I didn't stay up till after 11 to hear the story, but I caught the teaser on the local evening news:
Children are getting hurt because their parents are texting at the playground instead of keeping their eyes on the kids.
At the playground.
Told in a shocked voice calculated to make you think of texting while a child swings as the latest form of heinous child endangerment.
I'm no fan of constant texting, but I doubt it's more distracting than what I did at the playground when our kids were young (preschool and early elementary age). We'd walk together to the playground, they'd run off to explore all the cool equipment—including a merry-go-round and a tall, twisty slide, now gone for safety (read, "lawsuit") reasons—and I'd settle down on a bench with a book. Trust me, the kids were a lot safer with my eyes glued to the page than with me watching. You see, they were (and still are) the more adventuresome type. Merely using the swings for their intended purpose was much too dull: they preferred to shinny up the support posts, sit on the top bar and inch their way across, then slide down the support posts on the other side. If a piece of equipment had a top, or an outside, or some other place not part of the designer's plan for children to be—that's where they were sure to climb.
They were (and are) good kids; if I'd asked them not to go there, they would have complied. But I figured, why not let them explore? Who says playground equipment must be used in only one way? (Who says we must color between the lines, and all our trees be green and our skies blue?) How do you learn physical competence except by stretching your boundaries?
The purpose of the book was to distract me. Of course I took peeks at the kids now and then—mostly to revel in their competence and delight—but the book helped me to keep my fears in check and not communicate them to the happy explorers. That was very important: I knew even then that children are actually safer when adults aren't watching too closely. On their own they are very intelligent when it comes to knowing which risks they can handle and which they can't. (In the presence of other children, not so much, but that's more a reason to know your children's friends than to keep them in sight at all times.)
"Don't do that; it's not safe!" "Watch out, you're going to fall!" "Get down from there before you break your neck!" Such talk makes some kids so fearful they lose their grips and their common sense, and actually do fall. Other kids feel the need to prove their "manhood"—girls, too—and are driven to take foolish risks to show off. Moreover, children who are accustomed to a tight leash can fail to develop a normal sense of risk: "If I were doing anything dangerous, Mom would be yelling at me, so I'll just go on until she makes me stop."
We made it through our playground days with no broken bones. Bruises, yes. Scrapes, certainly. How do you know you've had fun if you come out of an adventure with no battle scars?
But back to the news story. While one of the anchors was building up the story with full drama and horror, another interjected, "But when we were young, our parents didn't watch our every move, and we survived." I was encouraged that she had the wisdom and the courage to say so.
How did the world get so crazy when I wasn't looking?
Mea culpa! It's been nearly a year since my post about Stephan's Dots book (numbers in four languages), and I never did update it with Joseph's response. It was an immediate hit, and is still one of Joseph's very favorite books.
Here are a few videos showing Joseph and the book in action:
The book has proved very durable under heavy use, and if the $70 cost seems extravagant, I'd say Joseph has definitely gotten his parents' money's worth already.
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Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space by Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker (Rodale, 2005)
Prepare NOW; don't let the headache of dealing with your estate be your children's last, vivid, and painful memory of their parents.
A good friend has recently been embroiled in our generation's nightmare: moving her widowed mother out of her house-of-many-years and into assisted living, then having to clear out the house and sell it. (Thank you, Dad, for having made the process as easy as it gets, and to all my siblings for staying friends and even having some fun through it all.) Scaling Down is one of two books she recommended; it was available in our library, so I decided to check it out.
I wasn't expecting much, having already dealt with that heart- and headache. And if you're like me, you'll almost give up in the first chapter, where you're asked to write a "mission statement." But hang in there; the book's about a lot more than selling the old homestead, and you can easily ignore the annoying bits. Anyone who is merging two households, moving into a smaller space—or moving, period—fending off sibling rivalry over Grandpa's Kitchenaid mixer, or simply feeling overwhelmed by "stuff," can benefit from the book's suggestions.
