What if you sold everything, quit your job and traveled the world for 18 months–with your kids? Tracey Carisch talks about this & more in EXCESS BAGGAGE

By Leslie Lindsay 

BacktoSchool Series

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One American family. 18 Months. 24 Countries. 6 Continents and a complete life-altering adventure in this debut memoir. And she’s here chatting about this ‘no-regrets’ life, real-life experiences, how travel strengthens brains of children, over-scheduling, and stunning photography. 

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Tracey Carisch thought she had it all. She was living the American Dream with her husband and three young daughters. They had good jobs, a 4,000+ square foot home, and everyone was happy. Or, were they?

At 37, Tracey has a panicked moment, sending her into a midlife crisis of sorts and questioning everything. What would happen if they gave up their jobs, sold their home, their belongings and traveled the world? They found out. And it became the adventure of a lifetime. But, there were some naysayers and judgmental folks–especially on the American side of the pond. And yet, and yet…they did it and they were all changed for the better because of it.

I found Tracey and her family completely relatable, the story awe-inspiring, and I honestly didn’t want to put the book down. EXCESS BAGGAGE (She Writes Press, August 14 2018), was one of those books I didn’t know I needed to read until I did; it called to me, whispering in my ear, ‘You need to read this.’

There are plenty of ‘growth’ moments for the family (and individual members of the family), but reading about their adventures will also make *you* grow; it will shift your thinking and have you aching to jump a plane to whatever country that most calls. I laughed (a lot), I got tearful, I felt excited and terrified…seriously, EXCESS BAGGAGE hit on every emotion. 

So why now? August is Family Fun Month and while many are enjoying vacations, family reunions, and the like, others are gearing up for back-to-school…whether it’s home-schooling, or world-schooling, or private college-prep programs, EXCESS BAGGAGE will open your eyes to a new worldview, a new way of being with your family, and it just might transform your thinking into a more simple, meaningful existence.

Please join me in welcoming Tracey Carisch to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tracey, it’s a pleasure! I am so in awe with the scope of this book. You cover a lot of ground…literally! Was writing about your travels always part of the plan or did it evolve once you returned?

Tracey Carisch:

We definitely planned on doing a travel blog during the journey. As our blog gained a substantial following, writing became a normal activity for me. I’d never considered myself to be “creative” before, but that piece of me definitely grew while I wrote the blog. I knew I was going to miss writing when our travels came to an end. The book, however, didn’t become a real possibility until the very end of our trip. I was talking with a friend from the United States who was visiting us in Nicaragua, and she was convinced I needed to write about my perspective on our travels. I wasn’t sure, though. I mean, who would be interested in reading a memoir about a woman who goes through a midlife crisis and then travels the world with her family to find herself, right? Shortly after this conversation, I happened to notice the book Eat, Pray, Love on a bookshelf in our rental house. Every other book was in Spanish, but this was the only one in English. I’d read it years before when it was first released and loved it, so I picked it up and reread it that last week before our return to the United States. By the time I finished, I’d decided that continuing to grow that creative side of me with a memoir was something I should do. I’m no Elizabeth Gilbert, but there’s definitely a place for women to share their journeys to authenticity with one another, and I wanted to be a part of that.

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Ironically, your background is organizational effectiveness, project management and the psychological aspects of work-life balance. We all seek balance, but can we really attain it?

Tracey Carisch:

Yes, but I will say, it takes commitment. It can be such a challenge to keep ourselves from getting sucked into the rat race of our busy modern world. In my book I call it “The Blur,” where the weeks blend together with the same obligations, chores, meetings, and activities over and over again. There have been several times since we returned from our journey where our family has started to feel that Blur creeping back into our lives. Like those moments when you look at a calendar and can’t believe the month is almost over. When that happens for our family, we force ourselves to stop and look at what’s been added to the schedule, or in some cases removed from it. Are we signing the kids up for too many activities? Working too many hours? Letting go of important things like family dinners or time outdoors? One of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn when it comes to true work-life balance is becoming independent of the opinions of others. Sometimes you have to let go of what other people will think of you in order to do what you know in your heart is right for your life.

Leslie Lindsay:

I have to say, EXCESS BAGGAGE reinforced my dream to pick up and move to Ireland (they speak English—and so less of a language barrier—right?!) What would you say to a family who is contemplating such a move?

Tracey Carisch:

Do it! I can’t say it enough – experiencing the world together changed our family for the better. There’s something special that happens when you go to new culture with the people you love. As you navigate the travel learning curve and tackle the challenges that come with being in a new, foreign environment, you find yourselves working together as a team. You learn things about each other that you never knew before. Seeing the world is certainly a great way to learn about ourselves as individuals, but I think the effect it has on our relationships is even more powerful. Family dynamics evolve when we step away from our normal lives and create new stories together.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What about school? And children? How does travel like this shape their brain for ‘the real world,’ and how can parents—even if they can’t do something as drastic as your family—still expose children to other cultures and ways of living?

Tracey Carisch:

Research has shown that when children experience new things, the information they acquire causes new connections to form between the synapses in their brains, especially in children under the age of seven. We literally improve the physical structure of their brain matter when we give kids new experiences of any kind, whether it’s going to a new country or just going to a local museum. Incorporating new family excursions into daily life can have a tremendous impact on the way a child thinks and views the world. What is especially impactful about new cultural experiences is the immersion that takes place. A different culture brings new language sounds, new foods, new smells, new clothing, new modes of transportation, and new approaches to all aspects of life. If an international trip isn’t an option, museums and cultural festivals are great alternatives. Even just sitting down as a family and watching a great documentary about another country can create really rich conversation with the kids on cultural differences and unique traditions around the planet.

Leslie Lindsay:

Did you have a favorite country/city/continent? I am sure each experience stands out for various reasons. Can you talk about that, please?

Tracey Carisch:

We loved so many places for so many different reason. In terms of culture, Cambodia was a highlight for us. We lived near the Angkor Wat Archeological Park and worked with local charities supporting education, so we learned a lot about the country’s tragic past and how far the people have come. When it came to natural beauty, New Zealand was definitely at the top of our list. The diversity of the landscape is absolutely astounding. Ireland and the Czech Republic brought great connections to the locals we met, and some of them will be lifelong friends. Fiji will always be a precious time for us since we spent it with old friends who will remain an important part of our lives forever. It’s simply impossible to pick a favorite a favorite place after an experience like this.

Leslie Lindsay:

How about your children? How are they doing now and what lessons or experiences from your travels do they continue to revisit?

Tracey Carisch:

Our daughters have all asked us, “When are we going to travel again?” which is a good sign that this experience was a very positive one for them. One of my main concerns was my ability to effectively homeschool them. I worried that when we enrolled them in a public school system again we’d realize they’d fallen behind academically. However, all three of them came right back into their grade levels without skipping beat. In fact, they were ahead of their classmates in many areas. Our girls are all normal kids, but I do think they have a different attitude toward life than most children their ages. They seem to see the big picture. The typical kid dramas aren’t the issue I thought they’d be now that we’re entering the teenage. I think our journey just instilled a more empathetic and mature perspective in them. It’s something intangible in the way they view the world, and I’m not sure we would have been able “teach” it to them. They simply had to see it for themselves.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Since we’re right in the throes of back-to-school, can you provide a few tips for parents regarding over-scheduling and simplifying family life?

Tracey Carisch:

It can be so tempting to enroll our kids in all those enriching activities we think might benefit them in the future. I remember wanting to get the girls signed up for a sport so they’d know teamwork, or put them into an art class so they’d be more creative, or learn a musical instrument because some researcher somewhere said it would improve their math skills. It can feel like we’re doing our children a great disservice if we don’t give them every extra-curricular opportunity available to them. Yet, an important lesson my husband and I took from this journey is that the most enriching thing in our children’s lives is us. Our family’s relationships and our experiences together will give our kids the confidence, curiosity, and courage they need to lead fulfilling and happy lives. When we over-schedule ourselves, we separate our family too much. We undervalue the importance of our time together, and we inadvertently outsource the enriching life experiences children should really be having with their family members to a coach or instructor instead. My best advice would be to add up the time you actually spend together as a family. How many minutes in each day are you enjoying each other’s company compared how much time is spent getting everyone to all of those activities? When you quantify that number, you’ll know if your family is doing too much.

Leslie Lindsay:

I know your husband is a fabulous photographer and he captured so many of your breathtaking experiences. How did all of this shape him? His work? And can you direct us to his website?

Tracey Carisch:

I don’t think I really understood how talented Brian was until we went on this adventure. It’s now a life dream of his to become a professional photographer. At this point in our life we have obligations to our girls, so the income from his software development business has to take priority. However, he has the talent to make it in the world photography, and someday he’ll be able to give it his full focus. In the meantime, his website is www.briancarisch.com and many of his photos are featured on my web site as well. Rather than inserting small black-and-white images into the book, we’ve created a photo gallery for each chapter. When readers visit, they’ll be able to follow along with the story in full-color images. Some of these photos from our trip are available for sale, and a large portion of the proceeds will support three of the charities we worked with closely during our travels.

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Photo by Mohamed Almari on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Tracey, I am so taken, so intrigued and inspired with your travels (and book!) that I could ask questions all day. But I won’t. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Tracey Carisch:

I’m most excited that this book will bring the opportunity to travel to new places and create connections with the readers. I want to hear their stories and share our lessons with each other on living a “no-regrets life”. The most rewarding part of my work as a professional speaker are those conversations I get to have with people around the world. If someone reading this wants to have their hometown added to my book tour, they can connect with me on my web site and we’ll work to get something set up.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of EXCESS BAGGAGE, please visit: 

Order Links:

Tracey Carisch square headshot 1200px.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Tracey Carisch grew up in a small Midwestern town and attended Indiana University for her undergraduate degree. After beginning her career in technology consulting, she returned to academia for her MBA and founded her own consulting firm, helping to lead change in education and workforce development. Tracey is now an international speaker and leadership professional. Her presentations challenge audiences to embrace change and find the opportunities in life’s difficult situations. She lives in the mountains of Colorado with her family, their two dogs, and a cat who thinks he’s also a dog.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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#family #travel #world #parenting 

[Cover and author image provided by PRbytheBook and used with permission.] 

 

 

What if Students could choose their learning material rather than be ‘told’ how and what to learn? Educator & Mom Katie Novak Shares

By Leslie Lindsay 

BACKTOSCHOOL SERIES:

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School would be so much better if students could select their learning material from a buffet, rather than a casserole. Educator and mom, Katie Novak, describes this and more in LET THEM THRIVE. 

