Screen-Free Week Is Upon Us

Posted by on Aug 24, 2016 in Kids & Technology | 0 comments

No screensEvery summer, we pick one week to go screen-free. For one week, I get to see my children’s faces as opposed to the tops of their heads. I speak to them and they reply with words, not grunts or silence. Their moods improve; they become more pleasant people. My kids always greet the week with lots of grumbling and groaning, but I secretly—and then not so secretly—look forward to becoming reacquainted with the kids I know are buried behind those devices the other fifty-one weeks of the year.

Each year, we spell out the rules in advance for Screen-Free Week. There are a few reasons for this. First, everyone knows that given the motivation, the vast majority of kids transform into brilliant lawyers. Absent explicit rules accompanying a prohibition, kids will find every loophole imaginable to get around that prohibition. Second, we establish valid exceptions that change from year-to-year, and we try to anticipate as many of those as we can to avoid constant choruses of, “What about…? What about…? What about…?” Third, following all of that forethought, we accept that although the kid-lawyers are smarter than we are and will find ways around us no matter what we do, we’re nevertheless going to try our best and anticipate that the week will end well.

In case you’d find an example informative in the course of trying your own screen-free week (with exceptions, natch), here are the rules governing ours for 2016. Keep in mind that our kids are 14 and 11; age and personality obviously influence the rules. And yes, parents: my husband and I have to adhere to these rules, too

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Ignorance About Adoption Wins an Olympic-Sized Audience

Posted by on Aug 11, 2016 in Adoption | 0 comments

Image by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil (cc)

Image by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil (cc)

One comment. Someone made an ignorant comment about adoption, giving no thought to the consequences of his words. Hey, it happens all the time. Maybe the particular subjects of the comment were hurt, maybe not. I don’t know them. But I do know that this time, the comment was made in front of an Olympic-sized audience.

Here’s what happened: On Sunday, NBC Sports announcer Al Trautwig referred to American gymnast Simone Biles’s adoptive parents as her grandparents. In fairness to Trautwig, Biles’s father is her biological grandfather. He and his wife legally adopted her and raised her from a young age; thus, they are legally and otherwise her parents. Quite a few people, including at least one adoptive parent, pointed out this error in Trautwig’s reporting. To my mind, the error might have been forgivable. A simple, “Oops, sorry,” plus a correction could have ended the controversy there.

But that’s not what Trautwig did. Instead, he tweeted, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” (Emphasis his.) After a storm of comments, interviews, and words with superiors at NBC, Trautwig apologized and deleted the tweet. But what goes out on the internet is forever—just ask my kids, to whom I’ve lectured on this topic many times. You can read about the incident and apology at the Washington Post here.

You might wonder, what’s the big deal? A sports reporter made a dumb comment, then he apologized. Over and done. Or maybe you’re inclined to say, mountain, meet molehill. Or, well, he was just clarifying facts. He didn’t intend any insult. There wasn’t anything behind what he said.

Before I explain what’s wrong with Trautwig’s comment, I want to note that I considered for a long time whether to write to condemn it. After all, Trautwig did apologize, so case closed, right? Especially in the current political and social climate, maybe we should stop looking for reasons to be angry or offended, and search instead for opportunities to give people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think Trautwig meant to demean or hurt anyone. I’m sure he thought he was just clarifying the facts.

But as a parent by both adoption and biology, I decided I had to speak up.

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The Trump in the Room: 2016 and our Kids

Posted by on Aug 3, 2016 in The World We Parent In | 2 comments

Image by 11-year-old "Emmie"

Image by 11-year-old “Emmie”

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Don’t ask which elephant. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I mean the elephant causing all the other elephants secretly to fear they are a dying species, while the rest of the animals wonder on a daily basis if they’re going to have any habitat left when all of this is over.

Okay, so I took the metaphor to extremes. But that seems appropriate, doesn’t it?