One thing that differentiates Scaling Down from other decluttering books is the authors' sympathy for the emotional complications attached to our belongings. Although they are very practical and sometimes in my judgement a little too harsh in their methods, they do provide some helpful ideas for keeping the feeling and/or memory without keeping everything. Collectors, for example, are not asked to give up their collections, but to be wiser in their collecting: financing quality by selling off quantity.
The chapter headings:
- How Did We Get Here?
- I Need to Do This But...
- But Aunt Winnie Gave It to Me!
- Collaring the Paper Tiger
- The Tyranny of Collections
- The Secret Live of Clothing
- Clearing Out Your Family Home
- Your Cuisinart or Mine?
- Moving in a Hurry
- The Saga of the Rain Bonnets
- Finding Good Homes [for your stuff]
- "This is Your Life!"
- Shop Till You Drop ... Out
- How to Keep from Cluttering Your New Place
- Starting a New Adventure
- Using Your Space for You
Did you catch "How to Keep from Cluttering Your New Place"? I know from painful experience that without the exercise of an iron will, bigger refrigerators, bigger closets, and bigger homes all soon become just as crowded as the smaller counterparts they replaced.
Another surprising, but potentially life-changing idea is expressed by the last chapter: Using your space for you. Actually, it's a major theme throughout the book: You stuff, from clothes to cupboards to collectibles, should be what pleases you, what makes you feel comfortable and happy, what works for the vision you have of what your home should be. Quantity rarely provides that, but we keep buying things for all the wrong reasons, having never taken the time and effort to discover what we really like. I suppose that seems obvious, but there are a lot of things I keep for no reason other than that I have them, and they work. We still have the kitchen wallpaper that was there when we moved in, even though I'd never have chosen it out of a wallpaper book. I don't think that's all bad—and I still dread the idea of even looking through a wallpaper book, let alone tearing up my kitchen—but the authors do have a point. And I do like their answer to this objection:
"I don't want to make any changes that would hurt my home's resale value."
This statement strikes us as sad. It is similar to someone buying a new car, then saying, "I'm only going to drive it when my other car is in the shop, because I want to keep the mileage low for the trade-in." That attitude makes you the caretaker of the property, keeping it nice for some future owner, instead of behaving like it's yours. If you've always dreamed of a vaulted-ceiling library, and your garage is the perfect place to create one, why not do so? You'll have years of pleasure, and if you or your heirs get a little less because it's too nice to park a car in, your satisfaction is worth the difference. Most of the time individualizing a space actually adds to the selling price. But even if it doesn't, don't sell yourself short.
I won't be buying the book, at least not yet. But I'll keep it in the back of my mind, and might get it out again when I need to be re-inspired. Not only is an organized, uncluttered home one of the best legacies we can leave our heirs, it also makes life a lot nicer in the meantime.
I may have missed it. After all, I didn't watch much of the Olympics. But what I did see was disturbing, and fits a disturbing pattern in the world today.
Who did the athletes often thank in their interviews? Their mothers. Who did one commercial sponsor feature frequently and prominently? The moms.
Not that it's wrong to remember the encouragement and inspiration given the athletes by their mothers. It's impossible to go over the top in honoring the maternal efforts and sacrifices made for the next generation.
But what about fathers?
We've gone from Father Knows Best to Father Knows Nothing. And that's disturbing for two reasons.
- It's wrong. It's untrue. Was your dad the foolish, bumbling, absent, or abusive father portrayed in sitcoms and on the news? Does your husband deserve to be the inexhaustible staple of comedic routines? We're allowing a few bad examples to distract us from the overwhelming evidence that today's fathers are engaged, supportive, and wise leaders in their children's lives, on an almost unprecedented level. If their involvement is not exactly the same as a mother's, that is as it should be: children thrive best under the different kinds of wisdom and nurturing that come from the male and the female perspectives.
- It's foolish. Even if there are some legitimate concerns about the state of fatherhood, repeatedly telling someone how bad he is will more likely have bad effects than good. Fatherhood is difficult, sacrificial work; if a man's efforts are repeatedly met with denigration and derision, how long can a human be expected to persevere before giving himself up for lost?
