Monday, October 31, 2011

Post-Snowtober: Occupy My Living Room

The snowstorm which washed over the East Coast on Saturday started off looking mighty picturesque. Like a Christmas card.

It put The Picket Fence Post family in the mood for some mischief as we were invigorated by the crisp wintry air. We “ghosted” two friends’ houses (meaning you anonymously leave a bag of candy at a friend's door with a note explaining “ghosting,” ring the doorbell then run like a fugitive back to your car) on our way to drop The Girl off at a Halloween party. (The Girl was dressed as Women’s Professional Soccer great Abby Wambach.) The Spouse, the boys and I enjoyed take-out and played games. The Eldest Boy and I watched some episodes of The Mentalist together while The Spouse and The Youngest Boy watched a movie. The Spouse picked up The Girl later in the evening and she came home happy but tired. All was well.

Until morning.

That’s when we realized that power had gone out sometime in the middle of the night. Everything – except for an outdoor paintball birthday party that The Youngest Boy was going to – was cancelled. After spending a portion of Sunday afternoon shopping and dining out at places that had heat and electricity, we headed home.

Cue the ugly pioneering phase of our story:

Unlike when we lost power for days in the heat of August courtesy of Hurricane Irene, it was unseasonably cold. Of course it was. There was snow all over the yard (about 5-6 inches), weighing down fully leaved trees sending several of crashing to the ground. We made it through dinner (grilling outside and using our propane-powered stove top) but then, despite our propane gas fireplace (which doesn’t throw much heat unless you’re right up next to it), the temperatures began dropping inside the house.

That’s when The Spouse brought a small tent into our family room – the one with the fireplace – and we created a makeshift encampment which reminded me of the Occupy Wall Street tent cities I’ve seen on the news. The boys were in the tent in front of the fireplace in their sleeping bags. The Girl was on a sofa in her sleeping bag under a pile of blankets. The Spouse and I were mushed together on another sofa (and not in a romantic way) under blankets. Our dog Max was thoroughly confused as he went from person to person, occasionally napped on his doggie bed that we’d brought downstairs, hopped onto the couch with The Girl, then scratched at the door to be let outside in the wee hours of the morning.

By daybreak, the temperature in the downstairs was 56. The temperature in the upstairs bedrooms was 48. School had been cancelled. Trick-or-treating had been postponed too. Then we got word that the electric company was estimating that power would be fully restored in our town by 11:45 . . . p.m. . . . THURSDAY!!

If that estimate is to be believed, that likely means that if there’s no power in town, the Picket Fence Post kids will likely be out of school all week. I’ve got my fingers crossed that The Spouse will be able to borrow a generator from work so that we can get the heat and hot water heater cranking (*praying the water pipes don’t burst*). If things don’t improve, it’s likely that my brother will soon be hosting a family of five, plus a fluffy dog.

Oh and it’s The Spouse and my wedding anniversary. (Yes, we got married on Halloween . . .it’s a long story, but suffice is to say it was a scheduling thing, not because we’re huge fans of Halloween or anything.) I suppose this is a great metaphor for our marriage: Things are never dull and, just when we life is running semi-smoothly, unexpected things occur and test us to make sure our senses of humor are still intact. After 19 years, they’d better be.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Winter Coat/Shorts Wars Have Begun

When I got ready to drive my kids to school this morning there was snow covering our deck and our yard. It was 33 degrees outside. And yet The Youngest Boy was dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and a light nylon zip-up sweatshirt.

“Are you serious?” I asked. “No. No shorts. There’s snow outside!”

He started to offer a counter-argument but I cut him off.

“No! Put on pants! Now!”

As I donned my boots and my red winter jacket -- which has already gotten use this season when I'm inside those meat lockers that they call youth hockey rinks, I noticed that The Youngest Boy had indeed changed into track pants yet was heading toward the garage without a jacket.

“Get a coat!”

“But . . .”

“GET A COAT! There’s SNOW outside!”

He slung his hockey jacket over his arm and then took a seat in the vehicle.

“Put the coat on,” I said, calmer than I'd been a few minutes prior. I put on the breaks and idled in the driveway waiting for him to don the coat.

Flash-forward several hours later: When The Youngest Boy entered the house after school he wasn’t wearing the jacket and was wearing shorts. His track pants were rendered into a crumpled up ball inside his backpack. He swore that he just changed into the shorts at the end of the day, before gym class.

