How Can You Not Get This?

Back when M was 3 or 4 years old, we’d sometimes do puzzles together. And almost every time, I couldn’t help thinking that she might be mentally incapacitated.

I know, I know: she was little. But it’s not like these were thousand-piece puzzles or something. They were toddler puzzles. Extraordinarily easy, I-could-do-this-blindfolded puzzles. So I’d sit there, keeping her company, maybe nursing J on my lap, and I’d have to actively fight the urge to put the damn pieces together myself. Eventually, I’d break down and offer up a little bit of coaching. I explained the age-old puzzle technique of putting aside the pieces that have straight edges, then lining up the straight edges to figure out which pieces go together. And my sweet little daughter would look at me, then at the little pile of puzzle pieces, entirely baffled by the notion of identifying those pieces with a straight edge. It’s like I’d suggested that she do long division or write a sonata.

M was (is!) a smart cookie. But somehow her brain just hadn’t clicked on this yet. Years later, I was complaining about some math concept that one of the girls wasn’t getting, and my teacher friend shook her head. “It’s a brain development thing. That homework isn’t developmentally appropriate for that age.” Ahhhh. So that’s it.

Other times, there’s something so obvious that it seems crazy that I need to teach it, like using a can opener or understanding that a towel that is hanging will dry more quickly than one that’s wadded up on the bed.

When we encounter these little stumbling blocks, whether it’s due to their just-growing-into-them brains or their lack of life experience, it can be joyful and exasperating. Recently I help M solve two problems based entirely on my Mom Common Sense, and it felt fantastic.

J, meanwhile, is struggling with the obvious in spite of my coaching. It’s vocabulary and reading homework. She is always expecting it to be more challenging or complicated than it is, and the result is that she tortures herself. Like, an essay about the Wright Brothers might say, “This glider was sleek and light” and then a follow-up question will be “Why did the glider stay up in the air?” and she’ll be pondering aerodynamic concepts when what she’s really supposed to say is “It stayed in the air because it was sleek and light.” Or she’ll read paragraphs in her vocabulary notebook about Harriet Tubman that will have statements like “Harriet Tubman yearned to be free.” And then one of the questions that’s supposed to be answered with a single vocabulary word will say, “How did Harriet Tubman feel about slavery?” and J is trying to decide between using prohibit or liberate or bondage or some other vocabulary word. And I say, honey, you just have to spit back one single word, and the word is bolded in the text. “Wait, do you think I’m supposed to say, ‘She yearned to be free’?” she asks. And I say, yes, yes, that’s what I think that you’re supposed to say. And she protests that it’s too simple and obvious and there has to be more to it than that and I say, they’re just trying to make sure that you can read and understand, and I think it’s supposed to be obvious. We have had this conversation so many times, and yet she doesn’t ever seem to absorb it. Every time she reads something she wants to bring in her outside knowledge or her personal beliefs and she’s trying to fit a little essay into one line, and I remind her that she’s supposed to be spitting back an exact phrase without embellishment.

It’s especially funny because M has this whole school thing figured out. She’ll do her best, but there’s leeway on opinions or things to do, she predicts what the teacher wants to here and will feed it to the teacher in a pretty dish with a cherry on top. And I think it’s a skill, really, to know how to please your audience, so that’s great for M. But J is not there at all, and it feels pretty stinky that in order for her to succeed in school I’ve got to tell her to stop thinking so hard.

 

Shopping in the Wrong Store

We’ve been having some blue jeans drama lately. If you are not currently parenting a teenager, you may not have noticed that the style is to wear the very tightest jeans possible. Now, back in the olden days of the 80s, tight jeans meant lying on your back on a bed, blowing all of the air out of your body while desperately trying to tug your zipper up. These days, thanks to the splendors of stretchy fabric, jeggings are pretty comfortable once they’re on, and the biggest struggle is to get your heel through the teensy, teensy opening at the bottom of the pants leg. Once that’s done, you’re golden.

Anyway, recently M had some trouble locating jeans because I attempted to switch brands on her after something we ordered arrived with a hole in it already. But the other jeans she tried didn’t suck to her ankles and waist like a scuba suit, so they were unacceptable. I went to more trouble than I should have, really, trying to accommodate her jegging needs. Finally I said that I was done, absolutely finished, and she was tasked with ordering what she wanted online herself (which would have taken me five minutes and took her a good 20 minutes because she’s a novice). That left me with just one last errand: returning two pairs of jeans that she’d deemed unacceptable.

Then I realized that I didn’t have the receipt anymore, and since pretty much 95% of everything I return, ever, is at Target, I was shocked to discover that they couldn’t just swipe my credit card. Store exchange only: not even a gift card. Humph. I was just about to call M to see what she might like instead, and that’s when I said, hey. Wait a second. Why should she get a treat for being so fussy? And I decided that I should shop for myself.

