Category Archives: Parenting

Why can’t we just play nicely?

My son David is one of about 600 bright, enthusiastic young people in Chicago who have essentially given up their personal lives for the past several months. They work 12 hours (or more) a day, seven days a week, hoping their sacrifice will result in the re-election of President Barack Obama.

David is a research associate for campaign. He spends his days glued to a computer screen, prowling the Internet for facts and figures to shore up campaign strategy and poke holes in the opposition’s. Once the third and last presidential debate has concluded, he will be sent to the field, where he will spend long days knocking on doors and encouraging people to exercise their right to vote.

My son Andy, who is here in Arizona, is part of an exponentially smaller but no less dedicated team of young people working around the clock in feverish pursuit of a Democratic senate seat in Arizona for the first time in 22 years. His job as communications director for the campaign of former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona has required him to spend most of the last year away from his girlfriend, who is working for a senate campaign in Virginia. Even when he manages short breaks to come home for Sunday dinner, Andy is constantly plugged into his iPhone — fielding calls, answering email, placing and monitoring tweets, planning ahead. He is never “off.”

My sons are tough competitors. They both played high school football; Andy continued through college. David also played lacrosse through high school and college. These guys are not afraid of hard work. They’ve both been down in the mud and the dirt, pushing with everything they have in them to benefit their team. They’ve both experienced thrilling victories — and their fair share of bad calls, disappointing losses and personal injuries. They are strong. They are self-aware. And, like their dad, they are deeply analytical. So I know that they will weather this election, whichever way it goes.

As their mother, there is little I can do to help them. It feels just like those days when I sat helpless on the high school bleachers, admiring them for taking on tough challenges while hoping with all my heart that they would not get hurt.

In those days, I showed my support by making “Game Day Pancakes” packed with flaxseed and oatmeal. With other moms in the booster club, I served spaghetti lunches on Friday afternoons. I transported endless flats of Gatorade to grassy fields, bought more team T-shirts than I could possibly wear and put the resources of my magazine to work creating beautiful team programs for each new season.

This election season has many parallels to what I remember from those days on the field. Often, my sons were pitted against boys with whom they’d grown up. Playmates on the playground were now enemies on the yard line. The mothers and fathers of those “enemies” were friends of mine. It was always awkward to run into them before the game started, before we headed our separate ways to bleachers separated by wide fields of green. I wanted my sons’ teams to win; I wanted their sons’ teams not to lose. I longed for those early days of T-ball, when we were all in this together. When the goal was learning a skill and expanding horizons, not taking score.

Many of us are disheartened by the ugliness of these last few, down-to-the-wire campaign weeks. It is discouraging to read, as I did in this morning’s paper, that it is impossible to cut through the glut of messaging to gain attention without going down and dirty. It sickens me to realize what that says about our society.

Politicians have no choice but to “go there” to win elections. We, the electorate, apparently demand that of them.

Must we also expect it of ourselves? This season, perhaps because my sons’ involvement has me more tuned in than ever before, I’ve been most upset about the pettiness exercised by individual citizens. Some misplaced sense of entitlement disguised as “supporting the team” has turned ordinary people into thieves and vandals.

Several months ago, David bought me a magnetized “Obama 2012” sticker for my car. I displayed it proudly. To me it wasn’t just showing support for the president; it was showing support for my son. One day, while I was camped out at a coffee shop editing magazine articles, someone slapped a sticker with an “Obama must go” message over it.

On another day, while my car was parked in the underground garage at my office, someone removed the magnet sticker entirely. Apparently his (or her) right to thwart my right to freedom of expression justifies theft. I was so furious I went home and ordered 10 more — and 10 bumper stickers, too.

My husband and I participated in the Walk to Stop Diabetes on Oct. 6. Part of the route headed south on Central Avenue, where we were dismayed to see that two campaign signs for an Arizona legislative candidate had been purposely bent to the ground. Dan and I stopped our walk to right the signs.

On my way to work recently, I noticed that someone had taken box cutters to a “Carmona for Arizona” sign on a busy intersection on Scottsdale Road. I stopped at Walgreen’s on my way home to purchase duck tape. The next morning, I popped the roll of tape onto the handlebars of my bike and threw a pair of scissors in my Camelbak. My husband grabbed a hammer. We rode our bikes to the intersection, where he re-pounded the rebar firmly into the rocky soil and helped me hold the sign pieces so I could tape them back together.

I used to be embarrassed when families on my side of the field would “boo” the opposing team. Those earnest guys on the field weren’t usually guilty of anything but being members of the opposing team. They were good guys, too, hardworking guys. Guys with parents and siblings who loved them and didn’t want them to fail.

