Wednesday, October 24, 2018


            By nature and experience I am not a gambler. My first lesson was when I was 8 or 9 and was the treasurer of my classroom library fund. I was the trusted holder of about $3.00. That is the same $3.00 that I lost in a poker game with my older brothers and their friends. My tears were enough to get my mother to make the boys give me back the money, but the lesson still held. So when our state started the lottery I wasn’t immediately interested. I also believed as I heard from a comedian that our chances of winning are about the same whether we buy a ticket or not. But in spite of this history I became a regular lottery ticket buyer. With the purchase of every lottery ticket, I won something.  Even before the drawing I had a benefit that was more valuable than the potential winnings.
            It all began when my teenage daughter started talking about the car she would love to have and would buy if we won the lottery.  Since we never played the lottery the chances of that were pretty slim .
 She was at that stage where we didn't always have the most pleasant conversations, if any at all. So her animated, cheerful musings were a nice diversion.  We talked about the model, the color of the car and the various safety features and add-ons.
            Then I started talking about what I would do if I won.   What material things I'd like, what trips I'd take, different favors I wanted to do for people and causes I wanted to support.  It was such a nice interchange that I decided there might be some potential in getting a ticket each week.
The result was quite surprising.  No matter what teenage funk my daughter was in at the time, I could almost always engage her in a conversation about whether we should do a quick pick or choose our own numbers or some new thing I'd thought of doing with millions of dollar.
            We even had conversations about whether we would move into a fancier house. I was pleased to hear that she would not want to.  We had a nice enough home, and I admired her sensible nature and sentimental feeling in making that decision.
            Her younger brother couldn't figure out why we didn't just buy one of those "scratch-off things".  He clearly didn't understand the point of the lottery, or the point of the lottery for us.  I usually bought the ticket on Thursday so that we could have maximum time to share our musings about spending huge amounts of money.
             As a psychologist, I used to do workshops on values, and on living in a way that is consistent with those values.  Having people talk about what they would do with lots of money is a wonderful way to explore and clarify those values.  While my daughter and I visited about our millions we did just that, and I got the opportunity to reinforce values I hoped I had already instilled.  We talked about the things we would do for others and of being a responsible and charitable citizen of this world.   She had thoughtful ideas about providing for little children and of donating to animal shelters.

            Lottery tickets were the price of admission to many pleasant conversations with my sometimes-distant teenager.  For that, they were a bargain. Moreover, the conversations were sometimes about the fact that, in the eyes of most of the people in the world, we had already won the lottery.  We didn't need to wait for the Saturday drawings to do good works with the resources we already had.  An unexpected benefit was that some of our lottery-inspired conversations inspired real charitable actions that recognized this reality.   

