Should We Teach Kids About Failure?

We’re willing to do just about anything to prepare our children to be successful adults.  We encourage, cajole, spend, discipline and then spend some more, yet the one thing we can’t buy is a guarantee that any of it will contribute to their eventual well-being when they leave our care.

In the past few decades, there’s been a shift to a completely child-centric way of life. The self-esteem movement now pretty much dominates child raising. There’s a whole vocabulary to support it. 

When my granddaughter and I go out, she picks up something and hands it to the person who dropped it.  A young mother passing by says “Good helping.” I reach for the little one’s hand to cross a street. She wants to walk alone.  I firm up the tone in my voice and insist. She reluctantly takes my hand and a nearby adult says to her, “Good listening.” 

This language came along after my daughter was raised.  It’s specific wording that evidently everyone agrees to use with children. I like it fine.  It’s nice and friendly, but I’m thinking there’s a step that could  follow, after the praise.   We congratulate children for everything.  We give them prizes. We celebrate their progress in all areas. This works with some and backfires with others – kids who aren’t motivated without a tangible incentive, who believe they are so special that they have no grounding in the real world, where they will encounter other kids who feel even more entitled.   Does our attempt to cushion them lead some to believe the outside world will be like home?  I wonder if the constant polishing of self-esteem has gone a bit too far.  We can’t keep our kids from stumbling, from pain, from self-doubt, just as no one could have kept it from us. We want them to have everything, including the undeniable joys of self-expression.  But we may be waiting too long to tell them about the forces in the world that seem to exist just to puncture balloons. Should we talk to them about the possibility of failure?  I mean an individual failure, not an overall giving up.  Would it be wise to ladle in a bigger dose of reality earlier in their lives, even if it hurts us more than it hurts them? There must be a way to mix into our child-raising concepts the idea that a failure is not the end, that keeping on keeping on is sometimes as important as starting out in the first place.    

I have mixed feelings about telling kids they can do anything. On the one hand, we want to them be courageous and take leaps of faith.  On the other hand, it’s simply not true.  Not all of us are great at everything we’d like to do.

We don’t spend much time preparing our kids to handle disappointment.  Maybe we could think about introducing them to the notion of postponing certain dreams and pursuing a more practical course, one that will help guarantee their survival.

Where’s the balance?  I don’t know.  That’s why I’m asking.

Ó Anita Garner 2008














It’s Never Too Early For Christmas

While everyone is talking Thanksgiving turkey, I’m putting out my favorite Christmas decorations, stacking up Christmas music, lighting holiday incense and soaking in the sights and sounds and smells.


It’s not because Thanksgiving comes a week earlier this year.  We’ve always played Christmas music during Thanksgiving dinner, but by now my music and dvd collections have expanded so there isn’t enough time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to hear/see each of them once.  So I started earlier this year.  


I love everything about Christmas.  There’s no frenzy here.  I don’t love shopping, never did, but gathering a few things to give as gifts isn’t a hardship.  I do much of it online, but I also go to malls on purpose during the season, just for the festive look of it.  


Making fudge and apple cake with a Christmas glaze for my neighbors is nice. (Christmas music plays while we cook.) 


I love church during Advent season.  The faces of the acolytes who carry the light down to the altar candles always look like Christmas  – a bit shinier than usual and quite reverent.  As the kids walk slowly, jeans poking out below the white robes, they resist the temptation to jostle each other and I imagine their parents watch and wonder, who is this child, so somber?  Surely this is not the kid who had to be reminded (threatened) to get here on time.


You won’t find me griping about the commercialization of this event, because for me it never has become that.  If all I ever had of Christmas were the sights and sounds and fragrances, and if that could last for months, I wouldn’t complain.  


Ó Anita Garner 2008

Putting On A Show

Getting a play onstage is taking a lot longer than I thought, even though I’d been warned repeatedly that it’s generally years from genesis of idea to actual performance.  Colleagues tell stories about the development process, about rewrites and readings and workshops and more rewrites.  But it’s my first play and I’m only now feeling the truth of their words. 


Add into our process the fact that both parties involved are also working on other things at the same time – and I can see now how a a play could hang around for years before debuting onstage. 


Since mounting this play occupies so many of my thoughts and nags me constantly, even when I’m doing something else, it seems like a good time to chronicle some of the “making of.”


