There were Sandra Boynton books around when our children were young, but they were new, and we mostly missed them.  When our nephews later introduced them to us, I wasn't all that impressed.  Very few books directed at children impress me.  But in the last month I have become a fan.

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Specifically, of Blue Hat, Green Hat and But Not the Hippopotamus.  Daniel (22 months) wants them read over and over and over and over and over ... but I've yet to grow weary of them.  It helps that they're short, but it's mostly his enthusiasm that keeps me going.  He can very nearly read them to himself, thanks to the repetition within the books as well as the repeated readings.  He gleefully fills in "Oops!" and "Hippopotamus" in the appropriate places, and tonight, after I refused to read any more, I heard him "reading" several pages of the latter book to himself.  "Should stay?  Should go?" and with the greatest expression.  Such fun.

So, a very belated thank you, Ms. Boynton!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 28, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Edit
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Joseph wanted to go to the grocery store, and made his own shopping list.  (Click to enlarge.)

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He did not have enough money to make the purchases, especially in the quantities he wanted, but I told him I'd gladly pay for one package of butter, so we went off eagerly to the store.  Grandmotherly hearts—and appealing grandchild eyes—being what they are, the plan escalated a bit.

While Janet and the others did their own shopping, Joseph and I started filling his little cart.  He found at least one of everything on his list (milk, pizza, oranges, bread, butter, orange juice, apple juice, peanut butter, and water), and I added several other items of interest to me (e.g. Swiss chocolate half off).

At checkout, he put his items on the belt, and got out his purse.  He handed the lady his widow's mite—all he had.  I slipped her a 50-franc bill; she smiled, and handed the change to Joseph.  His eyes opened wide, as the change was a bit over six francs, about twice the sum he had started with, and monumental compared with his weekly allowance.

One hundred percent return on investment, and a cart full of food, too.  Even I might learn to like shopping under those circumstances.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 11:29 am | Edit
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Grandparents sometimes have luxuries unavailable to parents, the greatest of which may be time.  Not that I've ever felt free from the pressure of too much I want to do and not enough time in which to do it, but both time and the lack thereof are relative.

Vivienne wanted to go for a walk with Grandma, and she particularly likes it when I let her take the lead.  We started out along familiar paths, stopping for a while at a favorite playground.  But there was a somewhat aggressive boy there, so exploration soon became more attractive again.

We hiked past a mall and the local equivalent of Wal-Mart.  (I hope I don't offend anyone with that comparison, but it's a large store that carries a great variety of items at comparatively reasonable prices.)  As we passed, she expressed her regret that the stores were all closed.  Here most businesses are closed on Sundays, a practice widespread when I was young but now limited at home primarily to Chick-fil-A restaurants.  While I admit to doing my share of business on Sundays, part of me misses those times and the natural respite from day-to-day consumerism and busy-ness.

End of digression.  Vivienne was content enough to window-shop in the garden center, which was visible from the sidewalk.  Moving on, we crossed the street to an intriguing path that spiraled down towards a tunnel.  Where would it lead?  It was dark and lonely, seemingly abandoned:  the underground part of a parking garage, empty because the stores were closed.  A little scary, too, so we happily returned to the sun-lit lands, up a set of stairs and on our way.

On our way where?  We found ourselves in a neighborhood of apartment buildings, complete with tempting playgrounds.  Tempting, but in the end resistible—the intrepid walker pressed on.  At last we came to the only intersection where Vivienne asked me to decide if we should go left or right.  Less adventuresome, knowing that going out requires an eventual return, and cognizant of approaching suppertime, I chose to "close the loop."

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a rough sketch of our approximately 1.75-mile journey

Vivienne had other ideas, however, immediately executing a hairpin turn and heading off towards the ... train station!  Through the tunnel, under the tracks, and up to the platform.  We looked around for a while, but no trains came.  Go back as we had come?  Certainly not!  We had to find another way across the tracks.  Which we did, going still further on before we could turn around.

After that the return was fairly straightforward, with just one foray into a business center that I would have avoided had I been the leader.  That was the point at which I first blessed having no need to hurry: at worst we would have to call home to say we'd be late for supper.  For it was then that Vivienne decided she had had enough walking and wanted to be carried.  I wasn't surprised—we'd been walking quite a while, and she is not that much past her third birthday.  Nevertheless, I reminded her that we'd discussed a couple of times the importance of not going so far that we'd run out of energy for the return trip.  So I waited, and Vivienne sat on the ground until she had recovered enough energy to walk, which she did when she was ready, without fuss or complaint.

