear a peep out of me.

Tia Anna sharing her joy of music with Crystel. Crystel started lessons at 7 and took them for about 4 years.

Tia Anna sharing her joy of music with Crystel. Crystel started lessons at 7 and took them for about 4 years.

Now, is this because I don’t have the talent, or is it because singing wasn’t nurtured growing up in my family of 14? “You could have had your own softball team,” people would say. Well, we could have had a pretty darn good choir, too. Well … maybe not.

I did belong to a choir in middle school, mostly because my best friend joined and harangued me into joining with her. My group of friends thought it was funny to stop the entire choir from making any noise while I was doing my solo to see where I would fit in the choir. The choir director noticed the quiet and admonished them. Guess what? I’m an alto.

Antonio and Crystel have taken piano and drum lessons. Crystel is looking forward to learning flute in middle school. I was in band as well. First cornet and then French horn … you guessed it … right next to my best friend. The band teacher couldn’t hold himself back once and called me “cabbage ears.”

Antonio giving a recital. He took piano lessons for one year and drum lessons for one year.

Antonio giving a recital. He took piano lessons for one year and drum lessons for one year.

Though I enjoyed playing the French horn, he also told me, “Don’t worry about playing, just march and try to keep in step with everybody else.”

Genetics or childrearing?

Antonio is an artist. He can look at a picture of a Pokemon and sketch it exactly. He’s been doing this for years. I used to ask him if he traced the Pokemon. I knew he didn’t—I watched him as he drew it. For the past few years he has been taking requests for drawings from his classmates.

“I stole a drawing in seventh grade once,” I told him. “It didn’t have a name on it and so I put on mine and handed it in as my own.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“The art teacher said I stole the persons sketch who was the best artist in the entire class. Funny thing, I was trying to take the one that I thought could pass as mine. The scary thing was that the drawing belonged to the sheriff’s kid and I didn’t know it at the time. I had to find him in school and apologize.”

To this day, I hate Pictionary. I can’t even draw an accurate stick person.

Genetics or childrearing?

995931_10200718761105581_953653948_n[1]Perhaps it is a little of both. Jody and I encourage Crystel to sing unless it’s bedtime. Antonio hits his sketchpad when his allotment of electronics time is used up. Already, he says that he wants to be an artist and I’m helping him to understand that could mean many professions: architecture, theatre backdrops, book illustrator, and so on.

Whether its genetics or childrearing, it is great to watch something so foreign sprouting in our house.

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On Being A Role Model

13355524[1]Recently, while Mark Anthony Rolo was visiting the Twin Cities he stayed at our house. Mark Anthony Rolo is the nonfiction mentor for the Loft Mentor Series and offered to devote a Saturday working with the nonfiction winners. Since he travels from northern Wisconsin, I extended an invitation to him and his dog. Our house would also serve as a meeting place the next day.

I’m sure that I told Antonio and Crystel that Mark is one of the Loft Mentors who’s working with me, but Crystel didn’t really understand until I said, “He wrote a book. It’s in the living room. The one with a picture of him and his dog Rock on the back cover.”

She got the book. At that very moment, Mark was sitting by a fire we had built in the backyard.

“That’s him? And that’s Rock?”

“Yes.”

6815689230_1497703279[1]Crystel loves books. Finally, it clicked that she had an actual living author right in her backyard. That was almost too much for her eleven-year-old brain to grasp.

I was hoping, as any mother might, that this also elevated me in her eyes.

Antonio and Crystel spent a lot of time playing with Rock, tugging and pulling and throwing. And, even though they could have left during the adult chatter around the fire, they didn’t disappear. I hoped that it was because they found us interesting, but truth be told, their electronics were banned for the weekend. So what else is a kid to do?

Later that evening, Crystel couldn’t contain herself any longer and told me, in the presence of Mark, that she was going to write a better book than me.

Mark making his mother's bread.

Mark making his mother’s bread.

Around noon the next day, she pulled me to the side in the dining room and said, “Are those people in there famous?” She motioned to our living room.

I thought of the four of us, all mentorship winners, all wanting to publish a book.

