Ebony and ivory and harmony, oh my! Stop pretending an interracial hug fixes injustice

“America is a serial brutalizer of black and brown people. Brutalizing them is what it does. It does other things, too, yes, but brutalizing black and brown people is what it has done the most, and with the most zeal, and for the longest.”—Albert Burneko, “The Concourse”


In the days between two grotesque and revealing grand-jury decisions not to indict the killers of two unarmed black men, a photo of a white policeman embracing a weeping black boy kept popping up in my Facebook feed. Posted and reposted and liked and re-liked by not a small number of my friends, the image was like an oxygen mask for certain suffocating masses. And I get it: I can’t breathe, either.

As legend goes, a black boy the same age as Tamir Rice—shot dead by a policeman in Cleveland three days earlier because he was holding a toy gun—stood at a rally holding a sign. “Free hugs,” it read. As legend goes, a white cop asked if he could have one of Devonte Hart’s free hugs. As legend goes, before they embraced, the white cop offered an apology. And doves flew down from the sky and peace ruled the land and we all lived happily ever after. 

Some people who witnessed the hug event believe the photo was staged. Despite this possibility, people need a salve even if it’s a lie, because reality, as we’ve been experiencing, is too painful. Without the fairytale white people choose to live, how can we get out of bed each day?

According to a gushing article accompanying the photo on inquisitr.com, the image became “something of a symbol of hope in the midst of the anger surrounding the Mike Brown shooting.” The Oregonian (and, later, CNN) called it “the hug shared around the world.” Bustle.com said the image was “crushing and heartwarming and hopeful, all at the same time. And it really says it all.” 

Except it really doesn’t say it all. Devonte’s story does that.

People the globe over now know details they shouldn’t about their new favorite black person (move over, Lupita). For millions, Devonte’s a safe black person because he’s being raised by white people—who generously let us all know that he was born drug-addicted in the projects. His moms shared with the world that by the age of 4, he had experienced a whole list of traumas that I simply don’t feel comfortable repeating here.

Who needs a black Annie when we have Devonte?

I know this Lifetime television backstory makes a great many people feel somehow better about the vile racist society we cultivate, perpetuate and continue to tolerate. So, forgive me when I ruin the moment: To quote activist and writer Awesomely Luvvie from her must-read piece “The Stages of What Happens When There’s Injustice Against Black People,” adoptive parents everywhere need to “shut the ENTIRE COMPLETE ABSOLUTE fuck up” when it comes to sharing our children’s stories. Their stories are theirs to tell, if and when they choose to tell them.

It is nobody’s business if your child was born addicted to drugs. It’s nobody’s business if your child was left at a “baby hatch” in China. It is nobody’s business if your child was sexually abused in an orphanage in Ethiopia. It is nobody’s business if your child was born addicted to crack or was taken from his mother by the state or was the product of rape. 

Adopted kids of color are not mascots; they are human beings who had no choice in their circumstances. And while I have little doubt that Jennifer and Sarah Hart love all their children like I love mine, they over-shared about Devonte to a breathtaking degree and propagandized their son. 

Not only have they betrayed his privacy; they’ve also implied—whether they intended to or not—that they saved this child from his first mother specifically (perfectly feeding into white America’s stereotype of black women) and from the perceived ills of being raised in a black family and community in general. The image and story combine to reinforce the American white-savior complex and our white-supremacist social structure. In a society that routinely goes out of its way to assassinate the characters of black people dead or alive (he had pot in his system, she was drunk, his test scores were low), Devonte’s parents have ensured that even a prospective employer can do this.

Moreover, they forget—and, widely, audiences fail to understand—that, very soon, this loveable kid in a jaunty hat will be perceived as a grown man, likely well before he is one, as often happens to black male youth. And when Devonte goes into the world looking like an adult, neither his adorableness nor his mothers’ white privilege will go with him there. Cops won’t hug him; Internet viewers won’t fawn.

I’m confident that Mike Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd and Amadou Diallou were all huggable black children once. But then they grew and their humanity was stripped from them, like it will be with Devonte.

The future is coming for Devonte and black kids like him—like my daughter—and the straight-up depressing fucking fact is that it won’t matter if they’re star students or college professors, if their parents are black or white, if they stroll in the street or run in the rain, if they remain silent or talk back, if they wear hipster hats or hoodies. 

