DAUGHTERS & MATHS: YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO THIS

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I can’t wait to get home tonight and listen to the Eugenia Cheng on Radio 4 this morning again, but this time with my 13-yr-old daughter.  It is so refreshing to hear someone have such a passion for what he/she does. And to explain it in a way that is ACCESSIBLE to all. 

She’s very funny when talking about the misconceptions the public has of mathematicians: “I’m not one of those people who can multiply large numbers in my head,” she laughs, “No! That’s not what we do all day!”

Replace those preconceived notions with new ones1) maths is not boring  2) you can have an interesting and well-paying job in maths 3) you can travel the globe with a maths job  4) maths is not just for boys.

It’s almost a half-hour long but flies by. Here are my key takeaways:

  • Eugenia is on a mission of ridding the world of maths phobia
  • Maths & baking have lots of similarities (as well as maths & music) — in both you are putting together a lot of ingredients and seeing whether they work or not.
  • You use lots of maths in baking. A mille feuille (delicious French pastry they often attempt on GBBO) involves rolling a pastry out and then folding it into 3, and then you roll it out again and fold into 3 again. You just need to do this 6 times and you have made more than a 1000 layers (ergo the name). Unknown-4
  • Feeling confused about math along the way? This is part of the path. Your brain will stretch.  Her childhood piano teacher would give her pieces that were way to hard for her.  She practiced and practiced and once she got to a point where she was just mastering it, her teacher would give her another, even harder piece. Maths is the same. At first it’s confusing and too hard. And then it’s not. Unknown-5
  • She goes to bars to work on her maths (love that!)
  • Good maths comes out of being lazy. It’s not about getting the right answers. She explains to her students: to be more efficient is to be lazy.  You don’t want to do the same thing over and over again so then you think, why do this over again? So let’s come up with a theory so that we don’t have to do it over and over — we’ve made it easier, quicker, simpler that way. More efficient.
  • Combine your passions for something you like to do. Recognise your strengths that are unique to you. Her mother was  “searingly” logical and her Dad was intuitive, and she feels like she got both those qualities.
  • Don’t listen to stereotypes.

On these last two takeaways, her wise words are worth delving into further.

COMBINE YOURS STRENGTHS

One of the things I’ve told my university students over the years is that I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I was not one of those people who knew at the age of 16 what I wanted to do or be.

I’ve also told my students that you need to think about your strengths and use them. What makes you unique? I was smart enough but not very academic. And definitely not the smartest. I was told I was a “people person”, which I came to hate after a while. What the heck am I going to do with that? I thought.

But here’s where she crystallises what I came to realise after years of transitioning from one job to another. I was gravitating towards my strengths and applying them. On paper, yes, I have had an amazing career — surpassing any and all expectations — living and working in Argentina on my own; working in the White House; working at ABC News/Nightline, with 5 Emmys, a Peabody and a Thurgood Marshall Award for Justice to remind me of all the hard, but worthy, work; working at Foreign Policy magazine; and here in London with IES and Global Change Network. But in each of these positions, I combined strengths, priorities and environment to figure out the best path.

Eugenia makes her path sound so simple. She started GCSE’s doing maths and physics. But then she thought ‘what if I only did maths? Because that’s what I really like’. So she did just maths for her A-levels. At Cambridge, she thought ‘I really like pure maths, not applied maths’ What if I just focus on that? So she narrowed her courses. Before graduating, she thought it’d be really nice to do just algebra. Because that’s what she loves most. For her Master’s, it was category theory that captivated her. For her PhD she decided on higher dimension category theory. My high school’s motto was “Viam inveniam aut faciam” which is Latin for “I shall either find a way or make one”, something Eugenia clearly ascribed to.

After securing a Professorship at the University of Sheffield, she decided to leave. Kudos to interviewer Jim Al-Khalili for pushing her on this decision. Her response encapsulates what my subconscious told me all along (paraphrasing):

“How do I make my own way and have more effect? So I took the category theory approach to life. If you can’t be the biggest fish in the pond, what do you do? You can either grow or move to a smaller pond.  In category theory, you move to the smaller pond and look at more characteristics. I’m not the best mathematician in the world and I’m not the best public speaker in the world. But maybe I could be the best at both: a mathematician who is also a public speaker. The more things you pile on the more likely you are going to be the best of those unique combination of things.”  

She wanted to do maths and communications. She said “find all the things you are good at. Make a list. And figure out how to bring all those things together.” She said if she stopped teaching, someone would easily take her place.  But someone who can explain maths to non-mathematicians in an accessible way is unique.

Admittedly, when she mentioned she was of Chinese origin with a mathematician mother I immediately, and wrongly, thought Ah, well, that’s it. High-achieving parents, extremely disciplined, driven kids – no wonder. She did say she and her sister would fight over who got to practice on the piano (just the opposite of my sister & I  — my Mom would make us sit down to practice for an hour or no dinner).  But the overall context of her message is not who’s going to be hard-working or over-achieving or the best, it’s more about figuring out all the things you are good at and what makes you happy.