When I was a kid, I hated math. I never understood the ‘why,’ to many of the the concepts. It wasn’t put into real-world perspective (at least for me when I was a kid). And then I read Katie Novak’s description of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in her book, LET THEM THRIVE: A Playbook for Helping Your Child Succeed in School and Life and it made perfect sense. Let Them Thrive_cover (1).jpg

Learners (even adult learners) need to understand the ‘why’ of learning for it to be meaningful. That’s what the UDL calls the ‘affective’ piece of learning. Recruit their interest. The second piece is ‘the recognition network,’ that is, the ‘what’ of learning; what they need to know and the third component is the ‘strategic network,’ activating and action plan to express the new information in a meaningful manner.

THRIVE is teaching kids to be effective life-long learners; it’s about the *process* of learning rather than the outcomes (memorization that may not have any lasting meaning or significance to the student).

Novak’s writing style is conversational, approachable, and accessible for just about anyone, but I felt THRIVE might be best geared toward teachers or parents who *are* teachers. Home schooling parents could benefit, too. Novak presents some really great charts and tips for breaking down the UDL into understandable terms and presenting them into real-world examples.

THRIVE is a great parent-teacher primer for the back-to-school season and will give you a framework for teaching at home and supplementing lessons your children in school.

Please join  me in welcoming Katie Novak, Ed.D. to the author interview series. 

Leslie Lindsay: 

What inspired you to write Let Them Thrive: A Playbook for Helping Your Child Succeed in School and in Life?

Katie Novak: 

As an educator, I see the value (and the academic results!) of embracing all our kids exactly the way they are. When I walk into classrooms in districts who embrace personalized learning through UDL, I see kids who are motivated, resourceful and self-directed. They are thriving. This is because in schools where students are thriving, the systems have embraced a framework called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The basic mantra of UDL is, “Our kids aren’t disabled or broken. Our schools are.” Because UDL is endorsed nationally, it drives me up the wall that some teachers and kids aren’t experiencing the power of that framework. There are too many kids who don’t like school or who struggle academically, socially, or emotionally and schools aren’t meeting their needs. It doesn’t have to be this way. For years, my lens has been trying to transform schools to help them best support their teachers and students, but the transformation isn’t happening fast enough. It’s time to turn out Team Momma, as together, we can make sure all our kids get what they deserve. I wrote Let Them Thrive to let parents know that every child has a right to a personalized education and we have a right to demand it. So, game on!

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Leslie Lindsay:

What was the defining moment that inspired you to adopt the Universal Design for Learning framework?

Katie Novak:

I became a teacher because I believe in the power of learning. I believe that any child, and any teacher can be wildly successful if we create conditions for nurture and we provide them with relevant, authentic, meaningful opportunities to learn. I believed this even when I was assigning the same book to the entire class and requiring them to write essays. I believed this when I gave long multiple choice tests that required students to memorize information that was at their fingertips on their phone. I simply didn’t know any other way to teach because I was taught that my job was to follow a script and teach a curriculum. When I first learned about UDL, I suddenly felt free to be creative, to provide options and choices for students to make their own meaning, and right away, their achievement soared.


“While Universal Design for Learning has changed how many educators think about teaching students with disabilities, Let Them Thrive brings UDL’s inclusive message to a broader, general-education audience. This is a very useful tool for helping parents understand UDL and explain it to educators, administrators and policymakers.”

– Ricki Sabia, parent advocate and Founder, National UDL Task Force


Leslie Lindsay: 

What are some practical ways parents can apply the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework at home?

Katie Novak: 

For life lessons: We have two rules in our house: Be nice to everyone you meet and work hard. That’s it. We tell our four little loves, “We don’t care if you get good grades, are funny, or are athletic.” When there are infractions, which there will be, it’s tempting to lay down a consequence, like taking away an iPhone or sitting down for a “family talk.” But remember your goal. For us, our goal is that our kids need to be good people. If your kids are mean to each other, have them troubleshoot. You could start with, “I know that you frustrate each other. It’s okay to be frustrated with people. Let’s talk about some options for how you can cope when you’re frustrated so you don’t take it out on each other.” Share the options that work for you and then provide opportunities to practice. For example, “Maybe deep breathing would help. Even professional athletes use it. Maybe we could grab a book about meditation or you could watch a video or we could sign up for a class together? Which one would work best for you?” You can see how together you can own a goal and consistently choose-do-and review until you figure out the strategies that work best.

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For academic lessons. If your kids attend a school where homework is assigned, it may be the bane of your existence. Kids come home exhausted and they want to lay on the couch, play with toys, run around outside, or just stare at the fridge and say, “Mooooom, there’s nothing to eat!” Now, we can require homework in a one-size-fits-all, traditional approach by saying, “You will sit at the table and won’t do anything else until you finish.” But UDL acknowledges that students need options and choices to meet goals. So, start off by asking, “What do you think would be the best way for you to complete your homework? Do you think it would be helpful to do it all at one time? Or should we break it up into tasks? Do you want to work on it alone or collaborate together? Would you be more comfortable sitting on the couch or doing it outside by the pool?” The possibilities are endless. Allow your kids to make a choice, follow through, and then check-in and reflect. “How did your choices allow you to meet your goal?” If they made a good choice – stock with the fridge with something special. If they were off task, that’s no big deal. You can respond with, “No big deal. Now you know that’s not the best choice. Let’s try something else!” It’s all about teaching kids how to become learners!

Leslie Lindsay: 

You list several ways parents can encourage schools to apply the UDL framework. What are some ways parents can manage resistance from school administrators, etc?

Katie Novak: 

As an educator, I believe that every educator is trying to do the best with what they have. If administrators are resistant, it’s because they haven’t yet learned why it’s important, what it is, and how to implement it. UDL requires a transformation of the system. It’s moving schools from being deficit-based (what’s wrong with our kids) to asset-based (what are the amazing strengths of our babies and how we can optimize their learning). Share articles with them or share books and if you still get push-back, call me. I can definitely hook you up with a UDL advocate, article, or data from my own district that will empower administrators to take the first step. I can promise you this – all administrators want students to be successful. When you can shape that path to UDL, they will be.

Leslie Lindsay:

How can parents partner with teachers in creating an effective learning environment where all 3 networks of the brain (affective, recognition, strategic) are activated?

Katie Novak: 

Teachers love parent support! Share what makes your child amazing and what they are interested in when you send a welcome email. Try something like, “My daughter Aylin is an amazing human. She loves art, play guitar and is obsessed with the Sharer Family on YouTube. She lights up when you give her compliments and don’t be surprised if she brings you little presents like flowers and barrettes, because gifts are her love language. She loves when she is given options and choices to draw, create, and act out things and she’ll do almost anything for a sticker. I’m so excited that she gets to share the year with you. I’d love to know a little more about you. What makes you tick, and what’s your favorite morning drink… I may have to just stop by some time with a treat.” This not only help the teacher to know what makes your child amazing, but you’re also activating their affective network and helping to motivate them. Also, if you want teachers to learn about UDL, you need to provide them with options and choices to learn more about it. For example, you could ask them if they prefer to learn through books, articles, or videos and then share a sample of resources so they can learn about UDL in their own way. Lastly, we want to ensure that UDL translates into action and that our kids have options and choices to learn. To do this, advocate for teachers to receive professional development in UDL because the best way you can support our amazing teachers is to advocate for universally designed learning for them as well. The power of learning, and UDL, will transform our homes and our schools and together, I have no doubt that [parent]-power can make this a reality!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of LET THEM THRIVE: please visit: 

Order Links:

Katie_Novak_headshotABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katie Novak is the Assistant Superintendent of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School
District in Massachusetts and a leading expert on Universal Design for Learning
implementation. With 13 years of experience in teaching and administration and an earned
doctorate in curriculum and teaching, Novak designs and presents workshops both nationally and internationally focusing on implementation of UDL.
She is the author of three other books: UDL Now!, Universally Designed Leadership (with
Kristan Rodriguez), and UDL in the Cloud (with Tom Thibodeau).
You can find her online at katienovakudl.com and on Twitter as @KatieNovakUDL.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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#backtoschool #parenting #education 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission].

Could Gold Stars and Praise really be a detriment to your child? Alfie Kohn talks about this and more in PUNISHED BY REWARDS

By Leslie Lindsay 

BacktoSchool Series:

Remember the 1990s? Were you raising kids then, or maybe you were one? Do you recall the incentive programs teachers dangled–“If you read 100 books you get this?” or, the BookIt! Program through Pizza Hut–a star for every title you completed and so many stars got you a personal pan pizza at your local restaurant?

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But that was just books and reading incentives. Countless medals were given to every kid on every sports team across the U.S.: “Most Improved,” “MVP,” “Most Likely to Sit on the Bench.” Okay, that last one is a bit of a joke, but in all seriousness, there seemed to have been an award for just about anything.

And then these kids grew up. They started expecting similar accolades in college, in the workplace. Everyone started believing that they were exceptional.

But maybe they weren’t. 

In 1993, Alfie Kohn challenged this basic strategy we use for raising children, teaching students, and managing employees, which he summarized in six words:

“Do this and you’ll get that.” 

This mindset is still alive and well. Incentives for losing weight, bribing students for higher test scores, higher sales equaling more recognition. But wait–what about the process? Why can’t we honor and respect the process of working hard?

In 1993, Kohn warned that offering rewards to people to do what we want proves to be destructive at home, at school, at work. And now, twenty-five years later, that temptation is no less powerful. And the effects are still just as unsatisfactory.

The key here is two-fold: to be intrinsically motivated (that is, from within; innately) and to enjoy the process, not just the outcome (reward, praise, token) and that is what shapes and changes one’s behavior and performance.

PUNISHED BY REWARDS: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 8 2018) is back with the 25th Anniversary Edition and a whole new generation of parents and kiddos.

I’m so honored to welcome Alfie Kohn to the author interview series. Please join us.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

What’s wrong with rewards? I thought we were supposed to try and catch people doing something right rather than punishing or criticizing all the time.

Alfie Kohn:

The fact is that rewards and punishments are much more similar to each other than different. If you think about it, “Do this and you’ll get that” is really pretty close to “Do this or here’s what’ll happen to you.” Both are ways of trying to manipulate someone’s behavior.  And both have disturbing consequences.