The terrifying future will look a lot like right now. And right now is solar systems away from a simplistic, viral, fairytale image of a white cop and a black kid embracing.

(Published in San Diego CityBeat on December 8, 2014.)

To my white tribe: You are mine, and I am yours, so let’s deal with it

As Michael Brown was being gunned down by a police officer on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri, I was enjoying a free summer concert in the park, enjoying the very loud but happy bounce of zydeco music, played by predominantly white musicians, for a predominantly white crowd, in a predominantly white neighborhood. 

It’s stunning to think about the America I was enjoying at the very same moment an 18-year-old kid—the totality of his protective gear being his black skin—was hunted by a man gripping a gun and suited up in centuries of law specifically designed to protect someone wearing white skin. 

Though my news feed over the next 36 hours would become an electronic river of devastating articles and op-eds about Brown—and John Crawford III (killed by Ohio police), Ezell Ford (killed by California police) and the retread from way back on July 17, 2014, Eric Garner (killed by New York police)—I couldn’t bring myself to look just yet. 

It’s no wonder I didn’t immediately submit myself to the collective horrors of what was unfolding in Ferguson until after the weekend was over. The injustices against black Americans in particular get to be too much to hold, something my black friends have voiced in the past and probably part of the reason why certain things that have infuriated me (the UCSD Compton Cookout of 2010 comes to mind) tend to register as a shoulder shrug and a yeah-it-happens-all-the-time-what-of-it reaction in them. Black Americans don’t have the choice to step in and out of the black experience like we do—OK, Iggy Azelea and Katy Perry? And paging Lululemon: Please just quit with the “Rollin with my om’ies” yoga gear already. 

White people like you and me, dear CityBeat reader, have the privilege not to deal with any of the race realities if we don’t want to. Such blindness probably accounts at least in part for the fact that, according to the Pew Research Center, only 37 percent of whites think blacks are treated unfairly when dealing with the police. This is compared with 70 percent of blacks living in their America.

Hey, speaking of fairness, have you heard about the white dude in New Orleans who was shot dead by police back in April after he pointed a gun at them and screamed, “No, you drop your fucking gun!” when they told him to disarm? No? Maybe that’s because he wasn’t shot dead; he was taken into custody. Just like that white guy who killed 12 people at a screening of Batman in Aurora, Colorado. Imagine an America where a black man in either scenario is cuffed and taken to jail. Can you picture it? Me, neither.

As it turns out, apathy—even with the most noble of intentions—is an irresponsible choice with dangerous repercussions. In a timely piece, StoryCorps captured the ramifications for transracially adopted people who have not been exposed to honest race dialogue. Five years ago, at age 19, Alex Landau, who is black, was inexplicably beaten beyond recognition by police. His bloodied image is disturbing, but even more so when placed next to the smiling one of him and his white mother who never talked about race when Landau was growing up. 

“I thought that love would conquer all and skin color really didn’t matter,” she said to her son. “I had to learn the really hard way when they almost killed you.”

I feel his mother’s pain, but the person who had to learn the hard way was Landau.

Adoptive parents of black children risk their kids’ lives by taking the love-is-enough approach, because they won’t be protected by our white-privilege force field forever. Making race irrelevant is a betrayal of them, and if we want to prepare them, we have to talk about blackness the way black parents talk to their kids. We have to learn from the black community how best to prepare our kids, because even those who say, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” can find themselves face down on a sidewalk bleeding from the head. 

But this is still not sufficient. White parents of children born to them should be having the same conversations. All white people, kids or not, should be in serious dialogue right now about what’s going down in that other America, asking themselves if they are truly OK with things as they are. And if they’re not—if we’re not—then what, exactly, do we plan to do about it? 

My particular challenge in living unveiled among so many white people who want to carry on as if “democracy had a win”—as someone wrote on Facebook after the Ferguson police force was replaced by the Missouri Highway Patrol—is to continue speaking out against such naiveté, to keep pushing those in my white tribe to get over their guilt, get in touch with their humanity and be active agents for justice. 

I won’t stop when those folks struggling to get right with their own biases and racism become uncomfortable. I won’t stop when they’re so triggered that they react by trying to shame, patronize or insult me. 

