Thank you, thank you, thank you. Happy Mother's Day.

Anne Lamott says the only two prayers we need are these: Help me, help me, help me and Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Every single day.

My sons Augustus Lane and George Talwin have for 17 and 16 years, respectively, honored, blessed, challenged and created me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Help me, help me, help me.

And God bless Marcia Stephan Lane for being my mother, which could not have have been an easy job. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Gimme Shelter: Why I taught Grammar to Kids Who Didn't Care (Parenting in Colorado, Part Three)

(or What I Learned about Parenting from The Rolling Stones)

In this interview, Mick Jagger calls the song "a very moody piece about the world closing in on you . . . ."

My hometown greeted 2014 with the lawful sale of recreational cannabis. Naturally, parents and educators are talking a lot about marijuana here in the 303. The debate is a many-tentacled beast in our local zeitgeist, and I will address various aspects of it in a series of blog posts here.

Today, I share my thoughts on the importance of helping teenagers learn to think critically about ALL issues in the world, including drug use.

Oh, a storm is threatenin' / My very life today / If I don't get some shelter / Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away   -M. Jagger, K. Richards

I. The Inner Fortress: Shelter from the Storms of Life

We do not like to admit it, but parents cannot truly keep our kids safe. The storms threaten with too much force; the best we can do is offer some shelter. 

The best protection against the slings, arrows and other outrageous fortunes life offers is knowing how to think. Messages from corporations, institutions and industries barrage our kids every minute of every day. The only real shelter lies within themselves: the ability to discern good from bad, right from wrong, and truth from deceit.

This is the key to ultimate, adult liberty: being free to make choices unfettered by ignorance. This is also why I endeavored to teach high-school English.

II. Rhetoric is Power. Learn How to Wield It, or Fall Victim to It.

Although I think many students remember me fondly, I was not the kind of teacher who inspired a life-long romance with literature. As I reminded them often, I didn't give a whit about how much they liked a book. We had bigger fish to fry. 

Most high-school students would rather talk about anything besides grammar. Literary analysis interests them only slightly more. Discussions of tone, theme, purpose--and God forbid syntax or diction--inspire resentment and apathy in the average teenager.

And yet, nearly every day of my teaching career, I insisted on talking about grammar and analysis. And it was awful.

Why not change tack? Why sail against such rough winds, instead of taking the smoother course of young-adult lit and how it makes kids feel? Because their brains are worth it.

Adults have the opportunity (if not the mandate) to teach kids how to protect their brains against predators. In our brave new world of constant media messaging, the task is more vital than ever. I lost sleep over teenagers who fought my instruction (due to their unfortunate, adolescent circumstances), because unless we understand how arguments work, we are powerless against the barrage of arguments invading our mind-grapes.

III. Critical Minds Build Strong Backbones.

These almost-adults will soon be making decisions about where they spend their money, whom they support in elections, and how they conduct themselves in the wide, weird world. Our parental, teaching, and grown-up decree is to give them shelter from the storms threatening to blow them off-course. 

So we diagram sentences. We write formulaically in the classroom until we can prove a thesis with air-tight precision. It's brutal work, but the minds of our future adults are worth the struggle. When they know how to defend a logical argument of their own (which means knowing how to craft a smart sentence), students are more capable of recognizing the fallacies in the arguments aimed squarely at them.

The forces threatening our teenagers--and all of us--are too many to fathom. Nary a parent I know would argue against the importance of fortifying our children's inner strength in the face of all the evils in the world. That strength--that ability to make sound, responsible decisions--begins and ends with understanding the messages we receive and interpreting them wisely.

Let us give our teenagers the shelter of strong backbones and critical minds. The study of rhetoric--which begins with grammar and embraces logical argument--is an excellent place to start.

See you in English class.

[In honor of the human need for shelter, I will be giving Keith Richard's children's book for Christmas this year. Gus and Me: The Story of Granddad and My First Guitar, here at amazon.]

Please stay tuned for more installments! Follow me on twitter @lisafilholm; tune in often to; book a workshop or lecture for your parenting group now!

