Lefty Parent

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Living & parenting without the rule book

Coop’s Childhood Part 3 – In School & Out

January 29th, 2014

Bach Elementary School

Bach Elementary School

Nowadays K-12 school has become such a high stakes endeavor that academically oriented parents like mine might do their best to “game” the system by letting their kid start school a year later than possible, thinking to give them some sort of developmental and competitive edge relative to other kids. But in 1960 when I turned five, judging me to be an intelligent and precocious kid, my parents had me tested to see if I could skip kindergarten and start public school in first grade instead.

I recall that I found the IQ test they gave me intimidating. Anytime adults focused on me, particularly in a more formal or judging way, I felt uncomfortable. All adults, including my parents, felt like another species entirely rather than simply older versions of us kids. They seemed like large all-knowing deities even, that had me at a total disadvantage.

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Coop’s Childhood Part 2 – Play, Play School & Other Explorations

January 18th, 2014

Me & Molly age 5

Me & Molly age 5

Though I was born in the 1950s with all its conventionally stark division of gender roles, my mom and dad were a pretty unorthodox couple, with a much more egalitarian relationship than the norm. They had been acquaintances and friends for a number of years before their relationship became a romantic one. They were both intellectual and athletic, and both comfortable with parenting tasks ranging from changing diapers to throwing a ball.

I believe theirs was a natural inclination to parent in the most progressive way, but it was certainly aided by the new parenting wisdom championed by the most popular pediatrician of the day, Dr. Benjamin Spock. His bestselling book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, challenged the rigid childrearing practices that had been prevalent since the beginning of the century that included warnings against excessive affection to prevent children from becoming spoiled or fussy. Instead, Spock advised parents to be flexible in order to treat each child as an individual. He also educated parents about the stages of child development and how to create an appropriately safe but nurturing environment for each of those stages. And perhaps most importantly for my mom and dad and how they raised me, Spock urged them to trust their own common sense, instincts, and judgment.

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Coop’s Childhood Part I – As I Was Told

January 4th, 2014

Eric & Jane

Eric & Jane

I was born on April 2, 1955 in the maternity ward of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor Michigan. My mother, Jane Roberts Zale, was 32 years old, older than many first time mothers in those days. My father, Eric Michael Zale, was six years older than Jane. Theirs, I would later learn, would be a very unorthodox style of parenting, much more egalitarian than conventional practice, giving me a greater amount of freedom than most kids were blessed with. But given particularly my mom’s childhood story (I know little about my dad’s) that gift of an independent childhood had been passed through the generations.

As I get older, I am more and more amazed about the story of how my mom decided to go to Ann Arbor. An unlikely odyssey in 1947 for a single young woman of 23, but one consistent with her independent spirit, well nourished in her own childhood, that started a chain of events that led to my birth. Another thirty-two years later in 1978, I would embark on my own comparable odyssey to Los Angeles, coincidentally at age 23 as well.

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Coop Goes to High School Part 10 – School’s Out

December 13th, 2013

schools-outAt the end of each previous school year, I was jubilant to have survived another “tour of duty” and be liberated, at least for the summer, from society’s schooling requirement imposed on my developmental path. Finally finishing my senior year, there was a measure of that usual relief, along with a sense that somehow the ball was now finally in my court. What to do next was no longer mandated, but up to me. As I walked that big impersonal marble hallway of Pioneer High School for my last time as a student, the nihilism (an ideology that I had learned in my Modern Russian History Class was very different than anarchism) of Alice Cooper’s hit song, “School’s Out”, resonated with every fibre of my being…

Well we got no choice
All the girls and boys
Makin all that noise
Cuz they found new toys
Well we can’t salute ya
Can’t find a flag
If that don’t suit ya
That’s a drag

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks

Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all

School’s out forever
School’s out for summer
School’s out with fever
School’s out completely

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Coop Goes to High School Part 9 – On My Own Terms

November 23rd, 2013

Me bottom row 2nd from the left and some of my JLO comrades

Me bottom row 2nd from the left and some of my JLO comrades

Living life on my own terms, at my own cadence, surrounded by those with whom I could share a sense of real collaboration and community, that’s what I wanted. Not some day in the future after I’d jumped through all society’s hoops and proven my worthiness to be a full-fledged adult, but now, January 1972, as I pondered what classes I would sign up for for my last semester of high school. There was so much going on, as George Harrison so elegantly called out in his song “Within You Without You”…

And the time will come when you see
we’re all one, and life flows on
within you and without you.