I’m going to keep doing it even if, at times, I get it wrong and even if people cross the room to get away from me. Even if I lose friends. Because I’m not satisfied with people being gunned down in the street while I sip an illicit cup of Pinot Grigio from the safety of a park in a certain kind of American neighborhood.

(Published in San Diego CityBeat on August 18, 2014.)

An Open Letter to Hershey Company: Denounce the KKK

Following news reports of recent recruitment activities by the KKK involving (what else) hate fliers and Jolly Rancher candies, I sent a note to the candy maker’s parent company. Join me! You can call (800-468-1714) or write.


I am a long-time fan of Hershey’s chocolate, taking myself back to childhood each time I break off a piece from a larger candy bar and let it melt on my tongue. Even as boutique and hand-crafted chocolates have come into fashion, I frequently grab a chocolate bar at the grocery store checkout—and always convenience stores while on road trips—because no chocolate tastes like Hershey’s chocolate. Hershey’s Kisses are a staple from Santa Claus every December, comprise centerpieces at our home when we host guests for any reason, and serve as a little pick-me-up when the 2:30 workday doldrums roll around. My child now enjoys, like I did when I was her age, the joy and magic of unwrapping the little silver morsel. Hershey’s is a part of my American experience, like it is for millions of other people. In it’s essence, Hershey reminds me of love.

So you can imagine my dismay at the news this past weekend that the Ku Klux Klan has been distributing their hateful recruitment fliers all across American communities, by placing them in plastic baggies weighted down with Jolly Ranchers, a Hershey Company product. This activity is extremely disconcerting at any time, but it has an especially painful and frightening sting in light of the events coming out of Ferguson, Missouri these past weeks (and New York City, NY; and Los Angeles, CA; and Beevercreek, OH; and Chicago, Il; sadly, I could go on and likely will have other opportunities to do so). The last thing we need in America is the spreading of radical ideology that furthers white supremacy.

I urge the Hershey Company to publicly denounce the use of any of its products as a means for distributing the hate, racism, and bigotry being spread by the KKK. Additionally, I would encourage you to make a donation to the ACLU or another charitable organization that is working to undo all the evilness that racism has created in our country. You could even ask any recipients of said fliers to turn them in and donate one dollar (or one hundred) for each one you receive.

Please: Be louder than the hate groups. Join those of us working diligently as anti-racist activists to spread love, equality, equity, peace, and justice. Be love.

Thank you,

Movie review: Closure

Every once in a while, someone touches your life in a an unexpected and deeply meaningful way. Such is the case when I had the good fortune to meet Angela Tucker.

Angela Tucker and me.

All because: Once upon a time, I saw a trailer, cried an ugly sniveling cry, and promptly emailed the producer to say ILOVEYOUALLHOWCANISEEYOURFILM? It’s true. I did that waaaay back in the spring, was allowed to see an advanced copy, promised a review, and then I got to hug Angela at Pact Camp because she and her husband brought their film to Pact Camp! My review is horribly delayed because I suck. But you know who doesn’t suck? Angela Tucker, that’s who! You can totally tell from that photo of her, too.

Now, on to the horribly delayed-because-I-suck review:

Angela is the subject of an intensely personal and widely relevant documentary currently making its way through the indie film festival circuit (it’s currently being screened at the Doctober Festival in Bellingham, Wa.). Produced and edited by Angela’s husband Bryan Tucker—with original music by Mr. & Mrs. SomethingClosure follows then 26-year-old Angela on her journey to meet her birth mother, who placed her for adoption when she was born.

Diagnosed as special needs and given a long-term prognosis that didn’t include walking, Angela spent one year in the home of a foster family before being adopted by David and Teresa Burt, a white couple who live in Washington. There they raised a total of eight children, seven of whom were adopted, and Angela flourished into the radiant, active person you see in that picture up there. The same one who chooses, with each new preview of this film, to bravely share what most adoptees would not. And who can blame them? This film is about transracial adoption and the difficult search for identity and connection. This. Is. Big.

The film opens with Angela in a Skype conversation with Teresa. Angela is preparing to dial the number of her birth mother for the first time, and the back-and-forth between the two women is filled with nervous giggles, sighs, reassurances. There is a lot of love and trust between these two, and you feel it immediately. Angela’s mother listens to her daughter, and counsels her calmly about how to end the call if and when she needs to. Angela takes a moment, takes a breath, looks at the camera, then dials. The phone rings and the screen goes dark as Deborah picks up.

