Saturday, July 1, 2017

Why You Should Watch Battle of the Network Stars with Your Kids

It's hard to find something the whole family will enjoy - at least in my family. There are some who love sports and some who are bored out of their minds watching any competition. A few years ago, my youngest was into watching High School Musical - OVER AND OVER AND OVER.  If I had to listen to "Get in the game" one more time I was going to pull an Elvis and shoot the TV.

Family members watching at our house ranged from age 2 to 61. Now the two-year-old just laughed at the dunk tank and then went off to do something else. My nine-year-old granddaughter liked the obstacle course the best. Everyone from nine and up liked seeing the stars they remembered from a few weeks ago (Fuller House) to a few years ago (High School Music) to more than a few years ago (Roseanne, Facts of Life).  There were a lot of exclamations of "Hey, I remember her!" which led to talking about "Remember when you were younger and that was your favorite show "  and "Yeah, Jenn and I used to fight over whether I got to watch my show or she got to watch her stupid old movies."  

Bringing back memories and talking with your children are too big benefits to watching the show - anything that has families sitting around reminiscing is good. Yes, I know that is such a mom thing to say but every mom has a sentimental side (yes, even me).

The MAIN reason you should watch Battle of the Network Stars with your kids


All that is nice, but the main reason for watching with your kids is the messages they hear from the coaches. Kim Fields and Lisa Whelchel were hesitant to compete in the swimming competition because they didn't look the same in a swim suit as they did 30 years ago. They talked to Ronda about people on social media judging your body if you are a woman, and now they are women no longer in their teens like they were the first time they competed on the show.

Ronda said,

"Strong is beautiful" ... and went on to tell them that no one should hold back on what they want to do in life because other people are judging how they will look while doing it.

As an older woman myself, as a mother of daughters ages 19-34 and grandmother of girls 9 and under,  this is a message we all need to hear.

Of course, I watched the first episode of Battle of the Network Stars because my lovely daughter, Ronda, was one of the coaches. Also, I'd been to visit her on set and the episode I saw had me laughing more than I had in years. The funny, silly and celebrity-spotting parts are important, I think, because, I can tell you, as someone who makes educational video games, to quote another childhood memory, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down."

In other words, your kids (and maybe you), need to get those positive messages about strong women and worrying more about what you do than about how you look doing it. However, they'll probably have more impact if those lessons come about naturally rather than sitting down lecturing them on following their own path and not giving up.

Both Ronda and fellow coach Demarcus Ware give a lot of positive advice to their teams who are very much not athletes - sometimes laughably not athletes - on just giving it your best shot and not worrying about your age or your level of skill. 

Get in the game. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Daughter Merchandise

So, Jennifer found the absolute dorkiest picture of herself she could find from her childhood and had it made into a blanket for me for Mother's Day.

I don't know WHOSE glasses she is wearing in that picture. It made us laugh and on top of that, it irked Julia who immediately sent a message to the family group text :

Best daughter? I don't think so!

Yesterday, we were at a game expo - E3, it was awesome - and they were selling t-shirts that said,

I can't believe I'm not an action figure already.

I told Ronda I should buy her one of those shirts and she said,

But, Mom, I AM an action figure already!

I told her that's what would make the shirt funny. I didn't buy it for her since she did not seem properly appreciative but the next day my cousin, Julie, sent me a message that she was at the store and saw this:

I am just putting the other two daughters on notice that I am expecting some daughterly merchandise for the next merchandise-supplying event.

Julia does the voice for Angie in Forgotten Trail, so, if we come out with some Angie merchandise, does that count?  These are the types of weighty issues that I ponder when I get my lecture written early.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

My Mom Thinks I'm Cool: Ronda Edition


I always think all of my children are amazing. Today is the Ronda Edition.  Sometimes, idiot people who don't know her say stupid things about Ronda. So, just you have an idea why her mom thinks she's cool  -

Ronda finished filming Battle of the Network Stars yesterday. She has been working 12-14 hours a day and then working out after the filming is over. She had lost her voice from coaching on the set and was so tired she could barely keep her eyes open.

She came by the house to have coffee (point number 1, visiting Mom on Sundays. You should all try it.) and autograph shirts and jackets she had donated for Gompers Judo fundraiser.


