Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This is a teacher

This is a story about a teacher, one of 5045 educators that received a layoff notice from the LAUSD. I wish I could write about the other 5044, too, but I'll be busy telling my elected officials what a horrible decision they've made in a series of angry letters I'm planning to write. With lots of exclamation points. And swear words.

Last Saturday Kira was auditioning for a competition put on the by the local Rotary Club. The auditions happened to be taking place at her high school, and while we were waiting for her turn I sat outside and talked to her choir teacher, Mr. Sacks, who was there to play the piano accompaniment for one of Kira's classmates who was also auditioning. What else did this teacher do on a Saturday? Picked up all of the costumes from the dry cleaners that the kids used in their last performance (a fantastic Moulin Rouge, I might add) and delivered them back to the studio that lent them to the school. Then no doubt he spent most of the rest of the weekend preparing for the kids' next big show. (Luckily he didn't ask about my plans for the weekend, a carefully laid-out schedule of naps and coffee breaks.)

While we were talking, I asked him about Moulin Rouge, because it was the first time it was ever performed on stage and I knew that he had done the arranging himself. He told me a crazy story about what he went through trying to get the rights to use the sheet music from the movie and after he jumped through a bunch of hoops they still turned him down. So, he said matter-of-factly, he put on a pair of headphones, sat down at the piano and re-wrote all of the music himself, working eight hours a day all the way through every day of winter break, even on Christmas day. And his birthday. (Are you listening, school board members?)

(Seriously, I was so enthralled by his story I forgot to wish Kira good luck when she went in, but she seemed almost grateful to escape my usual hug and awkward fist-bump.)

Mr. Sacks is the reason Kira is going to the school she's attending, the reason we make the forty-minute drive every morning into Hollywood. The school was one of the last ones we had toured after an exhaustive few weeks of checking out every performing arts campus in the city. Kira had a mediocre response to all of them up to that point, and just as Rigel and I were about to pull out the, 'It's our choice, not yours, young lady' card, we were invited to a series of workshops at the school. We sat in on one of Mr. Sacks' classes and the rapport that he has with the kids is so evident, and by the end of a rousing rendition of "Aint No Mountain High Enough", Kira was convinced. She turned to me and said, "I love this place. THIS IS IT." She's was ecstatic that she had found a home, and I was happy we didn't have to tour those other schools left on our list.

And here's where I shake my fist at those who have decided to cut funding to education – Mr. Sacks is one of the teachers that has gotten a layoff notice from the school district. I'm sure I speak for a lot of the kids and the parents when I say that the department and the school will suffer greatly if he leaves. Kira is dreading the thought of him not being around, and she and her classmates are wondering what will become of their musical education there without him at the helm. Have you ever witnessed the rare phenomenon of a child actually wanting to go to school? I have, and it's usually on days she knows she has an after-school rehearsal.

There are many teachers that have gotten layoff notices in the past few weeks and this is just one story. I wish the people making these insane decisions could get to know every one of the teachers they're planning on letting go. More importantly, I wish they could hear the stories of every one of the kids whose lives these teachers have touched, and hear about the negative impact these layoffs will have on them.

If you have a story to tell about a teacher, please send me a link and I'll post it here. I'd love to send it to our elected officials so they could put some faces to even a few of those 5045 pink slips.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

You may not want to walk a mile in my shoes

I wrote this piece for the Mommybloggers site. People have been looking at my feet suspiciously ever since.

A few weeks ago I was invited to a breakfast hosted by our local school district.  I’m on a committee made up of parents and faculty that regularly meets with our local superintendent, and the breakfast was a way to thank us for our involvement and for giving up that one morning each month. I have to be up and dressed by 8am for these meetings, a remarkable feat for me that truly deserves a reward of free bacon, so I accepted the invitation. Besides, if I didn’t go they would have just spent the money on something frivolous, like a new textbook for a second grader or a door for the teacher’s bathroom.