We were almost within eyeshot of home when she sat down again, and took off both her socks and shoes.  She did not ask to be carried, but apparently her feet needed some air.  I completely understand.  After about 15 minutes—and a few smiles and nods from passersby—she calmly put her socks and shoes back on, stood up, and we continued on our way.

Not, alas, as quickly as I—tired myself and still mindful of supper time—would have wished.  It took a long time to cross the bridge.  It's only over a road, but that was fascinating enough to Vivienne, and she careened as many times as possible between the side of the walkway with the precipitous drop and the side right next to the bus lane.  The guard rails are sturdy and sufficient, but I was notably happier when we finally reached the end of the bridge.  The rest of the trip was uneventful, though by no means speedy, as we stopped to smell at least 50 roses in the home stretch.

We had had a great adventure together, and still made it home for supper.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at 9:06 am | Edit
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Over the years I have been astonished at the technical prowess of our grandchildren.  Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised:  advancing technology has made it clear that it's physical coordination more than mental ability that has in the past held children back.

In 2006: Jonathan, who just turned three, met me on the stairs with a blue cable in his hand. As I passed, I remarked, "That looks like a Cat 5 cable." "No it's not," he responded, "It's a USB cord." (He was right.)

And in 2010:  One day Heather discovered two-year-old Faith sitting at the computer, typing away in their Open Office word processing program.  She assumed Jon had set it up for her, but that was not the case.  No one knows how Faith did it.  This is no consumer-friendly iPhone, nor even Windows, but a Linux-based system only a geek could love.

There were many more examples I did not record, but I thought of these the other day, when it happened again.

Joseph, just shy of his fifth birthday, had been using his mother's GMail program to compose and send me a letter.  He then told me he wanted to make a copy.  I wasn't sure what he meant, so I showed him how to click on the Sent folder to see the e-mail again.  That wasn't what he wanted, but his sister required some immediate assistance, so I said I'd help him when I returned.

Just a couple of minutes later I came back, and he was in the process of removing a page from the printer.  He then shut the printer down and put the tray back into its folded position.  When he handed the printout to me, I asked him how he knew what to do.  "I clicked on the print button," he replied.

I don't use GMail to compose or read my mail, but I logged on to see see if the process was really that simple.  It's not.  First of all, the print icon is small (though I'll admit his eyes are quite a bit younger than mine, so maybe that doesn't matter much), and once you click on it you have at least one more step before the print actually happens.

Technology is not strange, nor frightening, to those who grow up with it as ubiquitous as air.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 2:45 pm | Edit
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One of our grocery stores is inside a small mall with a play place.  The rest rooms are not far away, but on a different floor, so a visit involves an elevator ride, and Vivienne was reluctant to go alone.  No problem; Janet went with her and I stayed with the others.  What makes this  something worth reporting is what happened a little later.

Daniel was still happy in the play place, but Joseph and Vivienne decided they wanted to explore.  They had a particular plan in mind, worked out the details with Mom, and off they went:  up the elevator to the fifth floor, check out a particular store ("from the outside only, not going in"), come back down again and check in with Mom before going back into the play place.  They did exactly that, returning in just a few minutes with big grins.

Only a few minutes later Vivienne left the play place again, and asked permission to take another exploratory trip.  This was a slightly larger stretch for Mom and Grandma, since this time she would be on her own, without her older brother.  But she did just great, and immediately announced that she had to use the bathroom again, and would do it all by herself.

She did just that.  The look of triumph on her face was priceless.  Well worth the maternal and grandmaternal nervousness we experienced upon watching the elevator doors close on our little adventurer.

I say this is growth and learning at its best.

  • Her initial fears and dependence were accommodated without shaming.
  • She stretched her comfort limits as part of her older brother's project.
  • She repeated the same experience without her brother, making all the decisions (and pushing all the buttons) on her own.
  • Finally, she repeated the bathroom trip completely independently.

This triumph was accomplished within a span of perhaps half an hour, with no pressure, no tears, at her own pace, when she was ready.