Three of our Gompers Judo students are dual citizens with the U.S. and Mexico and have been selected to compete in the Mexican junior national championships. I was concerned that one of them was too focused on cutting weight. So, Ronda offered to talk to her, called her house and spent the next 15 minutes giving a high school sophomore tips on having a healthy diet and still making weight.

She thought that people would be more likely to donate to the judo program if it was a personalized item so she gave me some of her favorite shirts and jackets, including one from Battle of the Network Stars and several from Reebok. We had to go through this twice because when she came to autograph things she said,

"Hey, I really like that one, let me switch!"

and she gave one to Julia because it was sentimental and she remembered it being her favorite shirt at Julia's age. The point, though, is, these were things she really liked and it was hard to part with, so she figured fans might be more likely to donate money to get one.

The second part of this is that we discussed what to do with the dozen items she donated. My niece, Samantha, pointed out that the only people who can win an ebay auction are people who have A LOT of money. We thought it would be nice if people who had supported Ronda through thick and thin had more of a chance. So ... we decided to contact 12 people who had always been there for her and tell them that if they would like to donate $500 they could get anything from one of Ronda's favorite jackets to a t-shirt that Marina made for her to a t-shirt that she made herself. Yes, it's not cheap, but it at least gives a chance to people who don't have thousands of dollars extra lying around, and it will cover the expenses for the rest of the year for team jackets, a team dinner and our judo road trip to visit colleges and train (we always combine the two).

On Tuesday, we are having my grandson, Cal, pull names out of a hat to decide who gets what. He is only two and can't read so you know he won't cheat.

Update: Cal pulling names at 5:30 pm Pacific Time on Facebook Live today, June 19, 2017. 

(Sorry for the delay. I got backed up with work and our Master of Ceremonies was taking a nap two of the times I tried to arrange it.)

Just so you know, four of our students who started with us at Gompers Middle School are high school seniors this year. 

Meet our high school seniors

Did I mention that Ronda started this program (it was her sister, Jennifer's idea, so props to Jenn who did her student teaching at Gompers)? Ronda taught here for free for two years and has donated a lot of her own money and time ever since. (Also, those mats above are from Swain Martial Arts , from Michael Swain, just to show Ronda isn't the only judo champion helping make the world a better place).

Just to give you an idea of how hard these kids from south Los Angeles work and how much they deserve your support, here is just a little bit of practice yesterday. Now, mind you, Friday was the last day of school and they STILL all came to practice after school and Saturday was the first day of summer vacation and they STILL all got up and were in front of the school at 8 am to drive out to La Puente for an extra practice. 

video

I'm assuming since you read this blog you are NOT an idiot, but next time you read something bad about Ronda, know that THIS is what she did on Sunday after working nearly 200 hours over the past two weeks.

And then, she took her family to brunch.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

I left it all on the field: Zero Regrets


You will never find me challenging the young adults on the basketball court.

I'm not joining the adult soccer league. For the love of God, my nineteen-year-old DAUGHTER plays in that league.

My friend used to play in the old-timers hockey league, up in North Dakota.
A lot of my friends compete in masters competition for judo.

Good for all of them but it's never happening for me.

Occasionally, my children, or other young people want me to go out and run with them, go a round of randori or some other stupid idea for when you are my age.

Forget all of that age is just a number nonsense.

This week, I was running around an obstacle course with my two youngest daughters, about whom it can be said that I am literally old enough to be their mother.


The next morning, Ronda called me and said,

Mom, are you okay? Do you need any ice or aspirin? Does anything hurt?

I told her I was fine, thank you, and I hurt when I wake up every day, but


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Here's what I do with my nine-working arthritic fingers - I make video games that teach math, social studies, English (and soon, Spanish). Get yourself some!




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it hasn't stopped me yet.

There are people who play technical judo and maybe they are out there competing when they are 60 years old, and, again, good for them.

If you ever read my book, (shock! you didn't? it's called Winning on the Ground) you'll know that the judo I do is a lot more physical. Years ago, when CBS sports asked Willy Cahill who to film, he said,

If you want judo that looks like ballet, get Robin Chapman (now Robin Chow). If you want judo that looks like a fight in a bar, watch AnnMaria.

