“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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Breaking Out More of Your Adopted Tween’s Story

Posted by on Mar 2, 2016 in Adoption, Growing Up | 0 comments

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For the adoptive parent looking for a map: there isn’t one. Our kids come with stories that predate their entries into our families, and we have to raise those stories alongside the kids who own them. Like anything else having to do with parenting, we figure it out as we go, and the approach that worked with little kids probably won’t work with tweens—or teens. It’s always new.

In preparation for a trip we will take later this year, we recently decided it was time to renew our passports.* In order to do this, we began a house-wide search for the kids’ birth certificates. (Don’t say it. I know.) Ten-year-old “Emmie’s” Certificate of Foreign Birth was located in a file box along with a treasure trove of paperwork and mementos from her adoption, including a piece of paper that included a few details about her birth parents I’d forgotten we’d ever been given.

I will not share the details of what was written on that paper, nor will I share why I’d forgotten about them. There are reasons for both. But I will tell you what I did with the piece of Emmie’s story I found myself holding in my hand.

As a younger child, Emmie had always been interested in her origins, asked questions about her background, even cheered for South Korea when watching the Olympics. There was never a time she didn’t know where she came from or how she came to be part of our family, and she’s always known questions are welcome. She happily donned hanboks, ate Korean food when we could get or make it, and looked for Korean culture wherever we could find it.

In the last year or so, however, she’s backed off from her interest in things Korean—except for food. (My daughter—I’m so proud!) She’s asked fewer questions about her adoption, too. Is this because she’s a tween now and too busy texting her friends and trying to figure out boys to spare attention for adoption-related matters? Is she completely comfortable with her identity and just doesn’t worry about it? Maybe she’s very sensitive about it and, taking a lesson from her big brother, doesn’t want to ask her parents about these things anymore because come on, who talks to their parents about anything important? Or is everything simmering in her very busy brain, sometimes in the front, sometimes in the back, and it will all come out sometime, someplace, when I truly don’t expect it?

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When You Get a Social Media Account Because Your Kid Does

Posted by on Feb 18, 2016 in Kids & Technology | 0 comments

Instagram and other Social Media Apps

I’ve been making an effort lately to spend less time on social media. Twitterholic that I am, I find it just takes up too much time that I could be spending writing, enjoying friends and family in three dimensions, or participating in any number of real-life activities. Some days I’m good about this; others, I get sucked down the chirping rabbit hole and can’t find my way back for at least an hour. (Yes, I realize something’s wrong with that metaphor. On the other hand, it’s about Twitter, so anything goes.)

So why did I just join Instagram? It wasn’t because I wanted to add another social media service to my daily list of obligations. Rather, I joined because I’m a parent. To be more specific, my fourteen-year-old son, “Jack,” decided to get an Instagram account. As I told him, wherever he goes in the world of social media, I go, too. That’s part of the deal. So I found my way to Instagram.

Now, those of you who are shaking your head at my helicoptering, hang on a second. And those of you who are shaking your head because I allowed my son to venture into the soul-sucking world of social media at all, hang on a second. I believe neither of those characterizations to be true. Here’s how I view kids and social media:

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Uncharted Parent on PBS NewsHour

Posted by on Feb 10, 2016 in The World We Parent In | 0 comments

It happens every presidential election cycle. National and even international media gather in New Hampshire for the first-in-the-nation primary, and if you move, you’re apt to be interviewed.

Lisa Desjardins of PBS NewsHour came to my house a few days before the primary to interview me about my thoughts regarding state of the middle class as it relates to the Democratic candidates for president. The piece below includes more than just my perspective, and if you stick with it past the 4:10-minute mark, you’ll get to see and hear not only my views on the presidential race, but my kitchen, my family and what we ate for dinner.

The voting is over here, but most of you have yet to go. Make sure you get out and vote—and take your kids to the polls with you if you can!

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A First-Hand Lesson in Making a Difference

Posted by on Feb 4, 2016 in Education & Learning, The World We Parent In | 0 comments

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How many adults don’t participate in politics at any level because they think, “What’s the point?” And how many kids learn powerlessness in the face of government bureaucracy before they even reach voting age?

What if kids learned how to effect change before they even made it to high school? What if they could get a real-life lesson in how this happens, and what if they could even participate?

Some kids in my town got this chance this week. In a classic budget dispute, it came to light that the town budget committee, looking to make some cuts from the schools, had floated a proposal to cut the Chinese-language program. Chinese is currently taught in grades 7-12 and is one of four foreign languages taught in the middle and high schools. As my eighth-grade son and a number of his friends are in their second year of Chinese study, this development immediately grabbed my attention.

The lesson began.

With the help of a friend and her son—the latter is my son’s friend and also in his Chinese class—we assembled a list of kids and parents connected to the Chinese program. By the end of the day, we had contacted as many people as possible connected to the program, filled them in on the situation, asked them to attend the next budget meeting and provided them with additional information. My son and his friend spent considerable time over the weekend preparing remarks to explain to the committee why they had elected to study Chinese, why they ought to be allowed to continue and why it would be unfair to discontinue the program now. They also talked to their friends about the meeting to gin up additional support.

At the budget committee meeting Monday evening, kids and parents who opposed cutting the Chinese program filled the small meeting room.

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