This was tougher than I expected. Walking through the store with M in mind, I think that everything is adorable, but it turns out that there is an extraordinarily small overlap in the Venn diagram of Things That Are Awesome For An Eighth Grader and Things That Are Acceptable For A Forty-Something Woman Not Currently In Her Fitness Prime. So I walked around, trying to figure out how to use all of the exchange money on myself because I sure as heck deserved a treat more than my kid did. I grabbed a cute zippered hoodie. Then I noticed some colored jeggings that were 75% off. They were definitely beyond the bounds of what I usually wear, but I was low on jeans, myself, and besides, they were so very, very cheap. The sales were so huge, in fact, that at this point I was stumped, still trying to use up another $8. The salesgirl helpfully pointed out a pajama top that “my Mom loves.” She was trying, bless her heart. After another lap around the shop I sighed and grabbed a pair of PJ bottoms and rang myself outta there.

So then, a day or two later, I’m wearing the hoodie. M sees me, and I swear, she says something like, “Mom, what is that shirt? It looks like something I would wear. You can’t do that!” Man, was I pissed. I told her she was being rude. I told her that she was not in charge of what I wear. I refrained from telling her that I’d bought the damn thing out of spite because she was not getting any more clothes from me anytime soon.

And I kept wearing that hoodie, which is perfectly fine, and perfectly appropriate, for me to wear, dammit. So screw that.

In fact, I’m wearing the hoodie right now, you little snot.

However, I’m not sure that those colored jeggings will ever see the light of day.

Library Book Binge

I’m super-excited to go back to the Savannah Book Festival this year. I’ve been once before, and I reported to you its unexpected delights.

I’m getting ready by reading a huge pile of books. But, lately I’ve been half-nervous that a librarian is going to pull the plug on me because I have been using the crap out of the library. Yes, I know, I know, librarians want us to read, and I should be fine and everything, but I also know that when you’ve got a pile like this. . .

DSC00374

. . . and it doesn’t actually include all of the books that you’re currently borrowing, well, it could be construed as greedy. Or possibly some sort of hoarding problem.

But here’s the deal: first, the way the festival works is that several authors are all speaking at the exact same time at different venues, so I’ve been trying to game my way through the reading so that hopefully I’ll have at least one author that I know that I love-love-love for each session. Even so, I know that this festival will be full of tough choices and potential heartbreak. As if that’s not enough to think about, I’m also trying to entice the rest of my family to embrace the various authors. So I’ve been checking out books for myself and for all of them, and I’ve been “scouting out” books as possible audio books that we could all listen to together.

Every time I go to check out books I imagine that there’s going to be some sort of computer beep that alerts the librarian that I’ve exceeded the (hopefully mythical?) limit. And meanwhile I keep coming up with more reasons why I need other books, like when the Working Group on Girls of Schenectady decides that we’re going to team up with One County, One Book and read Brown Girl Dreaming, or when a random man insists that there’s a book you must read. Incidentally, when I encountered this gentleman, the younger woman with him said, “It must be a good book, because he tells just about every person he sees that we have to read it.” And I thought, how the hell can you spend that much time with someone who speaks that passionately and frequently about a book without ever actually trying to read the damn book? Baffling. But I digress.

Among the books I’ve checked out were a bunch that I would classify as “testosterone thrillers”–think, you know, along the lines of Tom Clancy and such. I wanted them available for Cute W, but I was also trying to broaden myself and get a few super-quick reads under my belt. This attempt pretty much flopped. Just not my cuppa. In fact, for one book, I actually quit on page 1. Harsh, right? I can’t remember what exactly turned me off so very much, so very quickly, and I’m too polite to mention a book by name, but, let’s just say that most of these have been returned to the library already.

One rather peculiar thing happened while I was on the hunt for Rita Mae Brown books as part of my Library Quest. She’s written a whole slew of mystery books that somehow involve cats, which just doesn’t call out to me, but I also know that she’s a super-popular author, and I figured that the books would be light enough for youngsters. So in the process of geekily researching this, I stumbled upon Rubyfruit Jungle, an old book that’s recently been re-released as a classic and which has unbelievable reviews. Plus it’s a coming-of-age novel, so I figured: there it is. The book to try. Then I checked the library catalog online, and according to the library, they had no copies. At all. Not just at my local library or the downtown library, my usual go-to libraries, but at any library in the entire system. Which hardly ever happens. Given the Amazon profile, it seemed crazy. Anyway, on one of my trips to my local library, I just decided to scan the section with Rita Mae Brown to see if there were other books that didn’t involve cats. I love my cat, but I have an irrational fear that reading a cat mystery would bring on menopause. So I’m looking at the shelf, and guess what was there? A copy of Rubyfruit Jungle! It had the Schenectady Public Library sticker on it, but when I went to check it out, the book wasn’t in the system! So weird. And somewhere along the line I had figured out that the reason why The New York Times called it “groundbreaking” is because the protagonist is a lesbian, and the book came out back in the early 1970s. So I had to wonder: was there some sort of censorship drama 20 or 30 years ago? And so then they expunged the record of the book’s existence, but left it on the shelf so that budding lesbians would know that they weren’t alone? I just love the idea of it! And it sounds like something that a vigilant librarian would do. I once worked as an assistant for a librarian who pointedly didn’t tell her supervisors about some of the material she collected because she feared that they’d try to expunge the items from the official record. I have a librarian friend who, after several drinks, has said, “I don’t want to overstate it or anything, but we librarians make democracy possible.” I believe you, sister. Now the question is, do I ask a librarian if they want to add it back to the system or just quietly slide it back onto the shelf?