“Yes, they are,” I said. “They’re authors. They’re going to publish their books.”

That evening, long after everyone had gone, Crystel asked if she could read Mark’s book. “You’ll have to ask Mama Jody. I think she’s reading it.”

“Sorry, I’m reading it, Crystel,” I heard from the other room.

On Monday when she came home from school, she asked if she could take Mark’s book to school the next day. She had told people that a famous person had stayed at her house and she had the book to prove it.

Lately, Crystel has begun to ask, “Can I work on my book now?” And then she brings her computer over to where I’m writing and she writes with me.

This Saturday, she’ll meet another famous person, Ellen Shriner, my WordSister partner.

9780985981822_p0_v2_s600[1]Ellen is reading at SubText Bookstore. Contributors will read from Holy Cow Press’s anthology The Heart of All That is: Reflections on Home.

You’re all invited to the reading — 7p.m. on Saturday.

I love being surrounded by famous people and that my daughter wants to be one too.

The Loft Mentor Series: Navigating the River Together

Mark Anthony Rolo

Mark Anthony Rolo

I had competed to be a Loft Mentor Series participant for many years, but now that I had been selected as a 2013-2014 Mentor Series Winner, a ‘so what’ attitude misted over me. I hate to even admit it because it sounds as if I didn’t care that I’d won. I did care. That’s why I paddled like heck against the wind and upstream to reach my destination. Now, that I had won, I pulled my paddles into the canoe, and drifted into the eddy.

Winning hadn’t changed me. My circumstances hadn’t changed. And, I had no idea if I would change during the Mentor Series. Nothing was promised.

All I knew is that I didn’t have to paddle anymore. That was unbelievable to me.

A potluck would be my introduction into the Mentor Series. I didn’t know any of the winners personally and I knew only one of the mentors, Mary Rockcastle.

Mary greeted the others and me as if she were an ambassador to the program. She has a knack for making a person feel good. If her gig as Hamline’s MFA writing program director doesn’t work out, she could be an emissary. She’s comfortable discussing a wide range of topics from colonoscopies to colloquiums. How can you not feel at home? Whatever nervousness I had in joining this potluck dissipated quickly.

Mark Anthony Rolo, nonfiction mentor, and Vanessa Ramos, Loft program manager, were the last to arrive.

Vanessa’s smile and effervescent personality is visceral. I was drawn toward her.

Waiting for Mark was nerve wracking. He was the person I would be working with for a year. I had read his book, felt as if I knew his past, which wasn’t that different from mine. But what if I didn’t like him? Do you like every writer you meet?

Mark isn’t hard to miss. He looks like his book jacket cover. He’s big. And, his dog is big.

What is it that some people possess that as soon as they walk into a room you feel at ease? It is almost as if their energy is forging the way and their physical self comes after. Mark has that characteristic.

Right away, I could tell Mark was accessible.

Mark Anthony Rolo and Rock

Mark Anthony Rolo and Rock

He didn’t put on airs that he was different from anyone in the room, and he had done his homework. He knew what piece of writing belonged to each of us. I made a quick note to myself to get my paddles in the water because I was about to be left in the eddy while he and others traveled on. I hadn’t read anyone’s work.

All of a sudden, I knew what the Mentor Series was about. It was about learning, supporting, and paddling to the next marker. People who could help me get there surrounded me. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t going against the wind. I wasn’t going upstream. Instead, I was embraced by other canoeists and we could navigate the river together.

Beware of the Queen Bee

In her Wall Street Journal article, “The Tyranny of the Queen Bees” Peggy Drexler reports that a 2011 American Management Association survey of 1,000 working women found that 95% of them believed another woman at some point in their careers undermined them. Drexler cites a number of other surveys in which women bosses were bullies, and most of the time their targets were other women.

The Queen Bees’ favorite tactics are making snide remarks about another woman’s appearance, holding subordinates to unreasonably high standards, gossiping about them, and generally acting like high school mean girls. Various sources in the article theorize that Queen Bees bully because they are insecure and view up-and-coming women as threats.