The play is called “The Glory Road” and it’s recently been revised (again.)  We’ve whittled down the cast size and focused the action on just one main story (You don’t even want to know how many storylines were woven through earlier versions) and now we’re talking with theatres about moving forward to an opening date.


The “we” in this story is me and the director, Greg Zerkle, who’s been with this project for years and is responsible for urging me (I’m the playwright) to trim and focus and simplify staging and timelines and make all manner of efficient, dramatic changes.  I only follow his advice when I agree with him (it is my story after all) but it’s surprising how often, after arguing my point for hours, I do eventually agree and we come up with a compromise that we both think enhances the play.  This is no accident.  This happens because Greg is, I believe, a genius with a vision.


Greg’s a multi-faceted theatre talent.  He acts and sings and directs and is performing right now in a show at Laguna Playhouse.  A few days ago he closed in a revival of South Pacific in southern California.  So we work between his rehearsals and the rest of our endeavors.


Greg’s wife, Cindy Marty, another multi-talented actor and singer, is gracious about the amount of time Greg spends on The Glory Road. Cindy performed at our most recent reading in Los Angeles and knocked our collective socks off.


So far the “making of” is fascinating.  I never thought something as painful as editing could prove to be so satisfying.  Maybe I’ll post as we progress, and we’ll all find out together whether the end result was worth all these years. I’m hopeful. 


In the meantime, if you’re interested in background information on our subject matter, see


Ó Anita Garner




When Good Enough Is Just Fine


I wish I’d known earlier when to leave well enough alone. I wonder why it takes me so long to learn when to quit. When we try and try again and things keep turning out the same, conventional wisdom says to try some more. The trouble is that’s a solution that doesn’t fix every problem.

Leaving a thing alone is sometimes the only answer. Forced to do that, we look back at everything we’ve tried and then we look ahead and see that things often work out the way they’re meant to. Maybe not the way we hoped for or tried for, but still, things worked out.

The bigger trick for me now is to be content with the outcome achieved. Being content with what is takes me a while.

Contentment must be the most mature of all emotions. Extremes are much more familiar. There’s happy on one side and sad on the other, and when I was younger, I thought “content” was some giant middle ground that meant settling for less. Content was merely “good enough.”

A relative in the Deep South, when asked at the table if he’d like another helping, often answered, “No thank you. I have had a sufficiency.” Today that sounds like brilliance. Something that should be printed up and passed around.

When all the dreaming, wishing, striving and pushing don’t lead to the goal, maybe it’s time to stop, sit on it, think on it, see if there’s been any progress, and see if we can live with where we are right now.

I’m grateful for this growing feeling that some things are in their rightful places and those that aren’t can’t all be fixed by me. I’m trying to learn some tough lessons about accepting things as they are for right now and that right now may be good enough.

Go ahead and offer me a helping of contentment. Today I’ll say yes, please. Contentment sounds like a state of bliss. Good enough doesn’t always feel like a compromise. It often feels like contentment, and that feels like the best possible outcome.

Ó Anita Garner 2008








Disney’s New Princesses

Cinderella was the first movie I ever saw. While I watched it over and over again, my brother was in a neighboring theatre watching The Sands of Iwo Jima just as many times.  After leaving the theatre, the best I could do to keep the dream alive was sing those movie songs at home. 


Of course when my own daughter came along, seeing Cinderella together was a crucial rite of passage.


Fifty years after I first saw the movie, I recently ordered Cinderella on DVD for a little girl I’m fond of, but before handing it over I had to check out all the special features, including interviews with the animation team who put the story together and the stories behind the songs.


Did you know that’s Mike Douglas singing the role of the Prince?  And Perry Como debuted songs from the movie on his television show even before it opened?  


Finally we sat down to watch, my daughter, my three year old granddaughter and me.


Those birds and mice still put together a heckuva ball gown.  The cat is still sneaky and the stepmother is still the epitome of mean.


But oh that music!  The fairy tale soprano singing A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makesthe chirpy animals singing about “Cinderelly” while trying to help her get to the ball, Sing Sweet Nightingale at the music lesson, and the Prince and Cinderella dancing to So This Is Love 


For our youngest family member, it’s the “Godmudder” who takes her fancy with the song, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.


The little girl I’m spending time with today doesn’t really want to watch for more than a few minutes at a time. She wants to be Cinderella.  Cinderella is more than a movie.  It’s her own personal script. It’s that way too with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and Ariel and Belle from Beauty & The Beast. Their likenesses exist on every item of merchandise a little girl wears, sleeps with, eats from and carries off to preschool.