Leslie Lindsay:

Such as?

Alfie Kohn:

Well, if we’re talking about how well people work or learn, the quality of performance tends to decline in the long run when either threats or bribes are used to “motivate” people. A number of studies have found that people who see themselves as working at a task mostly in order to receive some goody wind up doing a significantly poorer job than people who aren’t expecting to receive anything.

Leslie Lindsay:

Why is that?

Alfie Kohn:

One reason — and this is also a rather destructive effect in its own right — is that when you do something for a reward you tend to become less interested in what you’re doing. It comes to seem like a chore, something you have to get through in order to pick up the dollar or the A or the extra dessert.  What this means is that millions of well-meaning teachers and parents and managers are killing off creativity and curiosity in their attempt to bribe people to do a good job.


“A compelling argument that the use of rewards is counterproductive in raising children, teaching students, and managing workers….A clear, convincing demonstration…written with style, humor, and authority.”

— Kirkus


Leslie Lindsay:

Are you seriously saying rewards don’t work? I mean, if I offered you a hundred dollars to autograph your book for me, wouldn’t you do it?

Alfie Kohn:

I’d do it for free, actually, but never mind that. You’re right:  rewards work.  But work to do what?  And at what cost?  Those are the two questions we should always be asking.  Rewards, like punishments, work very effectively to produce one thing and only one thing:  temporary compliance.  But if our goal is to get quality in the workplace; or to help students become self-directed, lifelong learners; or to raise responsible, caring children — then rewards are not only ineffective, they’re actually counterproductive.

Leslie Lindsay:

Counterproductive?

Alfie Kohn:

Absolutely. Beyond the effects on performance, consider the question of how we raise children to have good values.  Studies show that kids whose parents reward them a lot are less generous than their peers.  Is that surprising to you?  Think about it:  such children have been trained to think that the only reason to care about other people is because of what they’ll get out of it.  When there’s no incentive provided — no candy bar or praise or whatever — they have absolutely no reason to help.  They’re not thinking, “What kind of person do I want to be?”  They’re thinking, “What do I have to do to get the reward?”  It’s awfully tempting to try to control kids by promising them good things if they do what we want — or by threatening them with bad things if they don’t — but this approach makes them less responsible and generous in the long term.

Leslie Lindsay:

So you’re saying rewards really don’t motivate us?

Alfie Kohn:

I’m saying rewards motivate us to get rewards. Unfortunately, that’s usually at the expense of excellence at what we’re doing and a commitment to keep doing it.

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Leslie Lindsay:

So what’s the alternative?

Alfie Kohn:

Well, that depends on whether we’re talking about productivity or learning or values, and on what our specific goals are. If we want mindless obedience, there is no alternative to rewards — except maybe punishment.  But if we want creativity and intrinsic motivation and good values and all that stuff, then it doesn’t make sense to ask “What’s the alternative to rewards?” because rewards never moved us one inch toward those goals.  Manipulating people’s behavior never will.  We have to start from scratch and ask what does help us reach those goals.

Leslie Lindsay:

OK. What does?

Alfie Kohn:

There’s no simple answer. “One size fits all” is a lie in clothing and it’s a lie in behavior.  Stickers and A’s and pay-for-performance are so popular because they seem to offer an easy answer.  After all, they’re based on a theory of motivation that was developed on laboratory animals.  But in the last three chapters of the book I take a crack at exploring the roots of excellence in the workplace and the classroom and how kids grow up to be good people.  My answer takes the form of three “C’s”:  content, choice, and collaboration.  Content means that we have to think about what we’re asking people to do; if the work is pointless or the request is unreasonable, it’s no wonder people seem to require bribes to do it.  Choice means that people are most likely to do their best when they’re given a substantial degree of autonomy about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.  And collaboration refers to the proven importance of working or learning with other people instead of against them or apart from them.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I can’t resist asking you this: Were you paid to write this book?

Alfie Kohn:

Sure. I make my living by writing and lecturing.  But I find I have to try to stop thinking about the money while I work so I don’t stop loving what I do.  Managers need to divorce the task from the compensation as best they can by paying people well and then doing everything possible to help them put money out of their minds.  Likewise, teachers and parents ought to do everything in their power to help students forget that grades exist — at least if their goal is to maximize learning.  But my main point here is that there’s nothing wrong with money — or with candy or kind words, for that matter.  The problem begins when we make these things contingent.  It’s when we say, “Do this and you’ll get that.”  The damage occurs when the stuff people like and need is dangled in front of them as a way of controlling their behavior.

Leslie Lindsay:

I want to make sure I understand your reference to “kind words.” What are you saying about praise?  Surely you can’t mean that we’re supposed to stop smiling and saying, “Good job”?

Alfie Kohn:

Praise is more complicated than tangible rewards, and my criticism is more qualified here. Of course, any suggestion that praise isn’t simply terrific seems controversial because we’re taught to just slather it on.  The bottom line is that if people feel we’re not merely giving them feedback but actually using honeyed phrases to control them, then verbal rewards will be just as destructive as any other kind.  Encouraging people is fine, but only if we do it in a way that leaves them feeling self-determining and interested in what they’re doing — as opposed to feeling dependent on our approval.  A lot of us give praise more because we have to say it than because they have to hear it:  it gets people to do what we want and it makes us feel powerful because we’re doing the judging.  But our goal should be to help others, especially children, develop the capacity to figure out whether they’re proud of themselves, not what they can do to please us.

Leslie Lindsay:

So what would you say to people who have been using rewards in just the way you’ve described and are now wondering whether they’ve done everything wrong?

Alfie Kohn:

My answer is that if they’re seriously re-evaluating their approach, then I’m not worried about them. The best parents — and for that matter, the best teachers and managers — are those who are willing to rethink their most basic beliefs and practices.  The people I worry about are those who say, “I don’t care what the studies show.  Rewards work and nothing’s going to change my mind.”

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For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of PUNISHED BY REWARDS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

241ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The most recent of his 14 books are SCHOOLING BEYOND MEASURE…And Other Unorthodox Essays About Education (2015) and THE MYTH OF THE SPOILED CHILD: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting (2014).

Kohn has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.” His criticisms of competition and rewards have helped to shape the thinking of educators — as well as parents and managers — across the country and abroad. Kohn has been featured on hundreds of TV and radio programs, including the “Today” show and two appearances on “Oprah”; he has been profiled in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, while his work has been described and debated in many other leading publications.

Kohn lectures widely at universities and to school faculties, parent groups, and corporations. He is the father of two children and lives in the Boston area.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

GoodReads
Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
Email:leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com
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#backtoschool #rewards #punishment #parenting #education 

[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 8.4.18. Special thanks to HMH] 

 

Heather Harpham on her exquisite literary memoir, about love & medicine & parenting, HAPPINESS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Powerful, frank, and uplifting medical memoir deeply infused with love, longing, and motherhood. Plus, she talks about her favorite literary memoirs, making time for creativity, and so much more in this luminous interview. 

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I absolutely loved HAPPINESS, which touched on every single emotion with deftness and bravery. I simply couldn’t get enough–from the charming courtship between Heather and Brain, two personalities of polar opposites (she’s a fun-loving California girl living in NYC; he’s an intellectual homebody writer), to Heather’s unexpected pregnancy, the birth, and the medical mystery that enshrouds the baby’s young life.

There’s reconciliation, how they’ll help this baby girl, and HAPPINESS was recently chosen by Reese Witherspoon as…

Hello Sunshine’s April 2018 book pick!

HAPPINESS encompasses a subtle, brave retelling of Brian and Heather’s unconventional relationship progression, how they come together and it’s all told in such a fluid, graceful way that will have you frantically turning the pages.

Harpham does a beautiful job of describing the NICU, her experiences with medical professionals, her passion for parenting, and her reticence toward adult relationships. HAPPINESS absolutely thrums with energy and is infused with such emotion, it’s hard to set it down

I’m beyond thrilled to welcome Heather to the book couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather! This book! Oh my. First of all, it’s gotten all kinds of praise. But it wasn’t exactly easy writing (is any writing ever easy?!). Can you talk about your path and why you wrote it?

Heather Harpham: Leslie, wow! You are a writer’s dream reader –you’re obviously looking for the best in a book. And yes, as you suggest, HAPPINESS was tough to write. I’ve always been a writer, but primarily for the stage; this was my first book and it was daunting. Because this book covers such personal material, and because it describes how my family formed, I felt special obligations to readers and to the people I love most in the world, to get this story as “right” as possible. Or rather to tell it truthfully, but also with respect for what might not belong on the page.

L.L.:  I was telling someone at yoga about HAPPINESS. I said, “It’s like literary fiction meets memoir.” Now, those are two entirely different genres. And yet…that’s how I read it. What’s your response to that? How do you describe the book?

Heather Harpham: Books that bridge genres are the ones I find most exciting. So I take that as a compliment — thank you! My own favorite memoirs include WAVE, THE BRIGHT HOUR, LIT, H IS FOR HAWK and DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT, all of which fall into the murky category of ‘literary’ memoirs. Let’s call this storytelling that pays as much attention to language’s possibilities as it does to recounting events. As a narrative move, this can be tricky — you don’t want to over indulge a stylistic impulse at the expense of strong, straightforward storytelling. At the same time, writers (especially those of us working with material that inherently evokes pathos) owe the reader the breathing room of craft — metaphor, pacing, prosody, etc. Crafted language lifts a reader slightly above the drudgery or pain of events into a more bearable poetic experience.

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In the other half of my creative life, I teach acting and there is a beautifully thin line in great performances between the emotional reality of the actor and the character. This line can be virtually invisible, but it must exist. Audiences need that sliver of distance between the anguish or loss a character experiences and the true person conveying it. Without that sliver, watching is too anxiety producing, which drains the fun; we’re worried for the actor instead of enjoying the story or achieving catharsis. Similarly, with writing, readers need to know that the teller of a story is ‘okay enough’ to tell it.

In HAPPINESS, because I was (in part) writing about sick kids and the deepest loss, I tried to find humor or beauty or absurdity to offer the reader as a kind of ballast against the demands of the material. I felt I owed the reader, at the very least, a little levity and passing pleasure, or we’d be sunk!

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L.L.: Memoir is such a challenging style of writing. Emotions get in the way. Memory is fickle. And then, you worry about how others—the real-life people in your story—will react. How does one reconcile all of that?

