Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category


Monday, September 1st, 2008

In response to my initial post about Palin, Beth posted a comment questioning her judgment as the mother of a child with Down syndrome choosing to take on the responsibilities of being VP.  I wasn’t particularly swayed by that argument — for one thing, I suspect that the day-to-day responsibilites of being VP are probably less than those of being Governor of Alaska.  Not to mention that with the employment opportunities for oil field workers being somewhat limited in the greater DC area, her husband would probably wind being available for parenting duties more or less full time.  (I’ve heard some people say he’s already doing the SAHD thing now, on leave from his other jobs, but haven’t read anything authoritative.)  I did wonder a little about the time/travel involved with campaigning, but was planning on ending with a somewhat smug comment about basically trusting people to make good decisions about their families.

I’m feeling less smug and more judgmental today.  Not because Palin’s teenage daughter is pregnant, but because, knowing that her daughter was pregnant, she accepted the VP nomination, and the media frenzy that goes with it.  And that seems like a pretty crappy thing to do to a teenager who is already in a stressful situation.

Does that change my vote?  Not in the least — I was never going to vote for McCain.  But it does make me think somewhat less of Palin as a person.  And it makes me eat a little crow about my claim not to judge other people’s parenting.

tough questions

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

I was working in the kitchen and listening to the convention coverage on the radio, but when it  was time for Clinton’s speech, I went to watch it on TV.  D popped out of his room (I had put him to bed an hour earlier) and asked if he could watch it with me.  I had already promised he could stay up tomorrow to watch Obama’s speech, and he doesn’t need to be up early tomorrow morning, so I said ok.

So we sat down to watch and after a few minutes the questions start:

  • Where are the soldiers again?
  • Why did you say that "we’re in Iraq"? (I meant the U.S.; he interpreted it as him and me.)
  • Is Iraq in America?
  • Why are American soldiers in Iraq? [I try to answer in a way that gives my opinion, but acknowledges that there’s disagreement about this.]
  • Why can’t we just leave?
  • Someone said that the reason we can’t leave is that they might follow us.  Daddy said that our army is too strong and they can’t do that.  Is that right? [I say yes, our army is the strongest in the world.  But then I try to explain about terrorism, and September 11…  He’s seen The Sphere and knew that buildings fell down, but I believe this is the first time he’s understood that it was intentional.]
  • Did the people who flew the airplanes die as well?
  • Good.  I think they deserved to die.  Do you think so?
  • [Looking at the cat…]  How do they move their tails?
  • But where do the tails come from?
  • What’s "evolve"?
  • Do you know about the birds that sit on top of sand iguanas?
  • [I unpause the TiVo and try to watch some more of the speech.]
  • Why do the parents have to die so their children can be ok?  [I explain that "starve" doesn’t really mean that the parents died.]
  • Why do needs have to depend on money?

Back in town

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Back from vacation.  Had a good time, but could use a vacation from my vacation.  For a week, I was on my own with the kids.  The program I was at had children’s activities during the day, and evening babysitting, but that still left me with maybe 6 hours a day with the boys. 

The main issue is that there were a lot of kids who were a few years older than D, whose parents gave them a lot more freedom than I was willing to give D, so he was testing the limits every few minutes.  And whenever I let him do something, N wanted to do it as well, so if D wasn’t arguing with me, N was.  And neither of them quite got the concept that I’d want to have a conversation with other adults over meals.

D also desperately wanted to play with the older kids, especially when they broke out pokemon cards and a portable game machine, but mostly they saw him as a "little kid" and weren’t interested.  It did help a little when I borrowed Munchkin Fu from someone who was attending, and he was able to demonstrate his ability to play complicated games.

It made me realize that D has a lot more experience playing with younger kids than with older ones.  I had D when I was 29, so few of my friends have older children, and mothers groups tend to attract parents of younger children more than school-age kids.

All you can eat

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Last weekend, I took the boys to the big Air and Space Museum annex, out by Dulles.  Like all the Smithsonian museums, admission is free, but they charge $12 for parking.  After some agonizing, I signed up for an annual parking permit.  I’m something of a sucker for unlimited admission passes — we also got season passes for Six Flags.  I’m not sure they always make economic sense, but I’m a more relaxed and happier parent when I know that we can leave as soon as the boys start to fade, without having to endure the "death march of fun" in order to wring out the most value from our admission.  Economic logic says that once you’ve paid the admission it’s a sunk cost, and thus the price of admission shouldn’t affect how long you choose to stay, but I don’t know anyone who actually behaves that way.  (I’m also pretty sure that we’re still not mentally accounting for the price of gas when when we decide to go to the museum because it’s "free.")

The Six Flags passes are an interesting case, because they cost barely more than a single admission.  As far as I can tell, they’re a loss leader to get you to buy food and rent lockers at the park.

The Maternal is Political

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Today’s book review is part of a MotherTalk tour.  That means I got a free copy of the book and an Amazon gift certificate to review the book.  But, given the topic, I’m confident that I would have reviewed the book in any case.

