Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Mother’s Day Links

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Some interesting links in advance of Mother's Day:

I'm feeling a bit guilty because I'm going away for work this weekend — I agreed to do it months ago, and just realized last week that it would mean I would be away for mother's day.  Whoops. 

In going through my archives looking for a post I wanted to link to, I ran across this one from two years ago, commenting on the number of end of year activities scheduled during the day.  It actually somehow reassures me to remember that this is an ongoing issue, and I'm actually far less stressed out by it than I used to be.

TBR: One Big Happy Family

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

With Mother's Day approaching, I realized that I never posted a book review for One Big Happy Family.  Yes, it's another anthology of essays about families, this one with the twist that all of the families are nontraditional in some way — the subtitle is "18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love."  I'll admit that when they emailed me to ask if I wanted a review copy, my first thought was "Househusbandry makes the cut?  I'm not hopelessly uncool and traditional?"

Anthologies are always somewhat of a mixed bag, and this one — with the members chosen for their breaking the norrm in some way — is probably more of one than most.  Some of the voices were ones I've read before — Dan Savage reports on his son's mommy, and how he copes with her erratic communications, Dawn Friedman writes about Penny, Madison, and open adoption, Amy and Marc Vachon make their usual pitch for Equally Shared Parenting.  Some were new to me.  Overall, I enjoyed most of the essays, although a lot of them were a shade too didactic for my taste.

That said, the one essay that I truly disliked is the one by Neil Pollack, which is the one that I think is supposed to be about "househusbandry."  For one thing, Pollack explicitly says he's not a househusband and his wife isn't a housewife — they both work from home, and neither of them seems to do much housework.  And they both come across as incredibly passive aggressive and annoying.  If Marc and Amy make sharing things down the middle seem impossibly perfect and easy, Pollack makes it seem like chewing broken glass would be far preferable.  I think the last time I read an essay by Pollack that was causing a shitstorm on the blogosphere, the conclusion was that it was supposed to be satire.  I truly hope this essay was satire, although it wasn't funny.  Because if it's just true, it's sad.


Friday, May 1st, 2009

I knew about KaBOOM! as the folks who come in and help people build new playgrounds, but now they're doing something a little different.  They want people to submit info about playspaces in their neighborhoods — descriptions, ratings, and photographs — which they're mashing with Google Maps, so that wherever you are, you can search for a playspace* to visit.

I'm doing this as part of a MomCentral blog tour, but I really do think it's a great idea.  As I've written before, there's a lot that goes into a successful playground, and a lot of the factors that go into it won't ever show up on a city's website.  So being able to tap into real people's experiences can make a big difference.  Some of the parenting bulletin boards capture some of this info, but they're not linked to maps.  Oh, and you can win prizes by entering new playspaces, and Julianne Hough is donating $1 per playspace to JumpStart.  They're trying to get 100,000 sites identified in 100 days.

I'm on the late side posting this because I wanted to include photos of our local playground, but I haven't gotten out with my camera yet.  It's the playground at Mason District Park, and they just redid it this fall.  They've got some great equipment now, including a climbing volcano and drums.  And there's some cute details, like dinosaur "bones" molded into the underside of the playstructure.  And there's a pond nearby where you can see turtles and fish.  The only negative — no coffee.

*"A playspace can be a field, skatepark, horseshoe pit, roller hockey
rink, disc-golf course, playground, lake, dog park, community center,
basketball court or ice rink – any public place where anyone can engage
in unstructured play either for free or for a nominal fee."

I don’t know about the flu, but the hysteria is catching

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

There are only about 100 cases of swine flu confirmed in the US so far, but nearly 300 schools have shut down to prevent its spread.  Fort Worth, Texas has ONE student with the swine flu, but has shut down the entire system for 10 days.  This, in a country where nearly half of workers don't have any paid sick days, and many of those who do have paid sick time aren't allowed to use it to care for a family member.

But, not to worry, Vice President Biden "said he hoped U.S. employers 'will be generous' in
allowing parents to take time off to keep their children home if there has been
a confirmed case of flu at their school.”

“Fort Worth officials urged parents not to send their children to day care
or 'any venue where groups of children may gather' and pleaded with
the employers and the general population to make it possible for parents to
accommodate this request.

"This is indeed an example of how the community can rally to support
the health and well-being of students, their families and the District,"
schools superintendent Melody Johnson told reporters.”