She has her own DVD players for the car and home.  Her own CD collection for the road zips inside a holder that looks like a ladybug and unfolds to reveal all of the traditional nursery rhymes set to music – and now the Disney soundtracks.  


Her friends have Princess Parties.  And the Magic Kingdom has elaborate parties of their own.  I know one little girl who traveled from Manhattan to Disneyland with her family to attend.  


In my granddaughter’s interactive world, the two words we hear most often are:  Pause it.  If we’re lucky, it’s three, Pause it please.


Pause it please.  Let me get my princess skirt.  Pause it please.  Let me get my tiara.  Pause it.  Magic wand.  Pause it.  Watch me dance. Pause it please.  I want to sing that song.


When I was a girl, I could watch the princesses only on a Saturday down at the Alex Theatre.  Today every girl becomes a princess.  Smart move, Disney.


Ó Anita Garner 2008



Best Day Of The Week?

People often pick Sunday night as the worst part of the week.  Not the daytime, but the late afternoon into evening part.  It’s the time when we realize the weekend is over. Even if it’s been a lousy weekend and we should be glad it’s over, still we dread Monday. 

I’m surprised how many people I know who, all through their adult lives, confess to a vague sense of dread as Sunday comes to a close.  Is it the memory of having to give up our free time and go back to school Monday morning?  Even mature adults who love their work and don’t mind at all showing up on Monday, say they deal with feelings of melancholy on Sunday night.  

My favorite day of the week is Thursday, because on Thursday, we’re already through half of the week and headed into the part where we’re looking forward to a weekend.  Though I work at home and don’t have to show up anywhere most Monday mornings, I still get that looking-forward-to rush every Thursday.

The one thing in life I feel I can control is anticipation.  People say “Don’t get your hopes up.”  I like getting them up.  So I like Thursdays the way I enjoy most of the nights-before: The night before a birthday, for instance, and the ultimate night-before – Christmas Eve. 

In fact, I like Christmas Eve  better than Christmas Day.  It doesn’t have to do with presents expected, but more to do with having everything waiting and yet to unfold.  Christmas Day requires special maneuvering to keep it from feeling a bit like Sunday night. 

So Thursdays are like Christmas Eve, when hopes are high and all things are still possible.  

Ó Anita Garner 2008

Defending The Weather

Weather forecasters on radio and television are always apologizing about the weather, when most of the time the weather’s just doing what comes naturally.  

Specific weather patterns occur during certain times of the year.  And sometimes each of these patterns lasts a big longer, or doesn’t last as long as usual.  It’s not a surprise. 

In a region famous for its fog, our forecasters say, sadly, ”No sun tomorrow morning.  Maybe later in the day.”  Some of us aren’t sad about the fog.  Some of us look forward to it slipping onshore and staying around for as long as it wants to. We live in a fog belt.  We don’t expect sunshine every morning.

Take the weather in a region that enjoys a full range of winter-related behavior – sleet and hail and cold and wind and rain.  When I’m visiting and watching/listening I always wonder why weather people feel the need to complain when they predict more of the same over a period of months.  Winters have been cold and wet for as long as anyone can remember. 


In southern California, where some of my friends are in charge of reading the forecasts – and where I once handed out my share of same to audiences – whenever much-needed rain appears (and it’s not that many days out of a year) someone invariably expresses eagerness for the sun to return.  Southern California is a desert.  The sun will be back soon. 


The only people regularly expressing surprise at these regular occurrences are weather forecasters. 



Ó Anita Garner 2008


Extended Warranties – A Troubling Concept

I’m suffering from a recurring condition:  Extended Warranty Resentment.  I’m offended at the notion of buying insurance that seems to bet on a brand new item dying too quickly. 

I don’t expect a plastic item that costs $1.00 to last forever, though some do, but extended warranties remind me of the planned obsolescence theory, and that’s not a pleasant thought.

Remember when we first learned about engineered extinction? When we went to buy our first new car, older and wiser friends gathered ’round to tell us that no matter what we paid for the thing, it was programmed to be obsolete at a certain point.  They said that no matter how well we maintained this shiny new car, it wasn’t going to last nearly as long as we thought.

So – we began to buy the extended coverage against all manner of mechanical ills that, it seems to me, we shouldn’t have to expect so soon.