Color me skeptical.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three for Thursday: Baby Proofing Insanity, Parents 'Occupying' Wall Street with Kids & 9:30 AM School Lunches

Item #1: Baby Proofing Insanity

The very first parenting column I wrote after having my twins was one which lampooned the mania that all the parenting “experts,” baby stores and parenting media had whipped up when it came to baby proofing. Of course, like any parent, I wanted to make my house safe for my newborn twins, so The Spouse and I got to work and covered all the electrical outlets. We bought a multitude of gates. We put protective latches on cabinet doors and drawers throughout the house (including on the kids’ bureaus). We bought doorknob covers for most doorknobs and installed eye hooks on the sliding glass door so that when they were toddlers they wouldn’t escape. We had powerful baby monitors to listen to the goings on in the nursery even though we lived in a small ranch style house.

But according to the fear-mongering catalogues that were flooding into our mailbox and the articles in parenting magazines and online, we weren’t going far enough in attempting to bubble-wrap our children’s on the home front. That’s when I decided to write a satirical column about the insane levels people were going to in the name of household safety and suggested, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, that I’d hire some “pediatric body guard/childproofing safety service” to definitively make my house safe for the my kids. It was preposterous, of course, I thought at the time, because there was no such thing as a childproofing safety service.

Lo and behold, some 13 years later, not only are there baby proofing consultants out there, but a New York Times writer recommends that new parents hire such a service because mere garden variety parents might not be thorough enough (which sends a lovely message about parental aptitude, that it's more prudent for them to outsource their parenting throughout the kid’s life to “experts”). After running through an exhaustive and expensive list of things parents “need” to do to batten down the hatches in a vain attempt to make their baby’s world absolutely safe, the Times writer said, “Even if you follow all these childproofing steps, consider calling in a consultant. Every house poses different hazards – with fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, for instance – and first-time parents can’t see everything.” And he wasn’t joking. He was being serious.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor at the unnecessary fear that was being instilled into new parents who read this piece I had to remind myself that it was this same newspaper section -- the “Home” section – that ran a piece last December about the lethal threat posed to babies and toddlers by coffee tables. Enough said.

UPDATE: You can read my original baby proofing satire here under the sarcastic title, "The Joys of Baby-Proofing."

Item #2: Parents ‘Occupying’ Wall Street with Kids

Seeking to provide their children firsthand experience with the First Amendment right to protest, parents have begun bringing their offspring with them to the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, as well as to other Occupy protest sites around the country, the New York Times reported.
There’s even a web site – Parents for Occupy Wall Street -- which encourages moms and dads to bring junior to see democracy in action and to hear people wax poetic about economic inequalities. “With our children’s best interests in mind, we join together peacefully to support the Occupy Wall Street movement across the U.S. on our children’s behalf,” the web site says. “We’re speaking for the 99 percent that can’t speak up for themselves.”

Parents for Occupy Wall Street recently spearheaded a family sleepover event in New York City’s Zuccotti Park amongst the protesters -- featuring a sing-along, pizza party, arts & crafts and bedtime stories -- which organizers said would “not only be a great teaching moment for kids but a totally community driven peaceful protest with events throughout the weekend.”

The Times pointed out that children have been present at Tea Party rallies, the Egyptian protests in Cairo and “at many other events that marked the Arab Spring.” However the newspaper did add that during the Zuccotti Park sleepover, “families had to be moved at dawn to make way for new police lines and barricades.”

Would you take your kids to an Occupy Wall Street event, or a family sleepover next to the protesters in a public park as a “teachable moment?”

Item #3: School Lunch at 9:30 in the Morning?

NBC’s Today Show highlighted some Florida schools which are now scheduling students’ lunches as early as 9:30 in the morning. Why are they doing this seemingly bizarre thing? School officials told NBC that students today “start their days earlier,” therefore they’re hungry for lunch earlier, even though a federal mandate says schools need to serve lunch between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (These Florida schools obtained waivers for their early breakfast nosh.)