The Maternal is Political, edited by Shari MacDonald Strong, is a collection of essays by women writers about "the intersection of motherhood and social change."  Some of the authors are famous, either as politicians (Nancy Pelosi, Benazir Bhutto), activists (Cindy Sheehan), or writers (Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen), but most of them are by women you’ve never heard of, talking about how their motherhood has affected their political activity.  In most cases, the essays are about how mothering has inspired them to take action, but some of them are about the struggles to balance the demands on their time from their families and their activism (the essay by Valerie Weaver-Zercher about "Peace March Sans Children" made me grin in recognition).

One of the things I liked about the book was the wide range of issues covered,  Several of the essays are about opposing war as a mother’s issue, but others touch on abortion, homeschooling, public schooling, religious freedom, disability, environmentalism, sexual harassment, adoption and more. Of course, I have some quibbles about the topics that are missing… I find it hard to believe that there’s not one about health care (Flea could have done a great job with that one) and in general, I think economic justice issues were under-represented.  (And yes, I should have submitted an essay… I can’t find it now, but I’m pretty sure I posted the call for submissions here when it came out.)

In spite of that long list of issues, the voices were different enough that the book never felt like a litany of complaints.  Anna Quindlen’s piece on being pregnant in New York made me laugh, and two essays made me cry — Cindy Sheehan’s anguished farewell to activism to "try to regain some of what I have lost… before it [the system] totally consumes me or any more people that I love" and Kathy Briccetti’s joyful account of her family’s second-parent adoption.

I also liked the recognition that there are many ways to be political.  A few of the writers were elected officials, and some engaged in politics by writing letters to the editor, going on protest marches, or submitting testimony to their state legislators.  But many of them were political in everyday ways — raising feminist sons and daughters, choosing to reduce use of hazardous chemicals and natural resources, speaking up about equality in personal encounters, standing up to a man harassing another woman (who is someone else’s daughter), helping out another mother by taking care of her kids when she’s in a crunch.  I think those examples may really help people who feel like they don’t have time to be politically active — or that nothing they do will make a difference — to think of ways to incorporate activism into their lives.

My one real complaint about the book is that there are two essays about personal relationships with people who are (gasp!) Republicans, but no actual Republicans — or even conservatives — in it.  I would have liked to read an essay by someone whose experiences as a mother made them an anti-abortion activist.  I would have loved to read an essay by Cathy McMorris Rodgers on the challenges and insights of serving in Congress as the mother of an infant with Down’s syndrome.  I don’t know if Strong made a deliberate choice to only include liberal voices, or if it’s a function of the way the call for essays was marketed, but I think it limits the audience for the book unnecessarily.


Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Via Kathy G at the G Spot, I found this debate between Gary Becker and Richard Posner on the NYC experiments about providing cash incentives to parents and older teens to reward school attendance, parent-teacher conferences, and good grades.  This is part of Bloomberg’s broader anti-poverty strategy, something that I had been meaning to discuss for a while, so I’ll jump on in.

Becker has what is probably the classic economist’s take:  "boys and girls as well as adults respond to incentives."  While recognizing that there may be challenges with targeting the program correctly, he thinks that it’s worth trying the experiment to see if it work.  I basically agree with this — I think it’s funny that people get horrified about "bribing" kids to do well in school, but aren’t upset when workers get bonuses for good performance.

Posner comes up with a number of nitpicks of the program, but his fundamental concern is that poor attendance is a symptom, not the disease: "Paying children to attend school will reduce truancy rates some but
without improving school quality, and perhaps without improving the
education of the children receiving the payments."  (He thinks that school vouchers are the solution, but that’s another story.)

Interestingly, this has a lot in common with Margy Waller at Inclusionist’s concern that the Bloomberg anti-poverty initiative assigns the blame for poverty to poor people’s bad choices.  If the schools are fundamentally falling down at their job of educating kids, giving the kids money for passing tests is like giving me money to make a jump shot.  Similarly, low-wage workers have high job turnover in large part because that’s how the jobs are designed.  But, that said, MDRC has been studying programs designed to improve job retention and advancement.  And so far, one of the most effective programs has been one in Texas, which provided financial incentives to former welfare recipients who were employed full-time.

I agree that I worry about the framing of these payments as all about overcoming poor people’s bad values.  You can also tell a convincing story about how the financial incentives make it possible for a worker who is paid by the hour to take off from work to go to a parent teacher conference, or wait in a crowded medical clinic to get the kid immunized, or let the parent keep their job by hiring a more reliable babysitter, but that’s not how these payments are being covered in the media.

Kathy notes that behavioral economics also raises the issue that there are some times when cash incentives can have perverse effects. In Ariely’s language, a financial incentive can shift things from a social setting to a market setting.  So people were less likely to help someone load a car when offered an insultingly low wage than when asked to do it out of altruism, and were more likely to pick up their kids late from child care when the center instituted a late fee.  That’s one of the reasons I won’t tie my kids’ allowances to their picking up their rooms or helping out around the house — it would implicitly allow them to choose to forgo the allowance and not pitch in.  But I’m not convinced that this analogy applies to the incentives in the experiment.


