Parenting Archives

It sounds like we parents continue to be rotten at risk assessment.

Not only do we worry unnecessarily about dangers likely never to happen (as I’ve written about before). We also underestimate dangers we actually should worry about, according to this New York Times article.

The Centers for Disease Control says these are the top five things most likely to harm children:

1. Car accidents.

2. Homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know).

3. Child abuse.

4. Suicide.

5. Drowning.

These are the things we actually worry about, according to Mayo Clinic surveys:

1.  Kidnapping.

2.  School snipers.

3.  Terrorists.

4.  Dangerous strangers.

5.  Drugs.

I think I’d rather about the things Vicki the Biker worries about instead:

Rose Is Rose

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Your child’s greatest burden

Here’s a Jung quote that made me say “oops:”

The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.”

As if worrying about how my lived life affects my kids isn’t enough. ;) I’ve thought a lot about this quote and can’t find a way to disagree with it and can’t see how this burden avoidable. I’m thinking the burden isn’t all bad, however.

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The first day of school (Mini-saga #1)

The other day I found out about the mini-saga, which is a story that is exactly 50 words long, with a title no longer than 15 words. I thought I’d give it a try. It’s a true story that happened to me today (and will spare you the usual 350-500 word post. :) So here goes:

The First Day Of School

Her first four tennis serves were in this morning. Amazing. Her serve normally sucks. Today all four of her children are away at school all day after almost 18 years of daily caretaking, fretting, and sacrificing. Tears fall down her face as the metaphor of the four tennis serves sinks in.

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Which team are you on?

I recently watched an interview with tennis player
Andre Agassi. He admitted that he hated tennis
his whole career.
His father forced him to play tennis as a child even
though he longed to play a team sport.
During the first ten years of his career he had
many ups and downs. He went from being #1
player at one point to sinking so low he had
to spend several months playing in the equivalent
of the minor leagues in tennis.
He was finally able to rise again and play
at a consistent level after he had an epiphany…
He realized he did have a team – his new prep school
for disadvantaged children in Law Vegas.
From the point on, he knew that every swing of the
tennis racket was a swing for his school.
Every victory was a victory for his school.
This motivated him like nothing before ever did.
Andre’s goal wasn’t to be the #1 player (that was
always his father’s goal for him) but to win all
four Grand Slam tournaments.
The French Open was the one that alluded him.
Finally, in 1999, 13 years after turning pro, he
won this title.
Here’s what you can learn from this:
* Find a “team” to play for. It can be your family,
a charity, your church, etc. Your achievements
will have more meaning and it will be easier to
stick to your goals if you have such a team.
* Set your own goals – don’t become trapped
by the expectations of others.
* It’s never too late. In Andre’s case, many
players aren’t still playing 13 years into their
career. If they are, they often aren’t in peak
condition and winning Grand Slams. If a
particular goal has alluded you, you don’t have
to give up.
In addition to having a team to play for, you also
need a team of people to help you.
A mentor/coach and a few close friends and
colleagues who will guide and advise you along
the way.
Books and workshops are useful tools too.

Watching three of my daughters play tennis this summer has reminded me of a book I read earlier this year: Open: An Autobiography, by retired tennis star Andre Agassi.

Andre begins by pointing out that the terminology in tennis is the language of life, which is something I had never noticed before and is unique to tennis:

It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature…

Points become games become sets become tournaments… It reminds me of the way seconds become minutes become hours and any hour can be our finest.”

I now think of that every time I say something like, “do you want to work on your serve today?” Such phrases have double meaning now.

Andre admits in this book that he hated tennis with a passion even though he was so good at it.

His father forced him to play tennis as a child even though he longed to play a team sport.

He went from being the #1 player (which was his father’s goal for him) to sinking so low he had to spend several months playing in the equivalent of the minor leagues in tennis.

He was finally able to rise again and play at a consistent level after he had an epiphany…

He realized he did have a team after all – his new prep school for disadvantaged children in Las Vegas.

This motivated him like nothing before ever did.

And he finally focused on his own goal – winning all 4 Grand Slams. He won the French Open in 1999, 13 years after turning pro (many pros retire before the 13 year mark).

As a “tennis mom” this book is a good cautionary tale. Sports are best when viewed in this “life as miniature” way.  By doing so, I hope my girls will lose fewer “break points” in the real word, have more “Advantage, Miss Ashland” scenarios and always have an awareness of which team they are on.