Without taking anything away from the heroic efforts of mothers, let's not forget to give fathers their due. They deserve much better than they are receiving at our hands. Our children deserve better, also: They need to be able to look up to their dads, and they need dads they can look up to. Neither goal is served by belittling half of their parentage.
This is happening to a friend of a friend. Really. This is not an urban legend. :) f you don't believe me, you can watch the press conference video below. But if it weren't for Facebook, I would probably not have discovered the connection.
Gavin and Carrie Jones, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, normally live in Papua New Guinea. They came back to the U.S. so Gavin, a helicopter pilot, could upgrade his skills, and were given a gift that will extend their furlough a bit longer than planned: Carrie just delivered (via a carefully planned and orchestrated c-section) five tiny babies, three boys and two girls. Unlike others we've known in similarly difficult circumstances, they've chosen not to keep their story private. As Gavin said, the more people who are praying for their babies, the better.
If you'd like, you can follow their story, and the progress of little Will, David, Marcie, Seth, and Grace on their blog. I'm getting e-mail updates from my friend, and Facebook updates as well, but I still go to the blog for the full story. I'm a sucker for babies....
The press conference is 35 minutes long, but neat to see. I am so impressed by how poised and articulate the parents are, especially Carrie, who is dealing with five desperately needy babies and raging post-pregnancy hormones. Even Isaac does well, though you can tell he's a bit shell-shocked.
Skip this post if you are tired of reading about our fabulous grandchildren. :)
I was talking with Janet the other day, and as I usually do, I asked what new cute things our grandkids were doing.
"Well," she replied, "Joseph counted nearly to 50."
This puzzled me, as numbers are his passion and a month ago he had happily counted past 150 for me.
Then she added, "in Japanese."
Edy's Double Fudge Brownie Ice Cream, Butterfingers, and their Swiss pedigree notwithstanding, Nestlé is not my favorite company. They drain Florida's aquifer and sell our water out of state, while we suffer water restrictions and salt-water intrusion problems. (Not that they're the only ones.) They aggressively promote their infant formula in impoverished countries, where babies especially need the benefits of breast milk, and where improperly-prepared formula can be deadly. They market sugar and chocolate to toddlers:
(I found this on the grocery shelves on a visit to Switzerland. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see it is intended for children ages one to three.)
I guess if they're criticized for selling baby formula to the poor, we shouldn't complain if they turn their marketing skills toward the rich. Still, Nestlé's attempt to bring their fabulously successful and oh-so-trendy capsule coffee system to the baby bottle set strikes me as over the top. As my Swiss informant explained: Capsule coffee machines are all the rage here and if you have a Nestlé machine you're in the top of coolness. Now you can get one for your baby, only it serves formula not coffee.
Yes! It's safe, it's foolproof, it's BabyNes!
BabyNes is the world’s first comprehensive nutrition system for infants and toddlers, and is based on Nestlé’s latest scientific achievements in baby nutrition and systems technology. With BabyNes, Nestlé builds on its unmatched expertise in baby nutrition gained over 145 years since the invention of Farine Lactée by Henri Nestlé.
Ahem. The world's first comprehensive nutrition system for infants and toddlers is actually as old as mammals....
BabyNes offers single-serve formulas for infants and young children up to the age of three years. The composition of the six consecutive formulas meets the evolving nutritional needs in the first three years of life: four formulas in the first year, and one formula for each of the following two years. The customised composition of these products is tailored to suit the growth pattern in early life and the baby’s changing nutritional needs, while taking into account the steady introduction of solid food into the infant’s diet.
The single-serve portions are sealed in capsules, used in the proprietary BabyNes machine, which recognises each capsule and prepares the bottle with precisely the right dosage and temperature, at the push of a button, in less than one minute. The BabyNes machine combines state-of-the-art technology with the utmost safety and convenience, and ensures a hygienic, quick and easy bottle preparation.
