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The Mother on Fire author talks about motherhood, career and public school.

Sandra Tsing Loh went to college and earned an undergraduate degree in science. But her journey into science didn't quite work out.

In fact, says Loh, "after muddling through for a few years, (I) spectacularly bombed my physics GRE. That was the writing on the wall suggesting a switch."

Loh then decided to go into graduate school to study English at the University of Southern California. It was there that the author-performance-artist-commentator found her true, er, callings.

While at USC, Loh "joined an avant-garde music group I met through the back pages of our local alternate weekly. We started throwing live happenings. . . . it sort of became what I do."

And a happening it is. When she isn't performing her live show, "Mother on Fire," about her clashes with Los Angeles school officials and her philosophy on the crazy L.A. life, you might catch her giving The Loh Down on Science, her NPR segment. Loh has written a book based on her show called Mother on Fire, the subtitle of which we can't really use in a family paper. But the book has all the punch of the show, Loh says. "I just did the stage show the other week, so it is indeed something that continues to complement the book."

Every woman's life changes when she has kids. What was the biggest change for you?

My focus went off my career and into mothering. . . . I was amazed at how extremely BIG the act of mothering was, how complete, how fascinating, how satisfying, how fun, how great some of those baby products SMELLED (Mustela . . . hmm!). It essentially split me in two.

In the meantime, as a writer, becoming a mother has entirely changed my universe in that it has made my universe much larger - it has given me another lens through which to view the world . . .

In one of your articles, you wrote that your Asian father has had a difficult time accepting you as an artist. How do you make that relationship work ?

In the some 25 years since I've graduated from college and essentially quit science, I've stuck with art and made some success at it . . . So not only is he resigned to it, he has gotten to enjoy being the star of my work, and being celebrated and hailed wherever he goes. (Also, during one performance art piece I did where I threw money into a crowd, he collected some, and waved it to television cameras: "All that money I put into her college education - I finally got some back!")

Give us your wisdom, oh Mother of Small Children (a phrase Loh uses to describe herself): What is one thing all moms need to know to make it through the day?

I think if you mother and volunteer or mother and work or do any combination of the above, you can definitely have a messy house, wrinkled T-shirts, and we won't tell if the occasional french fry or Happy Meal toy surfaces from under the floor of your car. . . . There is a lot of marketing suggesting we have to be anchorwomen who make our kids organic lunches on coordinated plateware in Martha Stewart perfect houses, whereas in practice there are some weeks I've written articles at stoplights on the dashboard of my car while me and the kids ate nothing but chicken McNuggets.

Now that your daughters (ages 6 and 8) are in public school, do you think you will ever move them to a private school?

I am committed to public school, which means I continue to aggressively research what options are available and what SHOULD BE AVAILABLE. I believe our tax dollars pay for it, so these are OUR institutions, and we can demand they be better if need be.

Your life sounds so interesting, growing up with an Asian father and a German mother. What was life like in your home as a child?

Hard. I always joke that we had potatoes AND rice for dinner. Sadly, my father was very cheap and my mother loved to have adventures, resulting in a fabulous summer vacation . . . IN ETHIOPIA.

How does your story resonate for mothers outside of L.A.?

I've visited with mothers from Seattle to Brooklyn to Chicago to South Dakota to Northern California and beyond. Everyone has a story. In any town, there is the "good" part of town, the "bad" part of town, the "hot" school, the "bad" school. . . . Degrees may vary, and the populations may look different, but school struggle is something every family goes through.

How is school working out for your kids now?

While they have some days they prefer (chess!) and some they like less (timed multiplication tests in third grade), they enjoy school - it's their hub.

Sherry Robinson edits the Go Momma page on and writes for the Whoa, Momma! blog at She can be reached at or (727) 893-8305.


Sandra Tsing Loh

She will talk about her book Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$ Story About Parenting! at 11:30 a.m. at the Fish & Wildlife Research Institute.