Friday, March 23, 2012

Dear Imprudence

There's a girl that my kids went to school with about five years ago. She moved away and they've forgotten her but when she was in L.A. she'd hang around a lot and her living situation was so grim that I'll always remember her. She's nineteen now and she moved out of state a couple years ago. Her father died in pathetic circumstances last year and her mother has never much been in the picture. She friended the kids on Facebook and while they are of the out of sight, out of mind persuasion they ascribe to a quantity over quality philosophy with regard to amassing Facebook friends. When her name came up I sent her a note and we had an emotional exchange and she told me that my interest and affection meant a lot to her. She posts regularly, often fragments of poignant poetry which may be original or for all I know, hip-hop lyrics. There are photos of her with her friends and sometimes reports of activities which I presume are just as illegal in her current state of residence as they are in California. Recently, she posted a photo of the first spliff she'd rolled. It was indeed workmanlike. My own kids nearly wet themselves in hilarity at my pronunciation of “spliff,” slang for what I have always referred to as a joint. Alas, they have never witnessed their own mother's rolling abilities, which, back in the day, would have given their former friend a run for the money.

This imprudent girl is just a Facebook friend and not my kid although given her lack of an anchor, I am sometimes tempted to parent her a little and counsel her not to burn any bridges by posting incriminating stuff on Facebook. I chew this around but finally accept that it's not my place. I get enough guff telling my own kids what to do. About a year ago a picture of our eldest puffing on a cigarette surfaced. Himself and I went ballistic but were chastened when the boy pointed out that the photo was taken at a children's theater event and that the glowing cancer stick was actually a prop. This week a friend posted a photo of our boy glowering at the camera and flipping the bird. Here in hipsterland a dad arrived at a nursery school birthday party wearing a t-shirt with an image of Johnny Cash sporting a single finger salute but we try to tell our boy he's not in Silver Lake anymore.

We remind the lad about the case of Stacey Snyder who was in a Pennsylvania teacher training program. She posted a picture of herself on MySpace holding a paper cup and wearing a pirate hat. The caption was “drunken pirate” and based on this she was dismissed from the teaching college and is ineligible to ever apply for a teaching credential in the state of Pennsylvania. The boy says he doesn't want to teach anyway and wouldn't apply for any job that would entail scrutinizing his Facebook postings. You can afford this lofty moral stance when you're a nineteen year old college student but Himself reports that his students, most of whom have enormous college loan debt, in addition to families, are often asked to open their Facebook page or even provide the password as part of the job interview process. They don't have the luxury of our own kid's highfalutin' righteousness.

Mr. College often castigates his parents for being unable to get through a meal without mentioning Facebook. I defend our slavishness to the social network and point out that we don't have a slew of dormitory pals to chill with when we need to take a break and refresh with a bit of social interaction. He points out, pathetically naïve with regard to the dynamics of a twenty year marriage, that we have each other. I admit, just like my mother stressed out about reciprocating dinner invitations and keeping careful lists of gifts given and received, lest she regift back to the original giver, that lately Facebook sometimes feels more like an obligation than a pleasure. I strive not to miss a birthday or fail to recognize a milestone. I like wishing people a happy birthday because it's easy plus for me it softens the blow, when people from all different eras of my life give me a nod, that each birthday signifies my closer proximately to death. I've never defriended anyone but I admit I have opted out of the feeds for some of the most egregious cute kitten and child braggart posters. But even some of the content that isn't particularly banal or self promoting, just doesn't interest me.

I try to post things that raise the level of discourse but get the most attention it seems with cute pets and puerile humor. I have friended a number of writers I admire and marvel at how self involved and trivial many of them are. I have about 200 friends and there about a dozen I can depend on to post things that are consistently interesting and provocative. This means I usually have to mine through about a hundred status reports I don't give a rat's ass about to get to the one posting that makes it all worthwhile.

In the “research I would not have funded” category, several recent studies reveal that narcissistic personality disorder is prevalent in Facebook users who make frequent self congratulatory postings and cultivate long lists of friends. It took me about a nanosecond to realize that people pretty much behave the same way on a social network as they do in real life. I'm not saying that my participation in Facebook isn't ego driven. There are photos on me braless and in a schmatta on the couch next to the most hilarious of dogs that I have forbidden my children to post. I think that most people like to be perceived of as smart and attractive and I cultivate this myself but, and maybe I'm self-delusional, the greatest satisfaction comes not from the “You like me. You really like me,” aspect. I've been out of college for decades and work in a small office. It is nice to feel a part of something bigger and, in addition to the cute pet stuff, I've been exposed to things that I am better for having seen or pondered and like to think also that I've raised the consciousness of a handful of kindred spirits with regard to things that have touched me.