Best of all, it's supercool! (Even cooler because the demonstration is in French.)
Until June of 2010, homeschooling was legal in Sweden, albeit within some onerous regulations. But with the passage of a comprehensive revision of the education system, the right of parents to direct the education of their own children has been virtually abolished, in apparent violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 1, Article 2:
No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.
If you want to become depressed learn more, there are many stories, often heart-wrenching, at the Home School Legal Defense Association site. (I may have some quarrels with the HSLDA's approach, left over from the early days of homeschooling, but that doesn't negate their importance as a source of homeschooling advocacy and information.)
As part of an effort to raise awareness of their plight, Swedish homeschoolers are staging a Walk to Freedom from Askö, Sweden to the Finnish island of Åland, to which many Swedish homeschooling refugee families have fled. (No, they're not walking on water, but plan to secure the help of a ferry for the last leg.) Their adventure begins tomorrow.
I'm not sure what to think of the latest buzz that sitting for more than three hours a day takes two years off your life, particularly such statements as, "Sitting, it turns out, can shorten life expectancy almost as much as smoking can." As with many such generalized studies, I think it's making its splash long before there has been sufficient time for analysis and confirmation or contradiction. Be that as it may, it's clear enough that the human body is more designed for movement than for sitting on our hind ends for extended periods.
The articles I've read about this new study recommend that we watch less television, cut down our computer time, and walk to a colleague's office rather than sending an e-mail. Only the first is at all practical for those whose work involves the computer, and whose colleagues may be half a world away. Our hope, I assume, lies in taking frequent breaks to get up and move around, although the value of such behavior may be hard to sell to an employer who is more worried about productivity than longevity.
But as long as they're considering impracticalities, I'm puzzled by the obvious omission in the articles: Not one has addressed the long hours our children spend sitting in school, with less freedom of motion than an office worker with a swivel chair and the ability to walk at will to the bathroom. When was the last time you heard a serious suggestion to keep school time to under three hours? (Besides here, of course.)
Worse still, consider what we do to our children before school: The hours tightly bound in car seats, or confined in other devices, aka baby shackles. Little time spent on their tummies learning to become mobile. Day care and early school where mobility is discouraged in the name of education or just plain crowd control.
No wonder we don't care to get off our duffs.
I have so many things to write about, but am feeling a time crunch at the moment. Just so you know I haven't forgotten you altogether, you get someone else's comments on homeschooling, in the form of a First Things article by Sally Thomas. (H/T Conversion Diary). Warning: it may be a little intimidating if you happen to be feeling a bit insecure about your own homeschooling days. But it's worth reading for the inspiration.
In recent years, as homeschooling has moved closer to the mainstream, much has been said about the successes of homeschooled children, especially regarding their statistically superior performance on standardized tests and the attractiveness of their transcripts and portfolios to college-admissions boards. Less, I think, has been said about how and why these successes happen. The fact is that homeschooling is an efficient way to teach and learn. It's time-effective, in that a homeschooled child, working independently or one-on-one with a parent or an older sibling, can get through more work or master a concept more quickly than a child who's one of twenty-five in a classroom.
To my mind, however, homeschooling's greatest efficiency lies in its capacity for a rightly ordered life. A child in school almost inevitably has a separate existence, a “school life,” that too easily weakens parental authority and values and that also encourages an artificial boundary between learning and everything else. Children come home exhausted from a day at school—and for a child with working parents, that day can be twelve hours long—and the last thing they want is to pick up a book or have a conversation. Television and video games demand relatively little, and they seem a blessed departure from what the children have been doing all day.
At home we can do what's nearly impossible in a school setting: We can weave learning into the fabric of our family life, so that the lines between “learning” and “everything else” have largely ceased to exist. The older children do a daily schedule of what I call sit-down work: math lessons, English and foreign-language exercises, and readings for history and science. The nine-year-old does roughly two hours of sit-down work a day, while the twelve-year-old spends three to four hours. But those hours hardly constitute the sum total of their education.