I’m sure that’s true of candidates, too. At root, there has to be a lot more than ego guiding a person’s decision to run for office. Who would put themselves through this if there wasn’t some higher purpose they hoped to achieve, some sense of duty to sacrifice self for the team?

But that’s not the world we live in. We allow no room for gray area, for meeting each other halfway. You’re either a good guy or a bad guy. We, the electorate, are left with little but mud-slinging and innuendo to guide our decisions. We’re all too lazy to do the real work — the thinking work — that should guide such monumentally important decisions.

Someone must win; someone must lose. The team that wins isn’t always the most deserving. That’s life.

Because of sports, my sons learned these lessons early. They also learned how to toughen up, to withstand criticism. To know what they stand for and not let what others think affect them.

You may disagree with their candidates, or with our family’s politics. You have every right to choose a different path. I respect that. I just hope that, when we exit the field, we can put the boos and cheers behind us and accept the outcome with grace.

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Dan, my unflappable husband – #5

He didn’t even flinch. That’s the amazing thing. When I came home that day, I told my husband what had transpired during what should have been an absolutely routine photo shoot. I told him about meeting Keri deGuzman, her husband Brian and their two adorable children, Jesmina and Musse. I told him how Keri and Brian had traveled to Ethiopia to adopt their children, and how they were planning to return to adopt two more. And then I told him they’d invited me to go with them.

He didn’t even flinch. Not then, when I told him I wanted to go to Ethiopia, and not later, when I started dropping hints about how much this was going to cost us. And not this morning, when I woke up to an email from Keri saying, “CALL ME WHEN YOU GET THIS!!!! Here we go………..!!!!!”

All he said, with typical calm, was, “I’m very excited for you.”

I first met Dan when I was 25 — a year older than our son Andrew is now. I had just moved back to Arizona after a four-year stint on the island of Guam, where I had finished my senior year of college and worked as a journalist for the Pacific Daily News. I had just broken up with a Guamanian man who had once asked me to marry him. So when I started my new job at The Arizona Republic, I wasn’t particularly interested in starting a new relationship.

I was still living with my parents after returning from Guam, so I was eager to get my own place. A friend at work was living in an apartment complex near Seventh Street and Bethany Home Road. She liked her apartment well enough, so I decided to move into that same building. Little did I know how momentous that simple decision would prove to be.

The day I moved in, my friend introduced me to Dan Barr, who also worked at the Republic and lived in the same complex. I was happy to make a new friend — especially one who was willing to help me move my boxes up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. We had the same odd days off (Sunday and Monday) so we’d often run into each other at the pool or in the laundry room. Eventually we started going on bike rides, hikes or walks around the neighborhood. Then movies. Then dinner and movies. A year later we were married.

On our way to the wedding reception: April 17, 1982.

How do you recognize the “right” one? I find myself pondering that question as our sons rapidly approach the time in life when they will choose life partners. My marriage did not get off to a particularly dramatic or romantic start. It started quietly, with friendship and shared interests and long conversations. It was comfortable, reassuring, reliable. From the moment we first started “hanging out” together, I knew Dan was a good man — a solid, grounded man who’d grown up in privilege but emerged with humility and great depth of perspective. A man secure enough in himself to allow me to be whatever I wanted to be.

I’m not sure how I knew all of that when I decided to marry Dan; I just did. And though we’ve experienced the ups and downs any honest couple married for almost 28 years would admit to, I have never wavered in my certainty that he was the right choice.

Twenty years ago this month, I was preparing to send my first issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine to the printer. Though our young family had to absorb the cost of that first printing bill (and many others to follow), my husband never flinched. He believed in me, so he believed in my reasons for starting a magazine. Since that time, he has been a source of steadfast support, my biggest fan in any undertaking — no matter how great the cost to our family finances or my emotional reserves.

During a family trip: July 2009.

This morning, as he quietly shares my excitement in the adventures that lie ahead — adventures that I will experience without him — I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this man who so selflessly encourages me to face my fears and follow my dreams. — Karen


On Jan. 2, I launched a project called “1,000 People to Thank Before I Die.” It is my version of a “bucket list” — an attempt to acknowledge the people who have guided and influenced my life before I lose the opportunity to do so — and was inspired by the book 1,000 Places to See Before I Die.

Bragging rights

I’ll happily acknowledge my six degrees of separation on this one but I’m going to brag anyway. Raising Arizona Kids has published the works of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

Paul Giblin and sons in 2006.

Paul Giblin and sons in 2006.

Our June 2006 Father’s Day issue included several Q&A essays written by local dads. One of the essays was written by then Tribune News reporter Paul Giblin. 