This election. Good God. Where to begin? This is a parenting blog, so let’s focus on parenting one’s way through Election 2016.

I have a set of principles I try to follow as I guide my kids through learning about the world. As they get older, I try to expose them to more news according to their age and readiness. One kid is more sensitive to images and stories than the other, so age alone is not a sufficient determinant for what each kid can handle. I make sure they know and understand the fundamental values I think are important, but I try to leave room for their own opinions, too. They don’t need to be news junkies, but they do need to know and understand the most important events and issues of the day or week and why those stories matter. I endeavor to present everything in a way that increases knowledge, but doesn’t produce fear. The cardinal rule and value in our house—respect—must be observed by all in these discussions the same as it would be in other contexts.

Election 2016 has thrown this all to hell.

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When a Parent Needs Help: the Uncharted Waters of Eldercare

Posted by on Jul 27, 2016 in Parents are People, Too, The World We Parent In | 3 comments

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Hi there. It’s been a while. I hope you haven’t been waiting for me this whole time.

Good. Glad to hear it. After all, you have your own family, your own responsibilities, your own life to take care of. And you may have become a bit preoccupied with what’s been going on in the country and the world these last few months. There’s plenty to talk about there. But I’m going to save that for a future post…or twelve.

I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing for the past few months. It has everything to do with parenting, and nothing to do with my kids—except it’s affected them tremendously. It involves seeing to the needs of my own parent—specifically, my father—and getting an education in eldercare in America along the way.

We found suddenly—as so many people do—that my father was no longer capable of living alone. Some signs had probably been there for a while, but we’d missed them. Others he’d hidden, not wanting to lose his independence. But a home accident brought everything into the light, and we discovered that we needed to find a new living and care situation for him, fast. He went first to the hospital, then to a skilled-nursing rehabilitation center for a few weeks, and finally to the assisted-living home we found in a frenzy of frantic searching.

The day-by-day of what happened is too private to him and too lengthy to relate here. But I will share some key points I’ve learned since April:

  • When an elderly parent requires healthcare, you must constantly play the role of advocate. Even centers of good repute sometimes fall back on patterns of care or behavior rather than evaluate each patient individually, and you have to check in with every caregiver to make sure that your parent is getting the care appropriate to her individual situation.
  • You never really know the full story. A parent with any level of cognitive decline for any reason will necessarily have gaps in what he can remember—how that fall happened, how that giant bruise appeared on his leg, what the argument with the neighbor was about. He may tell different stories to different care providers as he tries to work the puzzle, and those providers may or may not confer with each other about the circumstances surrounding your parent’s care. You have to sort it all out and make sure everyone has the best possible information despite what you don’t and may never know.
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“Are you going to keep telling me stuff?”

Posted by on Apr 14, 2016 in Education & Learning, Growing Up, Out of the Mouths of My Kids | 0 comments

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That’s not the actual question my fourteen-year-old son asked me recently, though it may as well have been. We were traveling in the car (so often, it’s in the car), he was sitting beside me, in the passenger seat, and I was explaining the proper and safe reaction to some other driver’s behavior we’d just encountered.

“Are you going to tell me driving rules when we’re in the car from now until I turn sixteen?” “Jack” said. His words were polite, but his inflection said, Please, God, make it stop.

“You bet I am,” I replied. “And after that, if I think it’s necessary.”

Jack didn’t argue, thus demonstrating that he’s learning a little wisdom with age. Good to know.

In New Hampshire, kids can test for their driver’s licenses (a.k.a., Youth Operator Licenses) at sixteen. At fifteen-and-a-half, they can practice driving with “a licensed supervising driver at least twenty-five years old.” Kids need to have accrued forty hours of this behind-the-wheel experience—ten of those at night—before they can obtain their licenses,

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Memo from the Cats Regarding the New Puppy

Posted by on Mar 30, 2016 in Domesticity | 0 comments

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To: Our humans

Fr: The cats, Spaghetti and Meatball

Da: As long as it takes

Re: Your step Over the Line

__________________________

WTF?