Something that’s made me a little bit crazy during my library book binge is that twice I’ve encountered “corrections” made by previous readers to the text of a book. Now, here’s the deal: I hate typos as much as–more than–the next gal. But these “corrections” were each judgment calls, and in each case, I believe that the judgment was poor. In one, the self-proclaimed editor circled an F-bomb that a character said with the chiding, “Unnecessary.” Excuse me, but f&*k you! Perhaps the author chose to have this normally-very-polite-and-wholesome character say this word to illustrate the extraordinary stress of that particular moment? Making the use of the term, for the author’s purposes, in the author’s opinion, completely necessary. Seriously, lady (don’t ask me why, but I could just tell by the sniffy little print that this was a lady), write your own damn book, and don’t screw around with other people’s unless they’ve asked for your opinion! In another book, someone added a word to make a sentence complete, when, from what I read, it seemed pretty obvious that the character speaking was using a halting, tentative tone with the kind of long pauses best signified by a freakin’ period. Which is what the author placed. In the middle of a fragment. For. Goddamned. Emphasis. It might not be to your tastes, oh person-who-wants-to-spare-us-from-divorced-subjects-and-predicates, but the author did this on purpose, and you are not the author, and if you want someone to read your words, you need to write your own book and lay off of other people’s books.

Along the way, I’ve come up with some new favorite authors, and I’ll tell you about them once I’ve figured out who-all is on my love-love-love list.

 

Judgment Calls

On Monday, J was invited to share some frozen yogurt with friends, and I was confronted with a series of judgment calls. You know, small-scale judgment calls. Incidentally, just writing the first sentence I was at war against my nature, because I’m generally a very good speller, but I always, always, always want to spell judgment wrong: judgement. Honestly, I think that I’m right and everyone else is wrong, because the whole point of having the silent “e” in judge is to make the “g” soft, and we don’t want to pronounce “judgment” like jud-guh-ment, do we? No, of course we don’t. So I still think that we should all spell it my way, but I’m bowing to societal pressure. A-freakin’-gain. And thus simply by referring to judgment I am exhibiting questionable judgment. But I digress.

Cute little J got dressed in her very special outfit for this get-together. Over the years I’ve noticed that each daughter will have her go-to favorite power outfit among the casual clothes. There’s that favorite pair of jeans, that favorite t-shirt, and I almost always find the choice baffling. We tend to have too many clothes. There’s a constant hand-me-down stream and the girls are loathe to part with anything, even something that they never, ever wear. It’s pretty annoying. But what’s even more annoying is that often, my favorites are the ones that are never worn. Anyway, J’s hands-down favorite outfit of the moment is a pair of chartreuse jeans from her once-favorite store Ruum (RIP) and a heathered pink shirt. Okay. If you’re forgetting what color chartreuse, click the link, and then envision that coupled with dusky pink. It’s two adorable pieces of clothing that should never, ever, ever be worn together. And yet she does it, again and again. When it first happened, I tried to gently steer J toward the black top that went just smashingly with chartreuse. You know, the top that we bought to go with the jeans. But I’ve given up. You can’t say to a kid who’s feeling like she looks like a million bucks that this color combination shouldn’t happen. And so, I’d say for at least a year now, I just hold my tongue and wait patiently for her to grow out of the damn outfit and move on to something new. But it takes considerable forbearance.

So she’s dressed and ready, and we leave about half an hour early because we want to pick up a birthday treat. The invitation stipulated no gifts, but once again, that’s a judgment call. I’ve  gone to parties empty-handed where the hosts said no gifts only to see a table full of them. And yet it seems rude to ignore the stipulation completely. So my policy has been to settle on a token gift: a flower, a balloon, some candy, whatever. J had an idea for a token gift, and we went to the store where she’d seen them, and . . . crap, nothing. So we headed to store number two where, after much deliberation and stress, J settled on a balloon and a box of M & Ms. Phew. That was a tough one. Then, as we approached the gathering, J went into full-on panic mode. “The invitation said absolutely no gifts!” she whispered urgently. She refused to move forward, pleading with me to make our token items disappear. “Dude, no one’s going to get angry with you for bringing a balloon, I swear,” I said. “It’s no big deal.” But she was paralyzed, and I agreed to take and hide the M & Ms while she agreed that the balloon might be acceptable. And then we walked in, and there was a shriek of balloon delight even as another guest walked in, empty-handed. Ugh. It’s pretty much impossible to game that one correctly.

In the middle of checking out with our token gifts and trying not to allow a balloon to soar up into the ceiling, we were lined up behind a very friendly old man who decided to chat us up. And apropos of nothing, he explained that back when he was a teacher, he’d line up all of the boys and then give them his sage advice: don’t ask the girls first–just kiss ’em! Okaaaay. I smiled encouragingly and pretended to be charmed by him countermanding what I hope is the rising cultural norm that we should be teaching boys that they should obtain consent as part of a developmentally-appropriate method to combat rape culture. But I kept smiling because he was so friendly, and also, he was very, very old. And eventually, it seemed pretty clear that he had some dementia. Plus he redeemed himself a bit by highly recommending The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which I have not read, but which sounds like it’s got a serious girl power theme. So we’re putting it on the list.

