Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Track to Become the Next Rory Gilmore

My 11-year-old daughter has declared it official: She wants to read more books than any other kid in our town library's summer reading program.

Last Wednesday, I took the three Picket Fence Post kids to the library and she was the only offspring of mine interested in signing up for the summer reading program as she proceeded to check out a huge stack of books. Over the course of a week, she read voraciously and constantly. (I'd love to spend my days reading!) She consumed not just the library books, but tons of books from around the house. (We've got a lot of books.)

I attempted to support her in her efforts, suggesting other titles I thought she might enjoy, like one I adored when I was in junior high: Jane Eyre. I'd previously tried to persuade her to read this classic but she never seemed to cotton to it. After pressing her about the book last week, she told me that the language was difficult and that she really wasn't interested.

"No way," I said, as I started combing through the book shelves for one of my two paperback copies of Jane Eyre and prattling on about how I'd read and re-read this book multiple times in my youth. "Listen to this," I said as I read aloud from the first page. Going off of the look on her face, I backed off.

When she submitted her reading log to the children's librarian today, her tally was 60. We'll see if she can sustain the first week's momentum. Regardless of what she chooses to read, I love that she loves books.

Got any good book suggestions for my 11-year-old gal?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Sweetness from the 8-Year-Old

To take the edge off of his frequent "Mooom . . . I'm booored!" complaints, The Youngest Boy -- with the help of The Spouse -- clipped these hydrangeas from the gorgeous blossoming bush in front of our house, presented them to me and then assisted as we arranged them in a vase this weekend.

They (and he) brought a smile to my face . . . before seeing Toy Story 3 made me feel all weepy.

Hydrangea season is way too brief.

Went to See 'Toy Story 3' and Held in Tears (Barely)

Not to wreck anything for those of you who haven't seen Toy Story 3 yet -- I highly recommend that you do, oh, and bring the kids along with you -- but once you've left the theater, I wouldn't be at all surprised if you suddenly feel the urge to get down on the floor and play games with your kids right away before they're too old, too cool, too wrapped up in texting and Facebooking to embrace the lighthearted sweetness that is the playful side of childhood before it slips away for good.

I held it together at the end of the movie -- a friend of mine had given me the heads up and warned me to bring tissues after telling me via e-mail, "I've never sobbed so much in a movie!!!!" -- but hours later, once the kids were in bed and I started thinking of how close the two almost-12-year-olds are to being teenagers, I wasn't as successful in keeping the waterworks at bay. The only thing that would help bring me back were the laughs I got when remembering the scenes of "Spanish" Buzz and Mr. Tortilla Head.

Anyone else see the movie? Did you cry at the prospect of the end of childhood for your kiddos?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Three for Thursday (The Crazy Edition): Condoms for 1st Graders, Facebook for 11-year-olds & 'Friendship Coaches' for Kids

Item #1: Condoms for 1st Graders

When I read this story out of Provincetown, Mass. a few weeks ago I thought, surely, there must be some kind of mistake. It couldn’t really be true that school officials had authorized the in-school distribution of condoms to students, to children as young as first graders, could it?

As I read the quotes in the news article from educational officials saying that parents could do nothing to stop this, that the school staff would hand out condoms to students even if their parents had requested that they not get them, I hoped that this had been taken out of context, perhaps misinterpreted somehow.

After all, schools won’t do the following without first obtaining parental permission: Let an elementary school student go home with a friend’s parent for a playdate without prior notification, take medicine in school (anything from Tylenol to cough drops, usually the school nurse has to hold onto medicine) and go on field trips.

In Massachusetts, children under the age of 18 cannot get body piercings, obtain a tattoo or patronize a commercial tanning booth without parental permission. This state law says that “inducing” someone under age 18 to engage in sexual intercourse faces potential fines and/or imprisonment.

So surely this story about condoms for grade schoolers must be a mistake.

Only it's not.

Earlier this month, the Provincetown School Board approved such a policy, according to media reports. Here's an excerpt from the Boston Globe:

"Students in Provincetown — from elementary school to high school — will be able to get free condoms at school under a recently approved policy that takes effect this fall. The rule also requires school officials to keep student requests secret, and ignore parents’ objections.

'The intent is to protect kids,' said School Superintendent Beth Singer, who wrote the policy that the Cape Cod town’s School Committee unanimously passed two weeks ago. 'We know that sexual experimentation is not limited to an age, so how does one put an age on it?'

The policy, first reported in the Provincetown Banner, keeps parents from knowing if their children receive condoms, and mandates that school officials can choose to supply them even if parents object."

What say you, Picket Fence Post readers?

Item #2: Facebook for 11-Year-Olds

A British mom recently wrote a column in the Daily Mail, “The horrifying week I spent spying on my 11-year-old daughter’s Facebook page,” and confirmed for me that children at this age -- with little to no impulse control, with few to no executive decision-making skills -- shouldn’t be afforded unfettered access to something like Facebook. They're not mature enough to handle it.

