Monthly Archives: April 2013

Boston, Bombs, Breaking News and Kids

We live in a terrifying world.  Since the days man walked the earth with monster-sized beasts bent on devouring us, something has always lurked in the dark corners and shadows of our minds reminding us of our mortality and the fragility of life.  For children, those monsters usually hide under their beds or in their closets at night.  But in the daylight, public places filled with people and the protection of policemen – those places are safe.

Then, in the middle of a favorite TV show, a sour-faced news anchor breaks in and lets us know that one of the three casualties of the bombs in Boston was an eight-year-old boy.  The monster is out of the closet and staring at us in 65 inches of 1080p high contrast color.  HD images of people scattering, smoke billowing, and bloody limbs on gurneys suddenly supply vivid detail to what the monster is capable of doing.  And, by the way, if it is a terrorist, the monster could be visiting your town next week when the next big athletic event in the U.S. kicks off just around the corner.

Naturally, my eight-year-old was suddenly very concerned, and asking questions no child should ever have to ask.  What’s a terrorist?  Why would someone want to blow up trash cans?  Are we safe?

It would be so easy to tell her that Boston is a long, long way away and nothing like that could ever happen here.  But she’s a smart kid and would figure out soon enough that the “breaking news” about how security was being beefed up around the country and was likely to be tight for the kick off of the MS 150 coming up meant this was possible close to home.  Instead, we talked truthfully, though carefully, about how some people in this world seek attention by hurting others.  And that’s wrong.

She asked if anything like that ever happened here in Texas.  “No, honey, I don’t remember anything like that ever happening here.”

“Maybe that’s because Texans would never let someone do something like that,” she offered.

“Maybe.  The good thing about Texans is that our culture is to be kind and to help each other.”  It is true that Texans are notorious for being in everyone’s business and are significantly more likely to get involved if they see someone doing something wrong.  That is one thing I adore about the culture of the good ol’ South.  (You’d be an idiot to try anything too stupid in Texas.  Just ask Santa Anna.)  And the good people of Boston proved once again yesterday that the capacity to help each other in a crisis isn’t limited to the states bordering the Gulf Coast.

In the midst of the attention-mongering talking heads who repeatedly interrupted our regularly scheduled programming over the past 24 hours to tell us no one knows anything yet, the real story our kids need to hear went largely untold.  When your kids ask about the bombing, the best thing to talk about is not just how frightening this tragic event is, but how blessed we are to live in a country that repeatedly rises above.  My Texas princess was quick to explain how, if she saw someone putting something weird in a trash can or even trying to steal a purse from an old lady on the street, that she’d go ninja on them and then take them to the police.  While I nixed her first plan, I was happy to gush over what a brilliant idea it was to tell the authorities when she saw someone doing anything suspicious.

Although it may not prevent all crime, I guarantee if we all pay a little more attention to what’s going on around us and show just enough bravery to take appropriate action when we see something we know is wrong, we’ll breathe a little bit easier than most of us were on the morning of April 15th.

Global Politics and the Third Grade

My daughter has always been one of the tallest girls in her class, despite being one of the youngest.  Well, not just her class, but her grade.  Tall, blonde, blue-eyed and, of course, beautiful.  By mid-summer she looks more like Malibu Barbie than someone you’d believe I’d given birth to.  She’s always been confident, funny, and, being my child, naturally a bit over the top.  Through second grade, she was at the top of the invitation list for it seemed like every birthday party in her grade.  She knew everyone and everyone knew her.

So I was pretty incredulous when she came home complaining about being bullied by another member of her third grade class.  I’d met this child, and she was half my daughter’s height and seemed nice enough.  They shared a lot of the same interests and I thought would be fast friends.  Instead, what started out as a few insults slung in my daughter’s direction eventually grew to what seemed more like a full-scale, well-orchestrated campaign against her.  She came home crying of being relegated to lunch-time Syberia (I.e. sitting alone at the end of the cafeteria table) and heated sessions of tag that were more like a Jean Claude vanDamme movie than a typical recess game. The queen bee had declared her an enemy of the state and she was banned from all birthday parties and play dates.

We talked to a therapist.  We practiced all the recommended anti-bullying tactics at home.  She tried being nice to the bully, avoiding the bully, standing up to the bully and telling her teacher when the bully was cruel.  Nothing seemed to work and the battles seemed to escalate to an all out but very one-sided war.