Maybe we can read it while eating M & Ms.

 

 

The Rant Continues

I have this backlog of topics that I’m not posting about because my rant has been rattling around in my head, so I’m sorry. It’s long. It’s a rant. But I just have to get it out there to clear the decks. And off-topic, if you’re considering Cinderella at Proctors, here’s my review.

 

After complaining about the recent cops-and-dogs search at our local high school, I wrote an email to the superintendent and the Board of Ed. I said the same stuff about it being an ineffective method for catching actual offenders and damaging for non-offending students’ perception of school and the police, but in a somewhat less rant-y way. I also said we should focus on openly addressing the very real mental and emotional health challenges that so many kids are facing, including substance use and abuse.

There’s a ton of anxiety and depression among kids in our community, and I think it’s much more than people talk about. It feels like there’s a perfect storm of cultural issues that are screwing kids up. Start with the school day, which contains more testing and test preparation with fewer support services. But that’s not all.

A recent article in Slate focused on helicopter parenting’s correlation with college-age depression. They cite an American  Psychological Association survey in which 95% of college counseling center directors said that “the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern,” and 70% said that “the number of students with severe psychological problems on their campus has increased in the past year.” I don’t think that that would surprise anyone who is around kids this age. The headline puts the blame squarely on helicopter parents, and the article offers up some egregious examples of truly atrocious parenting.

You might think that I’d take some comfort in my Free Range parent stance. Nope. Because once you get past the buzzwords, the “psychological blowback” kids are suffering is attributed not just to “overinvolved parents” but also to “rigidly structured childhoods.” In fact, the article cites a study from the journal Frontiers in Psychology in which the researchers are careful to point out, in sharp contrast to the Slate article itself, that “there is little scientific evidence to support claims on either side of” parenting philosophy debates. Instead, that research study focuses on the correlation between how time is spent and the quality of a child’s “self-directed executive function.”

“Executive function is extremely important for children,” said CU-Boulder psychology and neuroscience Professor Yuko Munakata, senior author of the new study. “It helps them in all kinds of ways throughout their daily lives, from flexibly switching between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing, to stopping themselves from yelling when angry, to delaying gratification. Executive function during childhood also predicts important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth and criminality, years and even decades later.”

According to the study, the more unstructured time a child has, the better their self-directed executive function. The more highly structured time, the poorer their self-directed executive function. Which is pretty awful, because rigidly structured childhoods are pretty tough to avoid these days. Between school, homework, and practices, my kids have days when they have almost no free time at all. So we’re actively screwing up our kids. Sometimes I feel trapped. I don’t want to make my kids have to quit their activities. And even if I they did quit for more free time to play around the neighborhood, there would be no one to play with because all the other kids are in their highly structured activities.

So we’re all keeping the kids so busy that they’re not getting the freedom to develop their own coping skills. And it’s not just that: I think that, often, in our anxiety to give overscheduled, overworked kids a break, we parents  become too indulgent and permissive. When J’s struggled through math homework and now she only has ten free minutes before we have to jump into the car and head to practice, I can’t bring myself to tell her to pick up those discarded socks or do other chores. When one of M’s friends’ moms drops everything to pick up a bunch of girls and take them out because it’s literally the first free night her daughter’s had in two weeks, I get it. But we end up with these pretty accomplished young people who are anxious and not-so-great at decision-making (executive function), surrounded by parents who sometimes let them get away with murder.

I got infuriated talking with another parent who applauded the drug search, because while arguing in favor of the cops-and-dogs approach, she recounted a time that she’d walked by kids she knew who were smoking pot right outside the doors to the high school. When I asked if she’d reported the kids, she said no. Apparently, she’d prefer to have everyone’s lockers sniffed than actually turn in kids using illegal substances in plain sight on school grounds. Seriously, what the hell? But then I tried to see her side, and I can imagine that when she sees a friend’s kids, she knows of them as generally good kids making a laughably poor decision or as anxious and struggling kids who are self-medicating, and either way, it feels awkward and difficult to turn the kids in. And I didn’t follow up, to ask if this mom had at least called the kids’ moms. Honestly, I had to stop talking. I think it was clear just by my expression that I was feeling full of Rage And Judgement.

For most parents, a part of us would like to control every aspect of our teenagers’ lives. Often we can see that procrastination will end in pain, that a certain friend will cause unnecessary drama, that their crush is unworthy of their attention. . . whatever. We’ve been there, done that, and we’d make better decisions. Please. I would be way better at being a teenager now that I’m in my mid-40s.

But that’s not what we’re supposed to do. We’ve got to resist the impulse and let them learn by doing, offering course corrections when necessary and possibly even full-on smackdowns as needed. I think that some parents would prefer to have a drug-sniffing dog go after each and every student at school because they’re convinced that any guilty parties would not be their “good” kids who should not be exposed to the corrupting influence of those bad seeds. They’d prefer not to acknowledge that, when left to their own devices, it is completely normal for a teenager to make stupid choices, and so we should prepare them accordingly.  In preparation for those moments when we’re not right next to our kids, monitoring them, we should talk to them honestly about all that’s at stake. Controlling your kids only works as long as you’re right there next to them, and then, if that’s been your method all along, it all goes to hell as soon as you’re out of sight. I remember one year as a student advisor at college, there was a kid moving in whose parents were all up in his grill, unpacking for him, fluffing his pillow, lingering long after the other parents had decamped. As soon as they were gone, he went nuts. I just remember it involved a lot of vomiting.