I can write a report or take a conference call from home, but you can't cook and serve a restaurant meal, clean a hotel room, or care for a sick patient from home.  So what's going to happen?  Some parents will bring their kids to work.  Older kids may be left at home alone unsupervised.  Some parents will stay home, lose wages, and maybe not be able to afford to get their prescription filled this month, or will fall a little further behind on the electric bill.  But no one will point fingers at Ms. Johnson when a 12 year old left home alone sets a piece of toast on fire.

N has had a nasty cough the last few days, but no fever.  I'm 99.9 percent sure that it's allergies, but we've kept him home anyway, because there's not much downside to him missing a couple of days of preschool.  But there are real costs to closing schools, and I think it's hysterical overreaction to do so without any evidence that this is worse than an ordinary flu.

Harry Potter

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

I've been reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to N as his bedtime story for the past several weeks, with D usually coming in to listen as well.  (I read it to him when he was about N's age.)  We finished it over the weekend, and tonight N asked if I'd start another chapter book.

I said, sure, how about Harry Potter?  This was a devious move on my part, because I tried reading it to D last year, and during the letter delivery sequence, he decided it was too scary and refused to go any further.  But N is much less freaked out by "scary" books and movies (remember, he's the one who came to see Coraline, even though he's almost 3 years younger than D), and he said ok, mostly because he could see that it was a big fat book that would get him my attention for a long time.

So I read the first half chapter to both boys, and then D asked if I'd read the rest of the chapter as his bedtime story.  Gee, I guess you can twist my arm.  So we finished the first chapter, and then D asked if he could keep going on his own.  I said yes, overruling N's pout, and D made it to Diagon Alley before I made him turn out the light.

I'm feeling pleased as punch, both because I think he'll enjoy it, and also because D has been resistant to reading chapter books on his own, in spite of the fact that he's quite capable of doing so.  He reads lots of manga, and has read some of the kids' novelizations set in the star wars universe, but that's about it.  And while I'm willing to concede that Harry Potter isn't great literature, it's a heck of a lot better than those star wars novels. 

Fundamentally, I think I've been feeling a bit left out of D's interests.  I'm not fascinated by Pokemon, and I can't fake it.  I'm not a big fan of manga.  I'm really bad at Lego Star Wars.  So I'm excited to have him interested in something that I like too.


Monday, March 16th, 2009

I noticed this week that I seem to have arrived at a new parenting stage, one where the emotional work of parenting is often harder than the physical.  My boys can dress themselves (most of the time), use the bathroom without assistance (most of the time), get themselves a glass of water.  D can entertain himself for hours between reading and playing with his DS.  N isn't quite so self-maintaining, but on a weekend morning, the boys generally can play together for a good hour before the arguing gets loud enough that we can't pretend not to notice any more.

But the emotional work is challenging.  N gave me huge hugs and kisses before I went away on a 36 hour trip for work, but then ignored me on my return.  D says "sorry" for hurting his brother without thinking or meaning it, but bursts into tears when we press him.  Both of them are constantly complaining about headaches or stomachaches, but it doesn't seem to stop them from running around like lunatics.

still buzzing

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

OK, I know you're all probably getting sick of my obsessing over the inauguration, but indulge me for one more post.  I'll get back to being my usual jaded wonky self soon enough, I promise.

I loved these pictures of Obama's first day on the job.  It still hardly seems real that he's actually the president.  So it's amazing to see him in the Oval Office, getting down to business.

At work, everyone was trading their inauguration stories.  It sounded like the people who just wandered down to the Mall and found spots near the Washington Monument generally had a better experience than many of the people who had tickets, who spent a lot of time on lines to get through security (and some of whom didn't make it in at all).

I really enjoyed reading about the experiences of these kids from Chicago who were selected for a trip to DC at Share My Inauguration.*  They clearly appreciated the historic moment, but also had a definite kids' perspective on the whole experience.

As I said yesterday, I had a better time at the inauguration for not being responsible for keeping D safe and happy.  I think he probably showed good judgment in turning down my invitation to come with me.  But I'm also a little sad that I don't think he appreciates quite how momentous a day it was.  He's learned about segregation and Martin Luther King, Jr. in school, but it's a pretty abstract concept to him.  And there's something lovely about that innocence too.  But I wonder if 8 years from now, he's going to be pissed that I didn't schlepp him down to the Mall so he could claim bragging rights.

