What was Hallowe’en like when you were a little girl, Grandma?  alt

No one has as yet asked me that question, but if things run true to form for most Americans, someone will, someday, after I am past being able to respond.  So I will answer it now.

My Hallowe’en formative years were in the 1950s and early 60s, in a small village in upstate New York.  Contrary to what we’d like to believe, it was not an idyllic and crime-free time.  One of my first (and worst) Hallowe’en memories was of the teenaged thugs who thundered onto our porch, grabbed our carefully-carved jack-o-lanterns, and smashed them to bits.  I lived a sheltered life:  this was my first view of senseless, wanton destruction; my first encounter with people who get pleasure from breaking the hearts of little children.  Our tiny village did not escape teen gangs and vandalism, which seemed to be more widespread, if much less dangerous, in those days.   At least they attacked property, not people.

That was the only scary thing about our Hallowe’ens.

The most important difference between Hallowe’en then and now is that the occasion was first, last, and always for children.   A few adults dressed in costume for the neighborhood parade and party, but the purpose of the event was to entertain the children.  The only excuse for anyone over 12 going out trick-or-treating was to escort the younger ones—every once in a while a compassionate homeowner would give us a piece of candy, too.  Now, when high schoolers come to my door, I give them candy if they’ve made any attempt at a costume, but I pity them, that at their age they are begging door-to-door for candy instead of helping younger children to have a good time.

On the other hand, teenaged trick-or-treaters is a clear improvement over teenaged vandals.

The Hallowe’en season began several weeks in advance of October 31.  No, not because Hallowe’en stores began popping up all over town, and shelves everywhere sprouted candy in yellow and orange.  Because of the costumes.  Store-bought costumes were largely unavailable, and anyway, who would have wanted one?  Hallowe’en was an occasion for great creativity.  Merely deciding what to be could take a month.  (Decisiveness, I’ll admit, was never my strong suit).  Those who come to our door today are mostly beings—a cat, a princess, a Star Wars character—but we favored things:  one might be a rocket ship, a pencil, or the whole Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (no relation to the present-day Tea Party, as mad—in either sense—as they may be).  The challenge was to create a costume from whatever we could scrounge around the house without actually having to spend money.  No problem—we had not yet forgotten what any five-year-old knows:  the cardboard box is the most universally useful of all materials. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 6:16 am | Edit
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This was just posted on Free-Range Kids, and deserves to go viral.  So I'm doing my part.  The author, Darreby Ambler, is a writer and mother of three from Bath, Maine.

These were the travel rules we used with our kids when they were smaller.  They are now 15, 19, and 21, and travel independently and joyfully around the world. (You can tell from the rules that it wasn’t always this way!  Hang in there, parents!)

Ambler Family Travel Rules and Responsibilities
  • It’s good to talk to strangers.  The outside world is full of them.  The place you don’t have to deal with them is at home, which is where people who can’t cope with strangers will stay next time.
  • Each traveler is responsible for finding things to be excited about, and sharing that enthusiasm.
  • If the enthusiasm of others embarrasses you, pretend otherwise.  Being cool is dull, except in a sports car.
  • Unusual foods are part of the point.
  • Staying home is usually more comfortable than traveling, but traveling is more interesting.  Prioritize well.
  • Travel disruptions are normal and a good way to show your readiness for more challenging adventures.
  • Remember that your dislikes do not make interesting conversation.
  • Wash your hands.  You have no immunity to foreign germs.  Throwing up is not interesting.
  • You have travel in your future that you can not even imagine.  Adhering to these guidelines makes you eligible for such travel.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Edit
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Modesty:  propriety in dress, speech, or conduct (Merriam-Webster)

It’s an old-fashioned word, uncommon in our hyper-sexualized, push-the-envelope, anything-goes culture.  It even has negative connotations, as when it is associated with oppression of women in Islamic countries, or with certain Christian circles in which women, even young girls at play, wear only long dresses.

But it’s a good word, and a good concept.  We’re not meant to share all that we are with all-and-sundry.   Merriam-Webster’s other definition, freedom from conceit or vanity, gives a hint as to one of its benefits:  modesty focuses our attention away from ourselves.