Which is the sort of thing that happens with teenagers, because even the smartest ones can be really, really stupid. They need a little freedom to develop some sense of their own judgement. And it may take a while.

Not too long ago, I was driving on Balltown Road, and I saw a student from the high school walking along the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. I was, like, beside myself. First of all, it’s not as if it’s the 70s or even early 80s, when plenty of people smoked. It’s completely socially unacceptable to smoke just about everywhere, and everyone knows that it’s so bad for you. But I was even more pissed because she was smoking right there where all of the grown-ups were driving along, in plain sight. What the hell? It was bad enough that she was smoking, but shouldn’t she at least have been afraid that someone would tell her parents? Because I’m totally that kind of person. I will yell out the car window to the kid wearing all black while biking at night that he needs to wear something reflective. I will confront litterers. And I swear to God, you guys, if you ever, ever, ever see one of my daughters smoking or drinking, I urge you to: 1) take a photo for evidence if possible; 2) chastise them loudly for extra humiliation; and 3) report back to me without hesitation.

It takes a village, people.

Anyway, when I was hunting for ideas that would be more effective in assisting with potential substance abuse issues, I asked a friend who works in the field, who pointed me to a guide for talking about drugs with kids called Safety First. I particularly enjoyed his description of it as “pragmatic information presented in a non-terrifying format.”

In it, there’s quite a bit of talk about distinguishing between use and abuse. Which always reminds me of that party scene from the movie Clueless, when Cher, after determining that she’s one month older (and therefore, presumably, wiser) than her new friend Tai, offers her some advice: “It is one thing to spark up a doobie and get laced at parties, but it is quite another to be fried all day. Do you see the distinction?”

Yes. Because I think that the vast majority of parents aren’t all that concerned at the idea that our children will at some point in their high school career drink a beer or even smoke a joint. We pretty much fear death and heroin. So I like the idea of drawing this distinction between use and abuse, and helping guide kids so that they can develop that life-sustaining executive function. Because normal, terrific kids can make really stupid choices.

I got mad, again (I know, right? I’ve been having Rage Issues), when I shared an article on Facebook via the KidsOutAndAbout Facebook page. The article terrified me. A girl spending the night at a friend’s house, with parents present in the house, drank 15 shots of vodka and died. Holy crap, that’s horrifying. I shared the article in part because it struck me as something that was so preventable. If the hosting parents had not allowed drinking or monitored better, if the girl’s parents had thought to check the host’s policy on drinking, if the girl had been taught that this much alcohol could kill her, if any of the kids felt like they could contact a parent asap when a friend was in serious trouble, if any parents had pointed out diversionary tactics that kids could take with wasted friends, like hiding alcohol or watering things down. . . it’s just heartbreaking. So after I posted this, I get this freakin’ comment. Now, as a policy I don’t get into commenting back and forth on the page, because I’m, you know, the page. I stay out of it and add vague little “What do you think?” statuses. But here’s what this lady said:

I’m sorry but there has to be some underlying issues here. The sister that is quoted saying that her sister was a curious teen who drank as much as they could till they passed out… That’s not normal teen behavior, *red flag!!* Then what kind of person suddenly decides they want to challenge themselves to drink 17 shots of vodka?

Ugh. Just because you’re not aware of it doesn’t mean that it’s not normal. I’ll concede that passing out repeatedly indicates an abuse problem, but that “what kind of person” comment is so awful and victim-blaming. She was a competitive athlete, someone used to setting goals and achieving them, someone who liked to compete and win. It makes such sense. The fact that this was a monumentally stupid goal is not in any way surprising to me. I’m pretty smart and didn’t get into too much trouble as a teenager, but at some point my friends and I stole a classroom chair from our high school and took turns leaving it on each other’s front porches. I distinctly remember swiping someone’s light-up yard gnome and leaving it several houses down the street. And I remember drinking a whole lot of sloe gin, throwing up, and returning to it because I wanted to finish the bottle. Part of the thing with drinking is that the more you do, the stupider you get, and next thing you know, 15 shots could sound like a worthy accomplishment.

Pretending like this poor girl is some bad-seed aberration is just a way for people to pat themselves on the back and reassure themselves that their kids would never do something that stupid. We can all only hope and pray that that’s true.

And the parents, oh, my gosh, those parents who hosted the party? How awful. I remember standing around on a driveway at some unbelievably lame keg party in high school and looking up to see the parents and several of their friends standing in the window, looking down at us. And even as a teenager, I was like, “That is completely inappropriate.” So if you are the kind of parent who hosts drinking parties or you know who those parents are, please let me know so that I can forbid my children from ever going there. And then, maybe, go pick them up if they go there anyway.