I am aware that the warm fuzzy Facebook obfuscates a darkness that merits concern. I've been called a Pollyanna and I've accused certain loved ones of being conspiracy theory nut cases. Since government disregard for the Constitution was so exposed and discredited in the aftermath of the McCarthy era and the turbulence of 1960s it seemed to me that no one in the government would have the balls again to encroach on citizens' rights by resorting to illegal surveillance. The ginormous shift to the right, which I believe is largely fueled by racism in the wake of Obama's election, makes even Pollyanna a wee bit paranoid. Now that it's been so co-opted by their parents, one of my sons has signed off of Facebook and the other only looks at it a couple times a week and sneers every time his parents mention it. Perhaps the novelty of on-line networking has worn off for the teenage crowd and Facebook will be primarily habituated by the my own less ambulatory demographic, less vulnerable to having lapses of judgment come back to bite us in the ass. I will probably never have to apply for another job, but you never know so it is better to boast here in the last paragraph of a blog no one reads that I still can roll a joint more dextrously than any Johnny-Come-Lately teen wannabee.

Friday, March 16, 2012


I taught for over a decade in the Adult Division of L.A. Unified Schools and consider this one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. This entire program is on the chopping block unless a November 2012 ballot measure to approve a property tax passes with 2/3 of the vote. The proposed levy is $268 per parcel. In 2006, a proposition to approve a modest $50 per property assessed, failed. Some politicians feel that we have a community college program and therefore separate adult schools are redundant. The adult school however mostly serves a very different population. These are folks who had nightmarish high school experiences, or work full time and need flexibility or require a lot of remediation. When I taught in the eighties, funds were tight but the program was robust and a large percentage of our students were bettered by it. In the sixties and seventies, when I was in high school myself, California's state school system was a source of pride, one of the best in the country. The passage of Proposition 13 marked the beginning of the end. It seems, as more and more minorities entered the public education system and white kids fled to private schools, there was a shift of attitude with regard to funding public education for the betterment of “others.” The recent recession, and legislation requiring that 2/3 of the vote is required to pass tax increases, have further decimated an already struggling system. It is terrifyingly likely that the adult division will be sacrificed.

I taught English as a Second Language, as well as a variety of different high school English classes myself. I often asked my immigrant students if, given economic parity, they'd prefer to live in Los Angeles or back in their home country. Most were homesick and said they'd rather live where they were born. We don't think much beyond our own borders and seldom ask what we can do to prevent people having no alternative but to travel thousands of miles to struggle to eke out a living in a foreign, unwelcoming land.

The perception is that Adult Ed consists only of teaching ESL to immigrants, which it does and does well. But that's not the whole picture. Many of my former students who were born in other countries and went on to higher education and successfully work at a number of different careers. However, many of my students were native born and for a number of reasons couldn't hack it at large urban high schools. They looked to the program for a second, and given the vulnerability of many, perhaps the very last, chance. The venue is more relaxed and the students are more mature which fosters a real sense of safety and community at most adult schools. I am blessed to have been a part of this. I have never felt more a part of something “firme,” as my Hispanic students would have said, as an adult school graduation ceremony.

Friends who lived on the Westside literally freaked when I bought a house in Echo Park in the late 1970s. Hoity toity folks have most likely never been to East Los Angeles, South Central or the parts of the Valley light-years north of Ventura Blvd. Kids who live in these neighborhoods, some of the most violent in America, suffer post traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate reported for troops returning from combat. A Rand Corp. think-tank worked with researchers from UCLA Health Services in 2000 and studied 1000 kids, from disadvantaged neighborhoods, chosen at random. 90% were victims of or witnesses to violence and between 27-34 percent were diagnosed with PTSD. A larger study, using 48,000 middle-schoolers was conducted in 2004 and confirmed the extent to which huge numbers of local children are being endangered. More than a quarter of inner-city kids suffer from mental illness so debilitating that a veteran with the same malady would be classified as disabled. Services and benefits, albeit frequently inadequate ones, are offered to our returning vets. With programs like adult schools being dismantled it seems the only provision for kids shell shocked by our neighborhoods here at home, is prison.

