“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


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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Telling My Son, “No, you can’t play football”

Posted by on Sep 3, 2015 in Health & Sleep, Out of the Mouths of My Kids | 0 comments

My son is crazy about sports. He’s both a participant and an observer: he plays soccer year-round, and he recently took up a bat and glove for the first time. He can also recite for you the numbers corresponding to every sports channel we receive from our cable television provider.

As obsessions go, I approve of this one. I never have to tell this kid to get exercise. He loves his iPod, but he puts it down without complaint for a game, a practice or because he spies a ball in the yard—any kind of ball. Except for the sex-and-violence advertising and the periodic bad-athlete behavior I find myself needing to explain, I don’t even mind the sports-viewing on television. He wants to watch his favorite baseball team? Nothing wrong with that.

But as I watched my son develop an interest in football as he approached adolescence, I grew uneasy. I want him to be able to explore his varied interests and to take chances as he grows up so he can figure out who he is. But I also want him to learn to evaluate risk and make smart decisions, and as I learned more about the long-term effects suffered by football players exposed to repeated helmet-to-helmet collisions, I realized that I couldn’t say yes to the request I knew was coming.

My piece on my son’s request to play football, my refusal to let him and what happened between us as a result continues at The Washington Post’s On Parenting. Hint: he and I tussled over this for a year. It spilled over into other aspects of our lives. Click here to read more.

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Harry Potter and the Infinite Bag of Miracles

Posted by on Mar 18, 2015 in Education & Learning, Out of the Mouths of My Kids, Parenting on a Daily Basis | 0 comments

JH, reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Just when you think you’ve seen all there is to see from J.K. Rowling’s books of magic, it turns out there’s another spell in there, just as compelling and even more surprising than the ones you know.

Stories of kids who entered the world of Harry Potter as reluctant readers but emerged as bookworms are, by now, legend. It’s not possible to tally the number of kids who have obsessively consumed all 4,100 pages of the boy wizard’s story, or the number of parents who have witnessed their children’s transfigurations firsthand.

I can now be counted among these parents. In my house of bibliophiles, where books count as both décor and activity, only nine-year-old Emmie has resisted their pull. Plots could not hold her attention; characters might interest her for a chapter or two, but then she tired of them and lost the volumes that contained them under the clothes, drawings and general mess in her room.

Until now.

Emmie had been introduced to Harry Potter in second grade by her then-teacher, a self-professed Harry Potter fanatic. Emmie loved the books so much that we read the third book together the following summer. But after I told her that the fourth Harry Potter book included slightly stepped-up violence and “a little boy-girl stuff,” she decided she wasn’t quite ready for it. I agreed, and we thought no more about it.

But a year later, I told Emmie I thought she was ready for the fourth book. In fact, given how much she’d enjoyed the first three, I told her I thought she ought to read it. I even offered to read it with her. But every time I raised the topic, she refused.

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If Clothes Make the Man…

Posted by on Jan 22, 2014 in Domesticity, Out of the Mouths of My Kids, Parenting on a Daily Basis | 4 comments

Hi. How are you? Notice anything different around here?

If this is your first visit to Uncharted Parent, welcome, and please just continue reading. If you’ve been here before, you’re probably noticing that new-paint smell right about now. The old wallpaper has been torn down and a new pattern has been put up. The furniture and décor have been rearranged and replaced to make everything more comfortable. Go ahead, sit down. Browse the bookshelves. Tell me what you think.

Of course, what I mean via this overstretched metaphor is that the blog renovation to which I referred quite a few months ago is now complete! It’s my hope that it will be simpler for you to find what you’re looking for and easier for you actually to read the words once you’ve found them. Many thanks go to Kayleen of Booyah Creative, who designed the site, and to the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, who provided the grant that funded it.

In keeping with today’s theme of appearances and functionality, I’m going to share a couple of short anecdotes from bedtime at my house, both of which occurred shortly before I sat down to write this post.