Screen shot 2013-03-27 at 10.24.04 PM

My first reaction was dismay. As a baby boom woman, I have vivid memories of the days when men often disrespected women in the workplace and discriminated against us. How could a woman who’d lived through workplace bias treat another woman so poorly? I expect middle-aged women to know and act better. And I HATE IT when women act out negative stereotypes (catty, bitchy, etc.) Not only is their bad behavior galling, but it also makes it harder for the rest of us to succeed.

But after some reflection, I realized that while I believe Queen Bees exist, and I’ve known people who have been hurt by them, I know far more women who are supportive of other women and willingly mentor younger women.

One friend was a senior leader at a Fortune 500 and she was an active part of a corporate women’s mentoring group. Another friend, a successful business owner, is very generous with her time and advice. In addition to mentoring professional women, she volunteers with organizations that reach out to younger women. My middle-aged coworkers and I are very willing to mentor.

Screen shot 2013-03-27 at 10.22.57 PM

What’s interesting is that the youngest women in the department (recent grads) seek out several of us for mentoring, while the women who have a little bit experience are fiercely independent and prefer to go their own way. Sometimes I have watched in horror as some of them do things the hardest way possible. But they don’t want advice, so I don’t antagonize them by offering any.

While I believe Queen Bees exist and can wreak havoc, I think generous, supportive women outnumber them. The dynamics of women in the workplace are as varied and complex as women are themselves.

What’s your experience as a mentor or mentee?  Have you ever dealt with a Queen Bee?

WHO IS THE MAYOR?

January 18, 2013 140She’s the lady in the red sweater, and you, the den leader, are hoping, hoping that the Cub Scout sitting next to her, won’t turn his head and let out his humongous sneeze that you have been watching build for the past minute as he inhaled, inhaled again, and yet again. After he turns his head away from her, at least you hope he did, because at the very last moment you just couldn’t bear to look andJanuary 18, 2013 097 dropped your eyes, he exploded, after which you bring your eyes up to see the same Scout staring at the Mayor’s hair and you hope, really hope, that he doesn’t reach out and touch her head or her sweater or her arm or her hand, and you know he might do any of these or all of these. He likes to TOUCH, and he really looks like he’s going to do something even though at the moment he is busy palming his nose with both hands, and all you can think of is that he is a flu carrier and he is about to hand it to the Mayor.

Who is the Mayor?

She’s the one with the cheery personality who asks your 13 Cub Scouts the question, “Well, what do you think a mayor does?” which really, really makes you wish that you had remembered to discuss communicating with respect when a Scout responds with, January 18, 2013 102“She runs the city blabbly blab blab.”

Who is the Mayor?

She’s the one who is very articulate, but when she asks the Scouts what makes a good citizen, you want to take the jaws of life and extricate the memory chip from all the small electronics in the room. The meeting with the Mayor will only last for half an hour, but still that is too long for the parent who can’t look up from his smart phone for the entire time and the sibling of a Scout who has her face so close to her Nintendo DS screen that you are sure that she is suffering from partial blindness. I bet they can’t tell you that the Mayor’s sweater is a vibrant red, sharper than any cardinal that you have seen this winter.

Who is the Mayor?

She’s the one who uses her special badge to let the Scouts see the council chambers and sit in the overstuffed chairs that wheel around even though they immediately grab January 18, 2013 105for the skinny microphones that snake upwards. The first thing the Scouts learn is that the microphones are on and you are sure that they January 18, 2013 110are going to snap them in two as they yank them toward themselves. After you, the den leader, reign in chaos by yelling that ALL hands must IMMEDIATELY go into their own lap, only then do you dare take a breath.

Who is the Mayor?

January 18, 2013 201She is why you ask all the Scouts to remove their non-scouting headwear for the group picture. And you hope that the Scout who has his scouting cap tilted liked a gang member will straighten it for the picture in case it goes viral.

Ultimately, Richfield Mayor, Debbie Goettel, is the gracious woman who communicates citizenship to your Cub Scouts. You hope they will remember at least one thing that she says, even if the thing theyJanuary 18, 2013 203 remember is that she is the one who organized the awesome one-hour tour with the fire department.