Joy all around.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 5, 2015 at 11:47 am | Edit
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Disclaimer:  I don't know who Matt Walsh is, although a quick search revealed that he is making enough waves that there's a website called whatismattwalshwrongabouttoday.com.  That's okay; if people feel the need to attack him, he's probably doing something right, and in any case, he gets this one really, really right: “You’re a stay-at-home mom? What do you DO all day?”  (H/T Jon)  This husband's homage to his wife was inspired by conversations like the following:

“So is your wife staying at home permanently?”

“Permanently? Well, for the foreseeable future she will be raising the kids full time, yes.”

“Yeah, mine is 14 now. But I’ve had a career the whole time as well. I can’t imagine being a stay at home mom. I would get so antsy. [Giggles] What does she DO all day?”

“Oh, just absolutely everything. What do you do all day?”

“…Me? Ha! I WORK!”

“My wife never stops working. Meanwhile, it’s the middle of the afternoon and we’re both at a coffee shop. I’m sure my wife would love to have time to sit down and drink a coffee. It’s nice to get a break, isn’t it?”

The conversation ended less amicably than it began.

Walsh's whole commentary is worth reading.  Here are some snippets.

Look, I don’t cast aspersions on women who work outside of the home. I understand that many of them are forced into it because they are single mothers, or because one income simply isn’t enough to meet the financial needs of their family. Or they just choose to work because that’s what they want to do. Fine. I also understand that most “professional” women aren’t rude, pompous and smug, like the two I met recently. ... But I don’t want to sing Kumbaya right now. I want to kick our backwards, materialistic society in the shins and say, “GET YOUR FREAKING HEAD ON STRAIGHT, SOCIETY.”

In making his point, the author fails to mention that there are other essential professions (sometimes lacking in respect), and that any legitimate work done with excellence and integrity has value, often great value. Cut him (and me) some slack: it doesn't change the truth of what he says. Our society has elevated employment, almost any employment, over work that does not bring in a paycheck, especially if the non-paying work involves home and family, like rearing children or caring for elderly parents.

It’s true — being a mom isn’t a “job.” A job is something you do for part of the day and then stop doing. You get a paycheck. You have unions and benefits and break rooms. I’ve had many jobs; it’s nothing spectacular or mystical. I don’t quite understand why we’ve elevated “the workforce” to this hallowed status. Where do we get our idea of it? The Communist Manifesto? Having a job is necessary for some — it is for me — but it isn’t liberating or empowering. Whatever your job is — you are expendable. You are a number. You are a calculation. You are a servant. You can be replaced, and you will be replaced eventually. Am I being harsh? No, I’m being someone who has a job. I’m being real. ... If your mother quit her role as mother, entire lives would be turned upside down; society would suffer greatly. The ripples of that tragedy would be felt for generations. If she quit her job as a computer analyst, she’d be replaced in four days and nobody would care.

Having been both computer analyst and mother, I can attest to what he says.  Guess which career garnered the most admiration and accolades?

Of course not all women can be at home full time. It’s one thing to acknowledge that; it’s quite another to paint it as the ideal. To call it the ideal, is to claim that children IDEALLY would spend LESS time around their mothers. This is madness. Pure madness. It isn’t ideal, and it isn’t neutral. The more time a mother can spend raising her kids, the better. The better for them, the better for their souls, the better for the community, the better for humanity. Period.

The following may be my favorite paragraph of the whole article.

Finally, it’s probably true that stay at home moms have some down time. People who work outside the home have down time, too. In fact, there are many, many jobs that consist primarily of down time, with little spurts of menial activity strewn throughout. In any case, I’m not looking to get into a fight about who is “busier.” We seem to value our time so little, that we find our worth based on how little of it we have. In other words, we’ve idolized “being busy,” and confused it with being “important.” You can be busy but unimportant, just as you can be important but not busy. I don’t know who is busiest, and I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I think it’s safe to say that none of us are as busy as we think we are; and however busy we actually are, it’s more than we need to be.

I think I'll change my advice to those who are asked the condescending and offensive question, "What do you DO all day?"  And I'd apply it to almost any profession, not just motherhood—no one from the outside can really know what it takes to do another's job.  First, I'd quote Elbert Hubbard:  Never explain—your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anywayThen I'd suggest this as a response:

That's a trade secret, and revealing it is against the rules of our Guild.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Edit
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In the first comment to Saturday's Pi(e) post, Kathy Lewis asked about the math legacy of my mother (the one who introduced Kathy to strawberry-rhubarb pie).  This inspired the genealogist in me to answer the question visually.  (Click image to enlarge.  Family members, please send me corrections as needed.)