Perhaps because of the extremes, discussions and practices of modesty almost always focus on matters of dress and behavior:  physical modesty.   To our great loss, we have largely ignored what I will call soul modesty.  What is blogging but baring our souls to anyone with an Internet connection?  What is Reality TV but a striptease in which hope of financial gain entices the few to allow their emotions, weaknesses, and character flaws to be exposed to the ogling many?  How can the reporter’s demand that a grieving mother tell the world how she feels about her child’s murder be considered anything other than verbal rape?

Lest you think this is not a problem if one stays out of the public eye, how much do you know about what happens in your children’s schools, Sunday school classes, day care, and other activities?  As a school volunteer as well as a parent, I came to realize that our young children are frequently subjected to emotional intrusion that, were it physical, would have a teacher out on the street in a heartbeat.  We take great care to teach our children about private parts of their bodies, and how to recognize and report “uncomfortable touches,” but don’t give them the tools to detect and deflect uncomfortable questions or manipulative exercises.

What puzzles me the most is that I find as little respect for soul modesty among those who prize physical modesty as I do in the general community.  It is particularly prevalent in churches, where community, fellowship, and bonding are often forced, rather than being allowed to grow organically from shared life and work.  I had one friend from a former church—a dear, self-sacrificing lady—who not only shared the most intimate details of her own life but pressed others to reveal themselves similarly—all the while thinking she was “just being friendly.”  It was uncomfortable enough talking with her, but downright scary to see her apply the same approach to children.   More than that, she saw it as her duty to be intrusive in this way, and was hurt when others were not similarly “friendly” to her.  And she was hardly unique.  It must be difficult for churches to discern how to be inquisitive enough to appear friendly to some people while not driving others away.

I’ve been to more than one church gathering where crowd dynamics and peer pressure have induced people to make revelations that I’m certain they regretted the morning after, if not immediately.  I mean, what sadist dreamt up the idea of asking, “What was your most embarrassing moment?” as an icebreaker?  To this day I’m embarrassed for some of the things others confessed.  There’s a reason confessional booths are small.

Although they may differ on the particulars, most people will agree that when it comes to physical modesty, relationship and circumstance should guide our behavior.  That slinky nightgown is appropriate to wear for my husband, but not for my neighbor.  Family members may see us in our underwear, but that’s not how we dress for grocery shopping.  Doctors have privileges with our bodies that almost no one else does.

It’s time we took as much care for our souls. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 11:25 am | Edit
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Who says engineers are nerdy, computer-toting couch potatoes?  Check out this from the New York Times.  (Click on the photo for an explanation.)

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Edit
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Our kids grew up largely ignorant of Sesame Street, and I'm not one bit sorry for that, but this seems to have been written for grandson Joseph.*  (H/T Pami)

 


*He knows even less than his mother did about the show, but “minyum minyum!” was one of his very first words, meaning "food!"
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Edit
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Although I've been a Democrat for every one of my 50 voting years, I've been accused of abandoning the party by voting more often for Republicans than Democrats in recent years.  I've never been a party-liner for any party, but I don't deny the truth of that accusation.  I will plead, however, that it was my party that abandonned me, taking oppositional positions on many of the most important issues, not the least of which is the right and responsibility of parents to direct the education of their own children.

Be that as it may, it gives me pleasure to announce that my hero-of-the-day is a Democrat, the Governor (redux) of California, Jerry Brown.  Why?  Because of what he wrote, refusing to sign into law a bill that would have criminalized, for everyone under 18, skiing or snowboarding without a helmet.  (H/T Free-Range Kids)

I am returning Senate Bill 105 without my signature.

This measure would impose criminal penalites on a child under the age of 18 and his or her parents if the child skis or snowboards without a helmet.

While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.

I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children.

I'm not sure which is my favorite line.  It's a tie among "I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children," "I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state," and "Not every human problem deserves a law."

Well done, Governor Brown!  We may disagree on many points, but when you're right, you're right, and I'm happy to celebrate the victory.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Edit
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If you can read this, thank a teacher.

I've seen it on bumper stickers for years, and just today at the bottom of my Penzey's Spices receipt.  Only now did I finally wake up to the outrageous insult implied by that platitude.