DON’T STEREOTYPE

Like Eugenia, I had parents that always instilled in me and my sister that we could be or do anything a man could. We both had no hesitation going out into the world and seeking a career, a profession, rather than a job.

From a very young age, Eugenia watched her Mom put on a suit and go to the City with briefcase in hand. Her Dad and sister would wait at the train to pick her up – a lone female amongst all the males. And it wasn’t until much later that she realised how unusual this was.

Before going to Cambridge, she was warned by her director of studies that it would be male-dominated and full of boys who will all be better than you. They will have been pushed very hard to overachieve. She thought she’d be the worst, so she was pleasantly surprised when she wasn’t the absolute worst in the class. “I had to learn to deal with their arrogance. They had been pushed hard and when they got there they breezed through. And I was surprised when later, my perseverance was helpful. As we had to work incredibly hard for our PhD’s, they had forgotten how to work hard and they fell by the wayside and I carried on.” She knocked down those stereotypes without flinching.

Kudos to Jim Al-Khalili for bringing the best out of her — he clearly loves this issue. Eugenia says “Who is combatting stereotypes of mathematicians? People assume to be a mathematician you have to be old and weird and have no friends; they must be older white guys who can’t make eye contact or are socially inept. Who will help rid the world of maths phobia with a message for the broader audience?” That is the void she hopes to fill. With this interview, she smashed it.

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BAD PARENTING? PART TWO

A few years back, when child was in pre-school, I had to go to a conference in New York for work.  I didn’t need much convincing — the thought of 3 days and 2 nights to myself, talking to adults, no duties, worries, guilts or scares to think about beyond myself and my work was deliciously enticing.

The night before leaving, while my husband and I were reading in bed, I mentioned that I would make a ‘To Do” list of all he needs to take care of while I’m away.  “No big deal,” I said, “probably 4 or 5 items.”  Without realising it, Child and I had fallen into a routine that was a well-oiled machine, and I thought some helpful tips would make his life easier as He would be playing the role of Me.

You would have thought I’d killed the cat. He harrumphed and growled that he was perfectly capable of taking care of his child thank you very much.  “Seriously, Di, what do you take me for? Do you not remember that I used to put her to bed every night for a year while you worked when she was first born?” he snapped. “I’m fairly certain I can handle her now that she’s four and in school.”

This wasn’t the point at all — there were so many details to our routine — both in the morning before preschool and afterwards — but he kept cutting me off. I honestly did not want to offend or start an argument, but I knew the drill and he didn’t. So I came up with what I thought was a pretty good solution.

It is not about the child, but more about the recognition of what we do on a daily basis

“OK, I’m sure you’ll be fine — totally get it. But, just in case, only if you need it, I’m going to make out a list and I’ll put it right here on my bedside table.” (Made a perhaps exaggerated point that it would be way over on my side of the bed — not in his territory).  I sat there making the list and no one was more surprised than I to see it had reached 11 items before I was finished. “Wow! It’s actually rather long!” And I was leaving out the Type-A details, keeping it to the very straight-forward, need-to-know stuff.

Up at 7 AM — that much he knew. She had preschool from 9 AM to 1 PM. But I wasn’t sure if he knew what to dress her in, weather dependant, where her boots were or her raincoat, etc., that he had to clean out her lunch box, make her lunch and repack it.  Our routine meant I dropped her off at Breakfast Bunch at 8:OO AM so breakfast was covered.

Then Michelle, the nanny, picked her up from pre-school and on certain days she drove her to gymnastics out in Rockville until around 4:30 PM, then home and dinner and I would relieve Michelle some time between 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM. But on some days, Michelle had to leave early (she was putting herself through university) so I would need to be home by 4:30 PM. Other days, my septuagenarian Mom and Dad would pick her up and then I would have to either A) get her from their apartment or B) receive a slew of phone calls when they took her back to our house on everything from “Your house is too cold! How do you turn up the heat?” to “I can’t turn your stove on” or “I can’t turn your stove off” or “I burned the pasta. Do you have anything else for dinner?”, “Is she allowed on the balcony?”.

In the evenings, I made her dinner and gave her a bath. Then we read some books and she was in bed by 8 or 8:30 PM.  Not a lot to handle, but on any given day something would happen that was not routine, and worrying about the house burning down when Mom and Dad were there was a constant. No two days were ever the same and that meant readjusting schedules, coordinating with Michelle or Mom and Dad or school or the paediatrician or the vet, whomever.

Having someone appreciate you, just for a moment, is treasured

I know many of you will relate to this story. It is not about the child, but more about the recognition of what we do on a daily basis.  So off I went to New York at the crack of dawn on the Acela from D.C., leaving him to deal with the day ahead and knowing I’d done everything I could to help.  The conference was fascinating (I believe it was one of the first “Women of the World” conferences, if memory serves) and I did a lot of networking, met up with old friends, and contemplated going to Lincoln Centre in the evening to see the ballet.  But the plush bathrobes and enormous tub won out and I watched good-bad TV like Gilmore Girls and American Idol and ordered insanely expensive room service.