The tension created is immediate and doesn’t let up for much of the film. Whether it was intentional on the part of the filmmaker, the first twenty minutes was especially rife with moments that had the potential to go off the rails. Bryan (I’m going with first names since he and his wife share the same last one) focused much of his attention on interviews with David and Teresa telling the story of how they built their family. And as they spoke of Angela’s growing desire to know her birth mother and other relatives, there were admissions that felt sort of…dangerous.

David mentioned not seeing color, just kids in need; Teresa expressed worry about being replaced; Angela’s sister grappled with why their parents weren’t “enough.” In the modern adoption world, we hope for openness and the need to recognize that in fact, adoptive parents aren’t enough. But theirs are real fears spoken of honestly, and it is clear that the family moved beyond them and instead came to fully understand and support Angela’s need to know where she came from, and in rather amazing ways: Angela’s brother-in-law rises to the occasion, and his dedication to not just her but to one of her siblings as well, is something I didn’t expect. This evolution in thinking is crucial and Bryan’s focus on it was smart.

Unable to find her birth mother through the limited records at her disposal, Angela and Bryan decide to focus their search on Angela’s birth father instead. Thanks to determination, the wonder that is the Internet, and a process that left me agape, they find him living in Chatanooga. The family promptly sets off for Tennessee, where they meet Oterious “Sandy” Bell, along with numerous other extended family members. At some point during this meeting, Sandy mentions he knows where Angela’s birth mother Deborah lives, and they once again pile into a van. When Angela and a car load of family members approach Deborah on the sidewalk, Bryan shuts off his camera, realizing that this is a moment that warrants more privacy. And it does: Deborah denies Angela. But still: We had seen a lot. This was a very difficult scene for me, because I felt as though Deborah was ambushed.

That’s not how you’re supposed to do it, I thought. But there is no How To Meet Your Birth Mother handbook, and I found this scene—like much of the film—to be very instructional in backing off with my adoptive parent knows best judgement. This was Angela navigating a very difficult circumstance unfolding in the moment; it makes sense that she would want those she loves most to be there.

And again, this is her story. Which includes Deborah’s rejection—a second rejection, really—which is sharp, and Angela is stunned as she tries to work through why Deborah has done this. “I do feel like I deserve to know stuff. She has an obligation to tell me some things,” Angela says at one point. And we feel her angst completely. I defy anyone to withhold tears at this. We soon learn that Deborah has kept Angela a secret from her family for 26-years and we are given a window into the loss she has experienced as a result of placing Angela for adoption, as well as some insight into the wall this secret built between Deborah and her siblings. That loss ripples out to all of Angela’s people—her aunts, uncles, siblings—who flood her with phone calls, effusive in their longing for her, desperate it seems, to make up for lost time. The voice mails are both joyous and mournful, much like adoption itself.

As defining life moments go, meeting birth family had to be a major kicking up of sediment, and I would guess that neither Angela or Bryan were prepared for the aftermath of repeatedly sharing and discussing this little film with very big implications. To relive it at each screening, to discuss it and defend it and explain it must be exhausting. The audience with whom I watched this movie was made up of adoptive parents and adult adoptees some of whom took great issue with the film’s title (I personally kept thinking that this was less of a closure and more of an opening).  But as Bryan said in a Q & A after the screening, this is Angela’s story, but it’s his film; it is a documentary, but it is art. It should be noted that while this film is worthwhile to any members of the adoption triad—adoptees (age 13 and older), birth parents, and adoptive parents—it can be very triggering, and the title may be a part of that. As I understand it, audiences not intimately familiar with adoption don’t tend to have the same reaction. This film will be  different experience, with different meaning and impact for each viewer, depending on the lens.

I’m no expert in cinematography, but there are some places in this film that felt long to me—a few drives in the car and one scene in a pool hall—and more economical editing wouldn’t have taken away from the tone being established. There are also a several spots with religious overtones that could lend this film to being the darling of the currently in vogue Christian adoption movement.