Then one of the bully’s minions got caught in the act.  And it turned out the child didn’t like being part of the bullying process but didn’t know how to navigate the complex socio-politics of the third grade.  Her mother explained to her that any kind of bullying, even if it meant just excluding another child because a bully told her to, was not acceptable.  Then she talked to another of the minion’s moms.  I talked to my daughter and got a handle on the depth of the problem, then let her teacher know.

Today, my daughter made friends with the bully, who also received a lecture on the right way to treat her friends.  The two girls buried the axe and executed the equivalent of a peacetime treaty (they sat together at lunch and played together without incident).  And all it took was some of the troops standing up to the bully and saying, “no more.”

In the span of seven hours these two little girls accomplished what so many global leaders have failed to do in centuries – they worked out their problems and declared peace.  All it really took was one being brave enough to ask her enemy to be her friend, then both taking the time to get to know each other. Today, two young mortal enemies realized they’re more alike than different, and that they really do like each other after all.

Ah, what we grown-ups could learn from our grade-school aged kids!  Maybe world peace could be possible after all.  My daughter didn’t have to wield her superior strength and power to solve her problems.  She allied herself with the friends of her enemies, and together they were brave enough to initiate change by extending the olive branch and offering friendship and compromise.  No shots fired.  No casualties. Just peace.

DigiGirlz with Microsoft

Tuesday I had the privilege of participating in the annual DigiGirlz Day at the Microsoft Store in the Houston Galleria.  Every year, about 50 high school girls, educators, volunteers and Microsoft employees get together to promote the advantages of young women pursuing STEM college degrees and future careers.  The girls are from a variety of backgrounds and schools around Houston, some privileged, others from low income areas.   This year, we were blessed to have Texas DARS send a talented, visually-impaired young lady who injected so much energy and excitement into the event one would never have guessed she was anything but an average high school girl.

I was lucky enough to join a panel with six other successful women who were primarily IT leaders and one educator/author.  They each shared insights into their early lives, their educational and career journeys, and their secrets to happiness and success.  The girls were an outstanding audience, peppering the panel with creative and relevant questions that really inspired not only their peers, but the women who had come to do the inspiring.

Lately, I’ve suffered some moments of self-pity, lamenting the setbacks in my life that make things…complicated.  As I sat on that stool in front of those young, eager faces, (okay, some were yawning), and shared my life’s journey from poor minority kid to full scholarship college student, NASA nerd and finally computer geek, it dawned on me that I’ve already lived such a full and privileged life.  Sure, I had to work hard to get there and took some pretty tough knocks along the way, but nothing I’ve ever had to face holds a candle to what some of these young girls have already gone through.  And yet, there they were: bright-eyed and full of hope for the future, eager to hear what those of us who had made our way before them had to say.

My self-pity dissipated as I later talked one-on-one with the girl who was born blind in one and eye and with tunnel vision in the other.  Instead of letting her circumstances get the better of her, she had thrown herself full force into music, learning on her own to create her own mixes and ready to move on to writing her own music, and she was so excited to hear how I’d blended my geek life with my passion for music.  We spent some time talking about how far Windows Phone technology has come in terms of accessibility for the visually impaired, and explored some of the music apps in the Windows Store, excitedly exchanging ideas about how she can prepare herself for a future audition with my alma mater, U.T. – Austin.

I know the big software vendors are sweating the transformation of the digital world from one of proprietary, expensive software suites to a proliferation of low-cost, simplified applications – “apps” – that do everything from entertaining you with highly popular games to teaching you how to read music or play piano and still manage your budget with a few pokes of the touch screen.  The big vendors may still own the enterprise, but the average consumer can now do much of what they need (short of the top productivity applications) for less than $10.  If your income is dependent on those high profit, proprietary software sales, this is a scary, scary time.  But for people like the girls I met this week, the new digital landscape opens the door to whole new worlds for the underprivileged who once had no chance to compete with their upper-middle class peers when it came to breaking into top colleges and careers.  Why?  Because for $6.99 kids in the ‘hood can take piano lessons from a pro, or for less than $3 sharpen their math and engineering skills.

Sure, many of the girls I met this week had never seen nor touched an iPad, let alone a high-end machine like the Surface Pro or Sony’s Vaio Duo before walking into the Microsoft store that day.  But as more and more schools dedicate budget to issuing tablets to students, and as the price of these devices begins to drop, there is great hope for the future for these bright young women.  With technology becoming so accessible to all, I can’t wait to see what this next generation of young women can accomplish!

Recommended: Check out Developer Junior to learn how to program your own web sites, video games and apps.

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