Heather Harpham: While writing HAPPINESS, I had to be sure I was telling the story in a way that was bearable and sustainable for my family. In particular, I wanted to portray a period of extreme rupture between myself and the man I am now married to — the novelist Brian Morton — and to describe early, difficult decisions we made without turning the reader irrevocably against him. For our children’s sake, it was essential I describe our separation and differing choices in a way that represented Brian’s point of view, to the best of my abilities. At the same time, I wanted to be honest about the emotional turbulence I experienced while pregnant and on my own. That’s a tough needle to thread and I wasn’t successful on every page, but the beauty of writing a whole book, rather than an essay or an article or even a poem, is that you have time. If you fumble on one page, you try again on the next! I tried to make the gestalt of the book encompass not only Brian’s early rejection of fatherhood, but also his enormous, rare capacity for transformative change into the most extraordinary father and partner I can imagine.

In terms of writing about our kids, it was a tremendous joy for me, as a writer and a mom, to record moments from their early childhood. Brian and I both took a lot of notes when Gracie was sick – not only on her illness or course of treatment– but also on the many things Gracie and Gabriel said and did daily that touched us, or surprised us.

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For the Gracie (who now goes by Amelia) and Gabriel, it’s more complicated. They are both teenagers now and neither of them is fond of having a public portrait drawn of their early childhood or toddlerhood. And, our daughter’s pain is described in detail in the book, in ways that aren’t familiar or recognizable to her. She doesn’t remember the vast majority of what she went through during her bone marrow transplant. Our son remembers even less from that time, which ended when he was only two years old. They both want to be seen as the strong, mature, independent people they’ve become. And I do see them that way, but I also see within them every age they ever were, layered and looping through. But in print, I was only able to capture a snapshot of them, an early version. I hope someday they can enjoy that view. As they enter adulthood, I hope the book can offer them a record of a time that was meaningful or impactful, even as it lies outside of conscious memory. But truly I have no control or insight about what it will mean to them, in the same way we can never know how a reader will receive our work.

L.L.: Without using complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote HAPPINESS?

Heather Harpham: Kids. Lunches. Laundry. Two attempts at dog adoption. Marital fights. Making up. More fights, more reunions. A growth in partnership.  A long search for an affordable, comfortable home. Success — first ever home ownership! Painting walls. Writing group. The beginning of a college teaching career. A new solo show –BURNING. More lunches and laundry and walks. Writing group. California phone chats. Writing group. Long walks, down to the café for a croissant.


“An extraordinary and bewitching book, HAPPINESS has staked a claim among the most beautiful and moving portraits of parenthood and partnership.”

Susan Cheever, bestselling author of Treetops: A Memoir, and Home before Dark


L.L.: And so, your daughter is growing up. She’s okay now. What does she think about her story?

Heather Harpham: Honestly, you’d have to ask her. When she’s been asked in the past, she’s very eloquent on the oddity of having such a personal story – a story that is literally about her deepest physical strata, her bone marrow — told by someone other than herself. She seems to have expected that she’d feel a kind of kinship with the Gracie I describe in the book – that this portrait might offer her a way to recall or even reclaim her younger self – but that didn’t happen. She remembers so little of what I describe, and the little she does remember diverges from what I’ve focused on. I told this story from a mother’s point of view. While she lived it, from the inside. Sadly, neither Brian nor I can ever know exactly what she experienced in that time, as much as we want to.

If you’d like to hear Amelia (aka Gracie) talk about these issues in her own words, she responded to a similar question from Reese Witherspoon in this joint interview (it’s the first question Reese asks her).

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L.L.: Part of what makes HAPPINESS so compelling, at least in my opinion, is the grace and ease you write about the medical professionals, the hospital experience. But at the heart of it all, resides a good deal of fear. Did you ever learn Gracie’s diagnosis? Is it still a mystery?

Heather Harpham: First of all, thanks so much for pointing to the medical professionals described in the book. The gratitude you feel, as a parent (or a sibling or partner or child or friend) for the people who save your beloved, or simply soften their suffering, is indescribable. It’s breathtaking gratitude, knock-the-wind-out-of-you-gratitude. And it never ends. We were lottery winners in medical life — we had many incredible people speeding Gracie’s healing over her four years of treatment. I recently interviewed the woman who was our “primary nurse” during transplant, Bobbie Caraher. For anyone interested in hearing Bobbie’s beautiful philosophy of bedside nursing and the need to humanize medical life, the interview is on the Hello Sunshine website.

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In answer to the second part of your question, I’m a bit hesitant to discuss our daughter’s current medical status publicly – which is a condemnation of the for-profit healthcare system rather than your question! Someday, I shudder to say, the Affordable Care Act might be dismantled enough to reinstate the cruelty of “pre-existing conditions.” This would be very very bad for millions of Americans, including Amelia. At the same time, I can say that she’s totally cured.  And no, bizarrely, we never received a diagnosis.


HAPPINESS is a fast read, a compelling story about life and death, illness and health, and, above all, family.” —Star Tribune


L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you still writing? Are you more focused on acting? And what’s your teaching schedule like these days?

Heather Harpham: I’m teaching enough to keep myself regulated. Without the structure of teaching, I drift through loose, baggy time without accomplishing much… Plus, I love witnessing the artistic enthusiasm of the young actors I teach, as they figure out how to tell stories in the most powerful or original way. I learn from them constantly.

And yes, thanks for asking. I am writing. I try to show up at the keyboard for at least two hours a day. I keep a little spreadsheet to hold myself accountable. And that helps. I respect work, and so I try to make writing feel like a job. Something you clock in and out of. In fact, it is my job; it’s the work I do that most meaningfully contributes to our family’s financial well-being. Still, it’s easy for many of us (maybe particularly women) to think of our creative projects as a lark. A private fancy. This is rubbish; we need to take our talents and creative work as seriously as any employment. Of course that’s a lot easier if you’ve had some success and thus have time to write. I’m amazed by writers who struggle to stay awake and work, after teaching or doing an exhausting “day” job. That’s commitment.

I had a teacher once, a famous clown (truly!), who said that you should offer your own talent a commiserate commitment in terms of time and energy. He said, only you can evaluate your talent and potential. You alone. If you think you’re talented, show up for your talent. Give that talent a room, and as many hours as it requires. That can be scary or disorienting or downright disappointing; sometimes we’re not as talented, or creatively facile, as we hoped. But then again, sometimes we surprise ourselves.

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L.L.: Is there a question I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Heather Harpham: There is a question I wish people would ask, though, alas it is probably a question for the book I wish I’d written, rather than the one I wrote. This question is about the role of spirituality to sustain us, or destabilize us, in times of exigent duress, fear or even celebration. I found that my own spiritual beliefs were fundamentally challenged by witnessing the loss and suffering of so many innocents during our time on the transplant unit. It was incredibly painful and confusing for me as a believer. It awoke a series of questions I’ve yet to answer about the nature of a God (or if you prefer, the organizing intelligence alive in our universe) who allows for misery with arbitrary abandon. Why is catastrophic loss “allowed” to land anywhere, on anyone, at any time?

On the other hand, we encountered many people during transplant who were disproportionately, even inappropriately (!), kind to us–total strangers who offered lifelines. Why? This is a mystery of equal power. I’m guessing that being tender or generous or compassionate felt good to them; it felt right.

I have no idea why humans are built this way – to bend and help, to care profoundly — but I’m very grateful we are.

I stand in that mystery too. I wanted to express more of this spiritual confusion and appreciation within the book than I was able to. Hopefully I can return to it next time, next book. Unless I have the good sense to write about something less complicated!

L.L.: Heather, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you, thank you!

Heather Harpham: Leslie, thank you! You read and respond with such care to writers. It’s been a true pleasure.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of HAPPINESS, please see:

Order Links:

ct-life-stevens-tuesday-happiness-heather-harpham-0801ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Heather Harpham (b. 1967) is an American writer and theater artist. Her fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in Slate, Parents, MORE Magazine, Water~Stone Review and Red Magazine in the UK. Her debut memoir, HAPPINESS The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, was published by Henry Holt in the fall of 2017 and by OneWorld in the UK. Happiness was the April 2018 selection for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club; chosen for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Series; and was included on the “Indie Next Pick” list by the American Booksellers Association. Originally from the northern California, Harpham now lives in New York, a short walk from the Hudson River, with her family.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

Happiness_s_selected.inddLOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness #Happiness #hellosunshine #RWitherspoon #Memoir

[Cover and author image courtesy of Henry Holt Publishers and used with permission. Author photo credit: David Kumin]

Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist Ron Powers on his illuminating title, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE

By Leslie Lindsay 

A moving and richly researched blend of history, memoir, and current affairs regarding mental health in America. 

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First, the accolades:

Written by a New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer prize winning journalist, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE (Hachette hardcover, 2017; now available in paperback) is a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

…It’s a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year.

People Magazine and Shelf Awareness have both called it the Best Book of the Year.

The New York Times Book Review says this of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Extraordinary and courageous . . . No doubt if everyone were to read this book, the world would change.”

NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE has been on my TBR pile, embarrassingly, for over a year. Is that because I don’t care about crazy people? On the contrary. Perhaps I care a little too much. Mental illness runs in my family. Not just in my mother who died by suicide a few years back, but other family members as well. I’m also a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N., so to say I don’t care about ‘crazy’ people, would be wrong. I do.

When I started thinking about my author line-up for May, I knew I wanted to focus on motherhood, for obvious reasons, but also, I had personal reasons. 

May is likely the month my mother took her last breath. We were estranged at the time; in fact, she had driven away many family members then, too. It’s suspected she died, fittingly, on Memorial Day.

So I reached out to Ron Powers. He’s obviously not a mother, but a loving father of two adult sons who have battled schizophrenia. Immediately I was taken with his charm and our similarities. Like me, Ron grew up in Missouri. We both attended the same university. Though different years and entirely different campuses. He worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a time; that’s where I grew up. He worked for the Chicago Tribune; I live in the Windy City now.

And we’ve both been touched by mental illness.

We started exchanging emails. His wife’s mother is from the County Mayo. Had I been? Yes! Do my redheaded daughters Irish dance? At least one does. And when we started correcting each other’s lapses in memory, my husband joked that we were made for each other.

But something tells me he has eyes only for his lovely wife, Honoree.

I adored getting to know the Powers family. From their early days in New York City to time spent at the Bread Loaf Conference in Vermont, to Kevin’s acceptance to Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and Dean’s lyrical poetry and astute childhood observations.  Plus, Honoree is one smart cookie, holding a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Chicago.