It sort of goes without saying that Closure doesn’t end in a crisp package with a neat bow. There isn’t an end to this story. This is real life. Bryan Tucker brings his humanity to this film, to his wife’s most personal story, and gives a compelling, heart-wrenching, validating, and deeply moving depiction of her struggle. This is a gift to those of us living in families touched by adoption, for those of us who see ourselves in any of the roles, and offers us much to contemplate and discuss.

Testing…testing…does this thing work?

No, I’m not talking about this neglected website. I’m talking about the grueling season that is right now bearing down on many of California’s kids. It’s testing season, folks, the time of year when No. 2 pencils and prison-like lock downs on school campuses reign. It’s the season that helps make Pearson one of the wealthiest companies in the world (read that thing with tissues in hand because you will weep); the season that causes Michelle Rhee, Ben Austin, Rahm Emmanuel, and other like-minded education “reformers” to gleefully piddle in their pants at the idea of closing more “failing” schools. Score one for privatization.

Of course, I’m opting my child out of the tests because I don’t subscribe to child abuse. Tomorrow, while the kids in my daughter’s second grade class spend day one of six bent over Scantron sheets while chomping on prohibited-during-all-other-school hours mint gum, my child will be eating crepes she made while learning about the Greek diva, Maria Callas.


Like Maria Callas, my poor kid has an overbearing mother, one who simply could not take her girl by the hand and lead her quietly away from bubble answers and into the light of Verdi’s La Traviatta. No, her mother had to create a Shit Storm first by posting her opinion on Facebook. And yes, I’m really missing my CityBeat platform these days, thank you very much.

Anyway. Ruby’s school sent out an email with suggestions on how best to prep our little Social Experiments for the next two weeks of testing. This inspirational missive came after a very lucrative solicitation last week for the aforementioned mint gum. Because some random un-cited research claims it helps kids stay focused and calm…which might be an argument to offer it everyday, no? Ponder that for a moment.

Some of the things the email encouraged parents to do at home were:

  • Ensure your child is at school everyday, and on time!
  • Ensure your child eats a nutritious breakfast, daily.
  • Ask your child to read a bit more than usual this month, or read with your child for longer periods to build stamina.
  • Talk with your child about the tests & the importance of doing his/her best.
  • Encourage your child to think positive thoughts like “I can do this!”
  • Talk with your child about their anxieties & express your confidence in his/her ability.
  • Be sure your child wears comfortable clothing
  • Encourage your child to pay careful attention to test directions and matching the right answers to the right question  

The email included some “other cute ideas” as well:

“SMART WATER”:  give kids a water bottle each with original smart water, or one with an added label……gives kids the motivation that they can do it!

A special snack each day:

baggie of cheerios with “We’re cheer-ing you on”
baggie of Lucky Charms w/ “Show What you Know, Good Luck”
baggie of pretzels w/ “Don’t let the test “twist” your head”
baggie of popcorn w/ “Poppin’ in to say you’re doing great”
box of raisins w/ “You’re Raisin’ your score”

A special treat to start the morning:
die cut star  with label/ “I’m a Test Takin’ Star” and a starburst candy
a bookmark that says “I’m a Smart Cookie” and a cookie
a bookmark that says “Do your Bear-y Best” and gummybears
a eraser w/ “Erase those fears right outa your head”
business sized card with “Believe, Achieve, Succeed” and a penny

Uh, huh. Yes. Fo’ realz! Our school just did some serious product placement. I’m starting to think that Pearson owns Smart Water, Starburst Chews, gummy bears, mint gum, cookies, all ingredients needed to make cookies (including oatmeal, just to cover the bases), cookie sheets and Teflon®. Bwahahahahahaha!

Some important context here: Our school has an extremely strict stance on food. Students are not allowed to bring treats to school on their birthdays; junk food, candy, sweets of any kind—including gum—are all prohibited in packed lunches; even Valentine’s Day is a no-go. Teachers are allowed to have 3 parties each year, the only time that food is permitted, but all food items must be cleared with the nurse first. Ah, the drudgery of childhood.


There is value in this policy, sure. I get the allergy angle, and can appreciate the collective effort to protect children from danger. But c’mon. This is excessive. So what if the kids ask each other to Be Mine! with a lollipop or a SweeTart? Who cares if a teacher gives out a piece of licorice at the end of a long day? Whose business is it if I want to put a small sweet in my kid’s lunch box because…well…just because.