The breakfast was a casual affair at a local restaurant, but I was glad I had gotten up a whole six minutes earlier than usual to primp since everyone there was dressed in business attire. After we were done eating they moved on to the very official awards ceremony, where they called each of us up individually and handed us a certificate and a small pin. (Does anyone ever wear these pins? I don’t think so. Maybe they should have some sort of national program where everyone sends in their service pins and they’re melted down and made into teeth for old people.)

They took pictures of us getting our awards, too, full-length ones. After that the breakfast was over and after talking to a group of people for awhile I headed out to my car.  While I was fumbling with my keys at my door I happened to look down and saw two of the most horrifying, scaly creatures I’d ever seen.

I’m talking of course, about my feet.

Any of you who read my blog have heard this all before. Forgetting to brush my hair, going to a meeting with a cereal bar stuck to my sleeve – nothing new.  But what I saw that day was a new low in my personal grooming, which is why I feel the abnormal need to tell you all about it.

I’m not just talking about un-pedicured feet.  I’m talking about scaly, dried, cracked horrors that I blindly slipped into sandals that morning and went out in public in.  Reptilian hooves that I padded up to the front of the room on, and then stood still while a photographer captured it all on film. During breakfast I think I even remember turning in my chair to talk to someone behind me and as I crossed my legs I brazenly bounced my foot up and down. It’s as if it was boasting, “Look at me! I’m hideous.”

I mentioned the incident to a friend and tried to make myself feel better by saying, “I’m sure no one was looking at my feet.” After she stopped laughing she said, “This is L.A., feet are an accessory.”  In fact, she had no sympathy whatsoever and scolded me for not getting a regular mani/pedi, comparing it to not washing down there. Excuse me? I’ll have you know I always wash down there; it’s the region far south of that equator that seems to have suffered a blow.

How did they get that bad?  I couldn’t tell you, except that I was right in the middle of a particularly busy time and my lowest priority was painting Cocoa Mist onto my toenails.  But when I came home, I repented.  I soaked, I buffed, I filed, I polished.  I even slathered them with lotion and wore thick socks to bed, which I think Vogue says is something you should never do if you want your husband to find you even remotely attractive. You think that would be the end of it, me and my now-shiny feet padding off into the warm sunset of a thousand pedicures. But no.

Now, I’ve become obsessed with looking at people’s feet. Maybe it’s to find someone else’s unsightly toes that could make me feel better about how mine looked that day.  Perhaps it’s like going to a friend’s house and sneaking a peek into her messy closet so that you don’t feel so bad about yours. Not that I’ve ever done that.

But I’m finding that we’re a city filled with beautiful feet. As my friend pointed out, the pedicurally challenged in L.A. are a rare find.  I’ve looked at the feet of other moms that I know, of strangers at the mall, of 80-year old grandmothers of friends. Perfectly appointed feet as far as the eye can see.  The only pair I found that came close to how mine looked that day belonged to a homeless woman’s at the airport, but even hers had been filed and topped off with a snazzy toe ring.

I’ve even heard of a procedure called a toe-tuck (I’m serious – go ahead and Google it) that claims to improve the appearance of your baby toe. Just in case, you know, it isn’t looking as young and firm as it used to.

But me? I’m afraid I’ve gone back to my old ways.  I’ll never let them slide so completely, but they’re far from beautiful.  I just looked down at them now and I can’t even figure out what color nail polish I had on last. In fact, is that nail polish or gravy?

I’m debating whether or not to re-join the school committee for the upcoming year.  My oldest daughter just started middle school and my mornings seem to be twice as hectic. Before I decide, I really need to find out what happened to those pictures they took at the breakfast that day.  I’d hate for the administrators to take a close look at them, notice my scary feet and refuse to give me a pin next year.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Warning: Japanese lady say not-so-nice things about racists!

I was in my early 20's, at a dinner party. The host, a friend of mine, used the 'N-word' in a conversation and after a couple of nervous giggles, everyone went on eating their pasta puttanesca like nothing had happened. I tried to, but couldn't and I made a feeble attempt at approaching the subject, saying something like, "About that word - it was offensive but you know that, right?" my voice shaking the entire time. I remember there were no nervous giggles after that, only a dead silence that seemed to go on forever until my friend simply responded, "I was joking," in a tone that implied I had ruined her dinner party. I still think she ruined her own party with her foul mouth and overdone penne, but I know I was in the minority.