So, now, I'm paying for it.

I don't feel sorry for myself, ever, but I'm not stupid, either.  Those years of two, three times a day practices, competing without weight divisions, despite injuries, took their toll. There is a reason you don't see a lot of former professional or Olympic athletes competing in the senior games.

Several years ago, I was at a judo clinic and a little kid asked 1987 World Judo Champion, Mike Swain,

How many times did you beat Koga?

And Mike had the best answer,

Only one. The time that mattered.

So, yeah, I don't feel bad about having arthritis, a knee replacement and a thumb reconstruction. I don't care about all the tendons, ligaments or cartilage that I'm missing. It was worth the price.

But don't ask me to run in your 10 K.


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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Perfect is the enemy of getting shit done

"Perfect is the enemy of getting shit done."



Karen Mackey made that comment this week and I told her that I was totally stealing that line. I see too many people, whether in judo, school or their career that are less successful than they could be because they make way too many excuses not to work that SOUND good.
  • I would work out but there is nobody my size.
  • I'd apply for jobs but retailers prefer that you do it in person.
  • I would work out but there is no judo class on Wednesdays.
  • I would do the extra credit work but I'm not sure what the teacher wants me to do.
It SOUNDS like you aren't working out, studying or working because you would prefer to do it a better way, but the reality is you aren't getting shit done.

Last night, I was on the mat in Sioux City, Iowa with over 40 people. White belts worked out with brown belts. We tried to pair everyone up by size but when that wasn't always possible, larger people worked out with smaller people. We did turnover drills, escapes, matwork combinations and transition drills. I'm sure it wasn't a perfect workout, but everyone got in a practice where everyone worked on specific skills.

A couple of weeks ago, at Gompers Middle School, the judo room was closed for the day due to smoke exposure - there had been a fire in an adjacent building and the school decided to not allow practice inside. So, we practiced outside in the soccer field. We did conditioning exercises. We did gripfighting drills . We used bungee cords and did uchi komis. We did uchikomi drills. Was it a perfect practice? No, but we got in drills and got in a tiny bit better shape.

So, yeah, the next time you say you are going to work out or apply for a job or study but you are holding off for the perfect conditions, just know that it may sound to you like you are going to do something even better but to me it sounds exactly like you aren't doing shit.
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 When I'm not ranting about life, I make awesome video games that teach math and history and are fun to play. You should check them out. Some of them are even free. Whether you have a Mac, Windows, iPad or android, we've got you covered.


http://www.7generationgames.com/products/

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Retiring from Sports: How Not To End Up a Thirty-Five-Year-Old Intern

I know some unhappy people who were pretty successful judo players (which I'd define as winning multiple medals at the international level).

In fact, when I look at the "also-rans", the people who almost made the Olympic or world team, the people who went to the Olympics and went out the first round, generally did better subsequently than the winners. Pure speculation on my part here, but maybe those people who were number two or three in the country realized that they needed a fallback plan and so focused on their academics or building a career during their competitive years.

It's not a complete separation. There are some people like Dr. James Wooley (who was on two Olympic teams), Senator Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell (who was on the 1964 Olympic team) and, I'd like to think, me, who have had athletic success and went on to have successful careers and seem to be relatively happy. There is also Dr. Gerda Winkelbauer , an M.D. and world judo champion from Austria. I believe Olympic gold medalist Sue Williams has a Ph.D. in Chemistry.

The key is really simple: Work on your Plan B while you are still competing

 It was 1978 and I was at the collegiate national championships. After I had won and we were waiting for the medal ceremony, I was up in the stands with my textbooks, studying because we had finals when I got back. Several feet away was another guy studying for exams. That's why my friend introduced me to James Wooley, because she found it hilarious that we were studying at the national JUDO championships. I found it odd that we were the only two who had brought backpacks full of books. I mean, it was the COLLEGE championships, no?

 The same year I first won the U.S. Open, I started my MBA program. The reason this was a good thing was because I got used to being the person who didn't know anything, whose job was to grade 85 of the same essay exam. Not only did I learn how to read a balance sheet, design a database system and write a business plan, I also learned to not be such a prima donna jerk (admittedly, that last part took longer).