But these are the rules, and I go along quietly because these are the rules. Until they aren’t any more. Because what better time than test time to start your PearsonBot’s morning with a special treat of “starburst candy”? What’s better than sending Tommy Test Taker to class with school-sanctioned Ziploc bag of Lucky Charms? LIVE LARGE, KIDDOS! SNAP THAT GUM LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHIN’!

That is, until June 11th and then don’t you show up with that poison on campus or else.

And so—you know me—I went ahead and mentioned this hypocrisy on the school’s Facebook page with the purpose of highlighting how our culture of standardized testing is so big, so important, that we will do ridiculous things in the endless hunt for high test scores. Since January, my kid’s homework packets have included lengthy practice test questions in English despite the fact that, according to the school website, “[i]n grades K-2, students receive academic instruction in French only.“  With such explicit teaching to the test—in direct opposition to their stated curriculum—it can’t be a stretch to think there would be free Jell-O shots at the school entrance if “studies showed” a correlation between reading comprehension and vodka.

My post elicited an angry reaction from parents (rightly so) aaaaand also the admonishment that I shouldn’t have made my thoughts public, that Facebook wasn’t the right place to have this particular conversation. But I disagree. I think it’s as fine a place as any to be having this conversation.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS: If 90% of the American public supported the outlawing of abortion, you bet your sweet zygotes that our elected officials would have it done. What’s so different about the background check?


Uh-huh. That’s right. I’m gonna deal with this today, because re-sharing this photo on Facebook didn’t make me feel any better. I shouldn’t write about it now because I’m really pissed off, and I always try to sleep on things I’ve written before I hit publish (or send, for that matter). I’m so pissed off about yesterday’s despicable senate capitulation to big money and the gun lobby. I’m pissed off even though I knew way back in December—about 13 seconds after I heard the death tally in the Newtown massacre—that nothing was going to change. It was this firm knowledge that was going to keep me from getting pissed off when today happened. I was supposed to shrug, sigh and move on. Bombing in Boston, Cowardly Congress, ho-hum, do these pants make me look fat?

But about 12 seconds after that grim announcement that 20 babies had been heinously slaughtered at the end of a weapon designed for warfare, I had a kernel of hope that, Hmmmm…maybe the obliteration of a bunch of (almost all) white children will finally tip the scales.

I quickly dismissed that sense of possibility. I’m a realist, after all. But the human spirit has a proclivity toward wishful thinking, an affinity for hope. It’s a survival thing, I think, an involuntary response to unbearable trauma.

Well. I attribute my anger tonight to that stupid fucking hope. That singular floating dust mite of ridiculously irrational, completely intangible bullshit that must have lodged itself somewhere deep in my body even as I’ve said, over and over again when discussing this topic, We will never change.

I knew. I knew nothing would come of the twenty murdered kids. If congress couldn’t make change after the gun was turned on one of its own (narcissists as they are, this—if anything—should have compelled them to act), why would a smattering of six-year-old body parts across a schoolroom have any impact?

Even as 90%— NINETYFUCKINGPERCENT!—of American people support background checks for gun purchasers: Nothing. 45 “nay”s (I’m not counting Harry Reid’s strategic vote) and our representatives stacked their papers, and straightened their ties and headed home for the night with their jobs and their pay checks and their free-health-care-for-life happily in tact. Shit we, as voters, bestow on them with the humble expectation that they, oh…I don’t know…represent the fuck out of us? That’s right. They represent us. Is 90% so loud as to be deafening?

Meanwhile, gun violence goes on and on, blahdeeblah, I wonder what shoes to wear to the gala on Saturday….

You know, black children die every day in America thanks to guns, and nobody in congress cares. It’s a fact of life. But congress doesn’t care about dying white kids either. It occurs to me that we may finally have undeniable proof of a level playing field. Are we supposed to be hopeful about that?

No. No we are not. We should be depressed and ashamed, because we all lose. Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 10.44.54 PM

Look. 90% of Americans do not agree that we should confiscate all guns. Nor do 90% of Americans agree that we should ban automatic weapons, though I line up in that group, too. What 90% of American people do agree on, is the requirement of a background check for gun purchasers, not unlike that required to obtain a driver license. Or a passport. Or a child. Funny: You have to have to have a background check to adopt a child, but not to kill one. Any bonehead can do that. In fact, has done that. And will again.