I was in my teens, at a McDonald's with four other friends who were Asian. There we were, trying to enjoy our forty-cent Big Macs, when from the next table we heard the words "chink" and "Jap" in the louder-than-necessary conversation from four Caucasian girls at the next table as they glanced our way. Then, the unmistakable sounds of, "Ching chong ching chong," which as all Asians know, is code for, "I mock the language of your people because I am a turd." We sat there, our cheeks burning, getting angrier by the minute but saying nothing. After they left we noticed they went to sit on a bus bench. We all locked eyes over our McNuggets and knew we had the same idea. We bought four large sodas and headed to our car, two of us in the passenger-side seats armed with two drinks each. We drove by slowly, and at the perfect moment rolled down our windows, doused them in a fountain of Coke and yelled out, "CHIIIING CHONGGGGGG."

I know, I probably handled the first situation better than the second.

But what they have in common is that I feel like I did something. Anything. Fought back. Raised my voice (even if it was shaking and more of a whimper.) Went against my Asian nature and wasted FOUR WHOLE SOFT DRINKS (sorry, mom.) Did I change anything? Maybe. Probably not. But I didn't just ignore it.

I'm not sure what to make of all of the anti-Asian racism that's been stirred up by the disaster in Japan. D-list 'actors,' talk-show hosts, bloated gasbags, bimbos in push-up bras -- they've all declared open season on Asians, and particularly on the people of Japan suffering through an unimaginable tragedy. What is it about the fact that tens of thousands of people have lost their lives that's making it okay to make racist comments and insensitive jokes? Because jokes about the Tsunami are so funny, and so are jokes about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki! I laugh so hard I fall out of my rickshaw!

And make no mistake - those of you who try and defend a racist? Are just as guilty as they are.

(The Los Angeles Times even notices that there's a level of inappropriateness not seen after other recent disasters and credits it to a "reservoir of prejudice" against the Japanese people and says the disaster may be "bringing up culturally accepted prejudice against [them.]" Well, that is just great.)

Many well meaning friends (and I know they mean well) have told me to ignore it, but I've come to firmly believe that's not the solution. As an Asian friend and I discussed, ignoring it would definitely be the 'Asian' thing to do - turn the other cheek, don't give it credence. But in the end, we decided that not only do we have a right to feel outraged, but an obligation to talk about it, to complain about it, to post it ad nauseam on our Facebook walls so other people get angry, too. I'm grateful to whoever it was that was pissed off enough about that idot's Twitter comments to bring it to the attention of AFLAC so that they fired him.

(Oh wait - I have my own joke! Gilbert Gottfried used to be the voice of a duck but now he's a horse's ass! See - no racism in that and it's still hi-larious!)

More importantly, what kind of lesson am I setting for my girls if I refuse to speak up and make some noise in the face of racism, or any kind of injustice for that matter? (I'm proud of Kira for calling a classmate on an anti-gay remark he made, and then refusing to speak to him for a week. Even though she thought he was kind of cute.) I don't want them to ignore the kid making the "slanty eyes" gesture at them, or calling them "chop suey." (Yes, those are true stories.) It was a different world when I was a teen, so maybe I wouldn't recommend the Coke-dousing approach, but I certainly don't want them to sit back and say nothing. Perhaps an app to give a virtual drink-in-the-face to respond to racist remarks? Quick, find me an Asian who is good with the technology.

Last night I was talking to my cousin, and we were both saying how the tragedy in Japan has brought out a new-found pride in being Japanese. I'm feeling their pain acutely, but I'm also feeling pride in how they're handling the crisis, and the stories of their grace in the face of such extreme hardship is showing the world a whole new level of dignity. Which makes the recent ugliness directed towards them that much more painful.