Giblin and colleague Ryan Gabrielson were recently honored with the Pulitzer Prize — the granddaddy of all prizes to professional journalists — for a series of articles they wrote in 2008 criticizing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  The awards committee noted “their adroit use of limited resources to reveal, in print and online, how a popular sheriff’s focus on immigration enforcement endangered investigation of violent crime and other aspects of public safety.”

Ironically, as the New York Times reports in today’s business section, Giblin was one of many reporters laid off when the Tribune, owned by Freedom Communications, downsized in January. Giblin and a few colleagues now run The Arizona Guardian, a news website focusing on Arizona government and politics.

For our story, Giblin described the most difficult aspect of being a dad. He said it was “trying to set an example all the time” for his sons Casey and Tim. Reaching the pinnacle of one’s profession is setting a pretty good example of what can happen when you work hard, care a lot and give it everything you’ve got. So I’m sure the old man has made his sons proud. But I’m guessing it’s not just because he won a prestigious award. They saw him absorb a tough blow, pick himself up and — taking no time for self-pity —  move on. I can’t think of a better example than that.

Moments of exasperation

The Oki printer hates me. Especially on Monday mornings, when I need it most.

We have 10am staff meetings every Monday. These meetings are very important to me. It’s a time to get everyone on the same page, share concerns, problem-solve as a team and set the tone and direction for the week ahead. I stress about these meetings because I want them to run smoothly. No one on my team has time to waste and I certainly don’t want to be the catalyst.

So I spend quite a bit of time each weekend preparing. Culling through emails from the week before, sifting through notes I’ve plopped into my “meeting agenda” folder, printing handouts everyone will need to make informed decisions. No matter how much I do ahead of time, I rarely achieve the flawlessly efficient meetings I crave. And I’m often late getting them started.

So I blame that darn Oki printer. I bought it in haste a few years ago when our old printer conked out and we had a deadline to meet. I didn’t do any research. I didn’t go online to read the blogs or visit Consumer Reports. (Neither of my brothers will make a purchase without taking both of these steps.) I think the Oki senses my utter lack of regard, so it punishes me every Monday, when I inevitably discover just one more document I need to print for my staff meeting. It simply won’t print from my computer.

Mala, our calendar & directories editor, is the computer’s muse. She seems to be able to coax it to do anything she wants. But she is nice to it. She nourishes it with new cartridges, fills its paper tray, talks to it in soothing tones. I flail around the office in a panic, saying to anyone within earshot, “This darn thing won’t print again!”

Inevitably, it works absolutely fine as soon as our meeting has ended.

There are many moments of sheer exasperation when you’re trying to run a company. I’ve been going through some of my old RAK History files, laughing as I read and remember some of them. Here’s one example.

On a Saturday morning in 1991, I  was driving up the Dreamy Draw (now Piestewa Peak Freeway). I had just picked up a load of magazines from the printer. (I can’t remember now why I would have been doing this on a Saturday.)

The back of my mini-van popped open, spilling boxes of magazines onto the heavily traveled road. Both my sons were in the car with me, safely strapped into car seats (thank goodness). So I took them home to Dan and went back by myself, recklessly darting into the road to recover as much of our precious inventory as I could manage. Many boxes worth were ruined or lost.

It’s funny now. It wasn’t so funny then. So maybe some day I’ll be able to laugh about the Oki printer, too. 

Taking the hard knocks

090328_goucher_gameTOWSON, Md. – Yeah, that’s my kid. Number 22. The guy who’s struggling to get up.

My husband and I are staying in Baltimore for a week so we can enjoy our son David’s last hurrah as a collegiate athlete. His lacrosse team, the Whitter Poets, has traveled to the East Coast for a four-game swing through Maryland and Delaware. It’s a “two-fer” for us because our other son, Andy, works in Washington, D.C., a mere hour’s train ride away. Yesterday, all three of us were able to attend the Poets’ game in Towson against the Goucher College Gophers.

The day was rainy, drizzly and dreary. I’ve been battling a bad cold since the middle of last week. But the game was fast-paced, competitive and exciting, so all those extraneous factors quickly drained away as I pulled out my camera and starting snapping pictures.

I positioned myself at the end of the field where the defensive players hang out. David is a “long pole” whose job is to protect the goalie. I was fiddling with my camera settings when I looked up and saw him crash — hard — into a Goucher player.

I quickly lifted my camera, knowing the long lens would give me a close-up view so I could figure out if David was really hurt. At first, he started to get up. Then I saw him slump and fall back to the ground. With the help of some teammates, he was soon back on his feet and limping slowly back to the sidelines. Not 10 minutes later, he was back in the action.

After the game (which Whittier won 10-9), we asked him what had happened.