 While I was training, for the world championships, I was working as an engineer at General

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When I'm not rambling on about judo and other sports, I'm making games. Please check them out. You can learn math, social studies, build your vocabulary.  Here are some free games and demos for you just because I am so nice.

http://www.7generationgames.com/demo/

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Dynamics, learning a lot about manufacturing and programming. So, when I retired from competition at 26, I had an MBA, a full-time job and several years of post-graduate experience.

You don't have to have a law degree or an M.D. When you retire. Steve Seck was successful as both a wrestler and judo player. He reasoned that teaching physical education was one area where both of those accomplishments would be valued. He got his degree in Physical Education while competing. Right after retirement, he earned a teaching credential and masters degree and he's done quite well.

 I tell kids all of the time,

 "Have a plan for competition! In the middle of the match is not the time to figure out what you want to do."

 The same is true of life. Have a plan WHILE you are competing and work on it.


I was extremely fortunate that when I was training at Tenri Dojo in Los Angeles there were several people who had been nationally ranked competitors, and  who were 5 or 10 years older than me. It was right in front of my face that their later success had very little to do with their success on the mat and everything to do with their preparation for life after judo.

Oh, and get some credentials. I get resumes from people that include what tournaments they have won, what teams they are on and I just shake my head. If you're applying for a job, you might put "4th degree judo black belt, 2004 Olympic team member" and, unless the job has something to do with armbarring people, that's it.

Get a degree. Get certified as an EMT or a real estate broker or something. Work a summer internship. Get a job in your field and start building your professional network.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Why People Don't Retire from Sports: A Cynical View

I'm about to say what some people might consider a mean thing, so if your feelings are easily hurt, read no further.

Recently, someone asked me why a certain person in their thirties was still heavily involved in judo. She said,

What's the point of spending all of that time doing something with no probability of paying any money that takes time away from your career?

My answer was that for many people who were elite athletes in judo, they miss being the center of attention, they miss being 'special'. They miss coaches, managers, officials treating them with respect, recognizing them, catering to them. Oh,you want water, let me go get that for you. They miss traveling on someone else's dime.



I have had a lot of people in their twenties work for me in entry level positions as well as a few teen interns. I like to think we're not jerks at our company, but the youngest people are generally those who know the least, have the least experience and because of that, get paid the least. They have the last choice of shifts to work because the other people were here first.  They generally aren't traveling on business because they don't know our business very well yet and schools want someone who can come in, install software, answer their questions and provide some staff training.


It's true in most sports and particularly true in a minor sport like judo, when an elite athlete retires, he or she goes from the top of the heap to the bottom of the totem pole.


When you come back from winning medals in Europe, Asia and South America and a boss asks you sarcastically if you were too busy to get a report in on time, it is hard to bite back,

"Don't you know who I am? Don't you know what I've done?"

Truthfully, your boss probably doesn't give a fuck what you've done in sports.
He or she just needs those figures to tell whether sales are going up or down, the graphic layout of the annual report or whatever else the company executives are focused on.

It's hard to go from somebody to nobody. It's hard to go from feeling like an expert to feeling like a complete novice.

So, sometimes people stay LONG after they should have retired. I remember when I was competing calling an athlete arrogant and our youngest U.S. Team member said,

"How can that guy be arrogant? I've never seen him win!"

That's when I realized he had been competing for several years after his peak and it was true, he hadn't won in a long time. What else could he do, though? He was in his mid-thirties and had never had a real job. So, he just kept working at temporary jobs and going to judo tournaments. 


Sometimes what happens with those same people when they are too injury-ridden and old to keep competing is that they continue the same pattern but




When I'm not teaching judo, I'm making games. Please check them out. You can learn math, social studies, build your vocabulary.  Here are some free games and demos for you just because I am so nice.

http://www.7generationgames.com/demo/



 as a coach. They get a job where they can get by and then all of their energy, passion and talent is put into judo where they can be a big shot.


In America, judo is a sport where you can reach a fairly high level with a modest level of talent. Don't bother arguing with me because the numbers are against you. There are millions of people in this country who swim, play basketball, football or soccer. To get to the top of that group, whether as an athlete, a coach or an administrator takes more effort and talent than to be a top judo player in the U.S. It's harder to be number 3 out of the maybe 300 people in your division who compete than to be number 3 out of 30,000. In some divisions, I'd question whether we could really find 300 people in the country who actually compete.