I shared that vodka-drinking story with M. After saying that drinking was a bad idea, I reminded her of some other tips, like that vodka is much stronger than beer, that alcohol should be alternated with water, that people who are already drunk will be too incoherent to notice if you start watering things down or making bottles disappear, that I would much rather pick her or her friends up wasted than at a hospital or a morgue. There was quite a bit of “I know; do you think I’m stupid?” eye-rolling.

And then, just the other day, another horrible story about a young woman who left a party drunk and wearing shorts and a tank top in sub-zero Wisconsin and was found frozen to death a few hours later. Yet another cautionary tale to share with kids, a drinking hazard that seems too bizarre for reality and thus actually seems to make an impact. How could her friends just let her go? M wondered. They just didn’t think. It probably didn’t seem like a big deal. That’s the whole impaired judgment thing. Think of how terrible her friends must feel now. And we pondered this, driving between rigidly scheduled activities, while I hoped that the story would help that executive function to kick in sometime when she and her friends need it.

 

Okay, done. Something light next time, I promise.

 

 

Don’t Worry Parents: We Got This!

As far as I heard, two things happened at our local high school on Wednesday.

In the evening, parents of 8th graders were invited to the high school to learn about what to expect for their soon-to-be high school-aged children, specifically emphasizing that these children would be treated to a vast array of academic program choices as well as plenty of tender loving care.

Throughout the program, not a word was spoken about the morning‘s events at the high school, which included a lockdown drill and a search of locker areas with police officers and their dogs “as part of our ongoing efforts to keep students safe.”

Both activities seemed designed primarily to pacify fretful parents.

Which, as a parent of an incoming high school student, is what I am. Fretful.

The evening offered up some helpful information. After getting bombarded with the message not to take too many honors classes, I learned that 30-45% of students take honors instead of the regular classes in English and social studies, making honors a no-brainer choice for M. And just as I was wondering what would inspire an adolescent to pursue two full years of career and financial management, I learned that the upper-level students go to Disney World. So even if about 85% of the information was covered in the written material we’d already received, some of it was useful.

As for the morning’s cops and drug-sniffing dogs? Not so much. In fact, I thought it was pretty ironic that the Powers That Be would choose these events for the same day. Because as reassuring as the evening program tried to be, for me, the overwhelming Message of the Day was that high school will be the closest thing to prison that my child has encountered.

I get so frustrated with education because it feels like, so often, we choose to do exactly the opposite of what’s clearly best for kids. Back when M was in nursery school, there was a huge battle to keep our curriculum play-based. Play is the most effective way for little kids to learn, and yet when parents worry about their children learning their ABCs, schools just cave. Recess, walking to school, roaming around the neighborhood are all things that once made childhood wonderful and made children smarter and more resourceful, and all of them are on the endangered list. It’s maddening. Testing and test prep are sucking the joy and creativity out of learning. And I know, I know: we have great teachers, and overall our experience has been terrific. But it’s been a bit of a gloomy year for us. Just as an example, J’s teacher is so controlling about the kids’ reading habits that students are effectively afraid to pick up a random book and start reading. It’s enough to make me feel like crying.

So, let’s take cops and drug-sniffing dogs, shall we? What’s the impact of such a little excursion going to be? And I am completely bullshitting here, but just for the sake of argument, let’s go back to that survey that they did in Niskayuna recently to just take a look at pot. And yes, I know that there are prescription drugs and, increasingly heroin, but I’m just going with pot because it’s simpler. I’ll bet that most of the heroin users have also used pot, and I bet that the dogs are not going after potentially legitimately-used prescription drugs. Anyway. According to the survey, 15% of students have tried pot in their lifetime, and 8.4% have used pot in the last month. Presumably, with cops and drug-sniffing dogs, you’re going after dealers and regular users, so that’s the 8.4%. And just to be generous to their heavy-handed approach, let’s assume that some folks are lying, and that usage is double, or 16%, of students.

If that’s true, we have 84% of kids who are basically bystanders experiencing this drama. So, how’s it going to make these kids feel? Maybe a teensy, tiny, itty-bitty percentage of students are saying to themselves, “Wow, I was totally going to buy pot this week, but now I’m scared straight!” I think it’s more likely that a small percentage of student were saying to themselves, “This is scary, stressful, and upsetting, and I hate that they’re doing this.” And then a smallish segment of the population might think, “Good! I hope they catch some of those losers.” But I bet the majority of this 84% majority think a variation on, “Jeez. High school sucks.”

Meanwhile, what about the regular users and dealers of drugs? Well, since no drugs were recovered, I’d expect that their reactions fall into three possible categories: 1. “Holy crap! That was close! Better text people I can’t sell in gym!” 2. “Idiots. We’re way smarter than that,” and, my personal favorite, 3. “. . . .Wha. . . huh. . . What happened. . . ?”

In my opinion, the benefit of getting a few kids rightfully scared out of their wits does not outweigh the cost of making a majority of wonderful kids think high school is an unpleasant place where they are assumed to be criminals. I’d argue it also makes the idea of reporting drug activity more intimidating.