[W]hat looks like not that much on the daily surface of things proves in the living to be something greater than the schedule on the page suggests, a life in which English and math and science and history, contemplation and discussion and action, faith and learning, are not compartmentalized entities but elements in an integrated whole.
Until Janet wrote a post that tops everything, this celebration of mothers from Lenore Skenazy was my favorite Mother's Day article. It's still great. I present some excerpts, with love, for all of my favorite mothers.
Time out from America’s favorite spectator sport: Mommy bashing. Mommies who “ignore” their kids. Mommies who “smother” their kids. Mommies who do what mommies have done since the beginning of time—their gosh-darn best. And yet, according to some onlooker somewhere (often one with air time to fill), that’s just not good enough.
We worry that one false move—a harsh word, a broken promise, perhaps a non-Paul Newman sandwich cookie—could cause a lifetime of pain. This worry is reinforced by a tsunami of parenting “resources” telling moms how to do everything just right: the right books, words, classes. I’ve seen whole articles on which sand toys to buy. The corollary is blame: If moms don’t do all those things (and spend all that time and waste all that money), their kids will be losers. And it’s all their fault.
That message is why mothers are getting the short end of the rattle. It’s a message that says there’s some secret recipe for raising great kids and anyone not following the recipe is doing it WRONG.
But you know what? Most moms, whether working or not, breastfeeding or not, are doing a great job. They hug their children. They kiss the boo-boo, they get the kids fed. And if it’s a Hot Pocket instead of broccoli rabe…so what?
There ISN’T a secret recipe for childrearing, there’s only the basic ingredient: Love. Most moms have it in spades. It’s who they are. So don’t keep telling them what they’re doing wrong.
Thank them for getting the biggest thing right.
It was almost an idyllic scene: Three adults, eight children—four boys, four girls, ages 9, 8, 7, 5, 3, 3, 14 months, and 6 months—and one playground all to ourselves.
Well, almost all to ourselves. As the children happily ran back and forth across the grounds, it was more than a little annoying to remind them to watch out for the maintenance cart that came back again and again to ... to what?
The first time, the driver was apparently cleaning up branches from a recent storm, though he spent most of his time making worried comments about the exuberantly-climbing 14-month-old and glaring at the three adults who clearly weren't doing their duty in keeping her off the dangerous equipment. "There's an open space up there she could fall through, you know!" Yep, she could have fallen, I suppose, but she's part monkey, part mountain goat, and part bulldozer, so none of us saw any reason to spoil her fun. "Open space" or not, this playground is as safe as it can get without being of no use at all. Since the days when our children played there, we've lost the merry-go-round, the high, curly slide, and a lot of climbing equipment that was far more interesting ("dangerous") than that which replaced it.
The boys had ridden their scooters into the park, and dropped them right on the sidewalk as they ran off to play on the equipment. We'd left the scooters where they lay, because no one else was in the park to be bothered by them. When the maintenance cart came by, I quickly moved them out of his way. "Do you know whose scooters those are?" "Yes; they're ours." "Riding scooters in the park is forbidden." "Okay, I'll let the kids know." We meekly obeyed, though I can't imagine why he found it necessary to enforce the rule. Did I mention we were the only ones in the park?
Finally, the man drove away. But like the famous cat, he kept coming back. Driving slowly through the park, peering suspiciously at the children's antics, then leaving, only to repeat the process a few minutes later. In other circumstances I would have been tempted to call the police! But I'm sure he only meant well, and just wanted to be available when one of the frolicking youngsters suffered an injury, since the adults were clearly irresponsible, chatting away among themselves while the children chased each other up and down and all around.
Everyone had a wonderful time—except possibly the maintenance man, and who knows? maybe he was satisfied in a perverse sort of way for having prevented a scraped-knee scooter injury. But the experience did leave me slightly disturbed.
