January 27, 2014

Do smart people make stupid parents?

Having kids changes everything. But does becoming a parent make people stupid, or is that caused by society on a bigger scale?

I'm referring, today, to this blog post by KQED which skims the surface of a serious epidemic facing today's middle class families: The overwhelming academic pressure that teens face these days.

For you non-parents, and you parents of younger kids that haven't yet hit high school, this is totally a thing.

Parents want the best for their kids. They want success for their kids. They know success comes from hard work, but it also comes from having opportunity. Opportunity comes from having a degree from a prestigious college. Everything good parents do comes from the well intentioned quest to give their kids the best opportunity for success.

So when we see things like this (from the UCLA admissions FAQ)

The average admitted applicant to UCLA for the Fall Quarter 2013 had a weighted GPA of 4.41, an unweighted GPA of 3.89, an SAT Reasoning Test score of 2055, an ACT Assessment composite score of 30, 21 semesters of honors/AP course work completed between 10th and 12th grades, and 53 semesters of college prep coursework overall.

That's the average admitted applicant. Average.

It's no wonder that parents go a little out of their minds when they see such statistics. It's no wonder they start pounding on their kids to study harder and do more homework and stop being children when they're still in fifth grade. Because by the time they're a freshman in high school, if they're not on a path to complete 21 semesters of honors/AP classes over the next four years, they might not get into that prestigious college.

Thus, they project a crushing fear of failure onto their kids. They don't stop to think about other options, only that a 4.40 weighted GPA might not be enough to get into UCLA these days. The kids pick up on this fear but don't have the maturity to self-regulate. They're just kids. And they're under this impression that their lives will be over if they get a B or don't score in the 90th percentile on the SAT.

I'm a reasonably smart guy. I graduated from UC Berkeley with an engineering degree. Maybe that opened some doors that wouldn't have been open had I gone to a school with a less grand reputation. Then again, maybe not.

At work, in my neighborhood, at my kids' schools I'm surrounded by smart people. Many went to colleges I'd never even heard of before. Some went to "party schools." A few never went to college at all. Yet they have good jobs, nice homes, great kids, comfortable lives.

What goes wrong in a parent's brain that allows them to think 12 hours devoted to schoolwork every day is a good thing? That missing family dinners for studying will lead to a better life? What lets them torture their own kids with this crushing fear of a potential failure that, quite frankly, isn't even real? What makes them think they're competing against other kids, rather than against this mythical ideal?

Better to try to guide teenage kids into adulthood by letting them understand that finding the right fit is more important than squeezing into a prestigious torture chamber. We spend so much of our energy trying to be "the best" as defined by rankings and tests and brand recognition that we forget that we should be focusing instead on being the best "me" we each can be.

It's difficult as a parent to break away from the overwhelming social pressures. But ultimately our children's success and happiness will be best served by helping them learn how to create their own path that is the right path for them. Yet even some of the smartest people out there seem to turn stupid when it comes to their kids. Love them. Guide them. Coach them. Push them to be the best they can be.

But don't hold them to arbitrary measurements that don't fit them in the hopes that they will become something they're not. 

January 23, 2014

Be the first to review this item

The Bad Lie, my new kids book with a golf theme, is now available at Amazon. I haven't published the ebook yet (not sure if/when), but if you absolutely, positively must have an electronic copy for yourself, comment here or email me and let me know. I'm happy to send you a file, in the format you want.

All I ask in return is that you post an honest rating and review to the Amazon page or the Goodreads page. And, if you really like the book, tell others about it.

I'll send signed copies to a random selection of those who post a review to Amazon or Goodreads before February 1, 2014. Spread the word. Thanks!

Where to get it:

January 12, 2014

I'll have a new book out soon. You can get a free preview.

I have a new book coming out this week for kids in the 3rd to 6th grade range. It's about a kid who has to make some tough choices about friendship, honesty, and his future, all staged in a golf setting.