This seems nonsensical. Why not encourage students to have a healthy snack at 9:30 instead of serving them a full lunch? Who wants tacos or meatloaf at 9:30? Considering that most parents work and the family’s dinner isn’t served until sometime in the 6 o’clock hour, giving the kids lunch that early will throw off their entire eating schedule. They’ll be ravenous for dinner at 3:30. By 6:30, when many families eat, if the students consume a second dinner, I think we’ve got yet one more reason as to why American kids are gaining weight. There’s got to be a better way.

Image credit: Parents for Occupy Wall Street.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Once More with Feeling: Year-Round Sports Specialization Isn't Good for Kids

Opting not to allow the Picket Fence Post kids to specialize in one sport or play a single sport year-round hasn’t made me a lot of friends in youth sports.

Image credit: New York Times
Though we’ve been pressured from time to time to permit The Girl or The Eldest Boy to play indoor soccer in the winter – after having played soccer in the fall AND before playing soccer in the spring – I have politely declined, even when it’s been subtly suggested that by keeping them out of the indoor soccer racket (and by not additionally signing them up to also play on private club teams) might put them at a disadvantage when it comes time to place them on competitive teams. (Disclosure: The Eldest Boy did play indoor soccer one year but only because he wasn't playing spring soccer right afterward.)

The way I see it is this: I’m the one who's looking out for my children's health in the long-term, for their whole lives, not just for one season or one year. The youth sports organizations are not. (After The Girl’s lengthy bout with an ankle injury which required physical therapy and acupressure in order to overcome, I don’t want to risk her sustaining a repetitive injury on that ankle by playing one sport non-stop or consecutive seasons.)

I've been going by what I’ve read over the years from physicians who say that it’s not good for growing children to specialize in sports and play one sport without break, noting that even professional athletes get time off from their chosen sport. The recommendations have been for children to change it up and to play a variety of sports that use different muscles so that’s what we’ve tried to do with the Picket Fence Post kids, except when it comes to youth hockey because the season lasts for freakin’ ever, from August to April (which is one of my major problems with the league).

Then I read about a new study which found that children, who were thought to not be at risk for injury to their anterior cruciate ligament (the ACL, “the main ligament that stabilizes the knee joint” the New York Times helpfully explained), have been tearing their ACLs at alarmingly increasing rates. Why? Dr. J. Todd Lawrence, an orthopedic surgeon from Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital who studied ACL tears, offered this explanation to the Times:

“I think it’s primarily because kids are out there trying to emulate professional athletes. You see these very young athletes playing sports at an extremely intense, competitive level. Kids didn’t play at that level 20 years ago. They didn’t play one sport year-round.”

Studying pre-adolescents who were treated at his hospital’s emergency room for ACL and meniscus tears, Lawrence found that “most of the ACL tears that were treated at Children’s Hospital and picked up by this study . . . also involved a simultaneous meniscus tear, an indication of just how much wrenching and grinding the knee had undergone. Injury patterns have changed . . . because childhood sports have changed.”

Why does it matter if children tear their ACLs? Because previous studies of athletes who have sustained this type of injury found that within 12-14 years of the injury “51 percent of the female players and 41 percent of the men had developed severe arthritis in the injured knee,” the Times reported. If a kid is 10 when this happens, the Times said that means half of the girls could have an arthritic knee by age 25.

Here’s what Lawrence recommended:

“Encourage kids to play multiple sports and not to do any one sport year-round, and especially not when they’re 5 or 6, or even 9 or 10. They’re kids. Let them play and have fun, like kids.”

In my house, he's preaching to the choir.

Image credit: Richard Patterson/New York Times.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Three for Thursday: Must-See Documentary, Lessons from the Sox & Travel Ball

Be Sure to Watch (Or DVR) 'Miss Representation' Documentary

I’ve previously written about the powerful documentary, Miss Representation and how movingly and chillingly it lays out statistics and displays images to prove its case that the media treat women horribly and that this treatment has a dire impact on women, our daughters and our democracy. Featuring interviews with a wide range of women of all political stripes -- from the worlds of entertainment, political science and journalism -- Miss Representation is a must-see if you’re raising children who are learning from the media what it means to be female.

One of the saddest statistics in the documentary: The one about how 7-year-old girls and boys, in roughly equal numbers, say they want to be president but once they turn 15, the number of girls who want to be commander-in-chief plunges dramatically. (I reviewed the documentary, and the impact it has on kids here.)
I urge you to watch and/or tape/DVR the documentary which premieres tonight at 9 on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). It is slated to be repeated on OWN at 1 a.m. on Friday Oct. 21 and 10 a.m. on Saturday Oct. 22.