More than 15 % of Angeleno's live below the federally established poverty line, ironic in a city whose rich are particularly conspicuous. Social and medical programs are being slashed to smithereens while the rich pour money into political PACS to protect their divine right to grow even richer. The folks who have the biggest investment in preserving the status quo fight doggedly to insure that taxes on property and investment income remain low. Perhaps the icing on the cake is when their tax breaks result in school closings is that an educated votership would pose a genuine threat to the oligarchy.

Himself is a former seminarian although he gets tetchy when I mention it. I like the romantic-ish implication that he chose to devote his life to me instead of Jesus. But the truth is he'd become a committed secular long before he met. Although Himself has drifted about as far from the church as a soul can drift, he's never had a bad word to say about Catholic doctrine. I've had plenty. The marginalization of women. The cover up of decades of child abuse and now the big megilla about birth control and accusations that the government is pushing the church to act against core tenants. Funny, the government doesn't offend the Catholic Bishop's sensibility by carrying out the death penalty which also seems to fly in the face of their beliefs. That sort of stuff. But, some really smart people that I know profess to being Catholic. After being lectured by Himself and observing my liberal minded Catholic friends I am reminded not to confuse the faith with the institution. Which brings me almost to my latest spiritual crush on Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest.

Michael Harrington, another Jesuit, albeit former, influenced John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson by bringing the subject of poverty into the American discourse. In Harrington's seminal 1962 “The Other America,” he borrowed the phrase “culture of poverty” from anthropologist Oscar Lewis who himself contributed to the canon with several books about impoverished Mexicans. While Harrington's moral clarity is laudable, analyzing the poor as a separate culture well might shame the affluent into acts of charity but also encourages a rigid sense of“otherness.”

Father Greg Boyle, undoubtedly read Harrington and Lewis's well meaning, albeit condescending, treatises on poverty. The priest was assigned to the East LA Dolores Mission in the late 1980s. The neighborhood was a catalog of poverty's ills. Substance abuse. Absent fathers. High school drop outs and the highest rate of gang violence in the city. I've read twice now Boyle's excellent memoir Tattoos on the Heart and also Celeste Fremon's G-Dog and the Homeboys which chronicles the evolution of Boyle's philosophy. At first Boyle walked the neighborhood at three in the morning trying to prevent violence from escalating and he attempted to negotiate gang peace treaties. Later, it dawned on him that in most cases, gang banging and its attendant camaraderie, compensated frequently for an absent father. Boyle took on the role of father to scores of gang members and through this love, many were able to turn their lives around. The work led to Boyle's revelation that the community itself needs to take on the role of loving father. He founded Homeboy Industries, nationally recognized as the most effective anti-gang program in the country. Job training, tattoo removal, social and legal services are administered, with love, under the Homeboy umbrella.

Perhaps I am more familiar with the poor parts of town than many of my peers but, unlike Greg Boyle who sees God's light shine most brightly in the faces of the poor, it is hard for me to feel the connection the way I really want to. It's difficult for me to shake my own educated white lady superiority. The adult school graduation was an exception because the grace of the students, victorious over unimaginable obstacles, is mind blowing. Another experience, albeit a harrowing one, that makes me feel completely connected in the way Father Greg describes, is visiting prison. I wear black clothes without pockets and a flimsy sports bra. I carry nothing but a bag of quarters and my driver's license. We are searched and metal detected by guards. We are meek and mild and we do what we are told. We board a rickety school bus and ride through acres of concrete where thousands languish behind razor wire. The connection is less illusive but not one bit firme.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Culture Warts

Unrepentant selfishness and inflexible self-righteousness have seemingly inspired a war of cultures in the U.S. Indeed the preponderance of Americans are Christians and I am moved by the compelling message of the Gospels. I am baffled that in the name of Jesus it is acceptable to demonize and further disenfranchise anyone who doesn't embrace the same weirdly convoluted Christianity that devalues social programs and is viciously intolerant of any varying belief. Himself feels that the deification of John Kennedy has gone way overboard and I agree to the extent that JFK was a flawed individual. However it is shocking and saddening that a candidate can refer to the speech of any former president of the United States as "vomit inducing" and still receive a significant number of votes in various primaries. The message of the Gospels certainly has merit as a guiding force in a nation that is mainly comprised of Christians but egregious convolution of Jesus' message of tolerance and compassion in the quest for political power makes these times seem worse than any in my memory. A faction of the left is also culpable for shrillness, intolerance and the frequent indictment of Christians as backward and ignorant.