No matter how many ground rules they agree to in order to get their parents to agree to allow them to have a Facebook account (like not having strangers as friends, informing your parents if you're bullied on Facebook, etc.), as the author of the Daily Mail article said she did, it's highly likely that the kids are going to mix it up online anyway. And you, the parent, will have no clue about what’s going on.

The author -- who realized her daughter’s Facebook page had been accidentally left logged on after her daughter used Mom's mobile phone -- spent a week “spying” on her daughter’s activities and was astonished by what she saw. There were physical threats leveled at her 11-year-old, who engaged in verbal sparring while liberally using obscenities and casually directing and receiving words like “whore” and “slut.”  The writer’s daughter also referred to her mother as a “f***ing cow,” and broke most of her parents’ initial rules about using Facebook. In the end, the mother who wrote the column didn’t make her daughter delete the Facebook account, but insisted that she be her daughter's Facebook friend and know her daughter’s Facebook password.

At what age do you think it's appropriate for a child to have a Facebook account, given that Facebook itself says users must be 13 or older?

Item #3: ‘Friendship Coach’ for Kids

Free-Range Kids Queen Lenore Skenazy has challenged a notion advanced in a recent New York Times article: That children should be discouraged from having a best friend and that “friendship coaches” can help children engage in healthy social interactions with their peers.

No I am not joking.

First the New York Times piece. An excerpt:

“ . . . [T]he classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

'I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,' said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. 'We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.'"

The article then highlighted a New York co-ed sleep-away camp where “friendship coaches” have been hired “to work with campers to help every child become friends with everyone else.”

Here’s where Skenazy’s common sense irritation comes in. Writing on the ParentDish blog, Skenazy said:

“Friendship makes us better, not worse. But like everything worthwhile in life, it is not always perfect. And now the professional fretters have decided kids can't handle a friend who turns on them (I had two of those!), or the pain of being rejected by a pair of friends who don't want a third wheel. I dealt with that, too! I cried. I raged. I used a lot of exclamation points in my diary! What I did not do was end up emotionally crippled for life!!

These 'friendship coaches' buy into the current belief that kids can't handle any adversity. Kid loses a soccer game? Give 'em a trophy anyway. Kid's friend says, 'You're not my friend anymore?' Send in the grief counselors with a five-part friendship plan.”

Do you share the concern of the folks in the NYT article that having a "best friend" is bad for kid?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Paper Project: The Year I Tallied How Many Papers My 3 Kids Brought Home From School

For weeks upon weeks, dating back to September 2009, I’ve been saving and counting all the papers that my twin fifth graders and my third grader brought home from school. Having spent the first few years of their lives as students feeling absolutely BURIED by paper – and constantly frustrated when teachers would complain that parents forgot stuff – I decided to determine if I’m just woefully disorganized or if it’s nearly impossible to keep on top of all this, no matter how many binders, organizing shelves and systems I attempt to employ to rein it all in.

Throughout this process, I've been asked why I seem to be "complaining" about being able to examine my children’s school work, everything from holiday poems and math problems, to science papers about bats, to sketch art and essays. I love watching my children evolve as learners, to see how their penmanship improves, how details on their drawings sharpen, how complicated the math problems become and how tender their observations about their family in writing projects. I do not want any of that to stop. I want to see their evolution with my own eyes. Additionally, I want their teachers and school staff to communicate with the parents and let us know what’s going on.

However . . .

I don’t think some of the folks at school realize how much paper is actually sent home, especially during the waning weeks of school when there are so many things that parents – particularly with more than one child -- have to remember (school concerts, events, poetry readings, field trips, etc.) that it’s frightfully easy for parents to miss that flier tucked in between dozens of other papers about a last-minute change to the band’s performing and practice schedule.

That being said . . . I have the final numbers, after having tallied the papers that were sent home over the last two weeks of school, as well as the 1.5 days of school this week. Let me add this caveat before I give you the number: Three 100-page notebooks, two 48-page softcover notebooks and one 32-page softcover writers’ guide came home and were added into the total. I count each page in the notebook as a page because, from my perspective, each one adds to the bulk of the stuff that gets dumped onto my kitchen counter, yet another thing I have to review. So yes, the overall total includes all the pages in, for example, a fifth grader's “Reader Response Journal” (where the student wrote observations about books he read, observations parents were supposed to read, spell-check and sign off on). From where I sit, although that wasn’t 100 loose papers on my counter, it was thicker and made the pile look even more ominous as it threatened to topple over into my dog Max’s water dish.

Forty-two fliers/announcements/letters were sent home by teachers, school staff, parent organizations and civic/town groups during this time frame (the second and third weeks of June, plus June 21 and half of June 22). My third grader brought home 226 math papers while his fifth grade brother brought home 143 math/science papers. My fifth grade daughter had 51 pages related to language/reading. The total for these 11.5 days of school was an astonishing 1,505 pieces of paper (including the aforementioned notebook pages).

When you add that sum to the overall tally from the rest of the school year, the grand total of the number of pieces of paper sent home for three kids in grades 3, 5 and 5 was . . . *drum roll* . . . : 3,870.