There can be only two possible explanations for what you have done.

You may have completely lost your minds, in which case we suggest you seek treatment as soon as possible. Alternatively, you no longer value our happiness and selectively bestowed companionship, in which case you need to examine and re-order your priorities.

In short, we demand you look into your misguided souls to consider precisely why you brought home the cat-sized, mobile, fuzzy, whiney, barky thing, and get it the hell out of here.

For Morris’s sake, things were in a fragile enough state around here already. As you know, Meatball recently entered counseling for her anxiety; her Prozac has hardly had time to take effect. You heard that fight we had two weeks ago. You know we’re having problems. You think bringing in another four-legged “companion” is going to make that better? Throw in another species for diversity? What, you’re thinking some kind of interspecies ménage à trois? Keep your kinky thoughts to yourselves, people. We’re classy cats. Kids live in this house. We care even if you don’t.

We’ve heard a lot of sweet talk and praise coming out of your mouths since Saturday, and most of it isn’t directed at us. Don’t give us that crap about “you’ve been hiding under the king-sized bed most of the time”; that’s no excuse.

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How Should You Watch the GOP Debates with Your Kids?

Posted by on Mar 15, 2016 in The World We Parent In | 0 comments

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Last week, a headline from an NPR story caught my eye: “Should Kids Watch the GOP Debates?” I consider this one of the easiest questions asked throughout our electoral process. Actually, I don’t even think NPR asked the right question. The question should have been phrased, “How should you watch the GOP debates with your kids?”

One caveat before we go any further: most of what I’m about to write applies to children who are old enough to take at least a minor interest in the election. By the age of nine or ten, a good number of kids might express an interest in the purpose of the seemingly uncountable number of debates popping up on their household television screens. They may also wonder who the people featured in the debates are, why they’re on TV every night and why they seem so angry and prone to insults. Most debates are broadcast past the bedtimes of most younger children, on the other hand, and in the event they are awake, potentially offensive remarks will likely sail past their comprehension. Questions about grownups who yell at each other are easily managed at this younger age; parents can say, “they ought to behave better” and most kids will move on.

It’s a different story with older kids. Their understanding of the world around them is more complex. They will get more of the references. They will put together the facts of base behavior, rabble-rousing and vote-getting and come up with success. In a way, it can be dangerous to permit these more mature minds to watch these debates and the media coverage of the election.

That’s exactly why we have to let our kids watch—and we have to watch this election with them, as well as engage them in continuous discussion about it.

Parenting is teaching. It’s shaping a human being, equipping a girl or a boy with all of the tools necessary to go out into the world and function as a productive, responsible adult. One of those tools is judgment—including the ability to exercise good civic judgment in whatever society to which one belongs. Like so many other skills, this judgment doesn’t appear magically at age eighteen; it has to be taught, and practiced. Parents, this election provides the time and place to impart some key lessons.

I’ve watched as many debates as possible with my kids (until their bedtimes, which are usually extended a little on debate nights). On the numerous occasions I’ve been stunned by the language and immaturity of the rhetoric, my kids have witnessed my vocal reactions, and then they’ve heard my explanations for those reactions. They’ve asked questions, and I’ve answered them. My fourteen-year-old son gets the inappropriate references, and I was less uncomfortable with his hearing the allusion to Trump’s penis size than I was about the fact that such a thing occurred in a presidential debate in the first place. As for offensive comments, that one didn’t bother me nearly as much as Trump’s call for keeping Muslims out of the country or the one to commit war crimes by killing the innocent families of terrorists. Those called for immediate, serious explanations and denunciations to my son rather than mere glib, disgusted dismissals.

My ten-year-old daughter wasn’t in the room for the private-parts low point, but she’s heard plenty of race and religion-based jibes.

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