If you've read my other books, you know this new one is outside my usual audience, but it was fun to write. The idea popped up last spring when a colleague decried the dearth of good golf-themed books for kids. Yes, she really was upset by that. I did some research and had to agree. So I decided to write one.

I gag when I read sports stories that are all about the main character winning the game in the end to become the hero, and I'm bored with sports stories that focus too heavily on the sport itself. So when I sat down to come up with the right story, I thought about my own experience with golf.

I am not a golfer. I have hacked around in the past, and I still enjoy a round with friends from time to time. Years ago, a good friend who is a great golfer watched me hit a bucket of balls at the driving range. He finally shook his head and said, "You have a beautiful swing. I have no idea why you can't hit the ball straight."

So you can see why I had no interest in writing a story about the highly technical nuances of the sport. But golf is so much more than just the physical activity. Golf is a connection between friends, between family members, between the individual and nature. Golf is as much about the bonds we create while playing as it is about the competition. On the flip side, the game itself is one of personal skill, concentration, and integrity. It's a very introspective game, and it can also be a lonely game.

Those are the very human elements of golf that drew me into this story. Jay, the main character, is a very good golfer for an 11 year old, but he's got real-kid problems. Parents recently divorced, peer pressure, the general stresses of growing up. He's faced with tough decisions that test his character and his relationships with his parents and his friends. Golf is central to so many part of his life, and when he's faced with losing that, it means more than just some game.

The book is scheduled to be available January 16 (print only), but recent crazy weather may push that out to the following week. In the meantime, I'm making free e-copies available to anyone who promises to post an honest review to Amazon or Goodreads by the end of January. Simply email me with the subject The Bad Lie Preview and let me know what e-reader you have, and I'll send you the file.

UPDATE 1/13/2014: The weather has indeed caused a delay. The book, originally scheduled to be available January 16, will now be available on or after January 22nd.

January 9, 2014

Lipsticking - my thoughts on writing and publishing

I have admitted in the past that I subscribe to a blog called Lipsticking, though I do not read every post that shows up in my inbox.

Today, one of their authors published an interview I did for her a few months back, about my experience with writing and publishing. Everything in it is totally up to date except the "what I'm working on now." That says I am about 10,000 words into the third book in the New Eden series, but today I'm actually done with the rough draft of that book. Everything else I say? Timeless and classic wisdom.

You should check it out.

And you should subscribe to the Lipsticking blog. There are some pretty smart and eloquent ladies over there.

Go read the interview now!

January 5, 2014

Day trip to Ensenada: totally worth it, but never again #travelogue #travel

Last night we got home from a 1,500 mile road trip over nine days. We saw many cousins, visited a college, toured Universal Studios, visited a missionpartied in Los Angeles, walked around downtown LA, and saw a space shuttle. A pretty busy trip. But the crazy bit was our day trip into Mexico.

Originally, we thought we might drive across the border and down to Rosarito Beach or Ensenada. A lot of people told us not to do that, though. They said we'd get beheaded by drug cartels. A bunch of googling, though, made us believe that there was virtually no actual risk in going... but I didn't want to drive my new car in a foreign country, so we looked into other options.

Our timing was bad for a tourist bus from San Diego to Ensenada (only Tuesdays and Wednesdays that we could find), but more research showed another "easy" way to get there: Walk across the border and take a Mexican ABC bus to Ensenada.

It should be said here that I did zero research. Maria learned everything and planned everything. So I was going in blind, essentially, hoping it would all work out. This is my positivity strength working full force.
So we left our cozy, beachfront timeshare in Dana Point about 8 a.m. and drove an hour to the San Ysidro border crossing. We figured getting into Mexico would be easy, and it was. A few armed guards eyed us as we came through the building on the Mexican side, but no one asked for papers, no one asked if we had anything to declare... no one asked us anything.