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Math-related fields clearly run in the family, by marriage as well as by blood.  Some other facts of note:

  • Most of the grandchildren (and all of the great-grandchildren, not shown in the chart) have not yet graduated from college.  Their intended fields, where known, are shown in italics.  One is very close to graduation, so I've left him unitalicised.
  • In each generation from my parents through my children, there's been an even split between mathematics and engineering.  However, with the next generation at nine and counting, I doubt that trend will continue.
  • The other fields don't come out of nowhere:  both of my parents had a vast range of interests.
  • With one short-term exception in a time of need, every woman represented here clearly recognized motherhood as her primary and most important vocation, forsaking the money and prestige that come with outside employment to be able to attend full time to childrearing and making a good home.  Every family must make its own choice between one good and another; this is not a judgement on other people's choices.  Nonetheless, homemaking and motherhood as careers are seriously undervalued these days, so it's worth noting when such a cluster of women all choose to focus their considerable intelligence and education on the next generation.  As daughter, wife, mother, aunt, and grandmother, I'm grateful for the choices these families (fathers as much as mothers) have made.
  • Engineering is a long-time family heritage.  My father's father (born 1896) was a mechanical engineer, and the first chairman of that department at Washington State University.  His father (born 1854) was a civil engineer.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 16, 2015 at 10:41 am | Edit
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How do you get kids to practice their instruments?

That's the question of all parents who can't help having occasional misgivings about the large outflow of cash going toward music lessons.  As far as I can tell, the only honest answer is, "I don't know.  It's different from child to child, anyway."  Nonetheless, I have made a couple of observations while visiting Heather and family and will set them down for what they're worth.

  • Every child here over the age of three takes formal piano lessons.  The just-turned-four-year-old is eagerly awaiting informal lessons in the summer, and the start of the "real thing" in the fall.  They all enjoy their lessons, partly because their teacher is one of the best-loved in the area, and partly because she's also known to them as Grammy.
  • Everyone over the age of six walks or bikes to Grammy's house for his lesson.  Not only is this convenient for their parents, but I believe it helps them "take ownership" of the lessons.  It also means that if they forget their music books, they're the ones who have to turn around and go back, so responsibility is naturally encouraged.
  • Even with these advantages, practice time was hit-or-miss, until a simple change was made.  All the kids have morning and afternoon chores, which they are (mostly) in the habit of completing with minimal fuss,  "Practice piano" was simply added to the list, and voilà, regular practicing.
  • Best of all, the piano is located in the middle of everything.  You can hardly go from one place to another without passing the piano.  It gets played a lot, because it's there.
  • Here's something I'd never have thought of:  practicing is a whole lot more fun because the piano is not just a piano.  It's a "real piano" rather than just a keyboard, but it is actually an electric keyboard built into a piece of furniture.  Thus it comes with all the extras of a keyboard:  the ability to record one's playing, multiple timbres, the ability to split the keyboard (have different instruments in the bass and the treble), and more.  Yes, this leads to a lot of fooling around, but how many times do you think the kids would practice a particular piece or passage on a mere piano, compared with playing it with the piano sound, then the bagpipes, then organ, then flute, then with various sound effects?  Multiple repetitions, painlessly.

I still don't know the secret to getting kids to practice.  But I can recognize good tools for a parent's toolbox when I see them.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 4:12 pm | Edit
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It's extraordinary how often otherwise civilized people think it's not only their right but their duty to criticize the size of other people's families.  I freely confess to doing so myself on occasion, though I do try to limit my comments to general cases, not specific people.  Maybe it's because the only remaining area of our sex lives where criticism has not been taken off the table is its fruit (or lack thereof).

Most annoying are the self-righteous critics.  You know, the ones who insist that sweet little baby you just gave birth to will destroy the ecological balance of the world.  Or those who praise God for the gift of antibiotics and other life-changing interventions while solemnly intoning that your use of birth control betrays your basic lack of trust in God's plan for your family.  There are valid points lurking behind both of those extremes, but there is room for such a wide range of disagreement that prudence and courtesy—not to mention the love we owe our fellow human beings, and the good ol' Golden Rule—call us to admit that the size of other people's families is no one's business but their own.

That said, I recently found a Front Porch Republic article that explicates one of the negative side effects of the recent trend toward small families.  I highly recommend reading the entire article, but will quote here as much as I think I can without raising the ire of the copyright fairies. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 7:03 am | Edit
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Glenn Doman used to say that what babies and small children want most of all is to grow up, right now.  (I've wasted too much time already trying to find the exact quotation, but that's the gist of it.)  He must have known Jeremiah.