At about 9:30 PM, I got a call from the Husband. It was one of the best phone calls ever. He was lovely, sheepish, sounding a little exhausted but above all, completely appreciative. His surprise exploded across the telephone line. “Wow! I had no idea what you did each day!” He laughed, “You’ll be happy to know I did have a look at your list. Very helpful indeed.”  We had a good chuckle, he went through the day and all its surprises (from her 2 breakfasts in the morning to a trip to the paediatrician. Thank goodness I left the phone number on the list!), and he had a new appreciation of my world.

But he had no idea how much those words meant to me.  On a good day, parenting is a series of trade-offs, compromises, clean ups and putting out fires.  At times, my patience has been tried beyond limits I knew existed. Worst still, I’m ashamed to admit at least two times I nearly lost the plot completely. I couldn’t even have a glass of wine afterwards to calm my nerves for fear that I would never stop. Multitasking and juggling work and child are not my forte. And I would wonder why I do it…all too often.  So having someone recognise you (and the tireless work you don’t even expect a thank you for) is treasured.

Doesn’t Everyone Start Their Day Like This?

Driving my husband and daughter to the Tube stop and school, we were having a fun bicker about something trivial when my husband said “Hang on, hang on. Do you think we bicker more than other families, the same as other families, or less than other families?” My daughter was torn between the same and more. I said definitely more, for sure. Husband: “What?! No!! I would say definitely less! Why would you say more? That’s absurd!” And the bickering started up again. 😂

LITTLE LONDON SURPRISES

London can be a very cold, harsh, unfriendly and unforgiving city.  As much as I love it here, there are days when it really does try the toughest of spirits. But as we close out 2017, I can’t help but think of the small acts of kindness, the little gems that occur on a daily basis, the serendipitous events that unfold around this cavernous, brilliant, bustling metropolis. You just have to look.

To start with, there is the “driver’s etiquette”.  This is true country-wide but it’s really a sight to behold in the throngs of London traffic. Perhaps it’s the English tendency to queue politely for everything and anything, but even at the height of rush-hour and impatience, you will see the “zipper system” working efficiently. When two-lanes merge into one, everyone waits for each other and it’s the exception to the rule when someone jumps ahead. Likewise, at 4-way stops, it’s a polite “after you” indication that occurs (to the point that sometimes I wonder if anyone will go!).

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But my favourite is “the wave” and the blinkers “thank you” afterwards. Anywhere in London (and the UK), when someone is switching lanes ahead of you or you need to let the car in, or if a vehicle is turning into your lane from a left or right intersection (junction), you slow down with hands on the wheel and give them the one-handed wave — an indication that it’s ok to go.  Once the car moves in ahead of you,  he or she then “thanks” you by putting their blinkers/hazards on briefly. If two cars are at a face-off on a narrow street where only one can pass through, one will blink the headlights which is an indication that you should go ahead. Once you pass, you give “the wave” as thanks. It’s an absolutely brilliant system that works seamlessly in most cases.  Cars, busses, trucks, lorries, everyone does it.  When I go home now to the States, I find the driving unbelievably aggressive and self-righteous. Everyone just assumes that they are King of the Road and deserves to squeeze in ahead of everyone else. Very unbecoming.

Another present delivered itself to me in a complete stranger’s act of kindness. My girlfriends and I were doing a long 12 mile walk in preparation for a charity event one summer.  We started out in Chiswick, went along the Tow Path to Putney Bridge, turned up the south side of the river past Hammersmith and Barnes and up to Kew Bridge. As we were nearing the end of the walk, I realised I had somewhere along the way dropped my iPhone (don’t ask me how – it’s a bad habit). One of my girlfriends rang it and a lovely man answered. “Oh, excellent, you called! I was hoping you would. I have it here on my desk at work. I went out for a run at lunchtime and saw it on the Tow Path near Hammersmith Bridge and thought if that was my iPhone I would want someone to pick it up for me. So I did!” I know. Very lucky. But floored that in a city 10 million strong and geographically massive, some good samaritan went through the trouble to retrieve it and take care of it until I had called.

There are many others – a plumber who came to fix a problem with the sink who wouldn’t charge me because, as he said in his very East Laahhndon accent “This was too easy to fix. Took only 10 minutes and no parts. No worries”. Or a barista at Starbucks who ran after me when I left some cash on the counter.  Or a Sainsbury employee who picked up my parking card when I dropped it. Just yesterday, I dropped my reading glasses somewhere in one of the aisles, only to find them already at the Lost and Found when I got to the till and realised I didn’t have them. (Yes, I drop things a lot!)

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However, my last little miracle has a slightly different twist. When we first arrived here, we didn’t have a car and took busses everywhere. Our 6 yr old had gymnastics near Chiswick Bridge. We hopped on the 190 bus heading into London, got off at the bus stop, went into the club where she changed into her gymnastics outfit and I sat in the coffee area with the other parents.