With all due respect to teachers, of which there are some who are great and many, many more who do their jobs very well, how is it that we presume that a child, who requires only a reasonably supportive environment to learn to eat, to crawl, to walk, to understand, to talk, to love, to manipulate his environment—in short to acquire the essential skills of a lifetime in just a few years—how is it that we presume he cannot learn to read—a minor skill compared with all he has already learned—unless someone teaches him?

That's crazy talk.

I'm grateful for all who are willing to share their knowledge with others, and especially for those who make the sharing enjoyable.  I suspect that those who do best, however, are the ones who realize they are not teaching so much as facilitating a child's natural learning.

But that turns out to be much too big an issue to write about just because I was annoyed by a bumper sticker, when I'm surrounded by vacation detritus, my husband is hungry, and I haven't yet managed that shower I promised myself after walking four miles in the 95 degree heat....

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Edit
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This is a mighty sad article.  The British government has issued official guidelines aimed at getting the under-five crowd moving.

The British government says children under five, including infants, should exercise every day. The guidelines recommend children under five be physically active for at least three hours per day, they also say that babies should be doing tummy time or in-swim lessons with their parents to help them gain strength.

Well, good for the British government, if it's really necessary.  Is this the fruit of the back-to-sleep campaign, long rides in car seats, baby swings, strollers, bouncy seats, playpens, walkers, baby videos, and other well- and not-so-well-intentioned interventions?

All the under-fives I know (not to mention more than a few five-and-overs) have no problem whatsoever being active for three hours practically every waking minute each day.  Every mother of a toddler from the creation of the world has no doubt groaned more than once, "If I could only bottle that energy...."

The British government's expressed concern is with the later risk of adult obesity, but if our toddlers must be prodded to be active, we're looking at more of a problem than that.  It's nothing less than a sea change in the development of the human race.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 11, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Edit
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You may remember Michael Merzenich as one of the major researchers mentioned in The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.  Merzenich is no doubt a better researcher than a speaker; this lecture is not nearly as good—and certainly not as comprehensive—as the book.  But it will take less than 25 minutes of your time, and is worthwhile if only for his explanation of the dangers of white noise—continuous, disorganized sound—to an infant's brain, and for the hope he holds out to those of us who grew up with the depressing idea that once you reach adulthood (or perhaps early teens, or even age six, depending on who you believe), you are basically stuck with the brain you've got.

Michael Merzenich on re-wiring the brain

 

(Granchild warning:  I don't know if you consider "crap" objectionable, but there are a few instances between 17:00 and 18:30.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 10:04 am | Edit
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The United States is a pretty good place to be if you're a girl.  When we think of girls in need of rescue from sexual oppression, other countries come to mind, such as Thailand, Afghanistan, China, and many places in Africa.  Yes, there is sex trafficking in America, brought nearer the surface through big events like the Super Bowl, but it's not generally a place where to be born female is to be born into especial danger.

And yet there is a form of sexual slavery here that endangers our girl children, and that it is not on the order of life under the Taliban is no excuse for not fighting it where we can.  Jennifer Moses, writing in the Wall Street Journal, exposes one battle front in Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?  Why do so many barely-teens adorn themselves like a child molester's dream?  And why are their parents complicit?

Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this—like prostitutes, if we're being honest with ourselves—but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards?  I posed this question to a friend [who replied,] "The girls in the sexy clothes are the fast girls. They'll have Facebook pictures of themselves opening a bottle of Champagne, like Paris Hilton. And sometimes the moms and dads are out there contributing to it, shopping with them, throwing them parties at clubs. It's almost like they're saying, 'Look how hot my daughter is.'" But why? "I think it's a bonding thing," she said. "It starts with the mommy-daughter manicure and goes on from there."

I have a different theory. It has to do with how conflicted my own generation of women is about our own past, when many of us behaved in ways that we now regret. A woman I know, with two mature daughters, said, "If I could do it again, I wouldn't even have slept with my own husband before marriage. Sex is the most powerful thing there is, and our generation, what did we know?"

So here we are, the feminist and postfeminist and postpill generation. We somehow survived our own teen and college years (except for those who didn't), and now, with the exception of some Mormons, evangelicals and Orthodox Jews, scads of us don't know how to teach our own sons and daughters not to give away their bodies so readily. We're embarrassed, and we don't want to be, God forbid, hypocrites.

