Sunday, April 10, 2011

I Would Never Let MY Kids Walk to School

U.S. Department of Transportation reports that in 1969 only 12% of kids were driven to school. Today, that number has quadrupled, while the number of kids walking or biking has fallen to a despicable 13%.

When I was a kid I didn't walk to school uphill both ways, but I did walk.  I walked in the snow, in the rain, when I was sick and once with a sprained ankle. We all carried our books in our arms because book bags were for sissies. And when it rained, nobody had an umbrella or a ride home.

I never once heard Mom say, “Hi sweetie, I'm here to pick you up 'cause it's raining. Here are your headphones so you can watch a movie on the ride home.” And somehow I think I’m much better off having never heard it.

We no longer build tree forts, we buy them. We don’t watch movies with our kids at the drive-ins. Instead, we drive while our kids watch movies. We control our kid's free time and read articles like “How to Plan the Perfect Play Date.”  Every morning I join the climate-controlled car line at the bus stop.  Is anyone else disgusted?

We all know that unstructured play is instrumental in the development of a well adjusted child, but still we follow the masses to soccer signups and cheer tryouts. Why should our children be left out? What choice do we have? The Let Kids Just Play article written by confirms that “unstructured play time is actually more important than homework.”

So, how can I combat this parental trend without ostracizing my kids from all of their friends? I have no idea, but for the next week, I’m going to use Mom’s translations for all my common parenting phrases:

I would sayMom would say
“Time for your Play Date”“Get outside and don’t come in ‘till dinner.”
“You need a Time Out”“You’re in deep shit.”
“Organized Sports”“Summer Rec, Pickup games and Curb-Ball”
“Helicopter Parent”There’s no translation. Abstinence is the only choice.

Sorry to cut this post short, but I’ve gotta get to the bus stop to pick up the kids. After all, it's raining, their book bags are heavy, and we have some play dates to plan.

How will you rid yourself of modern parenting?

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Protect Our Children, Stop Keeping Score?

PhotobucketWhen I was a kid, Field Day was the Olympics of grade school. It was a day we looked forward to all year. It was our chance to win the coveted blue First-Place ribbon in kickball, sprints or the three-legged race.
It was my daughter’s fifth grade Field Day and I was in charge of the basketball throwing station. Adrenalin-filled voices echoed through the school yard, tickling my memories.

I instructed the kids, “Each team member gets one shot. The team with the highest score wins...”

A designer-clothes-wearing volunteer mom interrupted, “Oh no. We don’t keep score. Everybody’s a winner.”

Another Nosey-Nelly added, “She’s right. This is Field Day. This is supposed to be fun.”

What’s not fun about keeping score? These kids are ten; I think they can count. It’s mathematically and logically impossible for everyone to be a winner.

I said, “I tell you what, next year, you sign up to be Class Mom. Then you run field day however the hell you want. This year we’re keepin’ score.”

When did “Everybody’s-A-Winner” awards and “You-Participated” gold medals replace Fist-Place trophies? What are we teaching our children with these? Maybe an undeserved award will boost their self esteem. Maybe they can stare at the awards and pretend they don’t know who really won.

In the Newsweek article Winning Isn’t Everything…, Leslie Goldman writes, “But after a certain age, sports aren’t just about fun and games. They are a critical tool to teaching kids about discipline, hard work, and winning and losing.”

Life is unfair, but we can’t make it fair by pretending everyone’s a winner. We can make it fair by teaching our kids how to win gracefully and loose with dignity and find their special talent – that one thing that they want to achieve. We’re not all awarded the valedictorian title or presidential job, but we can all strive for it. In America, that’s called opportunity.

There’s much to be learned from losing and much to be learned from winning. I’m just not sure what’s learned from pretending we’re not competing.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Contributing to the Delinquency of my Minors?

Wonderfully Dysfunctional
Some families play Monopoly, some play Chutes-n-Ladders. In my house the game of choice is Poker.  Texas Hold ‘Em.

To make it even more deplorable, we don’t play for silly prizes or trinkets. No way! We play for money, green hard cash. If the kids want to play, they know to bring their piggy banks because Mommy doesn’t bank roll their gambling.

Not everyone appreciates our love for Poker.  During family parties, my children are banned from the poker table.  Family members scold: “It’s inappropriate… You’re raising degenerates … Gambling leads to crime.” And my personal favorite, “What next?  Money laundering?”  But they’re scolding me while counting chips and peaking at their own poker hands.

Why do I let them play Poker? Because poker is our equalizer. It bridges the gap between our ages. My teens become people. We interact, laugh and talk. It works for us.

Why not play board games? I wish I liked board games. Really I do. But I’d rather stick hot burning embers in my eyes than play with paper money or dice. I hate board games and my kids can tell – they know when Mom’s bluffing ;-).

A well-known Harvard law professor Charles Nesson wants to teach kids the skills of life using poker. He says, “Though just a game, poker teaches survival skills and encourages the development of good instincts. A good poker player learns to size up the competition quickly and decide where potential risks lie."

Acquiring math and life skills is just a bonus. I spend a lot of my time teaching, lecturing, or punishing my kids. Poker allows me to just play with them.  Don’t worry, it’s not casino central every night. Here are other equalizers we’ve found:
  • Cooking Channel – A compromise between their teen-trash and my chick flicks.
  • Colombo DVD series –Colombo rocks and is good for ages 9 and up.
  • Trampoline – Jumping on the trampoline reminds the kids that Mom’s not so old.
  • Set – A card game that doesn’t include betting and bluffing. Yes, we have some!
I’m not saying Poker is the answer for you. And I’m not picketing the schools to get poker into the classrooms. I’m saying find what suits your family and don’t be afraid to look outside the norm.