Lessons from the Sox

You know that horror story that’s continuing to unfold on Yawkey Way, the one about our family’s beloved Red Sox players phoning it in at the end of the season, drinking beer in the clubhouse while playing video games and eating buckets of fried chicken during games as the team collapsed in epic style, dropping from the American League East leaders to falling out of the playoffs?

In my house, the ongoing ugly saga has provided a host of heartbreaking lessons, teaching moments if you will:

The Importance of Loyalty: We heard a radio interview with a Picket Fence Post family favorite, Dustin Pedroia, who refused to push his teammates under the bus (even if they deserved it) after the media were filled with stories of ill-behaving ballplayers (which included reports of obnoxious behavior including drinking beer in the dugout, something the team angrily denies). Pedroia was honorable and modest and said he wants to play his entire career in a Red Sox uniform. They don't make many like him anymore.

The Importance of Hard Work/Cost of Not Working Hard: Pedroia, by all reports, gutted it out all season, as did Jacoby Ellsbury who had a good year. They earned and continue to receive our respect Those who seemed to be phoning it in (*cough Lackey*), and who have been described as failing to listen to the team’s trainers to keep fit, are finally being called to account for their slackery.

The Damage Done By Betrayal: When very personal information about now ex-Red Sox manager Terry Francona was divulged, gossip about his marriage and his health, many people were steamed because it appeared as though folks from the Sox organization dimed him out as a way to pin blame on him. Though one of the owners, John Henry, denied that he was behind the personal reveals – the Boston Globe said that “a team source” told them that “Francona was distracted by marital issues and his use of pain medication” – some believe that the organization is culpable for the trashing with ESPN’s Gordon Edes writing, “the slime bucket is never far from reach on Yawkey Way.”

The Olde Towne Team sustained some tarnish over the past few weeks. The luster of those two recent World Series wins has been diminished. The Picket Fence Post kids are learning the hard way that baseball is sometimes harsh business and that, regardless of who’s playing/coaching/running the team now, they won’t be there as long as we fans are. To some players, they’re just wearing a company jersey and they don’t care what jersey it is. And it shows.

Travel Ball: The Good and the Bad

The results are in: Both The Girl and The Eldest Boy made travel basketball teams. This is both good and bad.

Good: It’s good in that neither of them had to suffer the indignity of getting cut (as one of them did last year). They’ll both play at more competitive levels and hopefully improve their play, perhaps learn a few valuable things along the way.

Bad: This means that they will have at least one in-town team practice and game a week AND one travel team practice and game a week. Four separate events, minimum. (You have to play on an in-town team in order to also be on a travel team.)

More Bad: The Spouse is going to coach The Eldest Boy’s travel team and has signed up to coach The Girl’s in-town basketball team. This is good for the kids, who love having The Spouse for a coach, but for me, that means that for two additional weeknights, The Spouse will be unavailable and I’ll be on my own should The Youngest Boy have a hockey game or practice. (The hockey practices are not on one set day or time and we sometimes receive precious little notice when the times are set.)

At least I can remind myself that basketball games are held inside, in climate controlled environments so I won’t freeze like I do when I watch the hockey games. However the downside is that I can’t sip coffee in the gym.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Plea for Reason: Locker Chandeliers . . . Why?

*cross-posted on Notes from the Asylum*

I'm not one who's fond of picking fights with people. Usually I'm a live and let live kind of gal. But where I do get my knickers in a twist is when someone else's actions start putting pressure on me to adhere to their over-the-top standards. Then I get testy.

What sort of standards? The kind I read about in a series of three articles last week:

First, I read an article about parents who go to their children's middle schools and decorate the youngsters' lockers with rugs, wallpaper and even locker chandeliers. Yes, LOCKER CHANDELIERS. (The article described how the lockers are now seen by those in the middle school set as a reflection of the students' personalities and has an impact on how that child is perceived by her peers.)

Second, I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about how parents (re: moms) can craft A+ lunches for their kids by tucking elaborate, inspiring, Dale Carnegie-esque notes inside their children's lunchboxes every day, perhaps mixing things up a bit by gift wrapping their offspring's sandwiches or occasionally decorating their kids' pieces of fruit so that the fruit has a face. (The piece said the note writing has become competitive in some circles with disappointed children chastising their mothers if another student receives a hipper lunchbox note than they did.)