Powers is a loving husband and father and tireless mental health advocate. I’m honored to welcome him to the author interview series.

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Leslie Lindsay: Ron, it’s a pleasure. Thank you. First, you say this is the book you worked for nearly a decade *not* to write. You promised yourself, your wife. You weren’t going to do it. So why this book, why now?

Ron Powers: A legitimate question. The answer is that I eventually realized that I could not not write it.

I hesitated for several years because I did not want to revisit the pain of Kevin’s death, and because I was wary of my own motives should I find the strength to plunge in. I did not want to debase the memory of Kevin, who took his life in our Middlebury, VT, household in 2005, a week before his twenty-first birthday. As you know, Kevin had battled a severe affliction of schizophrenia and then schizoaffective disorder for three years before the voices in his head told him to end it.

Nor did I want to tarnish the dignity and courage of his older brother Dean, who was (unbelievably) stricken by the same horrible disease a few years later. Dean has survived and has even managed to stabilize himself via a regimen of antipsychotic medications. He is one of the most gallant and courageous people I have ever known.

I was wary of several mistakes that authors of such books have made. I did not want to commodify Kevin and Dean—to exploit their terrible suffering as a means of making money. Nor did I want to violate the privacy of these two beloved kids, and their mother, my wife Honoree. And of course I dreaded the prospect of delving into memories, photographs, emails, and other memorabilia of these two glorious boys who had been so dear to my wife and me.

I explain in the book why I changed my mind: I came to realize that writing the book was a kind of dharma, a sacred duty. Schizophrenia and its allied brain diseases–schizoaffective and bipolar disordersremain mysterious afflictions to most people. Their victims are shunned, marginalized, and far too often thrown into jails and prisons under the mistaken belief that they are criminals. Yet these afflictions are not simply symptoms of unhappiness, alienation, depression. They are brain diseases, passed along genetically. Those who are stricken lose contact with rational thought. They need to be stabilized and protected, not punished.

L.L.: NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE is a tough read.

Ron Powers: Thank you. Sincerely.

L.L.: It’s academically rigorous, alternating chapters of non-fiction narrative in history, current affairs/politics, and medicine with those of your personal (often emotional) experiences with Kevin and Dean’s schizophrenia. I personally loved this back-and-forth structure. I heard somewhere that you didn’t want to include Kevin and Dean in the book, but there they are. Can you tell us how this structure developed? And also the research that went into this book?

Ron Powers: As I said, I wanted to protect the integrity, the sacredness, of my sons, and I wanted to shield myself from the torture of revisiting the past.

I actually wrote a proposal for the book that did not include my family: it was to be a straight research and reportorial history of madness and how society has dealt with it from the awful era of Bethlem (Bedlam) Asylum in London seven hundred years ago through time present.

My publisher, Hachette, accepted this proposal. Only then did the editors, along with my magnificent literary agent Jim Hornfischer, take me aside to persuade me that it would be a literary and a moral error to exclude the very experiences that had led me to propose this book. At that point, I saw that they were exactly right. And so I expanded the book’s thematic scope to embrace the personal. I am glad I did.

In doing so, I discovered that Kevin and Dean had an important, legitimate function in my narrative. They became the reader’s emissaries from the bright world of the normal into the dark hell of serious mental illness.

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When I realized that, I no longer dreaded scouring through the artifacts of their lives—our lives. When I finally dared to retrieve the boxes of their emails and photos and recordings and drawings, I experienced the unexpected joy of re-entering an enchanted realm: the realm of their happy boyhoods, the happiest twenty years of all our lives. This experience led me to re-savor their sunlit personalities and to record their descent into madness with respect and a sense of rightness: Dean and Kevin were living again, for the benefit of all the victims and their families.

L.L.: There’s a passage in NO ONE CARES about the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference that I love:

“None of us had quite overcome the rustic spell cast by the nineteenth-century campus with its right-angled yellow wood-framed Inn and dormitory buildings, all clustered in a mountain meadow and cordoned off from the world by pine forests and the Green Mountains rising behind them.”

Everything seemed pretty ideal. I bring this up because not all who are afflicted with mental illness had such an ideal childhood. What do you make of that?

Ron Powers: You have put your finger on the central argument of my book, Leslie. In fact, ideal or non-ideal childhoods have little to do—necessarily—with the onset of schizophrenia. It’s a rare disease, and still a fairly mysterious one. It strikes only three to four percent of the population. (Well, that really isn’t so rare, is it?)

To oversimplify, it’s the result of a cocktail of flawed genes, inherited in the bloodline. Even people who carry this toxic cocktail do not always succumb to the symptoms.

Here is the mysterious part: the cocktail must be stimulated to its destructive effects by outside, or environmental factors.

The most potent of these is stress: extreme emotional stress suffered in childhood or early adolescence. So, yes, the lack of an “ideal” childhood can be a factor. Our elder son Dean suffered extreme stress as the result of a car accident, with him at the wheel, when he was 16. (This is a typical age of onset, if the flawed cocktail is in place). [The crash] severely injured a 14-year-old girl in the passenger seat. Dean was wracked by guilt and by the fury of the girl’s parents, who pressured the court to have him jailed for six years. This didn’t happen, but the agony of the possibility consumed our son.

Dean’s younger brother Kevin experienced no such psychic oppression. He was a sunny, happy child whose musical gifts—on the guitar—were evident from age 5. Yet Kevin’s affliction was far more severe than Dean’s, and led him to take his life. So, yes, schizophrenia remains largely a malign mystery.

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L.L.: You outline some stressors/triggers/prodromal stages to the possible development of schizophrenia, not just in Kevin and Dean’s cases, but across the board for those who are afflicted with diseases of psychosis. This has all been supported by research.

They are: 1) Stress 2) Exhaustion/lack of sleep 3) Substance abuse and 4) family history/genetics.

You mention almost all of these within the narrative, expect—and I could have missed it—family history. Can you touch on this, please?

Ron Powers: I’m not sure that substance abuse is a trigger for schizophrenia. It can certainly worsen the symptoms for those who are vulnerable. As I said earlier—and I should make clear that I claim no expertise in this exasperating mystery of the brain—that “family history” is an important indicator. But I hasten to add that neither I nor my wife Honoree has experienced symptoms of serious mental illness. Each of us, however, had parents who may very well have been undiagnosed sufferer of schizophremia or bipolar disorder. If this is true, the flawed genes clearly skipped a generation. Please bear in mind that I’m speaking as a writer who has researched the subject extensively, but not as an expert in neuroscience.

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L.L.: Tragically, horribly, your youngest son, Kevin succumbed to his illness when he died by suicide in 2005, just a week before his twenty-first birthday. How did you make it through? What advice would you give to others in the wake of a family member’s suicide?

Ron Powers: This is a hard yet legitimate question, and I want to answer it without any taint of sentimentality or pretended expertise. As I write on the first page of “NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Over the second five years [following Kevin’s death], the infernal process of ‘healing’—adaptation, really—had begun its unwelcome sterilizing work.”

We adapt—if we are lucky. If we are not lucky, or if we lack strong loving connections to others, we may succumb to lifelong depression and regret. Honoree and I—and our dear son Dean—are a family deeply bound by love. We regret Kevin’s loss deeply. To this day, I dream of him several times a week. The recurring dream is not that he has died, but that he has stopped playing his guitar and stubbornly refuses to take it up again. I don’t think I need to spell out the symbolism of that motif.

My advice to others? I guess it would be to cherish the best memories of the lost loved one’s life, to bear in mind the awful necessary truth that life is suffering, and to recall the words of the poet John Donne that have resounded through the centuries:

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow 

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. . . “

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE, please see: 

Order Links:

ron-powers_sarah-junek-05723fee640df64c0c066a69b10a2326d59b2406-s700-c85ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic, has studied and written about Mark Twain for many years. His works include White Town Drowsing: Journeys to HannibalDangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain, and the coauthor of two, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Flags of Our Fathers.

He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his critical writing about television during 1972. In addition to writing, Powers has taught for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Salzburg Seminar in Salzburg, Austria, and at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Powers is married and has two sons. He currently resides in Castleton, Vermont.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

 

9780316341172_custom-32e55668193579658a03cb7db817cdca0ed07066-s700-c85LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness 

“Very readable and highly recommend.” 

~E. Fuller Torrey, MD and author of SURVIVING SCHIZOPHRENIA

[Cover image courtesy of R. Powers and used with permission. Other images retrieved from this NPR article, on 5.21.18]

Wednesdays with Writers: Dr. Melissa Deuter Tackles ‘Emerging Adulthood,’ Mental Health Crisis & More

By Leslie Lindsay 

What Happens When your Emerging Adult Needs to Come Home? Dr. Melissa Deuter Talks about this and so much more in her book, STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE

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In her psychiatric urgent care practice, Dr. Melissa Deuter has been an expert in assisting families with ‘failure to launch’ young adults who seem to be stuck—whether that’s in a sick role (broadly defined as struggling with mild-to moderate depression or anxiety but may include more severe psychiatric diagnoses), but also those who are unready emotionally and socially to move into the next stage.

Through a series of vignettes, Dr. Deuter takes us on a journey in which we ‘meet’ these young,  emerging adults. Her style is down-to-earth and conversational; in such a way it feels as if one is eavesdropping on friends at a coffee shop. You may recognize familiar stories as if they were your neighbors, your best friend’s son, or your brother’s daughter. Don’t worry, everyone mentioned in STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE has a pseudonym.  The point is, the phenomenon of ‘failure to launch,’ is so widespread, so common, that we’re beginning to see a trend.

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STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE is not exactly science, though science absolutely supports that the brain is not fully developed until 25 years of age. Here, Dr. Deuter gives parents—and perhaps some ambitious emerging adults—the tools they need to go from emerging to actualized.

‘Failure to launch’ is such an important—and often neglected—topic in parenting. Parents of children of just about any age ought to tune in because kids, they grow.

I’m honored to welcome Dr. Deuter back to the blog couch. Please join us in conversation.

Leslie Lindsay: Wow. I finished this book last night and turned to my husband and said: “I see a lot of so-and-so in this and also…” He nodded slowly. Neither of us had been ‘stuck’ as young adults, we did what we had to do. Yet, expectations have changed. Why this book, why now?