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Coop Goes to High School Part 8 – Starting Senior Year

November 2nd, 2013

JLO's 1972 production of Oliver! on the set I designed

JLO’s 1972 production of Oliver! on the set I designed

For the past eleven years, as my summer vacation waned each August, I would avoid for as long as possible thinking about having to go back to school. When that moment finally came and I had to focus on getting ready, I would prepare my tender psyche as best I could for all the new situations I would be thrown into and all the new people I would encounter who I did not know, and did not know me. The latter had always been particularly problematic for me, because I was shy and I hated being judged by other people, particularly people who I had not had the long time I typically needed to establish “diplomatic relations” with them. Those “diplomatic relations” involved the other person accepting and respecting me for all the aspects of myself that I had revealed and my doing the same for them. The more I could reveal over time the stronger the relationship became and the more I could relax and be myself. Any person I could not establish this sort of pact with I would avoid as best I could. School seemed always to be a problematic venue for my sort of interpersonal “diplomacy”.

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Coop Goes to High School Part 7 – Song & Dance

October 26th, 2013

Me and my Ado Annie in Oklahoma

Me and my Ado Annie in Oklahoma

They say that the only two things you can be sure of in life are death and taxes.  But for most every kid, the one thing you can be sure of is going to school, which for me was a taxing and at times felt like a near-death experience.  For twelve straight years (I skipped kindergarten) , whether I liked it or not, whether it was the right place for me to develop myself or not, I reported dutifully in the fall and served until the next summer.  At this point I had spent the last eleven straight years dutifully reporting to my designated school facility each September and dreading it each and every time.

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Coop Goes to High School Part 6 – In Front of the Lights

October 12th, 2013

Me on the right in Lord of the Flies

Me on the right in Lord of the Flies

Returning from a week of something completely different, my junior year spring break trip with my school Russian club to the Soviet Union, I was about to plunge into a new developmental phase after a recent twelve months filled with one developmental experience after another.  I was already in many ways transformed from the person I’d been that previous April.  Still shy and intimidated by most adults, and filled with a fair amount of general anxiety, but beginning to be able to define and establish myself as a unique person playing a significant role in a larger community of people.

At the moment, Junior Light Opera, the unique youth theater group I had plunged into the midst of, was my main developmental “growing edge”, along with the feminist ideologies I was being exposed to in my extended “family” of my mom’s close female friends (what I now dub my “Feminist Aunts”).  In JLO I had become a respected member and part of the leadership circle of the company and had developed and demonstrated my technical skills backstage, behind the lights.  I was now about to take the leap of going out on stage, in front of those lights and in front of an audience, waiting for me and my fellow actors to entertain and otherwise engage them.

Again, as in the previous segment of this story, I have changed the names of my friends for their privacy.

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Coop Goes to High School Part 5 – Behind the Lights

October 2nd, 2013

Stage LightsThe story picks up in November 1970 almost halfway through three years of high school, still recovering from having jilted my first girlfriend (and being too shy to even face her after that), and Smokey Robinson part of my current Greek chorus on the AM radio with his “Tears of a Clown”…

Now if there’s a smile on my face
It’s only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that’s quite a different subject
But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression

It reminded me that the persona I was putting out in the world was still mostly smoke and mirrors as well. That admitted, my Junior Light Opera youth theater group was opening up a new world of possibilities for me to define myself as a talented technician rather than just a lovelorn loser.

Just a quick note before we get into this segment… I’ve changed all the names of my friends to protect their privacy.

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Coop Goes to High School Part 4 – The Play’s the Thing

September 22nd, 2013

hairI returned from my summer in England just a week before school was to start for my junior year of high school, having missed my normal summer activities and been disconnected from my neighborhood friends for those ten weeks I had been gone, but also having undergone a personal transformation from my summer odyssey. I was still a shy kid, but I had a heightened sense of agency from partnering with my mom on our summer adventure in England. I was ready in this school year ahead to play a more active role charting my own course rather than just going with the flow of my school classes and current neighborhood social circle.

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