How to write if you cannot concentrate.


Jack Rieur was the most wonderful teacher I ever had and perhaps the best teacher anywhere on the planet and for all time. I first met him in 1963 when he was my 6th grade teacher and we have kept in touch ever since.

Sure, he covered the state mandated syllabus, but what he really taught was that the world was something we go out and live in and not read about in the classroom. And learning was fun; the most fun you can ever have. And if you pay attention you can learn from life itself and the point wasn’t that there was a test at the end of the semester but later in life you had to teach others because the human race is not a race to the finish but a relay race where near the finish line we must pass the baton.

For example, he taught geography not from the book but from the slides he took personally when he visited all the places in the book. Here is a picture I took of him back when he was a spry 89-year-old in front of the 79,662 slides he used in practicing his craft and that have since been digitized and stored by the Archives at the Consortium Library. I have been to more than 40 countries so far and have set up housekeeping in a few (and I’m no where near done). Had I not had him I might have run the risk of having gone to Canada once and seen a few other countries for a few hours each on a cruise.

He died this last August but his spirit lives on in me. For example he came to my rescue just now when I was stuck writing one thing and I got unstuck by writing something else.

Mr. Rieur’s other name was Jack but he insisted his sixth grader’s call him Mr. Rieur. It was not a matter of respect for age but of class. You only got to call him Jack if you became a teacher too. Well I have approached raising my children and managing my businesses and all my writing as a teacher, and so I think I have earned the right to call him Jack posthumously. However if you have done none of those things then please call him Mr. Rieur out of respect.

How to write if you cannot concentrate.

People tell me that they cannot concentrate long enough to write anything coherent that isn’t trite or a cut-and-paste job of things off the web, which doesn’t count anyway.

I say, “So?” Continue reading “How to write if you cannot concentrate.”

Innocence and Responsibility

© 2009 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

My wife and I both feel that our society has gone overboard in making people afraid.

One very destructive message inflicted upon children is that they should fear strangers.

In a planet as overpopulated as ours, even extremely rare events provide plenty of copy for the press.

As awful as they may be, abductions are rare. When they occur, someone the child knows (a relative or an estranged parent) is usually the culprit. Strangers intending harm are few and far between.

As parents, we were much more concerned about the physical and emotional harm that we might cause you than the harm that stranger might bring.

Simply riding in a car is by far the riskiest thing most children do. Swimming in a pool is pretty dangerous. Talking to strangers is not.

This is not to say that children should be left to their own devices… not at all.

We believe that very young children are not yet capable of exercising good judgment, whether it is over wearing a seatbelt, gauging the depth of the water, or evaluating strangers. They are no more ready to bear this burden for themselves then they are ready to baby-sit the children of others. Responsible people must look out for their safety at all times since they can’t do it themselves. Eventually children will learn responsibility by observing others, not by being told a set of rules.

Our point was illustrated one Sunday morning in a bagel shop. I was reading the Newark Star Ledger and the woman sitting next to me was reading the New York Times She had a daughter (age five or so) who had nothing to do and was catatonic with boredom.

Since the Ledger has comics, and the Times does not, I decided to offer the young girl my comics.

She began to hyperventilate and make squeaky noises. Then she began to cry.

Her mother peered over her paper, “What’s wrong, honey?”

“Th. Tha..That.” She was gasping for air. Finally, pointing at me, “That man is trying to talk to me.”

The mom barked angrily, “Don’t be silly. That rule doesn’t apply now.” She snatched the comics from me and thrust them at her daughter. “Don’t embarrass the man.”

The girl became even more upset. Think of all the conflicting rules she was expected to follow and the conflicting emotions that were generated.

It is easy to understand where to draw the line. Think about how you would assign blame for an accident. If a toddler, left in the charge of a nanny, were to explore a light socket with a paper clip, would you blame yourself for not protecting the sockets or the nanny for not paying attention? Surely you wouldn’t blame the toddler for being curious; it’s in their nature.