Civilized discourse on the most contentious of issues is feasible. After the murder of two women's healthcare workers in Boston, mediators convened representatives from both pro-choice and anti-abortion camps for secret meetings. The discussion continued for six years. Participants report that the dialogue served to strengthen individual convictions but also that life long friendships were formed by women despite their fundamental disagreement. A joint statement issued by the group reads:

We hope this account of our experience will encourage people everywhere to consider engaging in dialogues about abortion and other protracted disputes. In this world of polarizing conflicts, we have glimpsed a new possibility: a way in which people can disagree frankly and passionately, become clearer in heart and mind about their activism, and, at the same time, contribute to a more civil and compassionate society.

Ironically, a counterpart to the lack of civility in the public sector is a phony intimacy that seems to have inculcated transactions that best remain friendly but impersonal. The entry of my phone number so that I receive preferred pricing on Von's merchandise leads always to a “Thank you Mrs. Murphy” and “May I help you to your car (with that single pint of milk) Mrs. Murphy” and finally, “Have a nice day Mrs. Murphy.” I avoid a particular branch of Citibank, that is actually more convenient, because the tellers are over-familiar to the extent of creepiness. “What have you been doing today?” “Where do you work?” “Where are you going now?” Perhaps this aggressive friendliness is meant to somehow obfuscate the exorbitant charges that the bank manages to exact from my meager deposits.

I travel to the Bay area for a day and am subjected at Burbank Airport to my first pat-down, the TSA agent informing me that she needs to examine a sensitive part with the back of her hands. She dons gloves and gingerly pats my hipbones. Yet, for all the degradation, traveling alone still evokes a sensation of freedom and independence that satisfies my lingering teenage self. The car rental clerk is perky but intractable with regard to accommodating the conditions of my reservation. Even knowing that the Enterprise personnel likely work for near minimum wage and are obliged to wear neckties and pantyhose, the reservation foul up leaves me petulant and I am terse and snippy when asked by various agents “Where are you coming from?” “How was your flight” “Where are you off to now?”

It is after one when I make it across the jammed Bay Bridge for lunch in the Mission District with a colleague. Having breakfasted at 6 a.m. and eschewed Southwest Airline peanuts, I am starved. Dining in the Bay Area is always peculiar to me. It is challenging to find entries that never walked on four legs in other than designated vegetarian restaurants. It is easy to find scads of baked delicacies oozing butterfat and sugar but it is impossible to locate artificial sweetener for the uniformly excellent quality coffee. I order a quinoa salad. It arrives at table, a tiny mound the size of a conservative cupcake. Even though I am being treated to the meal, I shamelessly admit to my host that I am still hungry. We walk to a hoity toity bakery and I indulge in two tiny cookies and another cup of unsweetened coffee.

After a pitstop at my favorite clothing outlet and the purchase, for the first time in my life, of several medium size garments (note to Himself: all “on sale”) I traverse the bridge again and check into the (except for a big clump of black hair in the bath drain) lovely Hotel Durant, across the street from the Berkeley campus. (Note to Himself: booked through—very reasonable) A one-sheet from The Graduate graces the room, as this is the location where Mrs. Robinson purportedly worked her wiles.

An old Berkeley chum and I score a reservation at the Michelin starred Oakland restaurant Commis, known as a sort of poor man's French Laundry. The only available seating is at 9 p.m. which is pretty ambitious for someone who hasn't been awake later than 8:30 for many moons. We kill some time at Trader Vic's. Neither the decor nor the clientele are typical of a bay area establishment. Instead of militant recyclers, this is an outpost for veteran bar flies and the crowd is mostly an aggregation of brightly clad, raucous senior citizens. After my spartan lunch I require some fortification and caffination in advance of the late dinner. My companion chides me that the spare rib/fried shrimp laden pupu bar menu contains little I can eat and I correct him, clarifying that it contains little that I “choose to” eat but the distinction is lost on him. We settle on a hummus-like concoction made from peas instead of garbanzos. This arrives in a ginormous mound garnished with four tiny slivers of crisp pita. I am beyond famished now and in my effort to capture as much of dip as possible onto a teeny chip I slop a huge dollop of the day-glo green goop onto my sleeve.

