Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
After spending the first three weeks of summer listening to my kids bicker incessantly, even though we were in Tahoe and then Hawaii, I am convinced they could benefit from a little deprivation and forced community.
It’s the teamwork that stumps me. It is the middle of summer and during the weekdays, there are no kids out on the street in my neighborhood. They are all in “camps.” (Although if your hair doesn’t smell like smoke, you’re not covered with mosquito bites, and you’re still clean, it’s not really camp.) I can’t send them out to “play with other kids” because there aren’t any. If I keep them home, I can try to teach them to work together, but eventually, frankly, they could use some variety, and so could I.
It’s very modern to talk about the challenges our kids encounter and how stressed out we are these days, but when you think about the reality of the circumstances most of them face, it’s hard to fathom exactly why that is. Their lives are as manicured as a golf course. We treat playground spats with gravity worthy of a felony. Everything is closely supervised. Instead of talking to our children about coping with a social conflict or addressing other children with whom they’ve had the conflict, we tattle to other parents and teachers. That would never have happened to kids growing up 75 years ago. They may have had fewer resources, but they were allowed to practice solving problems on their own. Equal parts responsibility and capability leads to less stress.
I don’t want my family to have to endure what our WWII veterans went through to build resilience and resolve. But, there is no character development without real hardship and no generosity without sacrifice. I just wish I knew better how to help my kids turn their disappointment, conflicts, and isolation into compassion and determination instead of despair and how to influence them properly without controlling them oppressively.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
“This is what self-control means to me. Self-control is what I do when everyone is being mean to me, but I don’t fight back. Self-control is not tattling when Jacob cuts in front of me in the lunch line. Self-control brings a smile to my teacher’s face. I always try my best to be self-controlled, so I will be a success. This is what self-control means to me.”
I'm all for awarding exemplary behavior, but I think we could do a better job of helping our kids articulate good character traits. In all the assemblies I’ve been to, there was only one kid who made it real. He was in fourth grade and I think he was up there for generosity or kindness. He said,
“I lost my speech on the way to school and I can’t remember what it said. But being nice is hard. I have two younger brothers and they like to take my stuff and break it. Most of the time I yell at them, but sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, it makes me feel better and I like them more. Then we can all play with my stuff and we don’t fight so much.”
Friday, May 28, 2010
Monday, May 17, 2010
All my boys, including my husband are a little in love with fire. Everyone wants to light and blow out the candles. No one can stop themselves from throwing stuff into a campfire. If there’s a fire in the fireplace, they stare at it and argue over which tool will maximize its size and heat, who gets to use it first, and who was right.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Despite the fact that I have heard "experts" warn me about stranger danger my entire life, even more so after I had kids, my experience suggests something completely different, and I like it much better. I have been repeatedly rescued by compassionate strangers. I was ten when my sister and I fell skiing and lost all our gear on the side of a mountain. A stranger helped us collect it and sent us on our way. At sixteen, my car overheated in the mountains and someone gave me a ride to the nearest Denny's so I could get water and call my dad. When I was eighteen, I spent the night at a gas station employees' house because my car broke down. A stranger in a cafe wrote me a charming poem about my freckles. My husband and I got a ride in Idaho from a forest service guy winterizing campgrounds when one of the seats on our tandem sheared off. When Liam, as a preschooler, got a splinter stuck all the way through the skin between his thumb and index finger, a stranger pulled it out while I held him. (We still refer to him as the "Nice Cowboy" because of his boots and hat.) I've bummed diapers, band-aids, juice boxes, and sunscreen off strangers, and I've been just as happy to pay it forward.
There are simply not enough kidnappers to lurk behind every shrub and loiter ominously near every park. Most strangers aren't dangerous and teaching your kids that everyone you don't know wants to hurt you simply isn't true. Most of the bad stuff that's happened to me and my family has been deliberately doled out by people I know or people my kids know. The easiest place to start is to tell your kids that if they need help and they can't find you, look for a stroller and find another mom.
Monday, May 03, 2010
Leonard Sax has some ideas in Boys Adrift. I don't know what the solution is, but I'm quite certain we cannot continue at status quo and have our boys grow into the kind of men they could be. Sometimes I think they're all born too late. A hundred years ago, they would make themselves a sling shot and a fishing pole and head out to the back forty once they'd finished their chores. Idealistic, I'm sure, but it sounds good when I'm explaining to the school secretary that I don't think rolling a pen across the floor during silent reading warrants a phone call home.