Eight-year-old “Emmie” had gone to bed about ten minutes before my son called out to me from his room. I replied to him from the hallway that I needed to give his sister a goodnight kiss before I went into his room.

I heard Emmie jump out of bed. “I’m coming out,” she called.

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I Wish…She Would Be a Little More Assertive

Posted by on Nov 7, 2013 in Out of the Mouths of My Kids, Parenting on a Daily Basis, The World We Parent In | 2 comments

92 - Wishes

“I wish I could have an apple right now.”

These words from “Emmie’s” mouth make my jaw and upper-body muscles contract, as if someone who’d never touched a violin before just picked one up and began to scratch the bow across the strings. It’s not the desire for an apple that grates on me. The wish could be anything: a hankering to play outside, to watch a TV show, to wear a just-purchased pair of shoes.

What drives me nuts is the way Emmie asks for what she wants–or, rather, the way she doesn’t ask. She doesn’t make a direct request. As she’s been doing since the age of five, she floats a wish into the air and waits to see if it will be fulfilled.

Who taught her this passive behavior? Who trained her not to express her desire for what she wants? And why is it that I only hear this form of request from my daughter? I’ve never heard my son ask for something concrete this way.

Maybe I’m overreacting to what is simply a childish peculiarity of speech that will dissipate over time. But the feminist in me can’t keep from cringing each time my daughter’s simple request to, say, play a game emerges in the form of a princess-in-need-of-saving asking a genie to fulfill a wish. Somehow, my daughter seems to have absorbed the language and behavior of the helpless maiden, and that’s not the role I want my daughter to play in life.

I want my both my daughter and my son to work hard to obtain the things they seek in the world, and, when appropriate, to ask for what they desire. So over the past few years, I’ve tried gently to coach Emmie away from the fluttering-eyelash, wish-floating expression of her wants and toward making direct requests.

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A Milestone I Wish We Hadn’t Reached

Posted by on Oct 9, 2013 in Growing Up, Out of the Mouths of My Kids | 0 comments

bedtime reading - _MG_3188

A few years ago, a wonderful story appeared in the New York Times about a father who had read aloud to his daughter every night until she left for college. They called this ritual “The Streak,” and they employed phones, drop-ins on her drama rehearsals, interruptions in evening social plans and whatever it took to make sure they didn’t miss a night. The Streak developed more than a mere love of reading in the daughter–though it did accomplish that, of course. It provided a stable bond for both parent and child in rocky times, it served as a conduit for father-daughter closeness and it established a tradition the daughter hopes to pass on to her children.

As a parent and a bibliophile, I loved this story. I’d been reading to “Jack” since before he was born. I began selecting titles for “Emmie” before she came home to us from South Korea. Though Emmie usually prefers her father to read to her at bedtime, Jack and I had read together for more than eleven years. When he was seven, we read all 4100 pages of the Harry Potter series. The year he was eight, it was an encyclopedia on prehistoric life. Even if sometimes we read books  I would never would have chosen on my own, I appreciated having this window into the material that stimulated my son’s mind.

Of course, there’s more to cherish about bedtime reading than just the stories or the information on the page. There’s the physical closeness, which becomes even more precious as kids get older. As my son turned into a textbook, don’t-hug-me-when-my-friends-are-looking tween, I knew enough not to say anything when his head occasionally slipped onto my shoulder during our bedtime book sessions. I knew if I drew attention to the motion, he’d cloak himself in a mask of cool and snatch his head away, and never let the mistake happen again. So I’d permit myself an inner smile and just keep reading.

Bedtime reading also provides the opportunity for meaningful conversation. Before we read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I had a talk with Jack about the stepped-up level of violence and the introduction of “girl-boy stuff” (remember, he was only seven) in book four of the series. A few years later, when we read one of the Harriet the Spy sequels, Jack asked the meaning of the word “menstruation.” Seize the moment, I told myself, and I set the book aside and told him much of what I thought he needed to know about puberty. He asked a few questions, I answered them, and then I picked up the book and finished reading the chapter.

This time before bed was our time in so many ways.

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