So, you have put out moderate effort and gotten to be on the podium, call yourself a national medalist or even national champion, maybe gotten to represent the United States in international competition. To get that same level of recognition in business, in academics, you're going to have to work really hard for a long time. You have to start at the bottom and you may be 10 years younger than your non-athlete colleagues. Not only do people not look up to you, but you are a thirty-five-year-old intern. Is it any wonder people want to stay in judo for life?


Yes. I still teach judo. In fact, I'm teaching this afternoon. However, it's not the center of my life it once was because I retired and went on to other things.

How to NOT be that thirty-five-year-old intern? That's my next blog post.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Four feelings I have never had: 1. Just Happy to Be Here

I'm reading a book, Devil at my Heels, by Louis Zamperini. It's a good book and he has an interesting story. He was a bit of a juvenile delinquent who became an Olympic runner and then was a prisoner of war during WW II.

When he writes about the Olympics (he placed 8th) he says how great it felt to take part, what a great experience it was. People say that the point of the Olympics, like life,is not to win but to take part. I competed for 14 years and I never felt that way for one second. Don't get me wrong, I made good friends, benefited from wonderful mentors, saw a lot of the world. However, competition wasn't necessary for any of that. I have made friends, traveled the world and had wonderful mentors as a student and in my career. I teach judo with some really good people.

However, the only point of competition for me was to train as hard as possible and learn as much as possible to beat as many people as possible as decisively as possible. I had zero interest in opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies or team uniforms (I gave 90% of mine away to people who helped me train).

Women's judo was not an Olympic sport until after I retired and I cared not at all because during most of my competitive career countries were boycotting the Olympics and I wanted to be champion of the whole world, not half of it.

My point isn't that Zamperini is wrong and I was right or vice versa. It's simply to me, it is a foreign concept - "happy to be here" paired with competition. I want my partying and vacations separate from beating people up. That's probably why I had a shorter competitive career than a lot of people I knew. Once I had reached my peak as a competitor, I was done.

It's like that slogan, "Join the army, travel to exotic locations, meet new people and kill them." I think the goals are contradictory,no?

P.S. I don't mean I have never had the experience of just happy to be alive or happy to be in a place. I have that a lot - when I'm with my family, at work, on vacation. When competing, no, it was all business.

P.P.S. In case you are wondering, the other three things I have never felt are:

2. The desire to stay home with my children full-time
3.  Competition with other parents or the need to justify myself as a mother.
4. Attracted to other women/ wanting to be a man - yes, I realize those are pretty much completely different things but I put them together under sex and gender because this is my blog, so there.

Will get to blogging about those when I get a minute but here is my synopsis.


  • If you want to stay home with your children and can afford it, good for you. It's not for me.
  • Don't compete through your children, you weirdo. Let them live their own lives and you live yours.
  • Who you have sex with or what you want to do in your own life is none of my business. And I don't check out the person in the bathroom stall next to me because I mind my own business.


P.P.S. If you are getting ready to comment about how I am a terrible person because I don't feel about these things the way you do, just know that unless you are a member of my family or a close friend I don't care what you think about me. So, maybe that should be a fifth blog post. Also, if you are a family member, why are you posting disagreements on my blog? Did you lose my number?
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 When I'm not ranting about life, I make awesome video games that teach math and history and are fun to play. You should check them out. Some of them are even free. Whether you have a Mac, Windows, iPad or android, we've got you covered.


http://www.7generationgames.com/products/

Sunday, April 2, 2017

There Isn't A Single Turning Point

Very seldom do I write or talk about my childhood, because, what's the point, really? A wise person once said ,

"There's no point in having the same thought more than once unless you enjoy having that thought."

Well, I definitely don't enjoy thinking about when I was young.

Last night, I went to a screening of American Street Kid - it's not widely available yet, but if you have a chance to go to see it - GO! A lot of what happened in the film was very familiar to me. So many of the people I hung out with when I was young are dead or in jail.



I'm still debating about the whole memoir thing. Jonathan Shaw, who wrote a couple of books about his life, including Scab Vendor: Confessions of a Tattoo Artist, was on our podcast a few weeks ago and he said,

You'll grow as a person, but it will probably hurt. And I just said 'probably' to be nice. 