Dr Deuter: This book came to life because I found myself having the same conversations with parents of late teens and twenty-somethings again and again. Most of the patients had been in mental health care treatment, and they just weren’t getting anywhere. The patients looked remarkably un-sick on clinical examination and they always showed up with parents who were baffled by their complete inability to function.

I would point out that their child was lost and flailing, and that it appeared to be a stage of life problem more than “mental illness.” Many of the parents would say, “Wow! I never thought about it like that before. Why didn’t our previous doctor our therapist tell us that?” I realized I was saying something useful and unusual. I thought maybe more people needed to read what I was saying in the office, so I started writing.

L.L. Can you talk a little about what it means to be an ‘emerging adult’ versus a ‘full-fledged’ adult? What skills and responsibilities should we possess at each stage? Is it that clear-cut?

Dr. Deuter: Emerging adulthood is basically just a term to describe young adults who aren’t in the roles of adults yet. The term was coined by a college professor and researcher (Arnett) who noticed that college students were more like teenagers as long as they were dependent on their parents and not yet self-reliant.

A full-fledged adult solves her own problems and pays her own way. An emerging adult looks to parents for guidance, emotional support, and often financial support.pexels-photo-1047958.jpeg

I think understanding that adulthood is a series of roles rather than an age can help a lot of people understand why kids these days seem so different than past generations. Society is different than it once was, so kids are affected in ways no one anticipated.

L.L.: When I was in college, a couple of peers had a ‘breakdown,’ that is, they became very anxious and perhaps depressed. School work was too much. They fretted over grades. They missed the comforts of home. They had difficulty living with roommates and structuring their time. For one, a female, this sent her packing and heading home where she lived with her parents but attended a (well-respected) local college. The other, a male, had me take him to the student health clinic for a script of anti-anxiety drugs We spent long hours talking about his issues. Do you see any gender differences in how these things are handled?

Dr. Deuter: Actually, I don’t see gender differences as much as family culture differences. I have seen young men and young women alike follow both courses. If a family has a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy, staying at school might be expected. If a different family is worried that little Tommy or Suzie can’t tolerate being so far from home, that student is probably moving back home with parents.

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L.L.:  Just as there are as many different responses as individuals, how might parents best handle these situations?

Dr. Deuter: In cases where young adults get “stuck” before becoming full-fledged adults, their parents are an important part of the recovery equation. I urge parents to observe how life skills play a role in getting stuck, and how they (the parents) may be enabling unhealthy coping if they step in and allow their child to return to teenager roles after a crisis.

L.L.: What can parents do—before there’s a ‘problem’—that might prevent college students coming back home to the comforts of their childhood home?

Dr. Deuter: There are two major things I wish all parents could do in advance of a mental health crisis in their child: 1. Parent with the end goal of adult independence in the front of your mind. Don’t just teach your children to be obedient students, make sure they have the confidence and experience to persevere and solve problems. 2. Resist the urge to rescue your child, and know that at times, it will be really hard to step back and let him figure it out. That doesn’t mean you won’t help, but as a parent, you have to address your own hang-ups and fears before a crisis hits so you’ll behave in a healthy way after.

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L.L.: Much of what we’ve been talking about has to do with college-bound individuals. It might be implied that they are relatively intelligent, middle-class, and perhaps, Caucasian, with at least one involved parent. Are you seeing this trend in other populations and across SES?

Dr. Deuter: Yes. Across socioeconomic groups, parents are sheltering kids more and helping their kids longer- well into their twenties. That said, emerging adult students are more vulnerable to the lack of skills problems than other groups. Students can be going along, meeting their goals and still not be taking on adulthood. Those who are employed acquire more adult skills than those who only attend school.

L.L.: And what happens when the person of concern has a legitimate mental illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, MDD) or major mental health crisis, such as rape, alcoholism/addiction, and they must come home to cope, recover? What then?

Dr. Deuter: This is a really important question. Young people can become very stuck after a crisis. Supportive families need to understand that loving involvement is a really essential part of recovery, but support should stop short of rescuing or enabling. No matter what crisis our kids have endured, we want to teach them that they can recover. They are strong and they can find the answers to healing. We don’t want to send the message that only we, the parents, can be strong and competent.

L.L.: What do you hope others take away from STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE?

Dr. Deuter: More than anything, I want people to understand that medications don’t sufficiently get people back to normal healthy lives after a crisis. Our kids are not just bags of neurotransmitters that we can “fix” with pills; they are growing up in a psychosocial and spiritual context that cannot be ignored. To address the health and functioning of our young people, we have to look at the whole picture.

L.L.: What question should I have asked but may have forgotten?

Dr. Deuter: I guess I might want you to ask: “Is your advice to parents and patients working, and how do you know?”

I will answer with a story:

One parent who has been coming to me for years to figure out how to handle tough situations with her kids (ranging in age from elementary school to mid twenties) came in with a copy of the book. She had dozens of page markers flagging different points throughout the text and she said, “Oh my gosh! I finally get it! Everything we have been talking about regarding how to make sure my kids are healthy—it’s all right here! Thank you for this and for helping us find our way all these years.”

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L.L.: Melissa, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Dr. Deuter: Thank you.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of STUCK IN THE SICK ROLE, please visit: 

Order Links:

DeuterpicABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Melissa Deuter is and expert and trendsetter in the world of mental health care. She founded Sigma Mental Health Urgent Care and in doing so is on the forefront, redefining how psychiatric services are delivered. Dr. Deuter is a board certified psychiatrist in San Antonio, Texas. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas and attended medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She completed psychiatry residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio and served as Chief Resident. Dr. Deuter currently holds an appointment as Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UTHSCSA and is the course director for the resident training seminars on Eating Disorders and Sexuality and Sexual Development. She is a former President of the Bexar County Psychiatric Society, a current member of the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians Ethics Council, and a current member of the South Texas Psychiatric Physicians Research Network’s Executive Committee. She has been recognized as a San Antonio’s “Top Doctor” and a “Best of” Doctor, a Texas Super Doctor’s “Rising Star,” and has received the American Registry “Patient’s Choice Award.” Dr. Deuter has a special interest in early stage psychiatric care, differentiating serious illness from normal brain development, and the unique mental health needs of emerging adults.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission] 

Writers on Wednesday: Andromeda Romano-Lax talks about ‘cold’ parenting styles, John B. Watson’s Behaviorism, the little known Mrs. Watson, how the fun to any research is digging into the archives, sipping bourbon, eating crab cakes, & more in BEHAVE

By Leslie Lindsay 

An astonishingly disturbing and well-written account of the little-known Rosalie Rayner Watson, the “second” Mrs. John B. Watson, father of Behaviorism, BEHAVE should be on the top of everyone’s to-read list, if not for the writing, the contribution gleaned from behaviorism. Behave Cover

While that may be a very broad statement, I do mean it. Though I may be a bit biased having a background and strong interest in child psychology/psychiatry. BEHAVE (Soho Press, February 2016) is a fictional biography of Rosalie, a promising Vassar graduate with a keen scientific mind. Yet her story is harrowing in that it’s not as straightforward as one may think. To me, BEHAVE was about the 1920s, science, progress, motherhood, marriage, child psychology, and love.

But there are parts that involve behavioral experiments with infants that may leave parents/those who love kids a little squeamish.

I am so excited to welcome Andromeda Romano-Lax to the blog to chat with us about this deeply moving historical-biographical fiction that shaped the early views of ‘not spoiling’ one’s child(ren), several early parenting books, and so much more.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Andromeda! So glad you could join us today. Some people read the last line first, but not me. I often read the first few pages of a book, then quickly flip to the ‘about the author’ and ‘acknowledgements’ section at the back of the book. In your first round of thanks, you mention a psychology textbook editor whom you met at dinner party. She mentioned the case of little Albert B. (the primary test subject in BEHAVE) and that got your gears turning for this book—can you talk about that, please?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Yes, getting heated up about something can be productive—at least for a writer.

I was sharing my vexation with a textbook editor named Christine about ethics in both creative nonfiction (one of my fields) and psychology (hers).  As an example of questionable behavior, she talked about the experimental practices of “Father of Behaviorism” John Watson.1369713473

John Watson was vaguely familiar to me from old college psych classes. I remembered something about a baby, rats, and conditioning, but I didn’t realize that John Watson had a female assistant—Rosalie Rayner—who helped with those disturbing experiments, which frequently involved exposing babies to uncomfortable or frightening situations.

After the party I drove home and immediately started Googling. By midnight I knew I wanted to write about Rosalie Rayner, the forgotten scientist, scandalous lover, and professionally-sidetracked wife of Watson. I have never felt so sure about a storyline so quickly. I wanted to know the story from Rosalie’s perspective. I felt compelled to understand how a woman scientist could be so easily forgotten when her husband remained famous for decades. I wanted to be with Rosalie, in that lab and later, at home with her first baby, during those early days of confused exhaustion, when she finally had to learn how to parent a real child instead of experiment on a mere subject. I wanted to ask her a hundred questions!

L.L.: It’s funny how those little seeds of a new project can creep into consciousness. But the ‘creeping’ is the easy part! How did you tease out the myriad information I’m sure you uncovered during your research in order to shape it into the story that became BEHAVE?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: I started with the Internet and accessible published works for background on John Watson, but when it came to Rosalie, the record was thin. That’s when the fun really starts: when you head to the archives. I visited the Library of Congress, Rayner’s home and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Vassar College in NY, and the Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio, for starters. In addition to library-style research, I relished spending time in those places that shaped Rosalie, visiting old neighborhoods, strolling the Vassar campus, eating Baltimore crab cakes and sipping bourbon in a historic bar. (It isn’t all hard work.)17FISHER-facebookJumbo

I loved learning about the era—especially women’s roles in the teens and 20s. It felt like a gift to start connecting the experience of women then with the experience of women in, say, the ‘60s-‘80s—and women now. History repeats itself. So much became clear to me about the lives of 20th century women by following one woman’s life story in detail. And isn’t that why we read historical fiction?