(I went back to see if there were any other big notebooks or brochures brought home during the year that significantly added to the total and found: Three 23-page Recreation Department brochures, two 14-page brochures from the state of Massachusetts about the flu, three spiral-bound student/parent handbooks and two parent organization sponsored gift wrapping/gift fundraising packets which totaled 26 pages each.)

Also of interest: Nearly 500 papers (495 to be exact) during the year were from school faculty (principals, teachers, school nurses, etc.), parent organizations and public/civic organizations.

(For the week-by-week breakdown of the paper tallies, go here.)
Now that your child [children’s] school year is over, how many pieces of paper would you estimate came into your house during the school year? Ever feel overwhelmed by the volume?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day Weekend: A Mixed Bag

Father’s Day weekend had moments of promise, as The Spouse and I were lucky enough to attend an exciting Red Sox game on Saturday where the Sox beat the Dodgers in the ninth thanks to the heroics of Dustin Pedroia. The only thing that marred the experience was the nearly purple-faced grandfather sitting behind us, accompanied by his grandchildren, who bellowed from the pit of belly, “TRAAAAAAI-TOOOOR!” every time former Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez got up to bat.

While I’m an enthusiastic, faithful Sox fan who understands and recognizes that Manny let the team down, frequently bird-dogged his play, allegedly shoved a 60-year-old staffer, yadda, yadda, yadda . . . seriously, do Sox fans really need to act as though Manny shot someone, or released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico? Boo once if you want to, but completely lose your mind in front of your kids, not cool.

Anyway, the "traitor" shouts weren't the reason for the “mixed” part of the Father's Day weekend equation. There was the fact that my mother -- who, along with my father and their dog Kelly (a doggie playdate for our pup Max), watched the kids while we were at the Sox game – injured her foot jumping on the trampoline with The Eldest Boy. My dad’s gout flared up and, by the time they left, they were hobbling out of my house.

Oh, and about that house, it feels like lots of things are falling apart these days. When we moved into the house five years ago, we had to buy a bunch of new appliances because the previous owners took many with them when they moved. Now, the five-year-old clothes washer is dying (currently not working at all) and because it’s part of a stacked washer/dryer unit we’ve been told we’ll have to buy a whole new stacked unit. The washer repair guy who gave me the bad news about 10 days ago further panicked me by saying that the dryer vent didn’t fit properly into the ductwork in the wall and that heated damp air was being pumped into said wall (stuff that could cause mold) prompting me to summon a dryer vent repair guy, who, days later, had to replace a whole bunch of dryer ducts but said he did not find any mold.

When I came home the other day, the door on our five-year-old dishwasher was wide open. It wouldn’t close, so I had to shove a kitchen chair up against it because Max the dog kept climbing inside. The dishwasher repair guy said if he can’t get new hinges which fit it, we'll need a new dishwasher.

Additionally, when I took the Picket Fence Post kids out shopping for Father’s Day gifts last week, I returned to my vehicle and found the front windshield badly cracked.

That clothes washer, whose immediate problem had been repaired even though it’s been given a death sentence by the repair guy who said it’d last only a few months more, died again on Saturday after running non-stop all day on the same damned cycle leaving the smell of burnt Band Aids lingering in the kitchen.

But at least we had a nice Father's Day barbecue on Sunday afternoon – the grill didn’t explode or anything and the refrigerator didn’t suddenly stop refrigerating – and The Spouse got to go to the driving range with the boys and watch the U.S. Open., so it wasn’t a total loss.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting on word from the clothes washer repairman whose repairs didn’t take, and from the dishwasher guy. And I’ve gotta return the #1 Dad Red Sox shirt The Youngest Boy picked out for The Spouse because it’s too small. Fun and costly times in Picket Fence Post land.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Welcome to the Picket Fence Post: Retooled Blog, New Location

Hello Picket Fence Post readers!

Hopefully you've made your way over from my former blog on the Parents & Kids/Wicked Local Parents site. I'm going to continue blogging in this location, writing not just about parenting in the suburbs of Boston, but about life behind the cliched picket fences.

I'll write about my three kids: The Girl (11, almost 12), her twin brother The Eldest Boy and The Youngest Boy (8 almost 9), as well as The Spouse and our 1-year-old Havanese/mini-Wheaten Terrier ball of fluff named Max.

I'll continue The Paper Project which I started last September when the Picket Fence Post kids started the third and fifth grades and I wanted to know exactly how many pieces of paper they'd bring home from school over the course of a year.

I'll do "Three for Thursdays" where I recap three newsy/buzzy news stories about parenting. Plus I'll delve into other lifestyle stuff I didn't touch on when I was writing for Wicked Local Parents that don't necessarily have anything to do with parenting, like coping with the dog's annoying chewing habits and my hatred of most things domestic (like cleaning, gardening, etc.).

If you're a pop culture buff, please check out my pop culture blog, Notes from the Asylum. I also write for other publications including: Mommy Tracked where I write a pop culture/politics column and I contribute to CliqueClack TV where I write about, cooking . . . no, where I write about TV of course.