Commis has no sign. The room is stark white and the open kitchen is nearly as large as the seating area. Our server is elegantly clad and obviously a big devotee of yoga—probably the kind where the room is way over heated and you sweat like a pig. She is one of those woman whose skin is taut over good bones and comes off as severe, even when smiling. The menu is prix fixe and we are interrogated as to our dietary requirements and she categorizes me, somewhat disapprovingly as a shellfish shunning, poultry eating pescaterian. The amuse bouche arrives and we are suddenly in a skit from Portlandia. A dish of rocks is placed between us. Nestled in the stones are two round objects which the from the server's elaborate description we are able to comprehend only the word “cheese.” My first reaction is “Cheetos” but my friend's palate is much more discerning and he nails it more accurately. Cheez-its. For each of the next courses that contain pig or crustacean, I am served a huge white plate with about a tablespoon of food containing radishes gracing the center.

My dining companion confesses an aversion to raw oysters and scallops but scrunches up his face and bravely takes a bite of each. He leaves the rest of the tiny portion uneaten. I calculate that each unfinished plate represents a waste of about twenty bucks. While I refrain from chomping down the exquisite shellfish, the situation indeed creates a Jewish dilemma.

We are asked if we prefer sweets or cheese for dessert and go for sweet without a second thought. The sweet is presented and described as “spent beer grains with tarragon ice cream, tangerine and mascarpone crème. It's delicious, as were all of the other courses but, my L.A. born friend and I spend most of the meal snickering, blasphemers in this East Bay food shrine. Spent beer grains. Really.

It is lovely to sleep on thousand count sheets without cats fighting in my hair. There is no paint flaking off the ceiling and the toilet requires no jiggling. I wake early and stroll down Telegraph Avenue on the prowl for coffee. I made my first trip to Berkeley with college friends in about 1975. Things were starting by then to go rotten but there was still some of the 60's vibe I drank in, having spent my childhood regretting that I was too young to be a hippie. Now the enormous Cody's Bookstore is gutted and the building due to be leveled. Someone has written on a sidewalk in chalk “Free Leonard Peltier but otherwise there's Jamba Juice and American Apparel and scads of kids who are better at math than Himself or I or our first born. The verdict is still out on Spuds who castigated me recently for assuming he'd suck at math just because the rest of us did.

I have breakfast with a Cal student, the daughter of a dear friend since high school. She, like my oldest, is a freshman and she is jaunty and at ease in the world when she meets me in the lobby of my hotel. She is in the band, studying architecture and about to move into her own apartment. She loves Berkeley but after growing up in L.A. perceives with sophistication that the denizens of the bay are a bit smug and sanctimonious. The cultural divide between the north and south of the state, while nuanced perhaps, is palpable and makes it easier to see why other parts of the nation seem downright foreign.

I travel alone and stay by myself in a nice hotel and perhaps this makes it easier for me to drink in how thrilling it is to be nineteen, away from home and faced with endless possibilities. I am unable to figure out the word processing program on my new Macbook and most of this piece is written in pen on the back of travel documents while flying from Oakland to Burbank. I land and head straight to the office to tie up loose ends and transcribe what I've written for my weekly post. I've had two unfettered days to feel nostalgic at the sensation of being young and independent for the first time. On a normal Friday I would tweak this writing for another hour or so before pushing the publish button but having had my fancy meal and five-star hotel sheets I long with fervor for my table and my own bed. I'm going home. They're waiting for me.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pre-Traumatic Stress Syndrome