Jeremiah has two parents and four older siblings, and sees no reason why he shouldn't be able to do everything they can.  "Do!" may be his favorite word, meaning "I will do it myself."  He has been two years old for all of two weeks, and is busy acquiring new skills at a somewhat alarming rate.

We are staying in the Apartment, which is over the garage and accessible from the kitchen via two doors and a small set of stairs.  Before we arrived, Jeremiah could open the door from the kitchen, but not the door to the apartment itself.  First thing every morning, we would hear him knocking to be let in.  Now he's proud to be able to open the door himself, so we know that when the door opens without an invitation, it's our favorite two-year-old.  He hasn't yet learned that there are reasons other than inability for knocking at a door.

We were in the kitchen, and Jeremiah was hungry.  I watched as he moved a chair over to the hutch and got himself a plate, then went to the cutlery drawer and picked up a fork.  He opened the refrigerator door, selected a container of leftover French fries, which he gave to me.  I put some on his plate.  Then he opened the door of the microwave, set his plate inside, put a cover on the plate, and closed the door.  He waited while I set the time, then pushed Start.  (He'd much rather push the other buttons himself, too, but that gets him into trouble.)  When the timer dinged, he opened the door, took out the plate, closed the door, took his plate to the table, and proceeded to enjoy his French fries.  When I later reported the series of events to Heather, her immediate response was, "Oh, no!  He's never been able to open the refrigerator before.  Now he'll start getting his own drinks."

Which was true.  Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, because he normally does a great job of pouring from a carton to his glass.  But sometimes cartons are full and heavy (especially gallon milk jugs) and sometimes they slip.  Not to worry (much):  he knows what to do.  He grabs a napkin or a towel and starts scrubbing away at the spill.  But he is (barely) two, and sometimes doesn't remember to set the carton upright before beginning the clean-up process.

Another day I watched while Jeremiah got himself a plate, opened the refrigerator, and took out a package of tomatoes.  Then he opened a drawer and took out a cutting board.  I intervened enough to ask him to wash the tomato first, which he did.  Next he returned to the drawer, extracted his sister's paring knife, and removed it from its sheath.  At that point I intervened again (against his will, but he acquiesced with good grace), insisting that I be allowed to guide his hands as he cut, which he did semi-competently.  Two years of age is when the kids here begin learning to cut up vegetables, and they become dependable and genuinely helpful well before they turn four.  Jeremiah will no doubt learn the fastest of all, because he is so observant and so desperate to grow up, but the arrival of his new brother has delayed his formal lessons, and semi-competent is not good enough when wielding knives.  The girls' kitchen knives have been temporarily moved to a less-accessible place.

A tot-lock guards the under-sink chemicals.  Again I watched as Jeremiah decided he needed something from that cupboard, took out the step stool, opened it up, climbed to the key's hiding place and took it out.  And then ... I was disappointed that I didn't get to find out if he could actually open the lock, because he became distracted by noticing (from his perch on the stool) that the sink was full of soapy water and dishes.  He put the key back where it belonged and proceeded to have a different kind of fun.

Oh, and yesterday he casually removed the cap from a childproof bottle, another first.

As his mother says, Jeremiah is a very competent handful.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Edit
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(click image to enlarge)
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Nathaniel Peter Daley
Born Monday, February 16, 2015, 5:10 a.m.
Weight: 8 pounds, 14 ounces
Length: 21 inches

Heather will eventually have the whole birth story on her blog, and I’ll link to it when she does.  But for now, here’s the story from my point of view:

A big storm was predicted for the weekend, so big that Heather and Jon’s church moved their services to Saturday.  Long-time New Hampshire residents thought that was rather wimpy of them, and that the news media was doing what they do best:  making mountains out of molehills.  Nonetheless, when Heather had some signs of early labor during the church service, we began keeping more of a “weather eye” out than usual.

By the early hours of Sunday morning, contractions were 15 minutes apart.  We wouldn’t normally leave for the birth center at that point, but a great deal of snow had fallen and was still falling at a great rate.  Jon dug out the car, then did it again after the snow plow came through, then once more after we were all ready to leave.