You may not be innocent, but your children are. Let them lose their innocence at their own pace; it will happen soon enough.[1]

[1] I am glad to see that there is a web site devoted to freedom for children (and not going nuts) entitled Free Range Kids (

Love is a Mother

Children swinging in Arisugawa Park

© 2007 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

After we decided to move to Tokyo but before we all did, I went by myself to find us a home. I started by looking at playgrounds and parks.

Arisugawa Park is a lovely place, named for a Japanese prince. It has a flowing stream that starts at the top of a hill and ends at the bottom with a fishing pond. Its wonderful playground had many barefoot children playing in the clean dirt and on an assortment of equipment.

I observed two mothers and their young boys.

One mother looked Japanese and the other American. Their sons were playing on the swings. The boys were trying to go as high as possible. After a few minutes of building momentum, the Japanese boy flung himself from the swing. His mother saw this yet seemed unconcerned but the American mom interrupted the conversation, ran to her own child, and began scolding him. “Don’t you dare do what he is doing! You will hurt yourself.”

She returned to her friend. They resumed chatting and the two boys resumed swinging. As the Japanese boy would fly from the swing the American boy would look at his mother pleadingly. Twice more she interrupted her conversation to remind her son of what harm might come to him if he were to attempt a similar stunt.

Her behavior was beginning to annoy her Japanese girlfriend.

Then something amazing happened.

The Japanese boy went flying farther than ever before. He landed on a tree root and fell forward. He cut his chin on the trunk.

He began to bleed and cry.

The American mom immediately started to run, but her Japanese friend grabbed her by the arm and pulled her behind a bush. The Japanese mom watched her son intently through the leaves. As the boy looked around frantically, it was clear that he had no idea where his mother was hiding. The crying lasted but twenty seconds and the bleeding perhaps another thirty. Soon he composed himself, wiped the blood from his chin, and returned to the swing. While he still would jump from it, he now seemed to be more interested in precision than distance.

Breaking free, the American mom ran to her son. Waving her finger, she said, “See. That is what can happen to you.”

The American boy stopped swinging altogether. Then he began crying.

The Japanese mom wanted to continue their conversation, yet her American friend was too upset.

I made a point of walking past them on the way out of the park. I overheard the American woman say, “But I love my son too much.”

If you believe that loving someone and protecting them from all harm are the same thing, then you can love someone too much.

Advice for Grandchildren

© 2010 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine


After my dad died, I went through his hard drive and found this in a folder named: adviceforgrandchildren



Title: Boys and Girls



Until about 2 years old


I have noticed that children at this age carry on soundless interested communication sometimes pointing and laughing and crying from their strollers regardless of whatever color (blue or pink) they are wearing

3 and 4 years of age


Very friendly to all their peers regardless of age sex or economic level. Not very intellectual communication except for world shaking statements, like ” Why?” and “If people believe in God and all the people die; What happens to God?”


5 to 12  years of age

A great age of discovery about boys and girls by boys and girls. Boys feel sorry for girls because they don’t have one. Both have long hair some times. Some boys notice older girls have bumps on their chest. Boys don’t like girls and girls don’t like boys. Sometimes they have separate school gangs or social clubs. Girls sometimes wear dresses but boys never do, except in Scotland and Greece. Both use separate toilets except in some countries that usually have a cement hole in the ground with two foot prints in the cement.


13 to 18 years of age

Boys voices change and they start (hopefully) growing beards, develop into couch potatoes with pot bellies and are slobs. Girls become attractive by taking care of themselves, working out and learning how to make up. Girls make better grades than boys. All are an absolute trial for parents – usually – but not always. Some teenagers are nicer than their parents were at the same age. At first, for boys and girls, is confusion then fascination or extreme dislike of either themselves or the opposite sex. Hormones almost take over completely, but not quite. There is school sex education but that is series of biology lessons and common knowledge which is usually incorrect.

What one must do is learn how to be a lover. This simply means making sure the other person is happier or more satisfied than you are. An adjunct to learning this is how to be a friend to boys and girls without a sexual meaning.