One of the things that was interesting about the inauguration is that everyone there was consciously aware that it was a Historical Moment.  I wonder if the people who attended the March on Washington knew right away that it would be Important.  I'm pretty sure that most of the people who attended Woodstock (the other comparison I heard a lot) didn't know that it was an Event until after the fact.

* Full disclosure: I was asked to plug this site as part of MomCentral blog tour, but I'm happy to do so.  They seem to be great kids, and I'm glad that they got the opportunity to be here.

TBR: Whatever It Takes

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

On the plane last week, I finally had the chance to read Paul Tough's Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America.  Tough is a reporter for the NY Times Magazine, and this is his expanded coverage of the Harlem Children's Zone, which he's reported on over the years.  Obama has said he wants to create 20 Promise Neighborhoods, modeled after the HCZ, so I thought it was important to read the book.

HCZ is an attempt to change the odds for kids in a poor neighborhood by providing an extensive range of services, everything from parenting classes to preschool to charter schools to summer programs.  What makes it different from most other attempts is:

  • it tries to cover kids from birth through college, on the assumption that no program lasting just a few years is going to keep kids on the right track in the face of overwhelming obstacles.  This is in many ways an implicit rebuke to the extravagant claims sometimes made for  Head Start or  home visiting  programs.
  • it tries to reach enough kids — ideally it would be at a scale to reach every kid in the target neighborhood — to change the culture of the neighborhood for the better.  Canada explicitly argues that the well regarded KIPP charter schools encourage students to separate themselves from the community as a whole

Tough doesn't hide that he's a believer in the HCZ approach.  In general, the book is overwhelmingly positive about Canada and the HCZ, although a long section is devoted to the struggles at the charter middle school they operate, and the choice to give up on the first class of students after two years of disappointing results. 

I think HCZ is a fascinating experiment, but Whatever It Takes isn't quite a fascinating book.  It's a solid book, well-reported, with a decent popular summary of the academic literature behind the theory.  But, fundamentally, the story of HCZ is really only in its first chapter, with no one knowing how it will turn out.  Geoffrey Canada's personal story is quite intriguing, but Canada himself has already written that book.

If you like to listen to the radio, I might suggest the coverage of this book on This American Life or Talk of the Nation instead.

TBR: Mother on Fire

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

This week’s book is Mother on Fire: A True Motherf#%&ing Story about Parenting, by Sandra Tsing Loh.  I had high hopes for this book, as I generally enjoy Loh’s essays in The Atlantic, in particular those about how she sent her kids to public school in Los Angeles and the world didn’t collapse. 

Unfortunately, Loh’s decision to send her kids to public school is the conclusion of this book, not the beginning.  Most of the book is an extended meditation on how terribly unfair it is that two artists don’t earn enough to send their kids to fancy private schools.   I can’t say I’m terribly sympathetic.

The book is based on her one-woman show, and it does have some funny moments.  My favorite was her discussion of how she suddenly became famous when she was fired from public radio for cursing on the air.  But it’s not a good sign when, of the four humorous quotes on the back of the jacket, three of them show up in the first chapter.  And making fun of the pretentiousness of ultra-expensive liberal private schools is shooting fish in a barrel. 

Talmudic wisdom

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

The background for this story is that we went to Simchat Torah services tonight. Since it’s a weeknight and lots of people were coming straight from work, the congregation ordered pizza and we had dinner before services.  And while we were getting ready, the half dozen or so kids in attendance were chasing each other around in circles.

One of the members of the congregation gave me this learning as a gift.  R said that he had been studying a section of talmud with a partner, and that they had worked through a long section about what you should do if you’re praying, and need to use the bathroom.  In particular, the rabbis addressed the question of if you’re wearing tefillin and you need to use the latrine, what should you do with the tefillin.  If you wear them into the latrine, it seems disrespectful, but what if you leave them outside and they’re lost?  The rabbis concluded that it was better to somewhat disrespect the teffilin than risk that they be lost.

So, R said, he and his partner were trying to figure out what lesson they could take from this section of talmud.  And they concluded that maybe the children of the congregation were like the tefillin.  Better that the purity of the ritual be somewhat compromised, than risk that they be lost from the community…