Porter, Jeremiah, and Faith stayed at home this time.  Jeremiah is in a stage where he’s very independent most times, but when he wants Mommy, he really wants only Mommy if Mommy is anywhere nearby.  He’s also very sensitive and easily upset when he thinks Mommy is hurt or unhappy, so the plan was to let him stay with Dad-o.  Faith then decided that she didn’t care about being at the birth; all she wanted was to hold the baby when he came home.  This turned out to be very convenient, as with the baby we would have exactly the maximum number of people who could fit in the car.

Jon is an excellent winter driver, and he needed to be.  The roads weren’t too bad at first, but after we left town the plows were clearly behind schedule.  We were very thankful for rumble strips on both the sides and middle of the road; otherwise we could very easily have been on the wrong side of the two-lane highway.  We made it to the birth center without incident; it had not been plowed, but we were able to follow in the tracks the midwife's car had made.

We settled in, anticipating a bit of a wait, but not a long one.

The baby had other ideas.

Contractions, which had been strong in the car, slowly petered out, and after many hours of waiting, everyone was ready to go back home.  The midwife told us that it is not uncommon for storms to provoke labor that then subsides.  So we bundled back into the car, and returned home on roads that were better than they had been.  Porter and our friend Don (who had come for a brief visit and some games, but got more than he'd bargained for) had shovelled the driveway so we could get back in.

The midwife was right:  the rest of the day was quite normal.  It wasn't until—of course—the wee hours of the morning that labor began again in earnest.  And the baby wasn't kidding this time.  Contractions came fast and furious in the car, and Jon made the 40-minute return trip to the birth center in record time.  He's driven the ambulance so many times on those roads that he knows exactly where he must go slowly and where he can gain time.  The roads and visibility were much better than the day before, which was a good thing, because a car birth would have been not only uncomfortable, but also downright dangerous in the sub-zero temperatures and high wind.  It was SO COLD.

Although we all anticipated a birth soon after arrival, once again the baby had his own plans.  But at 5:10 a.m., after a gentle water birth, he rose to the surface and announced his presence with a hearty voice.  Joy had been given the job of determining and announcing whether they had a new sister or a new brother:  "It's a boy!"

After a short rest and recovery period, we once again headed for home, where Porter, Faith, and Jeremiah waited to welcome the new baby.  True to her word, Faith has held him at every possible moment, probably more than anyone other than Heather.  It took a record 48 hours to name him (Noah held the previous record), but with or without name he's been patiently stepping through the newborn routine of eat-sleep-eliminate, repeat.  Mom, baby, and the whole family are doing well, and everyone loves the newest little Daley.

Welcome to our world, and to your very loving family, Nathaniel!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 2:46 pm | Edit
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Far be it from me to minimize the intelligence and contributions of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  My own feelings about him are mixed, as I think he acted irresponsibly and reprehensibly in the Cambridge Incident.  Not his initial reaction—I wouldn't want to place any bets on my own rational behavior after returning from an exhausting overseas trip and finding myself locked out of my house, then being suspected by the police of housebreaking.  But for escalating the affair even after the facts were known.  At least I think that I, upon calmer reflection (and perhaps some much-needed sleep), would have been grateful to have had a neighbor notice that someone was jimmying my door, and police willing to be certain the housebreaker was who he said he was.

That aside, however, I can't deny his accomplishments, nor fail to appreciate his contributions to the genealogical field, especially in making it more popular and accessible to many who otherwise would never have given it a second thought.  For a while we watched his PBS series, Finding Your Roots, though just as with Who Do You Think You Are? and Genealogy Road Show, it got tiresome after a while:  too much hype, too many celebrities, not enough content.  His work is serious, and his passion genuine.

Recently Gates was interviewed in the American Ancestors magazine published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  His passion shows in his answer to the question, Where do you see genealogy in five or ten years?  What do you think is going to happen?

I'm working with a team of geneticists and historians to create a curriculum for middle school and high school kids, to revolutionize how we teach American history and how we teach science using ancestry tracing.  Every child in school would do a family tree.  We think that's the best way—to have their DNA analyzed and learn how that process works in science class.  In American history class, we think that's the best way to personalize American history and the nature of scholarly research.  For a lot of kids, going to the archives, looking at the census is boring.  But if we say, "You're going to learn about yourself, where you come from," what child wouldn't be interested in that?