It’s funny, too, because in that same survey, it said that about 70% of seniors knew where to get pot. If so, couldn’t school officials and cops narrow it down a little bit? I’m a hopelessly naive, not-hip-to-the-drug-scene, middle-aged lady, but I could take a stab at this. Let’s see, are there woods near the school grounds? Which kids have parents who smoke pot? Should we focus on more intervention for academically failing students? Who’s showing up at Smashburger with bloodshot eyes?

Of course, all that more subtle detective work doesn’t show the parents that you’re Doing Something. The whole cops-and-dogs thing feels like hanging out a “mission accomplished” banner in the middle of a conflict. It doesn’t help, and when it becomes clear that the tactic didn’t help, it just makes you look stupid and erodes trust all around. Which is too bad, because I think that we have some significant substance abuse and mental and emotional health issues in our community. But I’ll save that for another post.

 

 

 

Here Is Where I Rock

Often I wish parented better. My parenting wishes frequently stand in direct conflict with each other, like I wish that I had enough money to buy X for my daughters but I also wish I never spent any money and we gave all our birthday gift funds to charity. Or I wish that I cooked more delicious and healthful foods and I wish that I never cooked at all because I’d trained my children to be responsible for all the cooking. Or whatever. The point is, my personal bar is high, which is why I frequently find myself limbo-ing under it instead of pole vaulting the damn thing.

Except, you know what? We are excellent at thank you notes.

I’m not saying that the thank you notes that my children write are really long and creative and detailed, but we have achieved the single most important thing about thank you notes.

We. Get. Them. Done.

And, if I’m honest here, that is all me.

It’s not like my children showed an early and natural aptitude for writing thank you notes. I can’t claim responsibility for J’s apparent trumpet prowess, but I get to claim their thank you-note-writing as my very own.

And Cute W is an excellent parent who is responsible for many of the better aspects of my girls’ personality: he models self-discipline, he takes apart machines so the girls can see how stuff works, and he is unfailingly polite. But when it comes to writing thank you notes, I am the engine of this family. It’s all me, baby.

And what I have created is absolutely splendid. At least it is for those of us who’ve trained themselves to see the splendor in ordinary things.

Because after Christmas I put a stack of cards, a couple of writing utensils, and a list on a table, and the girls saw it all and went to work. I mentioned the notes once, and before the sun set that day, with nary another nag, I had a bunch of polite, neatly-written notes. That’s nothing short of spectacular.

So, no: I haven’t conquered discarded socks, I can’t always keep my frustration with homework assignments to myself, and I am probably a little too eager to hear the gossip about the 8th grade dating scene.

But I have trained two individuals to swiftly and graciously thank their loved ones. Since before they could write words, I told them to draw thank you pictures, and it is such a regular and natural part of any holiday-related good fortune that no one whines or frets or complains anymore. They take it for granted that gratitude must be expressed in a gracious and timely manner. So, there. I’m contributing to humanity. I have made the world a better place.

Let’s celebrate me, people.

 

 

Kansas City

The girls had tons of fun with the family in Kansas City. One highlight was checking out the cousins’ neighbors’ house. These people are deeply, deeply emotionally and financially invested in inflatables. It was like a wonderland. And it was particularly ironic because recently a guy asked me about where he could find a gigantic snow globe to take a cute family photo. That’s the kind of random request I get as editor at KidsOutAndAbout. But I had no idea. And then I asked folks via our Facebook page, and . . . crickets. Apparently there aren’t any adorable giant snow globes around the Capital District.

Apparently, that’s because this family in Kansas City has bought them all. Seriously, it was nuts.

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But, you know, nuts in a nice way. Because even though I can’t imagine wanting to pack my entire lawn with inflatable holiday fun, I appreciate that someone else wants to do it.

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It was like an amusement park. There were many, many more inflatables than you see here, so many that the entire lawn was covered, with little pathways staked out, and those pathways were worn out from all of the visitors. They even had an outdoor movie screen so that they can screen Christmas classics at night. So much fun.

Speaking of fun, years ago we visited our first trampoline park, Sky Zone, in Kansas City. Shortly after posting about it, a Sky Zone arrived in Albany, along with a Flight Trampoline Park, where J had a birthday party. So here’s hoping that after posting about Urban Air, someone will decide to open a franchise near us (right now, the closest ones are 100+ miles away). Urban Air has many of the same features as our fun local places, like bunches of trampolines, a dodgeball area, and baskets for dunking. But they also had a section of trampolines set aside just for the preschool set along with my personal favorite feature, a series of obstacle course runs, American Ninja Warrior-style.

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Kids hit a button to start a timer, then tried to make it through the various obstacles. Both girls would have done better with a bit more height, but they sure had some fun!

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No wonder we all exhausted ourselves over break. We spent New Year’s Eve frantically unpacking and cooking so that we could bring food to parties. The we woke up bright and early on Friday when we got everyone’s favorite call, the one where you find out that your child barfed over your friend’s house during her sleepover. So J was sick and suffering through much of the day on Friday, recovering just enough so that the rest of us callously abandoned her for  the evening to go see M’s first soccer games of her indoor season. The soccer games were fun, and so far I love this year’s coach. M’s been coming home from her Black Watch practices almost giddy with joy, which is especially funny because her coaches can be harsh. Which was fun to watch during the game, like when her coach pulled M aside and gave her a bunch of instructions while she was on the field, theoretically supposed to be playing, or when the coach yelled to another player, “Do you have a left foot?” Whatever, it seems to work. I’m knocking on wood, but M’s as happy as she’s ever been. And the team’s doing well. Or, as Cute W has repeated at least three times since we heard a parent of an opposing team say it during the game, these girls are no joke.