What are your equalizers?

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Entrepreneur or Thief?

The Principal called me last night and said, “We have a big problem.”

She must have dialed the wrong number because my kids are perfect.  I said, “Really?”

“Your son is selling the use of his iPod.”
“Oh, that.”
“He was polite and honest when I confronted him. Did you know he's collected over $60?”
“I know. Pretty smart huh?”
The principal barked, “It’s against school policy.”

Wait a minute. What about your fundraisers? You gave my son wrapping paper and candles and sent him out like a traveling sales man. You enticed him with promises of a Super Grand Prize that he was convinced he’d win. Hmmm… I wonder where he got the idea it was okay to sell at school?

The principal continued, “We expect your son to return all of the money.”
“He didn’t bully anyone. He wasn’t charging for friendship. He was providing a service and they bought it. It’s an iPod, not crack.”
The principal said, “I’ll be contacting the parents of the other kids.”

Great. Let’s really punish those kids for participating in the foundation of our country’s economic system. Kids have been putting quarters in pinball machines for years. They get value and the owner of the pinball machine gets compensated. It’s called Capitalism. I agree my son should not be breaking any rules, but return the money?

“No problem. My son will bring back all of the money tomorrow.”

He’ll also be bringing in some wrapping paper and I’ll be expecting a $45 refund too. It’ll be a great lesson for my son about how the customer is always right and the duty of a business to provide refunds.

I wonder what the other kids will learn from this?

* Disclaimer for the lawyers: The conversation above is a representation of a real conversation.  My mind is not capable of recalling the exact words. I am in no way condoning breaking school rules, nor am I criticizing the actions of the principal. We all have our jobs and mine is to parent.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Taming the Bully reports, “The Department of Education estimates as many as 160,000 children a day stay home from school because of the threat.”

There are all degrees of bullying and sometimes kids can even be bullied by adults. On her second week of First grade, I asked my daughter, “Why don’t you want to buy lunch at school anymore?”

She said, “’cause the Lunch Lady screams at me.”

Fighting back all instincts to race to school and kick some crotchety-ass, I said, “There’s only one thing we can do. Bake her cookies.”

We baked the cookies together and imagined why the Lunch Lady was so mean. Maybe she just had a hard life. Maybe she planned on retiring to Florida with her high school sweetheart, but he died before they ever made it out of New Jersey. Now she’s stuck making grilled-cheese sandwiches and mopping floors. Or maybe she just hates the way she looks in a hairnet. We don’t know her story.

My daughter packed the cookies into a brown lunch bag and wrote: To My Lunch Lady, Love Amanda.

She brought cookies to school and handed them over, reluctantly. The Lunch Lady didn’t even glance down. She screamed, “Move it!”

But when Amanda turned around to look at the beast she saw it.  It was so brief and subtle anyone else would have missed it completely. A wink and a smile. Lunch Lady never screamed at Amanda again.

Not only did my daughter tame the heart of the bologna-beast, she also learned a few life lessons:
  • Don't be the victim
  • You have more power than you think
  • Love is much stronger than hatred
  • Trust your Mommy
Not all bullies should be tamed. I teach my kids the first step is to tell someone.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Don’t Judge the Bully

Even in our sweet little country town, there are bullies masquerading in clean-cut haircuts and Abercrombie polos. They can be found in the schoolyard, on the bus, and even in my neighborhood. They taunt, push, spit, steal seats and say stupid things like, “Nobody likes you,” and “You’re gay.”

In the Yahoo News article by Steven Nelson, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signs ‘Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights’ into law, State Sen. Diane Allen said, “We cannot change human nature, we can change how government and school officials respond to unacceptable behavior.”

Bullies are not new. I remember watching them beat up the same kid every day. I didn't know what to do and I still regret not doing anything.  My kids will not regret.  I put together four simple rules for my kids to follow:
  1. Don’t be The Bully. You can’t control others, but you can yourself. Joining a Bully makes you a Bully.
  2. Help the underdog. You don’t have a choice. You must help. Even if you feel weird, even if it makes you unpopular, and even if you’re scared. Helping may be telling a teacher. Doing nothing makes you a Bully.
  3. Never hit first. Always hit back. If someone lays their hands, feet or teeth on you, hit them back harder.
  4. Never hit a girl, even if she’s The Bully. Let God take care of her punishment.
I tell my kids to think about what a terrible life The Bully must have. Maybe The Bully has a mean daddy who hits him every night. Maybe The Bully has a mean older brother, or a dying parent.

Don’t be The Bully , Don’t put up with The Bully and Don’t judge The Bully.

How do you teach your kids about bullying?
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Good Mommies Don’t Bribe Their Kids

I guess I’m a bad mommy, ‘cause bribing is rampant in our home.

A recent TIME cover story Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School? by Amanda Ripley shows bribing may have merits.

"Money is not enough. (It never is.) But for some kids, it may be part of the solution. In the end, we all want our children to grow into self-motivated adults. The question is, How do we help them get there? And is it possible that at least for some kids, the road is paved not with stickers but with $20 bills?"

There are plenty of things my kids have to do “because I said so” like clean their rooms, take out the garbage and kiss me good night. But, there are other things they should have a choice about. They are, after all, human beings with free will. This is where my bribing comes in.

Here's some cash I've recently paid out:
$5 – to play with younger cousin
$2 – to smile for a picture
$10 – to pick up a dead mouse (I would have paid more)
$1 – to warm up the car
$3 – to taste zucchini
$20 – to get a crew cut
$50 – for straight A’s

Most of the time, we settle on a price.  But sometimes, like when I offered $10 and a Starbuck’s Hot Coco to take a picture on Santa’s lap, they just say no.

I think, if done properly, bribing has a place in a happy home. What do you think?

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