I wouldn't want us to return to the age of the corset or even of the double standard, because a double standard that lets the promiscuous male off the hook while condemning his female counterpart is both stupid and destructive. ...  But it's easy for parents to slip into denial. We wouldn't dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: "Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven's sake, get laid!" But that's essentially what we're saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they're still living under our own roofs.

Brava! to Ms. Moses for exposing the problem and taking a stand against encouraging our daughters to think of themselves as prey.

On the brighter side, Heather reports that, thanks to the near-hysteria over sun exposure, it is now much easier to find modest bathing suits for girls than it was when she was a child.  An SPF-50 bikini serves no purpose.  I can't wait to see Faith's new purple shorts-and-shirt combo suit this summer!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Edit
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Life is different for a newborn in a large family.  I feel rather ridiculous applying the label "large" to a family of five, but even three siblings is sufficient to give a baby quite a different experience from most American babies.  The first- and even second-born can easily become the focus of a great deal of parental attention and anxiety—which can be both a blessing and a curse. The third child, however, breaches the one-to-one parent/child ratio.  Many parents of one or two children choose to encourage their kids to be competent and independent at an early age, but once a third child enters the family, that's no longer a choice, but a necessity.

There's a lively discussion currently going on at Free-Range Kids about children who have too much done for them, and I was struck by the following comment: (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 5:43 am | Edit
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Faith's two older brothers are off helping Daddy work on the car, so she had luxury of playing with Dad-o's gift all by herself.  The three wine corks will no doubt eventually become part of some craft project, but for now they are building blocks.  She carefully set down her baby doll—lovingly wrapped in a warm purple blanket—and made a tower, standing the corks all on end (no problems with this two-year-old's coordination).  Then she piled them like a woodpile (her family heats with wood), then stood them side by side to make a fence.  Next she laid them down, like sleeping people.  Then end-to-end to make a snake.  Finally, she arranged the corks in an L-shape.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Dat mine dun (gun).  Mine OWN dun!"

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 10:07 am | Edit
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I suppose it's cheating to make two posts in a row about someone else's post, but I can't pass up this great Conversion Diary guest post by Simcha Fisher.  Her analogy between childbirth and the Child-birth (Christmas) is an imaginative tour de force worthy of Ray Bradbury.  (If her writing is less brilliant and esoteric than Bradbury's, it is still excellent, and definitely more uplifting.)

It would be stretching "fair use" too far to quote as much as I'd need to to make her point.  Go to the original and follow her from Advent (third trimester) through Christmas (birth, and the first few weeks after) and Epiphany (the light at the end of the tunnel) to Ordinary Time (the return to normal life, with a big difference).  Enjoy!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 17, 2011 at 9:44 am | Edit
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Two, apparently unrelated, stories shook my complacency this morning, particularly in their juxtaposition.

First (h/t MMG), this disturbing TED talk by Hanna Rosin:  New data on the rise of women.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Edit
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Perhaps the worker at Babies R Us had noticed me walking up and down the aisles, examining the toys, sighing, and putting them back.  Or perhaps she was just doing her job.  But when she asked, in a friendly manner, "Are you finding what you're looking for?" I hesitated, then replied, "No."

"What are you looking for?"

"A toy not made in China."

alt

(Today's Mallard Fillmore comic strip.)

She was certain she could help me, but as she checked toy after toy her astonishment grew.  She discovered one item—alas, for a much older child than our six-month-old grandson—made in North America, and I pointed out the one toy I had found that was made in Thailand.*  Other than those two, everything was from China.  Every.  Single.  Toy.  Clothes are made all over the world, judging from my label-reading experience:  Honduras, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Domincan Republic....  But not toys.

I was not surprised, having been through this drill before, but the helpful salesperson was astonished, and even called a supervisor for help.  Perhaps that's one reason China has a virtual monopoly on children's toys, and agri-business rules our food supply:  we don't know where things come from.  I left empty-handed; our grandson will have to make do with something more creative.

 


*Alas, my sources in Thailand tell me that as far as the safety of children's toys goes, this is no more reassuring than "Made in China." But at least it broke the monotony.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 9:42 am | Edit
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