She had an absolutely favourite grey cardigan sweater (jumper) that she adored, and given we had only been in the country for 5 weeks and we didn’t even have our furniture yet, I understood her attachment to things…as permanency was something she was unaccustomed to. She wore it everywhere.  She definitely had the sweater whilst on the bus on the way there, however, after she finished and changed again, we couldn’t find it.

I was torn — I know how topsy-turvy her life had been in the past 2 months, but I felt it was time to instill the lesson of holding onto things that are important to you. I was stern when we realised she had left it on the bus. “This is what happens when you don’t take care of things.” She was wailing. “This is an important lesson to learn, sweetheart. That sweater is gone. You will never – ever – see it again. I’m really sorry but you should have taken better care of it.” As we walked back to the bus stop the sobbing continued. “Mummy, can’t we ask the bus driver to find it? Can’t we call the bus company?” “It’s gone, sweetie. If you leave it somewhere, you will lose it. That bus has gone into the city now.” I really felt bad for her – she was only just six. But I thought to myself “she’ll never lose anything ever again.” Lesson learned. I was a bit cross and stood fast.

A 190 bus pulled up heading westbound towards home and we hopped on. I’ll be damned if that little sweater wasn’t sitting right there on the seat where she left it!!  I couldn’t believe it. The gymnastics lesson was an hour and a half. Plus changing time and the walk, we probably got off that bus about 2 hours earlier. What are the chances the exact same bus would be coming back on his route as we got on!? And even slimmer odds that the sweater would still be sitting forlornly there waiting for her. Of course, my lesson was utterly and completely lost at this point. “Look, Mommy! Here it is!! It came back to me!”

It was a long time before she realised that anything she loses doesn’t miraculously return to her. But I still laugh at this story — only in London.

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TALKING TO TEENS DURING THE HOLIDAYS? START WITH YOUTUBE REWIND 2017

Does anyone know the Big Shaq song “Man’s Not Hot”? Do you understand it at all? What is he SAYING? Never heard of it at all? I like to think of myself as a semi-cool parent, but I just don’t get it. He’s wearing a big winter coat on a beach in Miami saying he’s not warm enough to remove his lovely jacket. And then he exclaims ‘skkrrrra-pop-pop’ (roll your r’s on the skrrrr).  He’s gone from a virtual unknown to nearly 100 million views on YouTube for his video. And apparently, it’s in contention for the Christmas #1 song in the UK this year!!

So although there is much to pontificate regarding the iGeneration that is serious, I’m focusing on the more fun (and challenging) aspect of pre-teens and teens:  How do you carry on a conversation with them?

I imagine at some point this holiday season you will find yourself stuck by the tree with some eggnog and a moody, bored teenager opposite you who would rather be sticking needles in their eyes than hanging out with a bunch of old fogeys. Family gatherings at the holidays are ripe for bringing together people with little in common to talk about.  And today’s kids are foreigners with their own fads, lingo and trends that make it near impossible to find common ground. 

Although we think this digital world is isolating, it’s also connecting in a way that we never had

 

My daughter told me this morning on the way to school that, yesterday, YouTube just released it’s annual “YouTube Rewind List”.  Who knew?! This is a list of all that happened in their world that helped to shape the year. She tells me anyone who is anyone between the ages of 12 and 20 will know this list.  It includes rappers, DJ’s, YouTubers, popular songs, fads, challenges, trends, etc. This is an excellent starting point:

But. It is so much more interesting to watch WITH your child as they will be able to explain all the points of reference you don’t get. The video starts with a girl in an orange sweatshirt dancing. “Oh, that’s that girl — she’s famous for her dancing” exclaimed my Child. She went on from there, stopping and starting at every point I didn’t understand or get. “Wait,..you don’t know about ‘The Floor is Lava’?!!?” No, sweetheart…Do you know about Trump’s latest stunner in moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

One of the things that’s so vital as a parent is open lines of communication. But if I shut out everything I see as silly in her world, I’d be clueless to her POV.  To me, YouTubers and fads and songs that I have never heard of are trivial, trite and time-wasting. They are not going to change the world. But discussing her interests and seeing things through her eyes will help me to understand how she and her friends think and respond; help me see how they relax and how they are inspired; what makes them laugh or cry.

The YouTubers and DJ’s and videos of her era are the TV-stars, rock stars and movie stars of my era

Every generation has gaps in knowledge that need to be shared both up and down the age groups. My parents would take me to Broadway musicals in New York and in return I would play my Springsteen and Grateful Dead albums to them, explaining their cosmic relevance and likability.  They were willing to listen to me and my passions as long as I gave theirs a fair shake. My Child spends about 4 hours/week on social media and Netflix and YouTube.  She also competitively swims, plays hockey, rows, sings, plays piano and is a good student. So she’s well-balanced. My point is the YouTubers and DJ’s and videos of her era are the TV-stars, rock stars and movie stars of my era. It’s just a way to relax…and be different than your parents.