On early Saturday morning I had a tv appearance, and after that we were through with our obligations and finally able to relax and recover.

The tree’s down, although I’m still gathering all of the holiday stuff. It’s funny, but every year I love pulling it all out and putting it around the house, and then by January I’m so excited to take it all down. At some point after the stockings are emptied, it all magically morphs from joyful and festive to cluttered and claustrophobic. So reclaiming the house is a work in progress. Of course, now it looks like all that free space will be taken up by drying snow clothes, but c’est la vie.

 

 

 

Great to Be Here for the New Year!

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus because we were traveling for the holidays, visiting Cute W’s family in Kansas City. We were supposed to leave on December 22nd and return on the 28th, but travel was a challenge. On our trip out, we barely made our connecting flight. As in, the airline told us that we would not make the connecting flight, and then we lucked out when the connecting flight was late, so then we were sprinting out of the first airplane as they were calling our family’s name on the loudspeaker for a last call. We had to run to a gate that was only about 40 feet away, but there was one of those long moving sidewalk contraptions blocking our path, so we were all yelling, “That’s US! We’re HERE!” as we tried not to run into people.

And then on Monday the 28th, there was just enough snow and ice in Kansas City, Chicago, and Albany to screw things up crazily. Our flight was cancelled according to the airline and still running according to the airport and we were on hold with customer service for almost an hour and next thing you know, instead of leaving together late Monday morning we were leaving on two separate flight schedules, both late on Wednesday.

Of course, we did our best to make the most of the extended visit, but meanwhile all of the grown-ups had obligations to work around and meanwhile our cat sitter was running out of cat food and everyone was just ready to be home.

Originally, Cute W and J were going to leave before M and me and fly through Baltimore, then we’d leave an hour later and go through Chicago. Then there was another flight delay for Cute W and J, and their connecting flight was looking iffy. So then, we get to airport on Wednesday and we’re checking in. And I realize that I don’t have my driver’s license. We searched frantically, I prayed to St. Anthony and tried not to cry, and Cute W was fighting off the urge to throw up. No luck. Typically, when I fly and need to keep pulling it out, I’ll leave my ID in the back pocket of my jeans. But on the day we’d arrived at Grandma and Grandpa’s, my jeans had ripped and I’d thrown them away.

Oh, yes I did.

Interesting fact: you don’t actually need a picture ID to fly. Instead, you get the extra-supreme-o, possible-terrorist treatment in security. They combed over all of my belongings (which was funny, because they skipped M’s, even though we were clearly together), and then they gave me the full-on body massage pat-down. Which was funny because they spend about 50% of the pat-down time emotionally preparing you for the fact that the back of a woman’s hand would be brushing against my “sensitive areas.” M was getting all irritated, and I’m sure it would have been annoying if I’d been picked based on my name or ethnicity, but, as I pointed out to M, this was completely my fault. I was just so grateful that they were letting me fly!

Anyway, our flights were relatively uneventful. Meanwhile, Cute W and J were dealing with an emotional roller coaster as the airline told them that they wouldn’t make their connecting flight, then re-booked them somewhere else, then got them on the original flight, after all. At one point they came up to their gates and the door was already closed and J was sobbing. Poor thing.

But we finally all made it to the Albany airport a bit after 1 am on Thursday. Which meant that we managed to celebrate New Year’s Eve, but both Cute W and I were fast asleep before midnight.

More about Kansas City later, but for now, I want to show you what might be my favorite present of the year, chosen by J:

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Locks, so that I can lock up my scissors. I’m always complaining that my scissors disappear because the girls steal them. What a thoughtful idea! And, look, perfect for this post: they’re TSA-Approved! J got Cute W some Star Wars figures and, for M, another clever and thoughtful gift: earplugs, because M always complains that J’s trumpet practice is too loud. What a cutey-patootie!

I’m going to be on WNYT’s Weekend Today tomorrow morning, Saturday at about 8:15 am, talking about making January fly by for KidsOutAndAbout.com. If I’m not looking my best, it’s because I’m still sleep deprived.

Hope you all had wonderful holidays!

Merry Christmas

The girls and their cousins put a bunch of greenery, cranberries, and candles into their grandma’s white elephant vase for a centerpiece. Pretty cute.

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We’re good. Kids are loving the weather and playing outside a bunch. I ordered a bunch of gifts for M through Wanelo, which is a social app that the younguns are using to window shop virtually. Here’s my advice: never, ever order anything from Wanelo. One out of six items has actually arrived. Something ordered on December 6th was marked “Status: Complete,” but then when I checked the tracking it was last seen a week and a half ago somewhere in China. Am I bitter? You bet I am. Well we’ll try to stumble along, I guess. The girls just got fuzzy Star Wars pj pants from their aunt, so it’s not like they’re suffering.

Merry Christmas! Cookies for everyone!

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