Then the extended warranty sales pitch attached itself to our new appliances. No more do we pass down a refrigerator to the next generation. (Not that they’d want our old one, but it used to be an option.)  Today we buy a brand new one with bells and whistles, and at the same time, we buy an insurance policy. It’s a reminder that this beautiful new kitchen companion is likely to begin breaking down soon.  I take that very personally. 

I object to the notion that the manufacturer doesn’t warrant every product.  I expect when I buy something with movable parts that costs $50 or more that the manufacturer will have tested it under all kinds of conditions and barring some freak occurrence the manufacturer should give us a realistic estimate, based on their tests, of how long the movable parts will function.

I’d rather see pricing that reflects the realistic life of the product.  Adjust prices if we must, but do away with buying insurance on something that’s brand new.  

I can barely afford the insurance that pays somebody else when I expire.  I need to take better care of my own movable parts in order to get every possible premium discount.  

When we give in to sales pressure and purchase the extended warranty at the same time we buy the product, aren’t we taking on the maker’s responsibility?  No religious reference intended.

Ó Anita Garner 2008




You Can Call Me Sweetie.

The pharmacist called out “just a second, sweetie” as I walked away – no doubt to alert me to something I’d forgotten at the counter.  At least I think he was talking to me, so I turned around and gave him a smile.  Though I’m likely older than his mother, I never take a term of endearment for granted.  One good one can make my day. 

Back when women were supposed to consider it demeaning, I never took exception to familiar forms of address. For me, no matter what the speaker’s intent, the whole issue hinges on the recipient’s attitude.  Even if the person doing the talking may be trying for a bit of sarcasm with the “well, sweetheart” line or the “sure, sure, darlin” stuff, I choose to accept it all quite literally. In fact, if you call out any of these cozy words and I’m nearby, I’ll answer.

You know those old movies where a hard-bitten restaurant coffee-pourer or short-order cook addresses the waiting customer in that very familiar way – ”just a minute hon” or “be right with you, cutie,” and in that context it’s a phrase meant to establish who’s in charge here and that you’ll wait your turn like all the other customers?  Well, not only do I not consider that insulting, but I find those scenes and those phrases oddly comforting.  

People who object to this level of familiarity say it comes down to respect, and that these forms of address are inappropriate among people who haven’t been introduced.

I say it’s better than being ignored. So you can call me “sweetie” anytime. 

Ó By Anita Garner 2008

Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer

Anticipating the next Fearless Flyer!

I’m embarrassed to admit how much I miss receiving Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer in the mail. I live in a small town in northern California a bit too far away from my nearest Trader Joe’s. Once in a while I make a trip to the nearest store, but living outside their neighborhood means they don’t mail me their periodic “Fearless Flyer.” After spending decades living close to Trader’s, this has been a serious adjustment. Here’s how the company describes their mailer:

“The Fearless Flyer has been likened to a cross between Consumer Reports and Mad Magazine. We’re not sure who said that, but we think they pretty much got it right. The Fearless Flyer is kind of like a newsletter, a catalog and a bit of a comic book all at the same time. It’s our chance to give you loads of interesting (hopefully) information about our products. And along the way, we like to toss in some witty (we try) tidbits and even a few old-fashioned cartoons.” Trader Joe’s ® 2008

There’s a rumor that a new store will open next year within five minutes of my house. The very best part is that  I will be back on the Fearless Flyer mailing list.

I can skip a New Year’s celebration because a nearby Trader’s is gift enough to start the year. Sounding a bit over the top, you think? Not at all. I like food. I like to cook. I like saving money on what I cook.

I also enjoy good writing and respect smart marketing. I spent years working in advertising and Trader’s gets five stars from me in all those areas. I’ve seldom (if ever) seen a case of marketing strategy so well matched with in-store follow-through, seldom have I seen a case of advertising that is this clever and straightforward and entertaining and – yes – absolutely true.

Trader’s print and radio ads are fun all by themselves.

If you don’t yet know about Trader Joe’s, I hope one will soon open in your area, because after it does, you’ll likely plan your grocery shopping around it. And now in a completely unsolicited final plug, here’s a link to their website. Feel free to click and enjoy for yourself.

Counting down to the announcement of the official opening date of my new Trader Joe’s, here’s my pledge: I will never take you for granted again.

Ó By Anita Garner