I am surprised, though, at how universal these trends are to a certain age group.  On holiday last summer in Greece, we had friends from Seattle join us with kids the same age as the Child — 11, 12, and 13 years old.  Our Child: Do you know Liza Koshy?  Seattle Child: Yah, love her. More recently the Child was texting with a friend in Washington D.C. and discussing Lele Pons, another big YouTuber who is Venezuelan-American, so I’m figuring she has the Latino world as well.  And then even more recently, Seattle Child and London Child were discussing Riverdale and how they both have a crush on Jughead (seriously, Jughead?!). Another well-known global YouTuber is an English-speaking Swede, so just another reminder that the digital world has no borders.  And there are no time-lapses between country/international release dates that we had growing up. They are all watching the same thing at the same time — globally.  I would argue that although we think this digital world is isolating, it’s also connecting in a way that we never had.

And the YouTube Rewind 2017 video shows much more than just Despacito, Ed Sheeran, slime paintball parties and funny dancing. It touched on social issues that were big in 2017 to this generation: the Houston and Puerto Rico hurricanes, the Ariana Grande/Manchester bombing, the Las Vegas shooting, the Vive La France celebrations from Macon’s victory election, the solar eclipse, and more.  It’s not just frivolous and non-sensical.

But besides the YouTube Rewind 2017 video, below are a few things I’ve discovered in conversations with my daughter that I thought might be useful. An “IN” and “OUT” List to help you navigate the pre-teens and teens you run into this holiday season.  Conversation starters.  Granted, they will probably still think you are totally unhip, but at least you might get a nod of appreciation for trying to bridge the gap!

The digital world is confusing for us “first generation” parents and I have definitely made my fair share of mistakes which I will write about, as well as lessons learned. But sitting here at my desk, I turned off my Sia “Everyday Is Christmas” new album I’d been listening to on Spotify and put on Big Shaq’s “Man’s Not Hot” to try to listen to the song through my daughter’s ears.  It’s actually a pretty funny and fun song, and after watching the video a few times, I found it definitely grows on you!

THEINLIST

People:

Liza Koshy – YouTuber — funny, in the opening scene of YouTube Rewind 2017

LeLe Pons – YouTuber — funny, Venezuelan-American, also in the opening scene of YouTube Rewind 2017

PewDiePie – YouTuber — Swedish, funny

Fine Brothers Entertainment — YouTubers, funny, from New York

Lilly Singh — YouTuber, Canadian, also known as ||Superwoman||

Logan Paul and Jake Paul — YouTubers, comedy and vloggers, created “Zoosh”

Marshmallo — huge DJ, also seen in YouTube Rewind 2017 video, he’s the guy dressed all in white with a marshmallow head and black eyes and smile painted on.

Cole Spouse — plays Jughead on TV’s “Riverdale”, a dark version of the old Archie and Jughead, Betty and Veronica comic books.

Gadgets:

Slime — if you don’t know what this is, you really are just coming out from under a rock

Fidget spinners — same as Slime, you really should know these

Challenges/Trends:

The Floor is Lava — this is a challenge when you are with friends in a store or mall or park and suddenly someone says “the floor is lava” where you have to find ways to stay off the ground. Seen in the YouTube Rewind 2017 video.

Backpack Kid — also on the YouTube Rewind 2017 video, he’s a 15 yr old YouTuber who dances with a backpack and swings his arms straight from side to side. The dance is also known as “The Floss”

Stranger Things — the whole show and cast are pretty awesome for both kids and parents

Lingo:

Beef — this has made a come-back from the 80s! If someone has “beef” with someone else it means they are not getting along

Squad — homies, clique, group of people who are close friends and get along

Triggered — this is when someone’s really angry, they get “triggered”

Savage — I haven’t quite figured out how to use this properly in a sentence but it’s something along the lines of pretend-dissing someone. Sorta a backhanded “ouch” moment.

Ship — to ship two people means you think they would be good together — in a fun way, not too serious. “I am shipping John and Jane. They hang out all the time and they are so cute.”

THEOUTLIST

Miranda Sings — YouTuber, funny – I was just getting to know her and her work when she started a TV show a year ago October on Netflix, and then never heard about her again. My Child says they stopped watching her once she went to Netflix.

Mannequin Challenge — sooo last year. When you take a video moving through a group people staged motionless in a funny position.

Pretty Little Liars — TV show about a group of mean girls who are stalked by a creep named A. But no one cares anymore who “A” is, as the storywriters keep revealing and then switching the murderer/stalker around.

Water bottle Flip — this was a challenge last year that was very popular where you take a water bottle and flip it up in the air to land perfectly on a flat surface without falling.

Do NOT have difficult conversations on Fridays!

I’ve found that Friday’s are the hardest day of the week interpersonally. We are all tired. We’ve had a long week. We are looking forward to the weekend to catch up on sleep or relax. But with work, kids, friends and my husband, I am at my lowest emotionally. I am grumpy. I am short with people. Or even on the rare occasion I’m not, then they are.