And for that reason, I will speak up. I will feel hurt. I will get angry. I will fight back at the haters who try to demean me or those I love. Even if it means ruining someone's dinner party.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan Quake: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

I know the title of this post is 'The Good, The Bad & The Ugly' but it's been really hard to find anything good about the disaster unfolding in Japan. Truth is, words seem so trivial and I don't even particularly feel like writing about the quake, or the tsunami or the nuclear crisis that's changing by the hour. And you know I don't do sentimental or sad very well – I prefer to keep those thoughts bottled up inside and express them by yelling at the cat or slamming doors like normal people do. But so many people have inquired about my relatives there, and I wanted to give everyone an update. It won't be well written, or profound, or even make sense. By the end of it, you may even say to yourself, "You know, I sure wish she had kept that bottled up inside."

Here's the good – my family members that live there are all safe. They are all in southern Japan and besides some rattled nerves appear to be fine. The bad, as you can imagine, is that any good news is being tempered by the fact that they have friends and associates who haven't been located, the numbers of human casualties constantly being updated on the news, and the graphic images showing the horror of the devastation. My cousin Hiroshi, who like a few of my other cousins commutes into Tokyo for business, has been giving me regular updates via Facebook and email but you can sense the uneasiness in his words, especially when he talks about the uncertainty of the situation with the nuclear reactors. I'm seriously concerned and afraid for all of them. 

Coincidentally, three of my aunts were here visiting when the quake struck. We had dinner with them that Friday night, hours after the event and my aunt was overcome as she talked about how she was unable to reach her best friend that she'd known since childhood, who lived in the town of Sendai. As far as I know she was never able to contact her. We should have been comforting them, but instead they ended up cooking us an amazing Japanese meal that was no less than eight courses. This is so characteristic of the Japanese culture – such grace and selflessness in the midst of personal grief. I'm sure you've heard the stories of how orderly and compassionate the people of Japan are being during their crisis - standing in line patiently for food, relinquishing their own rations to the elderly and the more needy - it's a lesson in civility for all of us.

We took them to the Getty Center on Saturday. They seemed to enjoy themselves, but I had the feeling that, being unfailingly polite, they were putting on a brave face for us while they were so stressed and worried about what their families were enduring back home. I felt like an idiot when I started freaking out when I thought I lost my wallet – because really, how could I go on without those five dollars and my driver's license? I fail at perspective.

There certainly has been a lot of ugly, most of it in the form of anti-Asian racism that seems to have reared its ugly head. Because really, what better time to unleash hate-speak and make crude jokes than when tens of thousands of people have lost their lives? It's incredibly disheartening, disgusting and inexcusable to me. And since I really don't want to make it just a footnote to this post, I'm going to save my thoughts on it for another time. Expect lots of cursing and angry jabs at the air with my finger.

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Our Dark Little Secret

Here's a post I wrote a couple of years ago for the LA Moms Blog. Yeah, it's old material, but try to think of it as 'revisiting previous thoughts' instead of 'recycling old crap.'

We went on a vacation recently, and two of the best days were ones where my husband and I took our daughters, 11 and 13, biking along the Truckee river in Lake Tahoe. This was the culmination of a dream of ours – not the river ride itself, but the very act of biking. Yes, you heard me right – my kids have been on this planet over a decade and just recently learned how to ride bikes. But I've decided to come clean and now I’m all about disclosure – next I’ll be telling you about my third nipple.

It really was our dark little secret. While we watched other kids riding around on their fancy two-wheelers, we could only stand by helplessly and say to ourselves, "Why not us?" It wasn’t for a lack of trying – we’d attempted to get our girls to ride numerous times but they rejected the Schwinns in favor of Razors or rollerblades. And our plan to convince the neighbors that training wheels were the new, retro, 'in' thing like bell bottoms or turntables? Totally not working.

Even humiliation wouldn't motivate them - when we encountered a pre-schooler who yelled to my older daughter that he would “teach you how to ride a bike if you want," as he whizzed by on his two-wheeler, she felt stung but still showed no interest. When she had to stop me from yelling after him spitefully, "At least she doesn't still crap her pants," I knew the situation was getting the best of me.