*Of course I changed his name!
Monday, April 26, 2010
So, in my inbox today, I got an email that was a collection of all the baby and child recalls this year. At first I thought it was a joke since there were literally millions of recalls. Apparently absolutely everything you've ever bought is dangerous, including sweatshirts (your kid might hang himself on the drawstring), foam board books (he might chew on them), and plastic fork and spoon sets (if your six-year-old is using them, he could bite off a prong or two). Just about anything might cause your child to lose a finger, fall down, or choke. And if they do, you should sue the manufacturer for millions of dollars because every accident is actually someone's fault. Few injuries have been reported, but if you complain, you could cause a nationwide recall because YOU NEVER KNOW what might happen or who you, oh indignant consumer, might be saving.
I wish my mellow moms friends and me would speak up, but we are all too lazy, we are tired of listening to how dangerous it is to be alive, and how careless we are with our kids. We are used to pinch-hitting with whatever we have on hand, even if it is a contraband second-hand car seat that has been in a fender bender or a stroller with a finger-chopping hinge. Any mom of more than two kids knows that any stroller can work as a triple stroller in a pinch. You can pile the kids on top of each other. One, assuming they have adequate head and neck control, can ride in the lower basket, or one can straddle the handle and hold on to the back of the seat, or, on occasion, his sibling's hair. If one falls off or jumps off, which will happen, does this make the stroller dangerous?
When did "safety first" creep into the top spot on the priority list of our national parenting consciousness? And when did we decide that creating a sanitary environment was better than teaching our kids not to wrap the strings from the blinds around their necks? If you're a parent now, chances are your parents left you in the car while they ran into the post office, you sat in the backseat of a station wagon without a seatbelt, rode a bike without a helmet, and babysat three or four neighbor kids by the time you were twelve. Most moms today wouldn't think of leaving infants or toddlers with seventh graders, even though THEY were seventh graders twenty years ago who managed not to maim the little ones in their care. Is it because we didn't "know" how dangerous all those activities were, we didn't think twice about doing them?
A friend of mine went to a water park in Honduras. There were no rules and people (after waiting their turn) splashed down the slides forwards, backwards, upside down, holding babies, holding each other... any way they liked. She said it was fantastic, fun, and liberating. That would never happen here. In the US today, you won't even find diving boards in most pools. They've all been taken out because they are such a liability. If they're there, they are accompanied by so many rules that they're not much fun if you're older than five... and then you may not be allowed in the deep end without a parent "within a hug's reach."
How did we get to be so paranoid? And why is safety more important than community or honesty or compassion? All these crazy recalls drive up the costs of stuff we actually do need. They increase the already rampant litigiousness of our society, and they imply that everything that happens could be avoided... a delusion of control that our kids would be better off without.
There's a movie coming out soon called Babies. It's a documentary on four babies born to different families around the world. I am hopeful that watching an unattended baby take a bath in a bucket with a goat nearby will reset the standard American mom's expectations on what is safe and normal. Maybe there will be fewer babies in all the bath water we've thrown out the window. Sigh... there's always hope.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Liam wanted to join a cub scout den when he heard they got to sleep on an aircraft carrier. Other than hanging out with his friends, this was his only reason for joining. The achievements, belt loops, honor code, be-a-better-citizen stuff... not interested or appealing – only the aircraft carrier sleepover. Hoping some of that might rub off anyway, I signed him up and was instructed to buy him a uniform.
So off we go with Liam wearing his shirt like a jacket, unbuttoned, in a t-shirt and soccer shorts. The belt loops he's earned, he's lost, and both of us pretend we care for a few minutes before we just get in the car and listen to Black Eyed Peas. When we arrive, we realize his den is scheduled to march in with the flag. All the other boys have ironed shirts, pants with belt loops, and clean shoes. Liam is wearing his rainbow crocs that we bought at the flea market last year. The straps are missing and my mother-in-law's dog bit a chunk out of the left toe. Because Liam is "out of compliance," he is not allowed to touch the flags on the way in. He can carry the boy scout flag on the way out.