An old boss at Nightline gave me the best advice ever: he said never have tough conversations with colleagues or bosses on Thursdays or Fridays. You are less understanding, less forgiving. Most office arguments occur at the end of the week. Have a gripe? Wait until Monday. Need to tell a subordinate they are not performing well? Give it the weekend.  I looked back at all the difficult conversations I had had that DIDN’T go well, and damnit, he was right.

At home, it’s the same. All my arguments with my husband are usually Thursday or Friday when we’re both tired and don’t have anything left in the tank to deal with each other. And with kids, my fuse is short and many times I didn’t know it until I looked back later and saw that I wasn’t myself.

The Meltdown

One Friday I had to pick our daughter up from pre-school. We had just moved back from South Africa and everything was topsy-turvy. Our sea shipment hadn’t even arrived yet so we were living out of boxes. We were having a dinner party for 7 and I had to get home to cook and prepare. And yes! We got a flat tire on the way home so I pulled into Wagshall’s Deli where there is a gas station to get it fixed while I did some quick shopping for the party. Then my husband rang while I was picking up some cheeses to say the dinner had gone from 7 to 11 people, and that won’t be a problem right? At 3 PM he tells me this! Sigh. I get more cheeses and head to the cash register when it all kicked off. The 4-yr-old Child wanted a Diet Coke and I told her no (of course). She went into a full-on tantrum. It was Exorcist-child worthy. Complete raging melt-down (see? She was tired, too, at week’s end, but did i realise that? Noooo….I was just thinking about the car and my dinner party).

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I gathered up the groceries,  got to the counter to pay, but while doing so, she had grabbed a bag of potato chips off the rack nearby. Not the small ones — no, she went for the American Extra Large Supersize bag of potato chips — almost as big as she. Glaring at me the whole time with an evil look of defiance, she plopped them on the floor and ever so quickly sat on them with gusto. The air-tight bag burst and potato chips went flying everywhere. I was trying to hold onto a wriggling, arms and legs flailing, strong 4-yr-old but it was impossible with my oversized purse and 3 bags of groceries. I withered, looked at the horrified clerk at the till and said “Add that on my bill please”.  By the time we got out of the shop, she’d done it again.

On the sidewalk, I let her just writhe on the ground as there wasn’t much I could do to control her. She was pinwheeling around on her side, kicking and screaming.  Looked across to the gas station to see the car up on the hydraulic getting its tire changed, and sighed again. A woman came out of the dry cleaners next door, saw the Exorcist child, stepped delicately over her, gave me a look for sympathy and camaraderie and said, “Been there, done that.” I loved her. She was my saviour.

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Then as quickly as it came, it stopped. The car was fixed, I buckled her into her car seat and as we drove off she exclaimed “I’m done now, Mommy. All fine.” Of course, I was seething at this point. It had been 45 minutes of Crazy Tantrum Child. Everyone and their grandmother within 3 miles probably heard her.  My herculean embarrassment had been building up since the deli and all the “Bad Mother” stares I got, and continued as I was trying to pay for the car. I didn’t realise how angry I was. At home, I had a terrible headache and got out some frozen peas to put on my forehead.  I can’t remember what it was that triggered it, but we started up again.  She was really testing my patience and, while I was putting the groceries away, she grabbed a handful of frozen peas in her little hands and brought her arm back in the baseball throw position.  Very slowly and carefully I said, “I need to tell you that if you throw those peas, Child, there will be consequences.  I need you to understand that.” The arm came down. It was a perfect pitch. Peas flew everywhere through 3 rooms.

My rage erupted. I sent her up to her room for a “time-out” as she had melted down again.  But as I look back now, so had I.  It was 5 PM and 11 people were coming in two and a half hours. I called my husband and said get home right now. I need help. I did NOT trust myself to deal with her. As he came in the door, I was cooking and things had gone quiet upstairs. Before heading upstairs to Child, he sweetly pulled a pea from my hair and soothingly offered to pour me a glass of wine, to which I (very rare) said no. I really didn’t trust myself to start drinking because I was worried I’d never stop.  He went up to deal with her and calmed us all down. By the time guests arrived, she was fine, I was a bit fragile and shaken, but we recovered for a lovely evening.

But it wasn’t until months later that I realised how these events unfolded. The stress of a long, busy week, arriving back into the country with no furniture and new routines and environment, a dinner party exploding in size, a tired child, a tired mommy, a flat tire, frozen peas in every corner of the house, all those things contributed to the bad karma.  But I can’t shake the feeling that – would this have happened on a Monday morning, for example – I might have been a little more patient, a little less tired, had a little more energy to deal with her. Or a little more clarity to see the stress mounting at my door.

So, best advice that’s stayed with me for years: Do NOT make any harsh decisions on Fridays. Do NOT have any difficult conversations. Wait. Give yourself until Monday and if you still feel the same, then you can act — but likely you will be more clear-headed about what it is you are angry or frustrated or upset about.

 

BAD PARENTING, CHAPTER ONE

Isn’t it about this time of year that we all start to feel the pressure? Had it up to here with everyone’s perfect lives on Facebook? The holidays are nearly upon us and you are struggling…with work, with kids, with partners, with parents, with life. You take stock in the last year – or decade – and wonder how did you fall so far behind? Why are the expectations so high?