Just. Stop. It.

This trend has made it’s way to Target, which does not mean it is okay or good or should be tried or any combination of the three. In fact, it means it’s going to get even worse.

Camel toe is a better look than these sneakers.

Camel toe is a better look than these sneakers.

The wedge sneaker must stop. So please. All you fashion bloggers: As if you aren’t making fashion loathsome enough already, quit talking about and/or wearing these hideous abominations. No, they do not dress down your boyfriend jeans. No, they do not go from day-to-night with a fancier purse. And no, they are definitely not the “epitome of downtown cool.” They look horrid and one day, you will look back at your photos and lament  your choice to not only wear these shoes, but to endlessly foist them on the reasonable women of America.



Teaching to the test has officially begun at my daughter’s school.


Behold the notice included with the first homework packet that came home following the Christmas break (and again in a more specific letter from the school that followed a few days later):

Dear families: Welcome back! Starting this week we will begin adding a book report (to be completed in French) and English homework. The English homework is to prepare your child for the standardized state tests in June.

To re-cap: Ruby’s school—a magnet school—is an immersion school where kids are enrolled in either Spanish or French. The French program is laid out on the school’s website like this:

% French
No. of minutes
% English
No. of minutes
360 min.
360 min.
360 min.
215 min.
145 min.
180 min.
180 min.

French Language Arts-4 hrs a week

History-4 hrs a week

English Language Arts, Math, Science and P.E.





French Subjects



English Subjects




All subject areas






All subject areas






All subject areas






French Literacy



Social Studies




French Literacy



Social Studies
English Literacy



French Literacy



English Literacy

Notice that there is no English instruction until 3rd grade. None. Instruction is taught 100% in the target language. As is common with immersion programs, children learning a second language often lag behind in their English reading until 4th or 5th grade, at which time they catch up. My child falls into this category, and hoo-boy! is she ever frustrated by it. English reading is in this house is an endeavor that is more nerve-wracking than this:

Like, who here can read with that kind of music in the background? Am I right???

So it is bothersome that homework—which we are already opposed to in this household (thank you, Alfie Kohn)—now includes material that doesn’t coalesce with the stated goal of the school, but rather appeases test zealots. Which is to say, who gives a shit about the kids? Not only is this material above the reading level of many children in 2nd grade at this school, but it is explicitly not designed to cultivate curiosity or to spark a love of reading for any child in any school. Of course, it also comes with those fun and useful multiple-guess questions at the end. This is about data and data manipulation and lying to ourselves and cheating our children. Standardized testing, and the prep for it, is child abuse.

Here, for your thank-God-I’m-not-in-school-any-more reading pleasure, is the first homework assignment to help my seven year old proficient-French-reader prepare for the California Standardized Test in May, which she is not taking. (She is not doing the English test-prep assignments, with the support of our wonderful teacher, but more on that later). If you have the stamina to make it through these zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz passages and the questions that follow, weigh in in the comments on problems you have with any of it. Hint: There were zero drawings included with the homework. Okay, pick up your pencils and GO!

English Homework: Read the selection.  Then answer numbers 1 through 10.

How an Orange Grows

An orange is a sweet and juicy fruit.  A drink of orange juice is like drinking sunshine.  Oranges grow best where there is plenty of sun.  California has many orange trees.

Orange Groves

 Most oranges are grown on farms where there are many orange trees.  The trees are in long rows.  Many orange trees together are called an orange grove. Orange trees have green leaves.  The leaves stay green all year.  In the spring, flowers bloom on the trees.  The trees are white with blossoms.  The blossoms fill the air with a sweet smell.

Blossoms and bees

Orange blossoms are beautiful.  Blossoms make pollen.  Pollen looks like yellow dust.  Bees fly from flower to flower.  They pick up pollen at one flower.  They leave some pollen at another flower.  An orange may start to grow.  Bees are important in an orange grove.

Green oranges!

The blossoms fall to the ground.  A tiny orange begins to form.  It is green and small.  It slowly grows bigger.  It fills with juice.  Seeds grow inside the orange.  Finally, the fruit grows to its full size.  It turns orange.  Then it is ripe.  Ripe oranges are picked carefully.