In recent family photos I look like a pudgy dwarf posing with a basketball team. Sixteen year old Spuds has shot up even more, seemingly in the last few days. He asks me if his pants are too short and I assure him that they're just fine. But he knows I'm a cheapskate and the Urban Outfitters catalog keeps mysteriously reincarnating, no matter how many times I toss it into the recycling bin. I move the driver's seat up nearly a foot after he drives. His brother went berserk when I was teaching him and I pounded the imaginary brake and grabbed the shoulder harness in a vicelike grip. Spuds is diplomatic when I sit on my hands which involuntarily dislodge themselves from under my butt and grab the harness at every close shave,. Spuds, I will note, was fast asleep in the backseat of the car for most of my driving sessions with his brother. The trainee drives to school every morning and is bored by the same route. I tell him that gas is so expensive that we simply can't afford to drive around willy nilly but he knows it's really more about my nerves. On the way to school a woman pulls her SUV out a mini-mall parking lot and cuts us off. Spuds glides adroitly into the other lane. I doubt if my own reflexes would have been as nimble but Spuds just mutters, “What the fuck are you doing at a liquor store at seven in the morning, skank?” I have no idea where he learned such vulgar language but I guess, even with just a permit, he meets all the criteria for an L.A. driver.

I turn off the radio when Spuds drives although I fill the dead air with yammering that is probably way more distracting than Morning Edition. There were chilling rides with big brother before he got his license and I prayed hard for him to pass the driving test. But I'm wistful too because there's been a lot less sustained conversation since he's been licensed. The older boy has an early spring break and is off with college friends on his first road trip. The destination is Salt Lake City via Santa Cruz and Berkeley. I am delighted for him. Less so for myself. I text him every couple hours with admonitions about drinking, drugs and driver safety. The gang is marooned in Santa Cruz for several days when the car owner flushes his car keys down the toilet. The boy calls finally from Salt Lake City to report having received a “very minor” speeding ticket in Nevada, downplaying the severity and thus provoking me to maximize it. I end our third static-filled phone conversation pertinent to the matter by abruptly hanging up. The scofflaw fails to recognize how useful I am at slapping the whitewash on for Dad. I am tempted to compose a nasty e-mail about how irresponsible and disrespectful my little speeder is but instead I tap out a breezy text attributing his petulance to fatigue and wishing him a happy trip. A guilty child is more malleable than an angry one.

When my own mother descended into dementia so utterly that she did not know my name she still called out, “drive carefully!” when I said goodbye to her at the board and care. Before her decline I found her controlling and felt diminished by her lack of confidence in my preparedness to navigate the world. I perceived her as so bitter and disappointed with her own life that she begrudged me any happiness that I could possibly leach from mine. Now that I am the parent of two teenagers, the truthiness of this is somewhat less true. When I was nineteen, like my college boy, my hubris led to a lot of decisions that seem to prove the adage about God protecting kids and fools. I remember how abridged and revised was the version of my life that I meted out to Mom. So is Joe College is up to a lot of hijinks that he doesn't tell me about? Duh.

I try to play both sides of the fence and offer practical advice but also encourage my kids to avail themselves of those pleasures that are particularly pleasurable for the young. But still, I find myself quite often in a state of hyper-vigilance. I am less obnoxious to them and also improve the quality of my own life when I chill out a bit. But my force of will is not the strongest with regard to chilling. I suspect that this is more than the Jewish mother gene and that there is some brain chemistry in play. While I do market at Super King, I generally don't forage and fight for my food. Therefore, my brain chemicals encourage me to sit on the couch and yell for the kids to fetch me things from the fridge. My brain really couldn't care less if I eat properly and partake of regular exercise and therefore my inclination is not to. However, by forcing myself to change my diet and walk a couple of miles every day, I seem to have brainwashed my brain. Suddenly, making better food choices and padding up the hill has supplanted somewhat the urge for indolence and ice cream. Ditto, the brain chemicals associated with mothering seem ratcheted way up so that we protect our offspring in order to propagate the species. Now I make a conscious effort not to obsessively fret about the hatchlings when they aren't grasped firm in my talons. I will myself to focus on having faith in the people they've become. God looks out for the young and foolish but, an equal opportunity employer, the old and smart too.

Postscript: While completing this I receive a contrite call from Salt Lake City. Road Tripper finds it weird he confesses, after a week of crashing at the homes of college friends, to be mothered by me. He has known the parents of his L.A friends since he was in diapers and their homes are merely extension of ours. Although he reassures me that the food isn't as good. On this trip he meets parents of friends who see only the young man, not having witnessed the often embarrassing toddler-to-teenager trajectory. “So,” I ask him, do your friend's moms still treat their own kids like babies?” “Oh yeah,” he admits. I tell him I love him and hear him slip out of his friend's earshot so he can say it back.