L.L.: John and Rosalie have a tumultuous love affair, marry, and then have children. This part of the story became quite fascinating to me. It’s almost as if they had their own two ‘test subjects’ in Billy and Jimmy. Still, I can’t really say that’s much different than parenting today. Wouldn’t you say that on some level, we’re ‘experimenting’ with our own kids?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: That’s a great takeaway—for good or for bad, we are all experimenting on our children, and the pendulum keeps swinging between styles that are more or less pro-attachment, or more less based on children’s perceived independence or dependence, for example. I do believe parents should take guidance from their intuition as well as what they read or hear from “experts.” But on top of this, I think some historical and cultural perspective goes a long, long way. What did people think 20, 50, 100 years ago? How do people raise babies in other countries? What can we learn by critically examining the evidence for the latest trends and comparing today’s ideas with ideas from other eras and other cultures?LittleAlbertJohnWatson

 

L.L.: Many of the experiments with little Albert B. made me feel a bit…well, squeamish and then mad at Rosalie and John for doing such a thing to an innocent baby…making him fear bunnies and even Santa Claus. Did you have a similar reaction?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Yes, but perhaps less so than many readers. I understood that psychology was in its infancy and today’s experimental ethics didn’t yet exist. In judging the past we have to put ourselves in that time period, with all its limitations. Watson had extremely good intentions. He thought he was saving future children from pain and emotional anguish. And most of the infants Watson studied were brought into the lab briefly and were not hurt. (Albert was the possible exception because he was brought into the lab on multiple occasions.) DMtz1

Now, what did bother me was knowing that Watson didn’t bother to decondition Little Albert—in other words, to reverse the emotional damage caused. Watson was very flippant about that fact. And what bothered even more was how Watson took such a poorly designed experiment on a single, possibly abnormal baby and then used it as the foundation for some very bad parenting advice which was sold to hundreds of thousands of moms and dads, persuading them to withhold the most basic kinds of affection from their babies.

The experiments are mildly disturbing. The later application via Watson’s and Rayner’s parenting guide is horrifying. The takeaway is not to hate Watson but to evaluate “expert” findings and read parenting guides of the future a little more critically.

L.L.: And their parenting books! Did you have the opportunity to read them? What can you tell us about these guides for raising children? Are they still in publication?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: The Watsons’ 1928 parenting book (Psychological Care of Infant and Child) is out of print. It contains bad advice—like don’t kiss or cuddle your children—and sensible advice, like help your children establish stable routines. It was actually more 97069505_-com-psychological-care-of-infant-and-child-john-b-progressive than other guides of the early 20th century, especially in its recommendation that physical punishment is not necessary. But its main message, the disturbing message, was don’t form attachments to your children—which is as different from my own parenting practices as possible. If John Watson had seen me nursing, reading to, sleeping with, and endlessly snuggling with my two babies he would have pegged me as a child abuser!

As a researcher, my aim was to read about parenting guides as a larger genre, in order to understand where this book fit in the progression from anti-attachment (Watsons) to pro-attachment (Dr. Spock) style parenting. For general readers interested in this topic, I’d
recommend Ann Hulbert’s Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children.

 

L.L.: I found it absolutely fascinating when John resigned from his post at Johns Hopkins and then became an ad man. This was before the days of “Mad Men,” but still many aspects of psychology play into consumerism. Can you talk about that, please?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Long before “Mad Men,” the top advertising pioneers recognized that emotional reactions and interest in sex, for example, could be useful in selling products. As psychology blossomed into a more respected science, behaviorists were recruited. John switched from the academic to the advertising world at just the right time, contributing his own interests, including a fascination with the power of fear. We have him and others to thank for making us worry that we aren’t pretty enough, or don’t smell right, or on the verge of making our children sick or miserable if we don’t buy the next new product.

L.L.: And Rosalie…it appears as if I’m not the only one who didn’t know much about her. But I’m so glad you brought her story into the open! It was the roaring 1920s and she had a degree from Vassar, promising future in psychology, and then she met John. Part of me wanted to scream, ‘no…don’t do it!’ and another part of me wanted to see her and John get together. Did any of your research indicate what she may have done if it weren’t for John Watson?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: First, you’re not the in the minority for being unaware of Rosalie. Second, in terms of guessing what other life she might have led, the research can’t lc3v77r5ixt9b7tell us because she got involved with Watson so early. My hunch is that she would have loved to enter the glamorous world of advertising, which (as I hadn’t realized but soon discovered) already included women pioneers, even before the ‘20s. Rosalie was social, fun-loving, interested in city life, the arts and fashion as well as psychology. She would have done a great job selling the excitement of the 1920s to other women.

 

 

 

L.L.: What’s captured your interest these days, anything keeping you up at night?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Most recently, my fiction research takes me into the world of AI, where the robots are not only coming, they’re already here. In the nonfiction world (I write both fact and fiction) I am absolutely obsessed with language acquisition and have spent most of the last two years intensely studying Spanish while living in Mexico.

I won’t mention politics, which keeps everyone up, except to say that while I was writing about John Watson, many people asked me how someone with such inflexible views and a provocative manner could have been such a famous public speaker and celebrity—or why any woman would put up with him. Trump, anyone?

L.L.:  What should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: No one has asked me yet what kind of reader I was imagining for this book.

In a general way, I think this book is suited to those with an interest in science or the 1920s. But additionally, I was hoping that some readers who puzzle over the cold parenting styles of their parents, grandparents or great-parents would read this novel and say, “A-ha. Finally, I understand.” I also hoped that any readers who are parents now will feel more empowered to make their own decisions about how to raise their children.

L.L.: Andromeda, it was a pleasure connecting! Thank you for this amazing contribution to literary historical fiction.

Andromeda Romano-Lax:  Thank you Leslie!

For more information, or to follow on social media, please see: 

Twitter: @romanolax

NYTimes Book Review of BEHAVE

AndromedaMID1About the Author: Born in 1970 in Chicago, Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Her first novel, The Spanish Bow, was translated into eleven languages and was chosen as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, BookSense pick, and one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her second novel, The Detour, was internationally published in 2012. Her third novel, Behave, was published by Soho Press in 2016 and was chosen as an Indie Next pick and named by Amazon “One of the Best Books of the Year So Far.”  Among her nonfiction works are a dozen travel and natural history guidebooks to the public lands of Alaska, as well as a travel narrative, Searching for Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez: A Makeshift Expedition Along Baja’s Desert Coast, which was an Audubon Editor’s Choice and will soon be released in a new ebook edition.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through this various social media outlets. Hope to “see” you there!

[Special thanks to Soho Publishing and A. Romano-Lax. Cover and author image courtesy of A. Romano-Lax. Image of John B. Watson retrieved from, image of John & Rosalie together from, baby experiment image retrieved from, vintage ad from , all retrieved on 9.2.16] 

 

BookS on MondaY: The Happiest Country for 40+ years and the values we can adopt for raising kids from THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING

By Leslie Lindsay 

Denmark, home of Hans Christian Anderson and Lego toys, has been voted the happiest country in the world for 40 consecutive years, most recently in the 2016 World Happiness Report. What is the secret to this consistent success? Can happiness become the new Danish export? Photo-Nov-28-2-21-23-PM-1024x735-1024x735

That’s what THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING (TarcherPerigee/RandomHouse, August 2016)  And I have to say, the concept became intriguing to me. When I learned the U.S. ranked 17th in “the most happy,” just under Mexico, I wanted to know why and what did the Danes have on us? Here’s a breakdown of the book, which spells out  P-A-R-E-N-T and is how each chapter is organized:

P – Play: Why free play creates happier, better adjusted, more resilient adults.

A – Authenticity: Why honesty creates a stronger sense of self and how praise can be used to form a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.

R – Reframing: How shifting our perception can improve relationships and well-being.

E – Empathy: How fostering an empathic household can help your children be more tolerant and less judgmental of others.

N – No Ultimatums: Why avoiding power struggles and using a more democratic parenting approach fosters trust.

T – Togetherness and Hygge (Coziness): Why a strong social network is one of the biggest factors in our overall happiness and by creating hygge we can give this powerful

THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING is simply written, yet jam-packed with supporting evidence as to what and how we can parent better. And there’s always room for growth, right? The authors, one raised in the U.S. and married to a Dane and now living in Rome, and the other, a family and child counselor in Copenhagen tell us exactly how the Danish Way is different. Hint: the one major difference has to do with something called hygge, meaning togetherness. Read on to find out what this encompasses. And then consider trying it as early as tonight. 

Leslie Lindsay: The premise of THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING is that Denmark is the happiest country in the world in large part due to their upbringing. It seems there may be multiple variables at play (such as parental leave policies),  but what are some things parents in the United States can implement immediately that can have a positive impact?

Jessica: Two major things we could do here at home everyday is to try to teach more empathy and learn how to “hygge” (pronounced hooga) which is cozying around together with those you care about in a drama-free environment. Danes value hygge time highly and it’s something we can easily incorporate here if others agree to try, too. In Denmark, empathy is a crucial part of education and it starts being actively taught in pre-school. It is just as important as teaching Math or English. Seeing that social connectedness has been proven to be one of the number one predictors of happiness, I think that teaching more empathy as a skill at home and incorporating hygge, we could make a big difference in in our overall wellbeing.  shutterstock_415695742-600x381

L.L.: We’ve heard the “Tiger Mother” philosophy and the French parenting angle, so what distinguishes the Danish Way from these other cultural parenting perspectives or styles?
Jessica:
In Tiger parenting and French parenting, what the parent says goes without question, period. It is very authoritarian. This is a generalization of course but it’s pretty common in these cultures. Tiger parenting is all about blind obedience. In French parenting, children are expected to have “allegiance” to parents, which is again authoritarian. It is literally all work and no play and Danish parenting is just the opposite.

Danish parenting is about respecting the child’s integrity, listening to their needs and encouraging learning through play, trusting them to trust in themselves and having empathy for others. In Denmark, children are encouraged to question rules they don’t understand so that they feel they are fair and exist for a reason. They focus more on democracy and avoiding problems by respecting children’s integrity and believing in their goodness. I firmly believe this is why Danes, overall, have a good self-esteem and are happier. When you grow up believing your feelings and thoughts matter and the world can be just, you feel good about yourself. The philosophy of Danish parenting is teach respect, be respectful and you will be respected.

L.L.: What are a few striking differences in the way Americans parent on a day to day basis versus how Europeans parent?

Iben: Americans in general strive to make their children better than others. This is subtly dividing not connecting. It doesn’t come from a bad place, it is just how you are raised. You all want to be more special and more individual. Because it makes you feel like better parents, better human beings. And being the best is prized. You are by nature competitive because you are raised to know that the “better kids” get rewards, praise, trophies, love and their pictures on the walls etc. In a dog-eat-dog world you do everything to try to make your kid the best. You were told for a long time that nature was built on survival of the fittest. So “I” have to survive against all the others. Denmark is built on a totally different foundation. We are collectivist and raised on teamwork, democracy and togetherness. We are programmed not to stand out, but always emphasizing the “we” and that which is created jointly.