From the Grove to Your Table

Most oranges are made into orange juice.  Some oranges are sent to stores.  You can but an orange.  Cut it or peel it.  You can squeeze an orange yourself to make juice.  Oranges taste great!

1.  The author uses the FIRST paragraph mostly to

A  tell the reader where oranges grow.
B  let the reader know what the article is about.
C  make the reader want to drink more orange juice.
D  tell the reader a funny story about oranges.

2.  Leaves on an orange tree are

A  white.
B  orange.
C  green.
D  blossoms.

3.  Oranges grow best

A  in sunshine.
B  in the dark.
C  in a lake.
D  on the roof.

4.  Why do the trees look white in the spring?

A  There are no leaves on the trees.
B  Snow is on the trees.
C  Pollen covers the trees.
D  The trees have white flowers.

5.  What color are oranges when they start to grow?

A  green
B  pink
C  orange
D  blue

6.  You need to answer a question about pollen.  Which section should
you read again?

A  Orange Groves
B  Blossoms and Bees
C  Green Oranges!
D  From the Grove to Your Table

7.  Why are bees important in an orange grove?

A  Bees look nice in a grove.
B  Bees can make honey.
C  Bees leave pollen in the blossoms.
D  Bees eat flowers.

8.  When you look at the drawing on page 1, you can learn

A  how a tree grows.
B  where the pollen is in a blossom.
C  what a tree looks like a winter.
D  which bugs like flowers.

9.  What is likely to happen if no bees go to an orange grove?

A  Many new oranges will grow.
B  Oranges will get ripe faster.
C  No oranges will grow.
D  The orange blossoms will not fall off.

10.  The author probably wrote this section

A  just for fun.
B  to get people to buy fruit.
C  to tell readers about oranges.
D  to teach readers how to grow an orange.

About the part that was excluded

My father died five days ago. My youngest brother learned of his death via Facebook, of all things, four days after the fact. The obituary paints a sleek portrait of a beautiful man who climbed mountains and adored animals. A mountain of a man, some might say of John Allred.

To be sure, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is an impressive accomplishment. Taking in and loving animals are acts of humanity. But it is commonly accepted—across time and throughout cultures—that one of the most meaningful things a person can do is to become a parent. To omit this portion of my father’s life with only a passing mention to “children from a previous marriage,” reduces the wholeness of it, and conveniently obliterates any truth of who he was at the very core of his being.

US in the snow

Aaryn Greer Allred

John Derek Allred

Corey Braden Allred

Those are the names of John’s three children. My brothers and I are real people with full, rich, complicated lives. We are not hypothetical afterthoughts. We are not apparitions. Except in the way our father treated us.

It deserves to be said that before marrying Susan Creager, “the love of his life,” John was married briefly to Leslie Kennedy, and then for 13 years to my amazing, resilient mother, Gaydi Shore. It could be argued that Leslie and my mother were also the loves of John’s life at one time.

Though it ended in divorce, my parents marriage began as a love affair, the kind any person could hope to experience in a lifetime.

mom and dad

To this day, despite the inevitable implosion of their relationship, I still love to hear the many stories of my parents’ courtship. Often at the holidays, I’ll ask my mother to recount—again—their wedding at the former Hotel Utah; the time she spent with my father in Germany; how he taught her to drive stick shift in their old Porsche; how much they wanted to have a baby. For all the trauma that was to follow those happier days, there is no doubt my brothers and I were conceived in love.

Ultimately, John chose to exile me from his life, and to a different extent, he did the same with my brothers. He chose this path with the full support and complicity of Susan, a woman with endless space in her heart for animals in need, but no such capacity for John’s children.

In addition to my brothers and me, John is survived by two granddaughters: The lovely and inimitable 12-year-old Maisie; and seven-year-old Ruby, a most magical and glorious child whom John never had the desire to know. A third granddaughter will make the world a better place when she arrives this spring. It is my hope that Baby Doris will bring healing to my brother, as he will have the opportunity to become the kind of father he never had, but always deserved.

In the end, a man can summit the highest peaks in the world and rescue every pitbull at the shelter. But the true measure of his character—of his humanity—is plainly visible in the way he treats his children.


A New Year Question

Can all food be prepared gluten free so we no longer have to talk about it?