But I did find out I wasn't alone. Earlier this summer I was having dinner with a few other moms and after a couple of martinis I blurted out that my girls didn't know how to ride bikes. The outpouring of support I received! After we had all gathered in a big group hug and stopped crying a few of the other moms admitted that - gasp - their kids weren't bikers, either. We all found we had the same reasons for our deficiency - lack of time, lack of interest on our kids' part, lack of a pair of hot cycling shoes featuring this season's metallic. In our solidarity we all felt a great burden had been lifted, and ordered another round of martinis vowing to get right on that bicycle riding thingamajig.

But what finally broke the camel's back was what my younger daughter repeated to my husband after coming home from a birthday party a couple of weeks later. When one of the other dads found out that she lacked the cycling skills to play a round of balloon polo, he remarked to her, "What? Didn't your DAD ever teach you how to ride a bike?"

The reaction on the homefront was swift and decisive. Within hours of hearing that remark my husband had bikes at the ready, helmets cleaned and polished, a bottle of Advil discreetly tucked into his pocket and the car pointed at the nearest wide-open parking lot. With the take-charge I saw that day I have to admit I secretly wished that dad at the party had questioned my daughter as to why her family didn't have a beachfront condo on Maui.

When they drove away I wasn't optimistic. I stayed by the phone, expecting an exasperated phone call from my husband, a call from the local ER or a text from one of my daughters asking why daddy was banging his head on the pavement and crying. But lo and behold - just sixty short minutes later I picked up the phone to hear the calm voice of my husband saying, "We have two bike riders here." I hadn't felt that much relief since my 13-year-old told me she thought all the boys at her school were immature and smelled like dirt.

And we've been riding ever since. My younger daughter prefers speed and the challenge of an uphill climb, while my teenager prefers a slower pace and dreams of a way to mount her iPod and a photo of Chace Crawford on her handlebars. We've taken rides around the neighborhood, on our local bike paths, around the island of Catalina and our recent ride along the river. And any way we do it is fine - I'm just thrilled to be riding together as a family, and to emerge from the shadows of our dark secret. By the way, I was kidding about that third nipple but now that I'm sharing let me tell you how long it's been since I cleaned my refrigerator...

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Lately whenever we're watching TV with the girls Kiyomi will occasionally yell out "OMIGOD BATHTUBS!" meaning she's just seen someone over the age of 23 engaging in some sort of romantic interlude. The term 'bathtubs' came about after the first time the girls saw a Cialis commercial and it was the one that ends with an older couple sitting in two side-by-side bathtubs on the beach. For some reason Kiyomi found this the most disturbing thing of all, and after it was over said, "Bathtubs? What is with the BATHTUBS? That is just WRONG." I guess the part about "erections lasting over 12 hours" didn't bother her one bit.

So then 'bathtubs' became shorthand for 'Old People Getting Too Close.' It could be kissing, or hugging or even a look shared over a cup of coffee, it didn't matter - behavior like that should only occur between young people with smooth, tight skin wearing skinny jeans and a hoodie.

If Kiyomi even so much as saw Rigel and I holding hands, she'd yell out, "Bathtubs!" as a signal that we'd better cut it out or take it out of her line of vision. Sometimes we'd freak her out by yelling the term ourselves right as we were heading out the door for a date night, or maybe as she was walking out of the room to go to bed, leaving us alone on the couch watching TV. Although I have to admit 'bathtubs' is a sexier codeword than our previous one, 'ElevenO'clockNews.'

Lately, for some reason 'bathtubs' is slowly becoming shorthand for anyone having sex, which has opened up the realm of possibilities. I like to use it as a warning for something that's coming up in a movie or show so that the girls have a chance to leave the room as in, "Now's a good time to go check your Facebook page, since there are some heavy bathtub scenes coming up." I'm wishing we had come up with the term a long time ago – it would have been nice if the question, "How are babies made?" could have been summed up in one word.

But the best part is it's given me ammo for the future for when the girls start dating. I can't wait for the day when I'm driving Kiyomi and her boyfriend to the movies, and as they're sitting there side by side in the back seat of the car I turn to look at them over my shoulder and say, "NO BATHTUBS."

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