Maybe. It sounds like psychotherapy but just talking to yourself (insert desired sexual innuendo here). I'm the kind of psychologist that computes statistics, I can tell you what percentile your depression score falls in relative to the general population. I'm not the one to come to for treatment for depression and helping you understand about its roots on your childhood.

 (People who suffer from depression, don't bother writing hateful comments. Yes, I'm sure depression is a serious illness. We already established that I am not a person with depression expertise in the previous paragraph.)

Foster homes. Juvenile hall. I don't feel I need to write out my autobiography or go talk to someone for $250 an hour so I can "understand my feelings" about my childhood.

A lot of things fucking sucked. Understood. The End.

However, Fidel Rodriguez, is very persuasive when it comes to getting people to do things to support youth, so I ended up speaking about my own youth at the Rise Up for Humanity conference, and putting some of those remarks in my last post.

One question I got asked several times was,

What was the turning point? Where did you turn that you ended up where you are and the people you were hanging out with ended up where they are?

 I had many, many odds fall my way. What if the YMCA had not allowed girls to join judo? What if the university hadn't weighted SAT scores far higher than GPA or even graduating from high school? What if I hadn't gotten a fellowship to graduate school? What if I had three kids by age 22 (I would have been married long enough)?

Judo helped. All of the people I knew who fell by the wayside seemed to have problems with self-esteem. It's hard to believe you are are a loser when you're winning all of the time, like I was.

Being good at math and programming helped. I didn't get into college because I was good at judo, but because I was good at math. During and after my competition years, I was able to get a job and make money because I was good at math, good with computers.

Not getting addicted to heroin helped. Don't shake your head like that's a given. That did in some of the smartest people I knew.

I'm not saying it was all luck. I worked full-time, went to college and trained at judo enough to win the national championships - for years on end. I was naturally pretty smart and athletic. (Don't give me any bullshit for saying that - I have a Ph.D. and a world championships. I'm not dumb and uncoordinated.)

So, lately I've been talking to people who work with incarcerated youth. Originally, we started out discussing the adventure games my company makes as a way to help them catch up with their math and language skills but after a while, the subject came up, how I'm being asked to speak at these youth conferences they would have barred me from attending when I was young. What the staff members tell me is that youth in their facilities need to hear from me. I think they want the youth to hear the message

Work hard. Don't get addicted to drugs. Get an education.

I think, though, it is just as important to talk to the staff and tell them:

There is no turning point. There is no time when you can give up on a kid as they are destined to be an asshole loser.  

I helpfully diagrammed my own path for you.


Born, I had the same odds of NOT being an asshole/ loser as anyone else. Right about the time I came into contact with you, those odds had plummeted. It looked like I was doing better for a while, then worse. Eventually, one good thing piled on another, and although there have been ups and downs, I'd say my odds are better than even now.

My message is that because you don't know when or what thing will make the difference, you have to keep trying different things all of the time. I know there are some programs that emphasize poetry and art, which is fine for some kids. Personally, I hate poetry, I suck at art but excelled at math and beating people up. Maybe you should get that kid who keeps running away to go out for the soccer or track team.

Still not sure on the memoir thing, but I'm thinking if  I really am going to be going out to speak to kids and staff, I may as well start writing it down.

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 When I'm not ranting about life, I make awesome video games that teach math and history and are fun to play. You should check them out. Some of them are even free. Whether you have a Mac, Windows, iPad or android, we've got you covered.


http://www.7generationgames.com/products/

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lessons learned hard : Live a life of the truth

In the next few days, I am supposed to speak at two youth summits and submit an outline for a book on my life to a literary agent. At first, I thought, to quote a wise young woman, 

"I cannot give you the answers I have not got."

When I thought about it, it occurred to me, I may have one or two answers after all.

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I was 14 years old, handcuffed spread-eagled to a bed, locked in a cell in juvenile hall when I thought to myself,

When I am the president of General Motors and write my autobiography, I'm going to start it with this moment.

Even at the time, I realized that was not a very normal thought to be having under the circumstances.

 Really, it was a pretty extreme amount of restraints to control a 14-year-old girl but I was 220 pounds of mean poured into a 110-pound body. Most of the staff had bumps and bruises to prove it.