It doesn’t help that society seems to sell us this unattainable, successful, exemplary family, or children, or friends. You know who I’m talking about. The endless posts from that certain person in your life who always has something wonderful to say about themselves, or their husbands, or their kids, or themselves, or remodelled kitchens, or themselves, or…you get the picture.

With that in mind, I thought it’s time to pull back the curtain. Take down the smokescreens! No one’s perfect. Life is hard. We all make mistakes. Oh, Lordy, do we make mistakes. Mine would fill a book larger than War and Peace.

So I’ll start with one category: Parenting. Let’s call this Bad Parenting, Chapter 1 (as I’m sure there’ll be more). Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes, or laugh at them. Either way, it might help to put things into perspective as you head into the holiday season. Main takeaway? Most parents have absolutely NO CLUE what they are doing. And yet, kids are remarkably resilient and (usually) turn out fine. If I could tell my younger self one thing I’d say don’t sweat it. All will be fine. But at the time, it’s terrifying and you question everything about your judgment, your instinct and your I.Q.

DAY ONE: FIRST BIG MISTAKE

Our very first mistake! On the day we arrived home from the hospital! Mom had given us an old copy of Dr. Spock’s bible on newborns from the 1960s and my husband, trying desperately to partake in this birth process proactively, read it cover to cover. I think it was chapter two that opened with “You can never overfeed a new born”. Ahhh, well, no. Not entirely true.

Walking in the door 36 hours after she was born, we put the Child in her little car seat on the dining room table, looked at each other with genuine panic and wondered “What now?” I think every parent wishes there was a set of instructions to go home with, some manual you are given as you leave the hospital “How To Care For Your New Child!” like you’d get when you bring home an orchid from the garden centre.

I had breastfed her and she was still fussy. I breastfed some more. Still fussy. I breastfed until there was nothing left. Still fussy. We skipped anxiety and went straight to panic-mode. Made up a little bottle of formula and fed it to her. She guzzled it all and got even fussier. Then it was wailing and crying. We really panicked. Called the paediatrician who asked us how much from the bottle we fed her. Apparently we fed her the amount you’d feed a 2 month old – not a day old child – plus the breastmilk.

She calmly told us to lie her on her back, wiggle her teeny legs like she’s riding a bicycle, try to gently smooth down her stomach. After which, in about an hour, “there will literally be a river of poo coming out of your child” as she so eloquently put it. And oh, was she right! It was phenomenal how much could flow out of that little being. Like a Volkswagon Beetle full of clowns. Amazing Scientific Discoveries would have been impressed. Of course, right after, she fell soundly and snugly asleep. I never looked at that dining room table the same again.

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MONTH 3: AIRPLANE MISERY

We were returning to the States after going to the U.K. to introduce her to all her English relatives. I had just cut down and completed breast-feeding before going back to work after 11 weeks off. I didn’t feel comfortable working in a male-dominated environment, being in meetings, talking to my executive producer and news anchor with leaky breasts. Just wasn’t me. And good old “family-friendly” Disney – owner of ABC News — only gave us 6 weeks off maternity leave, so I had to make up the rest in sick leave, holiday time and a very sympathetic boss.

The day before getting on an 8-and-a-half hour flight, I ran out of the soy milk formula I brought for the transition as she was intolerant to cow’s milk (remember? Day One?). Without any breast milk or soy milk, though, my only choice in Boots chemist at the time was regular formula. We got on the plane and it all kicked off. She was sobbing and wailing in decibels I had never heard. People around us were glaring. The flight attendants came by several times politely asking if we needed help. We were patting her back, bouncing her up and down, giving her the pacifier. We were miserable failures. Soon the whole plane was throwing dagger looks. As a parent with a wailing kid, you DEFINITELY notice. They’re thinking “Why can’t they shut that kid up!?” I know because until I had the Child, I used to be that person!

Slow that we are, it finally dawned on us that it was the whole “river of poo” thing except maybe the opposite. Perhaps she was constipated? We took her to the Lilliputian airplane bathroom and both of us squeezed in with her. At least the screeching was now behind a door. After undoing her diaper, the problem was obvious. Yes, there was a rock-like poo stuck half-way trying to come out. Poor little thing! My news producer mode took over. “OK, let’s move her little legs in a bicycle”. Husband was moving them so fast she would have won the Tour De France. He was very stressed. I was rubbing her belly and trying gently to push that little poo out. Nothing was happening. We were in there for what felt like hours, but it was probably only about 20-30 minutes? We definitely heard maybe 2 knocks on the door at some point.

Anyway, I finally did what any mother would do and took my little pinkie fingernail and started scraping away at that poo to get it out. Sure enough, that little pebble shot out like a bullet, hit the door and ricocheted to the floor. “Which way did it go?” my husband yelled. “We’ll get it later!” I yelled back. A few smaller little pebbles shot out too, like one of those tennis ball machines, pop pop popping out in succession, but we actually caught those. And then, like before, the crying stopped, and she fell sound asleep. Problem solved. My husband went back to the seats with her while I cleaned up the bathroom. I was fine, but he was clearly shaken. Speaking later, we both realized how helpless you feel in a long metal tube 40,000 feet over the Atlantic with only Greenland insight. We’ve all been there, right?