“I blacked out,” he said. “I’m fine now.” Visions of poor Natasha Richardson filled my head and mommy-paranoia bubbled to the surface. “Are you sure you don’t have a concussion?” I demanded. “Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“Mom. The trainer checked me out. I’m fine.” This from the guy who had told me just a few hours earlier that he “might” have a broken heel from a collision in last week’s game against Union College. The guy who opted not to get an x-ray because he’s a senior and a confirmed diagnosis would end his season. The guy who’d rather hurt like heck than know for certain that his days as a scholar-athlete are over.

I never played a team sport and I can only imagine the guts it takes to persevere past pain and disorientation, to request more playing time even when it could mean further damage to an injured body (or brain). I don’t know where he got that determination.

And yet I wonder. My son has watched for years as I’ve struggled to keep my little business alive. He’s seen me work long past the point of exhaustion, ignoring hunger, illness and physical discomfort because something needed to get done. He seen me persevere past seemingly insurmountable barriers over which I had no control. I kept getting up the next morning and going back for more. He saw that.

There are many ways to take the hard knocks. When you know the end result is worth any temporary inconvenience to self, you don’t even give it a second thought.

Speaking up–finally

I used to work for the Arizona Republic. In fact, my husband and I fell in love while co-writing middle-of-the-night reports about homicides, fires and robberies. (He was in the field; I was at the night rewrite desk.)

We left the Republic to pursue graduate school (a law degree for Dan, an MBA for me). Seven years and two children later, I started Raising Arizona Kids Magazine.

I held my tongue as I watched what evolved at the Republic over the next few years. Raising Arizona Kids pioneered one project after another–comprehensive calendars of events, annual summer camp directories, birthday party resource guides and more–only to see our ideas duplicated in the larger and more efficiently distributed daily newspaper. I held my breath and suffered countless sleepless nights when the Republic (through its magazine division) started a monthly magazine for parents in the East Valley. (Our Kids lasted less than a year before it was yanked for failure to thrive.) And then came the final blow. The Republic claimed moms for its own, providing “new” resources online that we’ve offered decades–but with the advantage of huge teams of web-savvy professionals who could add all the bells and whistles (if none of the depth). Versus me and one part-time IT guy.

But now I’ve really had it. The Republic, in the Gannett model of market-research-driven, increasingly superficial and fluff-oriented journalism, has gone too far. In this month’s az magazine (which is devoted to “buzz, people, style and culture”), self-annointed parenting expert Karina Bland advocates a parenting strategy designed to put children “Ahead of the curve” by enrolling them in what she describes as “10 of the Valley’s best enrichment programs to help your child beat the competition.”

I felt physically ill as I read her describe how today’s parents will “do just about anything to help [children] get a leg up on the competition–even it if means instruction in Mandarin well before they’ve mastered English or college classes before they’re old enough to drive.”

It’s not that the 10 places she lists are bad places (although I know from receiving the same press releases she gets that the Bambini Language Immersion Preschool she recommends just opened on Nov. 17th, so how it can be the “best” with no track record floors me.) It’s her premise that the only way to be a good parent is to push your child to be better than everyone else.

The irony is striking as I proofread copy for our February issue. We have an article by Scottsdale early childhood education expert Melanie Romero, who through both education and experience is far more qualified than Karina Bland to tell parents how to best approach their parenting. In “Parenting on Overdrive,” Melanie rejects the strategy of trying to raise super kids (a concept, frankly, that was on its way out 23 years ago when I had my first child). To quote from Melanie’s article: “Parents who over-schedule their children or push them to achieve risk creating young people and adults with chronic stress, burnout, low self-esteem and lack of creativity.” She condemns “hyper-parenting,” a phrase first coined by Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D. and Nicole Wise in their book The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap.

When I attended journalism school I was taught that professionalism dictates objectivity, despite your own innate preferences and choices. My staff has been trained to work this way. We believe that parenting is a serious and carefully cultivated skill enhanced by exposure to different professional opinions. We consciously choose to avoid recommending any one approach or hyping something as “best” because we know that all parents are different, all children are different, all families are different… and what works for one does not necessarily work for another. We strive to be a place for the exchange of ideas, rooted in a professional perspective provided by local experts we interview or whose articles we publish. We expect that our readers will ponder the options and strategies we describe and choose wisely from their own insights about their respective situations.

In this blog-eat-blog world, we increasingly accept as “news” and “fact” the opinions of people whose intelligence and personal experience often encompass no more than the ability to type and hype. It saddens me that the Republic has such a large and powerful platform on which to promote what their marketing department has determined will sell magazines.

I refuse to relegate my parenting — or my company — to that model.