A year ago, I'd been sent to the principal for swearing at teachers and fighting with students. When he called home, my dad said, 

"Hit her with the strap. That's what I do at home."

Back then, it was perfectly legal to hit students with a leather strap as part of their public school education. The assistant principal told me to bend over for my swats and I told him,

If you hit me, motherfucker, I'm hitting you back. 

He told me I was suspended and I could come back to school when I was ready to take my swats. I never went back. It's been 44 years and I'm still not ready.

I knew I was in for the beating of my life when my dad got home. Still, where else was I going to go at 13? When I heard the front door open, I ran out the back, climbed over the wall into our neighbor's back yard and took off. 

Since then, I'd been no stranger to Madison County Detention. Foster homes suck. I'm sure there are some out there where the parents are kind and the other kids don't continually remind you that you are only here as their Christian duty, where you aren't threatened to be sent back every time you swear or don't put your dishes in the sink. They're probably out there, but I've never personally seen one.

After running away from foster care, getting picked up hitchhiking three states away, fighting with two police officers who were only getting me off the streets "for my own good", I was back in juvenile hall. Surprisingly, they weren't too happy to see me.

I don't remember what it is I'd done or hadn't done that started it - told somebody to get fucked, not brushed my teeth, not put my dirty clothes in the hamper. They had a point system. You started with 100 points a day. There were points for everything. You even got 1 point for not swearing at the cook. I remember it because I usually got that one. They deducted points, for every little thing, too. You could lose massive points at once, too, for fighting, destroying property. You needed to "earn" staying out of your cell by having at least 70 points. Most days, before noon, I was down to about 3 and then some staff member would tell me to go to my "room" which just happened to be a cell with a tiny window with unbreakable glass.

I wouldn't go and then two or three guards would grab me and drag me kicking and swearing in there. I had been doing judo for a couple of years and even though they were all grown men, I could usually manage to throw at least one of them and bounce his head off the floor. They'd get me into the cell and I'd try to run out again before they managed to slam the door. 

 Some days they got tired of having me run out and dragging me in while I kicked, punched and tried to throw them and they would handcuff one wrist to the bed. This particular day, once they had one wrist handcuffed to the bed, I hauled off and socked one of them with my free hand, so they handcuffed that to the bed, too. As they started to leave, I twisted and kicked another one in the face. So, they decided to chain my feet to the bed as well. 

You'd think that after this happened so many times , I would learn, or give up and quit fighting them. Nope. I hated everybody, and besides, I was locked up in juvenile hall. What the fuck else did I have to do?

If this was fiction, something dramatic would happen next. Daddy Warbucks would come in and adopt me or the guy in prison ministry who was the one person who had been kind to me would be revealed as my real father. None of that happened. The prison minister was a self-righteous asshole who let us know at every opportunity that he was just here out of Christian duty and not because we weren't all scum who were just going to go from kid prison to adult prison. 

The guards were all college students, mostly majoring in psychology, who told us bullshit like, 

"You are in control. You have a choice. You can choose to clean the bathroom or you can choose to lose points."

To which I would sarcastically respond, 
"And you can choose to go fuck yourself."

They actually told me to my face that this was all based on behaviorist psychology by some guy named B.F. Skinner. Back then, I hated everybody and I still hate B.F. Skinner. I hated him when I was reading his articles when I was getting my Ph.D.,  I hated him when I was a professor and he would come up in the textbooks and I hate him to this day. One day, I'm going to take a road trip to where he's buried and piss on his grave.

So, there was no Daddy Warbucks or secret father hiding in the wings. I don't remember how long I was handcuffed like that but it couldn't have been too long because I would have pissed myself. They never show that in movies where someone is chained to the wall, but think about it, logically. If you were really chained up for days, nature would have had to come calling and you would be a urine-soaked mess.

It was actually an older, black lady that came in. She worked the third shift, doing the laundry and making sure that none of us somehow magically broke the unbreakable glass, squeezed through the 3-inch wide window and escaped.

She said, 

"Look, I can't stand seeing you like this. It ain't right. Just promise me you won't hit me or kick me and I'll let you up."