Finally, there was the story about a woman who was 39 weeks pregnant yet ran a marathon, delivered her baby only a few hours later and then proclaimed she wasn't tired. After reading this, I readied my white flag of surrender. Reading about these women simply exhausted me.

However I decided against waving the flag of surrender and instead opted to launch a counteroffensive, declaring these parental actions simply batty. Therefore my Pop Culture column this week over on Modern Mom calls for the moms who are raising the parenthood bar to extremely absurd heights to consider the plaintive cries of we mere mortals who have neither the time nor the inclination to install a chandelier in our children's lockers to please, for the love of God, dial it back a bit. In the words of fellow blogger Jen Singer, of MommaSaid, "You're ruining this for the rest of us . . . Knock it off."

Image credit: Locker Lookz.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Long Week of Melodrama: iPod Through Laundry, Running Over a Xylophone, Tryouts & Dress Shopping

One of my friends has likened my family to the Dunphys from Modern Family and, after several antics this week, that sounds about right . . .

Clean iPod

The Girl left her iPod in her jeans pocket. Again. It went through the laundry (both washer and dryer). Again.

As The Spouse and I tried to go to sleep last night, I heard loud banging inside the cycling dryer which I suspected was likely someone’s iPod. The Spouse groaned, hauled himself out of bed and went downstairs to see if I was right. When he came back, he had The Girl’s super-hot/fresh-from-the-dryer iPod in his hands. He added that he’d found a rock rattling around insider dryer as well. No clue who was carrying a rock around in his or her pants. But I don't think I want to know.

This morning the iPod was able to keep a charge and play music, but the screen looked a little funky. How many times 1) Is this going to happen in our house (there have been four other incidents of iPods in the laundry prior to this one) and 2) How much washing and drying can an iPod take before it dies a sad little death?

Dragging Things Out

Things were a tad chaotic on Wednesday morning as I was scrambling, trying to get the kids ready for me to drive them to school early so The Youngest Boy could make his before-school band lessons. In the chaos, The Youngest Boy rolled his ginormous xylophone – in its brand, spankin’ new bag that was a pain in the neck for The Spouse to get from the music store folks as the other bag's wheels were busted – out into the garage and left it behind my SUV. And didn’t tell anybody.

I, of course, had no freakin’ idea that the pricey instrument was back there and proceeded to exit out of the driveway once all three kids were safely buckled in. It was only the frantic waving and shouting of my next door neighbor, “There’s something under your car!” that got me to stop, get out of the car and see the xylophone under the vehicle.

Luckily, only the new bag was damaged in the incident, though it looks as though a rabid animal went at it in a fury. When I told The Spouse about my dragging the xylophone down the driveway, I heard his head explode over the phone lines. And this was all before I'd had my coffee. Not pretty.

Trying Tryouts

The middle schoolers just wrapped up two tryout sessions a piece in their efforts to attempt to make their respective seventh grade travel basketball teams. What has that meant for the Picket Fence Post family? Lots of dropping one kid off, returning to pick that kid up then dropping the second one off, later driving back to pick up the second one, sometimes having to leave dinner on the table and drag The Youngest Boy with me while I cart his siblings around. One night, The Eldest Boy had a soccer practice, raced home, showered, changed and went to hoops tryouts, came home and worked on homework. (The Spouse has been partially available to lend a transportation hand.)

Now the wait begins. Did they make a travel team or did they get cut? (Last year one of them made a travel team, the other didn’t.) If they made it, are any of their friends on the team?

Another big question this year: Coaching. The Spouse has volunteered to coach for both kids should they make the travel teams. *smacking hand on forehead* I don’t know whether to hope they make it or hope that they don't so I'll have a mildly less stressful winter. (If the kids don't make the travel teams, they'll still play in-town hoops. If you make a travel team, you have to play on both that travel team AND an in-town team. Yes, I know, we're crazy for even letting them tryout.)

Dressing the Daughter

Thank God for a helpful salesclerk (yes there are still a few of them out there) at a department store at a nearby mall. Without her help I doubt I would’ve found a dress for The Girl to wear to the bat mitzvah she’ll be attending this weekend, without having some big argument with her or without enduring oodles of tension like the icy vibe I got from another mother-daughter combo who were shopping at the same time we were.