Thursday, May 15th, 2008

All week, I’ve been blinking away tears as I read or hear the news.  This morning I turned the car radio from NPR to the classic rock station because I just couldn’t cope with listening to the story about the middle school that collapsed in the earthquake in China.  The disaster in Burma is even bigger, but because the government isn’t letting aid workers in (let alone reporters), there aren’t the first-person stories that tug at the heart.

This NY Times story suggests that the grief of the Chinese parents is made worse by the fact that the one-child policy means that most of the dead children were their parents’ only child.  I’m not sure I believe that — I don’t believe that the grief of a parent of two children is cut in half when only one child dies, or the grief of a parent of five is only one-fifth.

I — and most (if not all) of my readers — am lucky to live in a time and place where the death of a child is a rare tragedy.  At other times and places, it has been less rare, but no less tragic.  Reading 18th and 19th century diaries, it  is quite clear that the frequency with which children died of disease did not diminish the pain felt by those left behind.

But even here and now, we are never entirely safe.  Last week I learned that the son of one of the women on the birthmonth email list I joined when pregnant with D was killed, along with his grandfather, in a car accident.

TVR: 51 Birch Street

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

This week I’ve got a video review instead of a book review.  This is actually one that a PR company sent me as a review copy, but then I didn’t get around to watching it for over 6 months.  Oops.  51 Birch Street is an autobiographical documentary about the filmmaker’s parents, and how after his mother’s death and his father’s swift remarriage, Doug Block discovered that their relationship was a lot more complicated than he had believed.

The inevitable comparison is to Capturing the Friedmans, because of the use of extensive home video footage.  But unlike the Friedmans, the Blocks don’t have a deep dark secret.  The surprise for Doug Block is that, as he reads his mother’s diaries, he discovers that she was deeply unhappy in her marriage, and that during the 70s she had an affair.  Not exactly earthshattering.  But what makes the movie compelling, although deeply sad, is that as Block shows more and more of the family footage, it becomes increasingly obvious that his mother wasn’t exactly hiding her unhappiness.  And yet, although Block opens the movie by saying that he and his mother always had a special connection, he was clearly blind to it.

My take-away from the film is that when Block says that he was close to his mother, he means that he was able to talk with her about himself (as contrasted with his father, whom he had difficulty talking with).  It doesn’t mean that he was able to listen to her, or to see her as a person separate from her role as a mother.  That’s probably pretty common, but I found it sad.

Happy Mothers Day

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Happy Mothers Day to all, and a particular prayer for children who have lost their mothers and mothers who have lost their children.

My mom’s been busily trying to give things away to reduce the "stuff" in her life, and so asked me to make a contribution rather than buy something for her.  In case you might be similarly inclined, here are two organizations that seem appropriate:

  • UNICEF — the United Nations Children Fund.  They’re collecting money for relief in Myanmar/Burma right now, but it’s probably more useful to donate without restriction, and let them decide where it’s most needed.

Picky eater, sneaky foods

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

For Christmas, my in-laws gave me The Sneaky Chef, by Missy Chase Lapine.  This is one of the two cookbooks that came out last fall with recipes for how to hide vegetable purees in a variety of foods to get a little more nutrition into kids.  (The other one was Deceptively Delicious, by Jessica Seinfeld, and there was some discussion over whether she stole the other person’s idea, and got a lot more attention because of who she’s married to.)

I’m not morally opposed to sneaking vegetables into my kids’ food — I’ve been known to put pureed black beans into brownies when I was desperate to get some fiber into D’s diet — but I haven’t actually used the cookbook very much.  The main problem is that both cookbooks (I took the Seinfeld one out of the library at some point to compare) assume that all kids will eat things like macaroni and cheese and tomato sauce, and D won’t.  When you’re talking about a kid who eats his peanut butter without jelly and doesn’t like ketchup, there’s not a whole lot of opportunities to disguise food.  A few weeks ago, I did make sweet potato puree when I was making sweet potatoes for myself, but then I never got around to using it before it got all yucky and moldy in the fridge.

So, this morning, since the boys had off from school and I decided to work from home rather than hazard the ice, D asked if I’d make pancakes.  So I decided to try the chocolate chip pancake recipe, which involves a mixture of white and whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and ground almonds.  I made some with chocolate chips, some plain, and some with blueberries.

Both boys loved the chocolate chip ones. Neither would eat the blueberry ones — and N usually adores blueberry pancakes.  They said the plain ones were ok, but not as good as my usual ones.  So, is it worth it to add the chips as a bribe to get them to eat some extra whole grains and protein?  Maybe occasionally, and especially if the alternative is bisquick, which is pretty low in nutritional content.  But Julia’s Oatmeal Buttermilk pancakes have just as much whole grains, and taste a heck of a lot better.

Oh, and having a book called "The Sneaky Chef" isn’t so sneaky once you have a kid who is old enough to read the title and ask what’s the ingredient he’s not supposed to notice.