If you learn these lessons you will be happy or create happiness for the rest of your life.



19 to 22 years of age


A time to learn ‘HOW TO’:

  • How to think with and without the influence of your hormones.
  • How to get to know the opposite sex.
  • How to find out what you want to like.
  • How to court the person of your attention.
  • How to make a living so that you can support yourself and the result of all those hormones and frantic attention to the opposite sex.

23 to 60 years of age


Your internal clock goes off !

And you did not even know you had one.

It is called parenthood.

You will have to find your own way. There are some things you will find out all by yourself. We are all individuals – even our loved ones.

Some observations are classical and catholic:

Birds make much better parents than people; they know when to kick the chick out of the nest, after together knocking themselves out taking care of each other and the chicks.

Children cause one to appreciate one’s own parent.

Adulthood means accepting responsibility regardless of how you feel or resent it.

61 to 70 years of age



You can set your own schedule.

You can not get fired because you are retired.

You have little or no sex.

You can speak you mind, but few listen.

You realize how much you love your mate as they pretend to listen.

After 70 years of age


I have noticed that grown people this age carry on loud uninteresting communication sometimes  pointing and laughing and crying from their wheelchairs and canes regardless of whatever sex or color their hair is.

Hoping for death with dignity.


Your granddad Tom.



If someone is not ready to hear what you have to say, write a memo.

Imagine a Future

© 2007 Brooke Allen

Being a dad wasn’t working out as I’d hoped.

I grew up on “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best”.

Our home was more like “The Simpson”s or “Married With Children”.

That January I found myself on an airplane sitting next to a woman who is a psychologist and an expert on rearing children. I asked her for advice on how to be a better dad.

We talked for hours and she had many sensible suggestions. As we approached Kennedy Airport, she said, “Well, there really isn’t time left to get into much depth, so let me ask you a simple question.”


“Can you imagine you and your family in some idealized future setting?”

The future I imagined with my sons in the Alps.

“Yes.” It wasn’t a hard question, “When I was in college I traveled around Europe on a rail pass by myself. On the one hand I wished that my parents had been with me as we explored things together. On the other hand, I couldn’t imagine that the experience would have actually been a pleasant one.”

“When we had our own children, it was my fantasy that we could be the kind of parents that our children would enjoy having with them on vacation. Right now the thought of spending time together is inconsistent with our concept of a vacation. I’m sure they find our company “no fun” as well. It seems like we spend our days making up rules and enforcing them. They resent all that we do for them. It seems likely I’ll have to give up on that fantasy.”

“That’s perfect,” said my traveling companion. “Imagine what the ideal rail trip would be like. Imagine all of you exploring new things together, sharing experiences, and enjoying each other’s company. Imagine what it would feel like.”


“Good. Have a concrete image in your mind of this trip and set it as a goal. Now don’t concentrate on where you will go, or what you will see, but rather on how you, and everyone else, will feel and how you will interact.”


“Now, as you go through your daily life, each time you are about to do something, think to yourself, ‘Is what I am about to do going to bring me closer to this goal?’ If it occurs to you that what you are about to do now might hurt your chances of reaching your goal, try something different instead.”

I took this to heart. Each time I was about to yell about homework, bath time, or bedtime, I thought again. We found better ways of motivating our children without the acrimony.

In the summer of 1998, less than three years after that plane trip, we planned a vacation in Europe. Other parents assumed we were going as a couple and offered to introduce us to the baby sitters they trusted with their children when they went away. Traveling with their children was inconsistent with their concept of a vacation.

Eve and Glen on our imagined European trip..

But we wanted to see if we could make our vision a reality. We all remember that trip; we visited France, Italy, and Switzerland by rail pass. Eve and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute we spent with our children. They enjoyed their time with us.

I can attribute most of my disappointments as a parent to a failure to remember or apply the things I learned on that flight in 1996.

It is better to keep a goal in mind and make up rules along the way than to follow rules and lose sight of the goal.