The dress department salesclerk selected a bunch of cute dresses – ones I would’ve never in a million years picked out because I had trouble envisioning The Girl inside of any of them – for The Girl to try on. It was stunning to see her in grown-up dresses, and totally rock them by the way.

I credit the saleswoman’s spot-on taste with saving the day and getting us out of the store in under an hour. (I'm not a big shopping kinda gal, unless it's a bookstore.) The next hour was spent locating black flats, a cute (but cheap) purse and silvery nail polish. And although we didn’t find a little shrug to wear over her dress, I was pleasantly relieved that we were able to achieve any success at all.

But I’ll be holding my breath until she’s all dressed and at the party. As for The Spouse, he’ll be holding his breath until she arrives back home from the party.

Leaf Me Alone

The wretched Leaf Project has finally ended as my middle schoolers handed in their thick binders filled with leaves taped down and inserted into plastic sleeves next to neatly typed classifications and descriptions.

Though The Eldest Boy had been working on this thing for weeks, he only finished it up late last night, after getting home from his basketball tryouts. At around 9:30 p.m. he proudly presented it to The Spouse and I, as I crankily paused Grey’s Anatomy and looked it over. If we'd found big mistakes, the kid would've been up way too late to fix them. However there were none.

The Girl, who also finished up her project yesterday after we'd driven to a neighbor's house to pick one last leaf from a tree before going dress shopping, almost left the thing at home this morning, which would've resulted in a frantic call to yours truly begging me to bring the binder in to school. Luckily I asked her where her Leaf Project was before she got into the car – the kids all had to be driven to school every day this week (!). At least her binder wasn’t left on the ground behind the car. It wouldn’t have fared as well as the xylophone.

Image credits:, West Music and Norman Rockwell/Arcadia Youth Basketball.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living a Dog’s Life & Other Observations

I was awakened at 3:45 this morning by our dog Max, who was scratching and whining at our bedroom door because he wanted to go to outside. Again. (The Spouse had already gotten up earlier to do the same thing. It's a bad habit of Max's that is becoming more frequent.)

I didn’t crawl back into bed until 4:15 following several failed attempts to coax Max back in 15 and then 20 minutes into his middle-of-the-night exploits. There’s only so much quiet, hushed "yelling" you can do outside in a residential neighborhood at 4 in the morning without causing a ruckus. Even the promise of giving him a generous helping of doggie treats couldn’t top his interest in whatever he was messing around with under our deck under cover of darkness.

This can’t be good . . . except for the coffee farmers whose business I’ve been enthusiastically supporting in the hours after Max decides to play outside at 4 in the morning.


The Youngest Boy was moving his hand up and down in the breeze while we were driving around this weekend when something occurred to him. He leaned his head of the window and opened his mouth as wide as it would go and faced the wind. “Why do dogs do this?” he shouted.

After 10 seconds or so, he found the answer. “Hey, it’s actually kind of cool.”

When we got home, his curly hair had been blown back away from his forehead as though he’d just emerged from a wind tunnel. “Don’t I look like Elvis?” he asked.


At an autumn town event this weekend, The Spouse and I gave the kids some cash and let them run around patronizing the various booths and buying lunch with their friends. While in the company of his posse, The Youngest Boy decided to stop at this one booth where, while other kids bought trading cards, he bought a plastic machine gun with blinking lights and a plastic bayonet at the end. It makes noise too. Bully for us.

As he handed me the box covered by the photo of the gun, I couldn’t help but wonder what the other parents at the fair thought as they spotted that little gem under my arm. Perhaps something along the lines of, “Peace out Mother of the Year?”


The Girl is slated to attend a bat mitzvah this weekend. That means . . . *cue the sinister Jaws music* . . . we’ve got to go buy her a dress. A real dress, not a cotton skirt to be worn with her “nice” hoodie and knock-off Uggs.

Needless to say, my sporty gal and her ubiquitous ponytail is none too pleased about the upcoming shopping excursion where, instead of warm-up jackets and sports shorts, we’ll be looking at items with hemlines. With her seeing this upcoming trip as just a tiny notch above doing a “poop check” in our backyard to pick up Max’s deposit’s, I’m bringing low expectations with me before we step into any stores.