Really?  Really?  I'm 100% with him on the idea that genealogy makes history personal and for me far more interesting.  I can feel and appreciate his enthusiasm.  But can you imagine parental reaction to this particular permission slip?  This is several orders of magnitude greater than the privacy violations already imposed on families by the schools.  Genetic genealogy is a very young science with innumerable risks and ethical pitfalls.  Even those of us who value the genetic information available aren't necessarily thrilled with the idea of our genetic information being "out there."

Medical fears  Who else can learn that I have a genetic predisposition to cancer, or bipolar disorder?  If I get tested, will I be morally obligated to reveal the results to my family, my doctors, or on an insurance or employment application?  Do I even want to know myself?  If the school learns such a thing about my child, will that affect their treatment of him?  Could they initiate a child abuse claim if we refuse to take whatever steps they recommend based on this knowledge?

Sociological and psychological fears  A child discovering that his father isn't the man he has called Daddy all his life.  A youthful indiscretion revealed by the discovery of an unexpected half-sibling.  Decades-old adulteries brought to light.  We like to hear of the DNA-testing success stories, of Holocaust survivors reunited with family members they thought long dead.  But there's a darker side to the revelations:  as one man wrote, With genetic testing, I gave my parents the gift of divorce. Even if we're certain there are no skeletons in our own closets, or don't care if they're brought to light, can we be so sure about other family members?  Can we speak for their wishes?  What's revealed about our DNA affects other lives; no man is a genealogical island.

Security fears  I have too much respect for hackers and too many misgivings about the NSA to believe any reassurance that the data is secure.  And indeed, much of the information desired by those who have their DNA analyzed is only useful if it is shared.

To be sure, there's a lot of very interesting data that can potentially be mined from DNA testing, and I'm not saying I'll never consent.  It's tempting, to be sure.  But it's not a decision to be entered into lightly, and certainly not one to be imposed on a family by a middle school history teacher.  Even one as enthusiastic and as persuasive as Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 7:42 am | Edit
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And they wonder why some people take doctors' recommendations with a grain of salt.  The same medical establishment that pushes the Back to Sleep campaign and is now spreading panic over measles (though I mostly blame the media for that) has declared our grandchildren to be out of compliance.

The National Sleep Foundation and the panel of experts has come up with new sleep recommendations for various age groups.  To wit:

alt

I'm all for sleep, and agree that most people don't get enough, myself included.  But did you catch the recommendations for babies?  Newborn to three months, 14-17 hours?  Four to eleven months, 12-15 hours?  Porter wonders if the doctors are recommending drugs or the ol' baseball bat trick to enforce those limits.  I'm pretty sure none of our eight-and-counting grandchildren slept that much in a day.  It's possible our own children did, but I was too sleep-deprived at the time to have established reliable memories.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 5, 2015 at 11:37 am | Edit
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Thanks to Katie of Peace on Birth, I bring a simple smile to your day.  This is especially for those dear to us who are expecting their fourth child and live in a two-bedroom apartment, and for those who passed the family-of-six point quite a while ago.  :)  He's a little too hard on fathers, but you can tell he doesn't really mean it, just poking fun at himself to make a point.  I'd never heard of Jim Gaffigan, but that's a name I'll be alert to from now on.  There are some things he gets that few commedians do.  I do wish he'd stop with the singular use of "they," however.  I mean, he's talking about mothers.  I think he could use "she" without excluding anyone.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 9, 2015 at 9:25 am | Edit
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I've been silent too long, so here's a quick bit of common sense from a policeman who wrote to Free-Range Kids about common sense parenting: A Cop Weighs in on When to Call 911.

Being a street cop for 22 years, I have witnessed America’s slide from self-reliance to dependence in incremental steps. The invention of 911 has been a good thing and undoubtedly has saved many lives, prevented crimes, and has aided us in apprehending dangerous people.  It has also revealed an embarrassing lack of critical thinking and common sense among some who call the police for everything.

...

Parents are afraid.  Along with the daily media reminder their kids might die tortuous deaths, they also worry they might end up in jail if they allow their kids to walk to school alone.  All of this can be solved by applying good, old-fashioned common sense and a balanced approach to safety.

The writer also teaches child safety programs.  I haven't more than glanced at his Child Safety Fun blog, but you can check it out here if you're interested.

I teach them that most strangers are great people who are very helpful, but give them a few techniques to bolster their confidence and give their minds a rest knowing they will probably never need their skills, but if they find themselves in a jam, they know what to do.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 8:59 am | Edit
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