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MONTH 9: GERMS (AND A HIT ON THE HEAD)

I was working hard, had a full-time nanny, husband back at work and all is fine! We can DO this parenting thing! Travelling alone up to Nova Scotia to meet up with my husband and the family, I was sitting in National Airport getting work done and the Child was a crawling phenom. Fine. Let her be free! She was crawling all over the floor, the carpet, the chairs, lifting herself up to stand by the trashcan (in retrospect, should have seen the danger there), getting her little fingers on everything and then putting them in her mouth as she was teething at the time.

We got on the plane, switched in Montreal to a little 16 seater plane and as I arrived at the gate the overhead speaker announced “Can Dianna Pierce please return to the Security Area?” Apparently, as I went through security and left the sippy cup, passports and boarding passes at the magnetometer machines. That’s Mommy-brain for you. So had to double back running through the airport OJ Simpson-styel with the Child in her handy-dandy forward facing papoose. Completely breathless, went up the stairs of this really teeny plane and everyone was already seated and glaring. Standing in the middle of the aisle I had to pull her out quickly from her papoose but in doing so, lifted her up and out so fast I didn’t realize how tiny the plane was (did I say? It was VERY tiny!) and literally banged her head against the ceiling. Another trip with passengers unhappy with us.

Got to Nova Scotia, lovely holiday for about 48 hours after which she got a very high fever (103.5 degrees) and the Tylenol wasn’t helping. We rushed her to the hospital in Halifax where the doctors asked “Has she been anywhere recently where she could have picked up some germs?”. Ahhh, er, hmmm. All of National Airport’s floors? Bad mother. Bad, bad mother. She picked up a virus and the doctors tended to her. But these little babies are resilient and after 3 days of misery, along with lots of love and care, she was fine.

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18 MONTHS: LOOKING AWAY…JUST FOR A SECOND…

My last instalment for today was while we were living in South Africa. We’d gone to a bicycle shop to pick out a new bicycle for my husband’s birthday. In tow I had her…and the GINORMOUS bag of paraphernalia that comes with an 18-month old: the diapers, wet wipes, diaper disposal bags, binkies, burping cloth, an extra hat, or sweater, her blankie and her favourite stuffed animal.

In the shop was a short set of stairs (I counted later – exactly 8) leading up to a platform with more bikes and tires. I walked up the stairs with her in my arms and the bag over my shoulder. I set her down on my right as she fingered the tires. I turned to my left to put my massive diaper bag down and as I was setting it on the floor, thought “hmmm, I put her down awfully close to the stairs.”

I turned around in time to see her little feet teetering on the edge of the stairs, she facing me with a look of surprise, and waving her arms.  As she’s falling backwards, I lunge out in desperation. This was all happening in extreme slow motion. My outstretched hand reached out and snatched…air…about one inch from her little coat.

My next thought as she tumbled down was to watch carefully as she went to see where she hit what, watching for possible breaks. The good news is she was dressed to the hilt in winter clothes, covered up like a little Michelin man. And she cartwheeled down in a way that, as best as I could tell, an elbow got a whack but everything else seemed ok. She landed on her stomach, arms and legs splayed.

The whole shop was silent for about 2-3 seconds as everyone had turned because, without realizing it, I had shouted out. The delay was interminable. She had this look of shock…then wonder…her eyes blinked, then hang on! I’m in pain! And then the wailing. Most parents will tell you the longer the delay, the better, as that means they are processing the pain and hurt and it’s just dawned on them that something scary has happened to them, and THEN they start to cry. If it’s really real pain, it will come sooner.

Anyway, she had a bruised elbow, a teeny bruise on her cheek, but all was fine. I never set foot in that shop again. And my husband bought an insanely expensive bike with the guilt he felt for traumatizing everyone.

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So, there you have it! Just a few examples of bad parenting mistakes. And we’re only up to 18 months old! Many many more. I should point out that said Child is now a lovely, well-adjusted, bright, intelligent, funny, athletic 13-yr-old. She remembers absolutely nothing of these moments that have scarred my husband and I for life.

I suppose perspective is everything, isn’t it? I look back at any of the more trying moments of my life and realize I just did whatever it took to get through them. In retrospect, I’m somewhat amazed at what we did. I think there were 14 cross-Atlantic flights between the US and UK and South Africa before our Child was 4. I have no idea how we did it. In the moment, it’s awful. But now we look back and laugh.

Next, I’ve got more from the toddler years (trying to catch projectile vomit with our hands (!) on another plane journey as she covers us and the South African rugby team captain with throw-up), a fabulous 4-yr-old tantrum story, and then we can move in to the horrendous first generation parenting of kids with mobile devises!! Fun stuff!