My question: Should I bribe her with a big sundae before or after we get a dress?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Boosting Kids’ Political Smarts: Competitive News Quizzes

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the whole who’s-better-known-Leo-Messi-or-Hillary-Clinton/my-kid’s-teacher-doesn’t-know-who-our-governor-is post. It’s really been bugging me.

More specifically, it’s bugging me that, in spite of the massive quantity of news that now bombards us from all directions and at all times on our smartphones, computers, radios and TVs via the good old fashioned news media or social media like Facebook and Twitter, that some people still remain clueless about the world around them and not know something really basic, like who’s in charge of your state or why Hillary Clinton is on TV again.

Is it that many people don’t care about what’s happening outside of their areas of interest? Is it that they don’t want to know? Are they filling their heads with all the latest on sports or reality TV therefore there’s no space left for, say, pesky news stories about presidential elections, Wall Street bailouts or democratic uprisings in the Middle East, or, for that matter in cities all over America right now in the form of the Occupy Together (best known as Occupy Wall Street) crowd?

I remember when being aware of the news and of the basics of government (like who the major elected officials are) became important to me. I was in high school when my social studies teacher, Mr. Mehegan gave our class a pop quiz. The quiz asked us things like the names of the U.S. senators from our state as well as the names of the prime ministers of England and Canada. We were asked how many members there are in the House of Representatives. I performed wretchedly on that quiz. I knew I should have known those answers. They seemed like basic questions that anyone who paid a modicum of attention to the world would know. Only I didn’t. I vowed to change that.

Flash-forward 30-something years to another social studies teacher, this one in middle school. This man had a similar impact on my oldest children when they were sixth graders last year. He started giving his students a weekly news quiz where, every Monday, the kids would form teams and compete against one another, fielding questions on topics ranging from hard news (international, national and local) and sports, to pop culture. The fact that it had been turned into a game made my competitive children eager to actually start paying attention to the news stories on the TV, to scan the pages of the dead tree newspapers to which I subscribe and to ask The Spouse and me about the biggest news events of the week. They were really into it. We need more of this.

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released a study assessing the public’s political knowledge, and overall, the results were dispiriting. For example, only 38 percent of the respondents knew which political party controls the House of Representatives and only 43 percent knew that John Boehner was the Speaker of the House. (I feel compelled to note that the results of the poll proved me right and my youngest son wrong on the “who knows Hillary Clinton” question in that 73 percent of those polled knew that Hillary Clinton is our Secretary of State.)

When Pew broke down the results by age groups, 63 percent of 18-29-year-olds could name the founder of Facebook, as compared to 25 percent of those over 65. Those in the 50-64 age bracket were, overall, the best informed.

A poll taken by Newsweek earlier this year led the magazine to proclaim that many Americans are ignorant on issues pertaining to government, politics and history, so ignorant that 38 percent would fail a citizenship test. Among the results:
  • 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president
  • 73 percent couldn’t identify why the Americans were involved in the Cold War 
  • 44 percent didn’t know what the Bill of Rights is 
  • 6 percent couldn’t name the date on which America celebrates Independence Day
What I think we need to remedy this paucity of political and governmental knowledge is more competition, at least in schools, like my children enjoyed in sixth grade. Make it fun for the kids to vie against other students in the battle for news supremacy, they'll learn something in the process. These are future voters we’re talking about here.

Note: I extolled the virtues of political mothers in my latest Pop Culture and Politics column over on Mommy Tracked.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Very Sad Lesson in Sports vs Politics

It was a Saturday night and both The Eldest Boy and The Girl were at friends’ homes for sleepovers. The Spouse and I decided to take The Youngest Boy out to dinner at a place where not only would he eat the food without complaining, but where the grown-ups could imbibe quality, adult beverages. Our restaurant choice: John Harvard’s Brew House. (Their Harvest Spice beer, with the sugar and cinnamon coating the edge of the glass, was fabulous.)

Image credit: AFP
We were having fun, chitchatting about various topics when we stumbled upon an odd quandary: Which person is more well known, Lionel Messi or Hillary Clinton?

My 10-year-old insisted that it was Messi, who plays soccer for the FC Barcelona team and the Argentine national squad. He’s considered by many to be the best soccer player in the world. Now I consider myself to be up on the latest news and I’d never before heard of Messi. The only reason my son knew who he was is because we have a Fifa World Cup video game that he likes to play.