Reading the Free-Range Kids blog, I've heard plenty of stories of how schools, governments, playgrounds, social service agencies, and other institutions have joined "helicopter" parents in a culture of fear that deprives today's children of the opportunities they need to develop into strong, competent, independent adults. But this was my first personal experience with the phenomenon, and it was somewhat of a shock.
Celebrating a Simple Life has a perceptive post this morning. Ostensibly, it's about giving meaningful praise to children's artwork, but I say her wisdom has a much wider application, for chldren and adults in all areas of life. Read the whole thing; it's worthwhile, it's short, and it shows a great picture painted by her son.
When you give meaningless praise, your kid comes to expect it for every not-so-impressive act they perform. It's exhausting to the parent, becomes meaningless to the child, and sets up a bad habit of being forced to praise mediocrity, with your child knowing full well that the praise is hollow.
When you describe what you see, you are telling the child your work is worth examining more closely. You are encouraging language development through your description. You are teaching your child to have a critical eye for their own work. And then when you do offer praise, your kid knows they deserved it.
(Apologies, to those who care, for publishing the awkward gender-neutral but grammar-offensive language. The content is worth getting past that.)
I'm convinced that non-specific praise in any area, for child or adult, usually does more harm than good. It means we're not taking them or their work seriously. It means we're too lazy (tired, busy, etc.) to do our own job right. And it sets up children, especially, for failure in the long run: when praise is unrelated to the quality of the work, how can they improve? When a five-second scribble receives the same fulsome admiration as a 30-minute effort, how do they learn that persistence and hard work make a difference?
That's not to say that it isn't important to convey to our children (and others) that we love them because of who they are, not because of what they do. I'm not advocating conditional love. But when commenting on work done, specific and meaningful praise is what both feeds the heart and encourages more and better efforts.
I haven't read the book myself, but was thrilled to find this review of The Truth about Tummy Time: A Parent's Guide to SIDS, the Back to Sleep Program, Car Seats and More by pediatric physical therapist Stephanie J. Pruitt. It's about time someone from the medical profession admitted that Back to Sleep has led to a significant rise in physical problems and developmental delays in our children.
What I find especially interesting is that Back to Sleep is only part of the problem. See this article, Shackles for Babies, particularly the comments that follow from another pediatric physical therapist. Babies are being left on their backs during the day as well as at night, despite the known value of "tummy time." What's much worse, many are kept for hours on end in baby entertainment devices and rigid baby carriers that keep them in unnatural positions and do far more damage than leaving them on their backs, but free to move. Scary.
Even the strictest adherents of Back to Sleep can make a point of giving their babies freedom to move the rest of the hours of the day.
The Stories of Emmy: A Girl Like Heidi by Doris Smith Naundorf (Xulon Press, 2010)
Doris Smith Naundorf is known in upstate New York as The Story Lady. The Stories of Emmy are taken from her one-woman play, Interweaving the Generations. Emmy, Doris's mother, grew up partly in her Swiss village of Muttenz, and partly in Paterson, New Jersey, where her family moved when she was ten years old. Her stories give a delightful glimpse into Swiss, American, and immigrant life in the early 1900's. (Grandchild warning: There is one sad incident requiring parental discretion; the stories are meant to be appropriate for chidren, but reality is sometimes harsh.)
Muttenz is near Basel (four minutes by train, a century later), and the stories are sprinkled with Baseldeutsch, the delightful Swiss-German dialect spoken there. A glossary is provided for each chapter.
Driving the several blocks to the train station, Emmy excitedly chattered to her father. "Will we get there in time, Vatti? she asked. "Mutti says we must be there early, so we will not miss the train."
"Jo, jo," replied her father. "In a country that makes such fine watches and clocks, of course the Zúúg runs on time. It is up to the passengers to be there early so the conductors can keep their schedule."
"The Zúúg, the train, is never late?"
"Of course not! We Swiss cannot even imagine such a thing!" her father assured Emmy.
I couldn't resist finding Emmy, age 20, and her family in the 1920 census. (Click on the image to view a version large enough to read. Their name, Lüscher, appears without its umlaut.)