Open Culture's article on background vocalist Merry Clayton

Anthems of Youth: Ah, Sweet Rebellion!

Teenagers fashion their rebellion precisely to piss us off.

Generation after generation, adolescents figure out new and specific ways to drive adults up a collective tree. Every now and then, I spend a few moments contemplating my own wild quest to form an identity different from my parents. Granted, it's not pretty, gazing too closely at one's mis-spent youth. However, through the lens of middle age I see my rebellion with humor and fondness (and maybe I can do the same when I look at the teenagers I am raising).

It helps that Jonathan Larson wrote an anthem for my generation (at least for the under-employed, lost, creative people in my immediate circle). With his last breath, Mr. Larson opened RENT in New York and gave voice to my fears, disappointments, and atavistic urge to dress like an asshole. I wept and cheered in the front row on Broadway, along with my bohemian, twenty-something comrades. Together, we raised a giant, cynical, vulnerable, hopeful-despite-ourselves middle finger to convention. And on that stage, they harmonized it in big, beautiful voices to stir our souls.

Tonight, I listened to the cast recording and was struck once again by how specifically it spoke to my late adolescence. La Vie Boheme was our very own, celebratory, F-You to the world. More than two decades later, I am considerably less arrogant, slightly more resilient, perhaps even a bit wiser. But those lyrics are a litany of my personal formation, and for that I cherish them. Here is the labyrinth of influences, instincts and indulgences I navigated in my rather ill-conceived quest to become My Own Person. Put to music, with a snazzy dance number!

Remembering my own pathological need to practice Shock and Awe on society (and on my parents) helps me see teenaged rebellion with kinder eyes.

It even helps me make more sense of (and rant less about) the likes of Nicki Minaj and Kanye West and those Trailer Park Boys and that Honey Boo-Boo and any other number of infuriating things going on up in my house. But that's another story for another post.

"The Garden of Earthly Delights," Hieronymus Bosch c. 1500 AD

For now, play the anthems of YOUR youth; they go a long way toward helping forgive the younger generation for their unrelenting, vulgar attempts to cut those apron stringsMeanwhile, enjoy this disgruntled canticle of my salad days. (Good times, but you couldn't pay me to go  back.) 

The middle lyrics (and my personal creed, c. 1994) from "La Vie Boheme" by Jonathan Larson:

To days of inspiration, playing hooky, making something out of nothing,

The need to express, to communicate,

To going against the grain, going insane, going mad!

To loving tension, no pension, to more than one dimension,

To starving for attention, hating convention, hating pretension,

Not to mention, of course, hating dear old Mom and Dad!

To riding your bike midday past the three-piece suits,

To fruits, to no absolutes, to Absolut,

To choice, to the Village Voice, to any passing fad!

To being an Us for once, instead of a Them,

La vie Boheme!

 To hand-crafted beers made in local breweries,

To yoga, to yogurt, to rice and beans and cheese,

To leather, to dildos, to curry vindaloo,

To huevos rancheros and Maya Angelou.

Emotion, devotion, to causing a commotion,

Creation, vacation, mucho masturbation.

Compassion, to fashion, to passion when it's new,

To Sontag, to Sondheim, to anything taboo.

Ginsberg, Dylan, Cunigham and Cage,

Lenny Bruce! Langston Hughes! To the stage!

To Uta, to Buddha, Pablo Neruda, too.

Why Dorothy and Toto went over the rainbow

To blow off Auntie Em,

La vie Boheme!

 Bisexuals, trisexuals, homo sapiens,

Carcinogens, hallucinogens, men, Pee Wee Herman.

German wine, turpentine, Gertrude Stein,

Antonioni, Bertolucci, Kurosawa, Carmina Burana!

To apathy, to entropy, to empathy, ecstasy,

Vaclav Havel! The Sex Pistols! 8BC!

To no shame, never playing the Fame Game, to marijuana!

To sodomy, it's between God and me, to S & M

La vie Boheme!