Image credit: AFP
I can’t recall exactly how or why Clinton’s name came up, but I asserted that more people know who she is because not only was she the First Lady for eight years, but she was a U.S. Senator, almost won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 and is our current Secretary of State. There was no way, I maintained, that people wouldn’t know who she is. She’s been all over the world speaking for American interests for decades.

To get to the bottom of this, we ran a little test. Our twentysomething waiter – we estimated that he was around 22 to 24, give or take a few years – would be the test subject.

The Youngest Boy asked him if he knew who Leo Messi was. “You mean Lionel? He plays right forward for Barcelona,” the waiter quickly replied.

While I was pondering how to phrase the question about Clinton without tainting the result, The Spouse beat me to it asking, “Do you know who the Secretary of State is?”

Upon hearing this, the waiter’s hand went to his chin as he pondered. “Oh, I should know this. I should know this,” he muttered, his face starting to redden. After pausing for a few seconds he said, his voice brimming with uncertainty, “Martha Coakley?” referring to the current Massachusetts Attorney General, the one who ran for the U.S. Senate last year but lost to Scott Brown.

He was embarrassed when we told him the answer and then he slunk away from our table. It was then that The Spouse and I figured out that he was approximately between the ages of 10-12 when Hillary Clinton went from being First Lady to being a senator.

My son smiled smugly. I still say he’s wrong. At least I hope he’s wrong.

But that hope was short-lived when The Girl came home from school the other day and told me that one of her teachers thought that Deval Patrick was the mayor of Boston. Seriously. (For the record: Patrick is the governor of Massachusetts and Tom Menino is the mayor of Boston.)

Do we need some kind of massive civic education campaign?

UPDATE: The Youngest Boy wanted me to add his "voice" to this post verbatim. Here goes:

Hello people. This is The Youngest One speaking. Obviously, everybody knows that Lionel Messi is more popular because I have an update that proves it: First of all, half the people my age [10] don't even know who she is. And also, I spent my 25-minute afternoon recess asking people who knew who Lionel Messi is and who knew who Hillary Clinton is and less than, let's say, one-fifth of them knew who Hillary Clinton is and about four-and-three quarters know who Lionel Messi is so that proves my point. Ha!

Image credits: AFP and AFP.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Where the Kids and Their Buddies All Roam

The Spouse and I took the kids to a big event in our small town last week. (In some ways it reminded me of something you might have seen occurring in the Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow where everybody in town knows about the event and where you inevitably see tons of people you know.)

Although we’ve attended this event for several consecutive years, this time, it felt different. Very different. Why? Because The Spouse and I allowed the Picket Fence Post kids to go off with their friends, to enjoy rides, to spend their allowance money on ridiculous things like pens that zap your hand when you press the button on the side (something that thrilled The Youngest Boy who kept zapping himself) and slide down inflatable slides with their friends. No parents with them.

It was a strange feeling to be sitting on the blanket next to The Spouse without any offspring next to us. It was just us, the two of us, like in our pre-kid days. Sure, the kids, their friends in tow, periodically checked in, showed us their purchases and scarfed down some of the sweets and beverages we’d brought along (you know your kids will be checking in with you when you have food), but then they zoomed back out amongst the crowd again with promises to return when the fireworks started.

As we watched other parents with younger children -- clueless toddlers and willful preschoolers -- chase them about, it was an odd thing to realize that this is where we are in our lives, with our parenting: We’re giving our kids some latitude, some freedom to test out, like a bicycle with training wheels. They have time alone with their friends but know that Mom and Dad (and a cooler of food and drink) are close by. We’re no longer having to hold their hands, watching over them every second. They’re standing up on their little colt legs and watching over themselves, with their parents providing a safety net if they need it. (It feels similar to when one of the two older kids babysit someone else’s children and either The Spouse or I are available, a phone call away, if they need us.)

By the time the main event – fireworks – started, all three of them had returned. And even though two of her friends had decided to sit with us, The Girl wasn't shy about leaning against me and allowing me to give her a hug. The Youngest Boy, who had blown off my admonition to bring a sweatshirt with him, also leaned against me but I think it was more about getting warm than it was about affection. Even with their freedom, they still came back. I hope that’s a good sign.