Monday, May 14, 2018


During my years as a school psychologist I’ve worked with thousands of families. I often counseled the children who had some kind of problem or who had made some kind of mistake. Many wise parents cooperated with the school and supported the consequences, sometimes with reservations about the seriousness of the situation and sometimes with reservations about the consequences. But they did not rob the child of the experience of accepting responsibility for a bad choice. They allowed the child to incorporate into their thinking the wonderful deterrent value of consequences
I’ve also observed kids who had a very hard time admitting their mistakes. The pressures in society seem to have increased this pattern. Often the parents of these children also had elaborate excuses for why the child was not responsible -- It was the other child’s idea, they thought they were doing right, the teacher is biased, they hadn’t eaten breakfast. The list was long and varied, but what was consistent was the need for the child to be perfect or the need for the parent to have them be seen as faultless. In some cases, the parent had their own experience of feeling that they had been treated unfairly and this added to the dynamic.
In one situation I recounted to a teacher the immediate confession of a fifth grade girl who had only been partly involved in some mischief. The teacher’s response, “She must really trust the world.” It made me think about this child and others who are able to acknowledge their errors and be honest. This girl has had her share of trips to the principal’s office, but she has generally been quite honest. Moreover, her parents have supported the school and backed up the consequences. Usually these are fairly mild ones -- missing recess, writing sorry notes or little essays about why their infraction was a bad idea. The teacher’s comment was profound. Not only did she trust the world, she trusted the unconditional love of her parents, annoyed and upset as they might be.
I worry about children who have had the opposite experience. In the principal’s office, they were the ones who came up with excuses or stories that minimized their role in a situation. And when the parents got the note that their daughter or son would miss a few days of recess or would need to do the “better judgment” essay, the phone would ring and the excuses and qualifications would start again.
For those children I have wondered, “Is being imperfect so forbidden? Is being seen as having done something dumb or naughty so difficult to accept?” My worries for those children are two fold. One is that they will be able, with the help of parents, to wriggle out of the consequences and be robbed of that valuable deterrent potential of those consequences. They will always get away with it and will thus take bigger risks and make bigger mistakes. My other worry is that unlike the girl earlier described, they do not trust the world. Or they do not trust the acceptance they will find in their own homes if they tell the truth and accept responsibility. A sadder worry I believe.
We all want our children to be treated fairly, so the instinct to be their defense attorney can be powerful. But children are impulsive and egocentric little creature and even wonderful kids can do dumb things. We do them no service to defend against being ac- countable.
So let your child be wrong, even if it was “the other child’s idea” or if “they only did it once and the others did it twice.” Help them understand that con- sequences also apply for following a bad idea or for doing even part of it.

It’s a gift to a child to disapprove of what they have done and to still love them. It’s important to separate approval and love and to never make them think they must be perfect to earn the latter.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Who is Ripping Your Jeans?

Have we had enough of this yet?

Who Rips Your Jeans?

         At my gym there’s a stack of magazines to keep us distracted as we pedal away on the stationary bikes. Aside from “Golf Digest” most are women’s and fashion magazines or ones that cover trashy celebrity gossip. Some days I find one with a story interesting enough to keep me from boredom for my 20-minute spin. Other days I find a magazine that leads me into a world that is truly bizarre. On one of those days a magazine featured page after page of women in jeans that were torn and shredded in multiple ways. And the most remarkable part -- the little caption next to the photograph with a price, usually somewhere between three and four hundred dollars. No lie.
         At some level I “get” fashion. Enough at least to know that it is not about being attractive and often about being bold enough to wear something quite unattractive but “in style” -- at least for a minute until it’s not in style anymore and then it is embarrassingly passé or a case of fashion victimhood.
I’m only mildly annoyed by this shredding trend, but I started wondering about the people who have to rip those jeans. Are there little shops in Bangladesh or China where generic jeans are delivered to workers who tear them up and then put in whatever “designer” label is in the order for that day?
         I wondered if the designers send a pattern of how they want the jeans torn up. Does the order from one maker read “Small holes below the pockets in back, large holes on both knees, some shredding at the hem?” Does another order read, “Six holes placed randomly from front to back, except near the bottom of the right leg?” Is that how the pattern is created? Or are the directions simply, “Have at it?”
         Above all I wonder about what these people must be thinking as they do this job. As they earn their meager wage, do they try to figure out what the customers could possibly be thinking? Are they amused, resentful or simply wishing that they could own a pair of those jeans -- still intact? Do they think, “What kind of people hire others to wear out their clothes for them? “Do they have people who chew their food for them?”
There is definitely an appeal to a well-worn pair of jeans. For decades people have found ways to accomplish this. Multiple washings, even a few gentle passes over with the car, but most often by simply wearing them.
         As with so many things, context creates meaning. In most cities one can see a fashion “conscious” young woman parading proudly in her expensive shredded jeans, while around the corner there is a panhandler wearing a similar pair. And on another corner might be a homeless person in a pair with no holes at all. Maybe he needs them intact to stay warm or maybe he just has too much pride to wear torn-up jeans.