As bad as I was, I wasn't down for beating up somebody's grandma, so I nodded and she got the keys from somewhere, unlocked the handcuffs and that was it.

In the morning, I went to court, got assigned to a foster home and left, swearing I would never see that place again. Of course, I was back a couple of months later.

My second daughter , a.k.a. The Perfect Jennifer, once said to me, 

"You know, Mom, a lot of the students I teach in downtown LA have stories like yours - suspended from school, in juvenile hall, foster homes, living with a grandma that never went to high school. Those stories don't normally end up with ... and by 19 she graduated college, at 21 finished her MBA, won a world judo championships, earned a Ph.D., founded multiple companies that made over a million dollars, raised four daughters and lives by the beach in Santa Monica."

But, sometimes they do.

In every way, I was NOT one of the youth who are invited to leadership summits for youth, even in the inner city. I was in and out of juvenile hall, had punched a number of people in the face, from fellow inmates in juvenile hall to cheerleaders at my middle school to police officers. By age 12, I had started both having sex and smoking marijuana. By age 14, I was getting high every day and having sex whenever I felt like it, which was quite often. Nearly everyone had written me off - the educational system, the foster care system, the juvenile justice system. They were just waiting for me to end up in prison and that would be the end of the story.

What made the difference? Three things. First, there were some people who thought I was not a complete loser and might be worth some effort - my older brother, my grandmother, my mom, my judo coach. They weren't all "all in". A couple of those people might have had their doubts but they hadn't written me off completely and what they could do to support me, they did.

Second, and perhaps most important, at a very young age, I learned, as a dear friend of mine said, 

"To live a life of the truth"

Let me explain. That doesn't mean that you are goody-two shoes and tell the truth all of the time, although I really, really do try.  My friend, who was an alcoholic for many years, said,

You either live a life of the truth or the life of a lie. If you are an alcoholic, you are living a life of a lie. You are telling yourself you don't have a problem drinking, that everyone gets a DUI now and then. You are lying about why you missed work.

I've never been an alcoholic, so I can't really comment on that. I can say that I think one saving grace that I had was that I learned early on not to lie to myself. I didn't believe any Prince Charming was going to come and save me. I didn't think because I had sex with some guy we were in love and going to be married and live happily ever after. I didn't have any fantasies about someone coming in to adopt me out of foster care. I was too old and too aggressive and too obnoxious. I knew no one was going to come in and rescue me so I had to figure shit out.

You can't fix a problem until you look it in the face.

 That is my number one lesson I have learned. Admit when you have fucked up. Oh, my God, I have had my share of times! You have no idea. Admit that your boyfriend is abusive, you married the wrong person, you hate your job, you shouldn't have dropped out of school, your "friends" are just there because you can get them drugs or help them get jobs or whatever it is.

However far you have gone down a wrong road, turn back!

Any time you find yourself lying to the people you care about, whether it is about who you are with or what you have been doing, take a long hard look in the mirror. You can't be an honest person part of the time. When you find yourself lying to other people, whether it is about your drinking, your friends, your studying, your relationships, you are almost certainly lying to yourself, too.

Tell the truth, and the truth will set you free. 

Courage is the virtue from which all others spring

It's not enough to be honest.You have to have the courage to face facts.  You may really love your friends or boyfriend/ girlfriend but if you are trying to quit meth and every time you get with them they are putting it in your face, you have to have the courage to face up to removing those people from your life. Maybe you were a complete idiot to drop out of high school - well, you probably weren't, but I was. Then you need to have the courage to face up to all of the people who "told you so", telling you so again when you take your GED and go to college.

I have found far more people with the courage to get punched in the face or knocked down than who have the courage to admit their mistakes. I've seen people's Olympic dreams slip away because they were afraid to face what their "friends" would say if they went to a new gym. I've seen brilliant software developers shortchange their careers because they worry what their co-workers would say if they leave.

And I have seen so, so many young people have lesser lives than they could because they did not have the courage to stand out, to be "the smart one", to be different, to risk failing and looking stupid.

So, there you have it, the three things I have learned.

If you are lucky and you have people who love and support you, appreciate you and don't let them down.

When you DON'T have those people, and there may be times when you don't, have the HONESTY and COURAGE to be the person you need to rescue yourself.

Sí, se puede.