And there we were, in the middle of a chaotic, crowded, noisy city. Maria tried to navigate to the bus terminal from the one blogger's directions, which were accurate but not as detailed as one might have hoped. But here are the correct walking directions thanks to Google Maps, at least as of January, 2014:
We walked back and forth until we figured out we had to go over the sky bridge across the highway.
Once we got over the highway, it was easy to find the ABC bus terminal: Past the tourist shops and restaurants, past the taxis, left through the plaza to the tall mirror-glassed building. The bus was there, but we were confused about the price. It was twice the price that we'd read online. After some calculations and a quick stop at the exchange counter for some pesos, we realized we misread the blog posts. Still a $110 round trip total for four people didn't seem outrageous. So we took the 11:45 bus from Tijuana to Ensenada.

At the time, we did not know that part of the coastal highway had fallen into the sea just a week before. We might have rethought this whole trip had we known. Or maybe not. We're reckless that way.

Anyway, the bus was comfortable and smooth for the 90 minute ride, and it dropped us at the Central station in Ensenada. A ten minute walk to the ocean got us to the tourist district, where we had lunch and bought a few souvenirs. We didn't know the return bus schedule, so we figured we'd try to get back to the terminal around 4 p.m.

We got totally lucky, walking onto a bus at 4:15 p.m. that got us back to Tijuana just after 6:15 p.m., well after dark. I admit to a little unease as we navigated the streets back to the border crossing--the place had a tweener feel to it like most tourists had left for the day, but people were still preparing their shops and bars for Friday night. If we'd missed that 4:15 bus, I figure we'd have reached Tijuana after 7:30 p.m.

We had no idea what to expect at the border. Maybe an hour or so wait in line for returning US citizens with valid passports, right?

We were so very, very wrong.

We wandered around trying to figure out the protocols, and ultimately one semi-friendly woman and a local official helped us understand that we had to stand in the "general public" line, which stretched up and away from the border farther than we could see. We began walking back along the line, which had not moved one inch in the ten minutes we wandered around, when a guy came up to us and offered to shuttle us across the border.

I was skeptical. He said it would take 30 minutes or so, dropping us on the other side of the border. The walking line looked at least three hours long. Probably more. (No exaggeration here. It's dreadful.) Ten bucks a person for the shuttle. He wanted to leave right away, had four seats. Ten bucks each.

I am always afraid of getting scammed in an unfamiliar place. Chaos all around. If it was so quick and cheap, why wasn't everyone doing it? Or at least a few more people abandoning that four hour line?

But he had a laminated official badge on a lanyard around his neck. His shuttle was a 15 passenger van, already nearly full of people, parked right next to a couple of Mexican border police. I set aside my skepticism and hopped in the van with Maria and the boys.

Best $40 we ever spent. The shuttle took us on a 20 minute drive to the Otay crossing, where we got out and went through a 20 minute line across the border, then picked us up on the other side and drove us back to our car at San Ysidro around 8 p.m.

All in all, this was a great experience. But it could have gone really wrong at multiple points. We got lucky with the border crossing shuttle, and with the timing of the return bus. The reroute due to the freeway collapse was a harrowing ride over the mountains on a windy, crowded precipice road without guardrails. And of course there are the beheadings, right?

Ensenada was fun--great food, of course, and typical tourist shops. The cruise ship wouldn't arrive until the next day, so it felt like we had the town to ourselves. But the people were friendly, and the walk to and from the bus station showed us a look at Mexican local city life. An experience I am glad we had, but I wouldn't do it again. Not as a day trip. If we were going to stay for a couple of nights in Ensenada, I would definitely consider doing the ABC bus again. But not for a day trip.

Lunch, with Super Donkeys! (i.e. big burritos)

Tourist section, without many tourists.

I'm guessing this place rocks when the ship is docked.

Souvenirs included Baja shirts, a blanket, and a little ceramic skull.

Local business.

On Avenida Riveroll, walking back to the bus station.