L.L.: Jessica, as an American expat who married into a Danish family, can you describe the more Danish concepts of ‘reframing‘ and ‘hygge‘ and why they were surprising to you at first?

shutterstock_231997051-600x400Jessica: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” my husband would say if he had to go out in freezing rain. He had such a knack for finding the silver lining in things and reframing them. He was also often making me aware of when I used extreme language such as “I hate that” or “I am terrible at that” and he would correct me to get a more exact. He was very focused on the importance of language and not being hyperbolic. But when I realized he was also doing this with our daughter’s language around her general experiences of the world, I understood that reframing was a kind of Danish skill that gets passed on through the generations. Her fears became curiosity or her negativity became more tempered all through that language altering. This ability to reframe has a profound effect on long-term happiness because how you choose to see the world greatly affects how you feel about it.

In terms of ‘hygge,’ this was something I saw from day one with my husband’s family but it took me a lot of years to finally get how powerful it is and the breakdown of its psychological components. I describe the crux of hygge as a sacred mental space you enter into with those you love and care for which is free from competition, bragging, complaining or too much negativity. It’s a limited time when you are just there to connect with others and be in a nice environment and cozy around. Many people talk about mindfulness these days, but Hygge_oath_2.jpghygge’ is a sort of “we-fulness.” The purpose is simply to be together stress free, and that feeling of safe social connectedness makes you happy. It was hard for me at first because I wasn’t used to so much “we”-time that was controversy-free, but now I love relaxing into those peaceful moments and I see how much kids absolutely thrive in this we space.

L.L.: What inspired you to write this book?

Jessica: The day I was inspired to write the book was when I was reading the newspaper and Denmark had just been voted (again) as the happiest people in the world. At the very same moment I could hear my husband altering our daughter’s language around her fear of spiders as they talked about one. I reflected on how that was going to change her future. [My daughter] would be more curious, less scared and more open. It was so Danish what he was doing (reframing) and I suddenly felt incredibly lucky to have this influence in my children’s life because I never would have known about these Danish ways otherwise. And then it hit me. The light bulb went off. There is a Danish way of parenting! And it must be one of the reasons why they grow up to be the happiest people in the world! And so the book idea was born.

Iben:  I am Danish and have been brought up on the basis of Danish culture and norms, I am deeply aware that a Danish (or Scandinavian) upbringing differs from that of many other cultures. I believe very much in the importance of learning throughout life, and I am passionate about what I do. When Jessica asked if we should collaborate about writing a book, one could say it was a perfect match. I hope the book will offer a change in perspective or a paradigm shift for someone, which at the end can change children´s life to the better.

For more information, or to connect with the authors via social media, please see:

IbenAbout the Authors: Iben Dissing Sandahl is a certified coach, author and a licensed narrative psychotherapist, MPF, with her own private practice just outside of Copenhagen. She specializes in counseling families and children. Originally trained as a teacher, she worked for 10 years in the Danish school system before earning her degree in narrative psychotherapy. She is a frequent guest expert in magazines, newspapers, and Danish national radio. She is a wife and mother of two girls, Ida and Julie.

Jessica Joelle Alexander is an American author, columnist and cultural trainer. She Jessicagraduated with a BS in a psychology and went on to teach communication and writing skills in Scandinavia and central Europe. Married to a Dane for 13 years, she lives in Rome with her husband and two children, Sophia and Sebastian.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay at: 

[Special thanks to K. Platte at Tarcher Perigee/Peguin RandomHouse. Cover and author images courtesy of Tarcher Perigee and used with permission. All other images retrieved from the DANISH WAY website on 8.31.16]

The Teacher is Talking: Mum’s the Word–Interview with Author Jessie Clemence

By Leslie Lindsay

Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

As as teenager, I subscribed to YM magazine (I think it stood for Young & Modern).  The publication had a section entitled, “Say Anything: Your Most Mortifying Moments.”  Gone are the the days of YM, (and thankfully, so are my teenage years), but those mortifying moments live on, even as a mother.  Especially as a mother.  Today, I present “Cringe-Worthy Moments” by Jessie Clemence, author of There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse: And Other Ways Motherhood Changes Us. 

I am thrilled to have Jessie spell it all out for us–mortifying moments and all here in her guest post.  Stay tuned to learn more about the give-a-way: a complimentary copy of her book–perfect for gifting this Mother’s Day.  

Before I had my own children, I had an idea of how parenting would go. I operated under the assumption that I would parent my children to the best of my ability and that would be enough. I believed that my efforts would ensure me happy and obedient children, all the time.

I was wrong.

It turns out that you can parent a child with all your might. You can train. You can teach. You can make up good-behavior charts and bribe reward a child with all manner of stickers and special treats, but these things might not make a difference at crucial times in their life. No parent has ever been able to predict and control every choice a kid makes. That’s the thing about kids—they come with minds of their own. And this often becomes obvious in front of other people, and we mothers are embarrassed beyond words, possibly even stunned silent.

For example, our daughter recently startled a room full of relatives at the family reunion when she yelled, “Pray, Larry!” at her grandfather. You see, my father-in-law is a dear man of God, but he often takes a bit of time to gather his thoughts before beginning the prayer. My mother-in-law has been known to nudge him with a whispered, “Pray, Larry!” to get him moving. My own husband has taken up this prayer-hesitation as he ages, so I’ve started mimicking his mom at the dinner table. “Pray, Larry!” I hiss at Eric.

I think I’m terribly funny, and if he’s honest, so does my husband. He snorts and starts praying. But we forgot to tell Audrey that sometimes little family jokes are just that—little and with only the four of us. So when she was hungry at the family reunion and Grandpa wasn’t on her schedule, she just did what comes naturally—she ordered him to pray. And the whole room thought it was hysterical, except for maybe me. And Grandpa, who apparently doesn’t appreciate being called by his first name by a grandchild. He did get right to the prayer, so I guess the child made her point.

In another example, I think of the time that Caleb threw up on me, all over me, at story time at the library. We were sitting quietly when I suddenly realized he was burning up, then he was throwing up. There was no time to prevent the disaster. My first instinct was to start cleaning the mess, but there was no way I could do that and care for my sick child at the same time. The dear librarians came to my rescue and started mopping up the mess. They cleaned the carpet and the chair and sent me home. My daughter was heartbroken to leave story time early, so they let her stay and then walked her home when it was over.

I could go on and on about the chances God has given me to get over myself as I parent. In fact, I wrote an entire book called There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse, and it’s all about the ways God has let me grow closer to Him through parenting. Each parenting challenge is another chance to move past my initial reaction to seek the good of my children, and to move past pride and self-absorption. These things are poison to our walks with God, and He lets the difficulties of parenting teach us this over and over. plasticmonkey_160x240and ridiculousness. I love to connect with people through writing about how God’s Word applies to all parts of our lives. We talk about parenting and marriage, the food I burn for dinner, how much I hate skinny jeans, and anything else that comes to mind. Subject matter runs the gamut, I tell you.

I have also written a book titled There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse. It’s 200 pages about how God helped me get over myself and turn to Him in my inadequacies as a mother. It’s about how He’s never

Colossians 3:12-15 says: Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (NLT)

Those cringe-worthy moments in motherhood give me a chance to do just these things. They let me learn how to clothe myself with tenderheartedness towards a child even when I’m embarrassed. They give me a chance to react with kindness when a child blurts out something at the wrong time. They let me learn forgiveness over and over again, just like Christ forgives me over and over again. My life is not about me. I live to glorify God, and He teaches me how to do it as I parent. I pray that He lets you learn these same blessed things through your own experiences as a parent!  Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

***It’s Give-A-Way Time!! ***Here’s how it works:  Tell us  your most embarrassing moment as a MOM by leaving a comment in the comment section of this blog.  (Sorry, but Facebook comments will not be entered to win).  A lucky winner will be drawn at random on Friday, May 3rd at 3pm CST.  If you’re the winner–great!  We’ll contact you via email.  Please remember to check your junk folder!  You’ll have 24 hours to claim your prize (respond to the email with your mailing address).  Your complimentary copy of Jessie’s book will be mailed to you from PRbytheBook, based in Texas.  Thanks–and good-luck!

Bio:Jessie Clemence is a mother of two fun and occasionally sassy children who keep life interesting. She is married to Eric and their family lives in southwest Michigan. To find Jessie online, visit her blog at www.jessieclemence.com. You can keep up with their daily adventures there.  [all images retrieves from www.jessieclemence.com 4.05.13]

In My Brain Today: The End of an Era

By Leslie Lindsay

It is with mixed pride and sadness that I celebrate today.  You see, my darling precocious–and youngest daughter is completing her pre-K education.  It all culminates this afternoon with a popsicle social complete with friends and teachers who have played an important role in her life for the last 3 years.  (Jeez…that’s most of her life!)

Now, you would think that I would be so over it, but alas I am not.  I have been through the preschool “graduation” once with my 7-year old.  Been there, done that, right?  Well, I don’t think a mother ever tires of seeing her children grow and develop.  I know I will continue to observe such milestones, yet this is still hard.

Others have told me, “Oh, it’s just because she is your youngest that you are feeling this way.”  Well, yes and no…true, she is my youngest and in many ways, her moving out of preschool is an end of an era, but it really has very little to do with the fact that she is my youngest.  It has to do with her. 

You see, Kelly is a sweet, thoughtful, bright, and very mild-mannered child.  She is a joy to be around.  Sometimes, I wonder who is mothering whom?!  (Of course, she is never in a role that would sacrifice her childhood).  But I am going to miss her when she goes on to kindergarten.  I am going to miss the handprint art and the stick figure drawings with the too-big heads and the wobbly handwriting.    I am going to sort of-kind of miss the tiny little voice that says, “Why, momma?”  and I am going to miss her interrupting me as I work away on my laptop, “Momma, I just wanted to come and tell you I love you.”

Yet, on the otherhand, I will have more time.  Time to write.  Time to read.  Time to hang out with my hound.  Time to reclaim my goals, my activities.  My dreams.  Not that raising two beautiful daughters was not a part of my dreams, it was…but I know there is more to life than boogars and toilet bowl scrubbing.

And that’s what is in my brain today, Thurday May 24th 2012.