Plug: This American Life’s Harper High School series

I’ve rekindled my love for the great storytelling that takes place on This American Life, and recently listened to parts one and two of the episodes about Harper High School. TAL spent five months at this Chicago school, where last year, 29 current and recent students were shot. As TAL explains, “We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances” (

The episodes are not easy to listen to, but I suggest you do. They’re timely, for one thing, and for me they really helped explain how difficult it is for kids living in poverty to make any other choice than to be in a gang and get involved in gang life. In fact, you’ll learn in the first episode that kids don’t choose to be in gangs: the choice is made for them.

Give it a listen.

Don’t Make Me Come Up There

L has been learning some Spanish. His new favorite word is amarillo, yellow. Last night, in the car, he was holding a yellow truck and we heard him say, “Amarillo truck!” and then, in a voice that could have been mine, “That’s right! Amarillo!”

“Man,” I said to B. “That kid must hear my voice in his head all day long.”

Turns out I’m right. There was a This American Life episode a while back–I can’t find it now–about how kids whose parents talk to them and read to them have a distinct advantage over kids who don’t; they do better in school, in part because they have many more words (and more positive words) than kids whose parents don’t read to them or actively teach them language. By Kindergarten, kids who are read to and talked to are miles ahead. Experts think this accounts, in part, for multi-generational poverty and illiteracy. It’s very sad. Anyway, I knew this–but I didn’t think so literally about it, like, that the actual words I say to L are bouncing around in his head.

This made me think that I need to be more careful about what I say. I don’t even mean because, say, L was running around last week yelling “Get off my fucking vest! Get off my fucking vest!” (oops; and what does that even mean?). More because he is obviously picking up not only on what I say to him–but also on what I say to others and to myself. And lately, I have not been very kind to myself. I’ll just come out and say it: I have had a really difficult couple of weeks. My anxiety has been so uncontrollable I have almost wanted to head straight (back) to therapy and a bottle of something. It’s been caused, undoubtedly, by what I think of as bourgeois American problems: we have now extracted L from his current daycare and are about to transition him to another one, and for whatever reason the whole thing has felt very sanity-testing. I hate not being liked, and now people are upset with me; the voices asking if I’m making the right decision have been pretty loud; the financial piece of it is stressful; etc. Perhaps worst of all, the whole experience completely derailed the month of January, which I’d planned to use for my own writing. I got very little done.

So, anyway. My friend K asked me to go to a yoga class with her the other night, and the invitation could not have come at a better time. The class was restorative yoga, which means it’s not exercise at all but you lie around propped up on pillows with an eye bag. At the beginning, the teacher asked us to set an intention for our practice (if you’re not familiar with yoga, know that this is basically a…well, an intention, a place to put your energy. It’s quasi-religious, and I love it). Make an intention: into my head popped the words, love yourself as much as you love your kid. I nearly started to cry. I realized that there I am, saying to L, “Amarillo! That’s right! Good job, sweetie!” While in my head I am saying to myself, “You suck. You made a big mistake with this daycare and now you have to clean it up. You suck for not being able to finish your book. You suck because you will never get published. You suck, basically. And did I mention you suck?”

Okay, I’m being a little extreme, but it’s not too far off.

So, resolved: be nicer to myself. Because little pitchers have big ears. And even if I’m not saying it out loud, little pitchers are pretty perceptive.

On a lighter note, here’s a very funny This American Life clip about talking to kids. Well, yelling at them, really. Enjoy.