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The case for lawn clippings

This week we’ve reached a point in the summer where I’ve made two trips to the grocery store mostly for amusement, just to get the youngest kids out of the house and to stop them from pestering me for things to do.

I’ve even been reduced to watching some episodes of Wipeout online with them,  even though it’s the most interminable 44 minutes of television ever. Wipeout is no Mad Men, which is the most awesome TV show ever, but they insist I watch it with them.

In short, they are tired of the usual amusements and I’m just tired.

So the other morning when they inexplicably woke up before 7 a.m., much to my dismay, I remembered that there were lawn clippings on the front yard because I had mowed the evening before. Aha!

I know some people diligently keep lawn clippings off their yard by attaching a bag to their mower to collect the clippings.

Raking is an option too.

Or they use a mulching lawn mower that leaves behind finely shredded clippings.

The lawn clippings on my yard weren’t exactly finely shredded. Ahem.

Yet I like to leave clippings on the yard as fertilizer. So when the girls were awake before 7 a.m. and full of energy, I discovered that spreading around the lawn clippings was a most excellent activity to suggest to them when they asked the “What should we do?” question.

They picked up the clippings and threw them in the air and kicked them around to spread them. We actually had fun.

The grass still doesn’t look like a carpet  – you can see some dried bits of grass clippings on it.  But it is, after all, a yard.

And since that morning they’ve been sleeping in. Aaahhh.

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Original of the Species (part 5 of a U2 Primer on Marriage)

Because I have four daughters I have, of course, given thought to what it will be like for them when they start dating and having relationships that might eventually lead to marriage.

On the one hand, I don’t want them to “settle,” yet I don’t want them to be maximizers either.

I hope I haven’t infected them too much with my own anxieties, although I suppose that’s somewhat inevitable, given the anxious state we parents of Millenial kids seem to be in.

I’d like very much for them to be at ease with themselves and to know that they are the “original of the species,” which brings us (finally) to the U2 song with that same title.

Bono wrote this song for his goddaughter (who is the daughter of U2 guitarist Edge).

Edge cried when he first heard the lyrics and said the song has an element of Bono looking back on his own insecurities at age 20. In the song Bono identifies with the confusion over self and worth that girls in their teens and young adulthood often experience.

Bono says:

It’s about seeing some people who are ashamed about their bodies, in particular teenagers with eating disorders, not feeling comfortable with themselves and their sexuality.

I’m just saying to them, ‘you are one of a kind, you’re an original of the species.’ So it’s a ‘Be who you are’ song. I can’t wait to play it live.

This live version of the song from Milan is my favorite version of Original of the Species because it has cellos and violins.

Here are the lyrics in their entirety:

Baby slow down

The end is not as fun as the start
Please stay a child somewhere in your heart

I’ll give you everything you want
Except the thing that you want

You are the first one of your kind

And you feel like no one before
You steal right under my door
And I kneel ‘cos I want you some more

I want the lot of what you got
And I want nothing that you’re not

Everywhere you go you shout it
You don’t have to be shy about it

Some things you shouldn’t get too good at
Like smiling, crying and celebrity

Some people got way too much confidence baby

I’ll give you everything you want
Except the thing that you want
You are the first one of your kind

And you feel like no one before
You steal right under my door
And I kneel ‘cos I want you some more
I want the lot of what you got
And I want nothing that you’re not

Everywhere you go you shout it
You don’t have to be shy about it, no
And you’ll never be alone
Come on now show your soul
You’ve been keeping your love under control

Everywhere you go you shout it
You don’t have to be shy about it
Everywhere you go you shout it
Oh my my

And you feel like no one before
You steal right under my door
And I kneel ‘cos I want you some more
I want you some more, I want you some more…

As I read through those lyrics again I couldn’t help but think of my oldest daughter and am reminded that she graduates from high school next spring (sniff, sniff – but yay for new adventures). This would make for a cool graduation song.

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A story I told that drew blood

Recently I had to take all four of my daughters in for blood draws at the clinic’s lab.

As you might imagine, they weren’t excited about this, and neither was I. The youngest two (ages 6 and 8 ) had never had a blood draw before so they were even more anxious.

At first I tried to use hype to lower their resistance.

“We’ll make it a blood draw party! Treats afterwards!”

Of course they didn’t fall for that. As a copywriter I, of all people, should have known better than to try a used car salesman approach.

Next I decided to tell them a story about how their six-year-old cousin had several vials of blood taken from him last summer and he handled it like a champ, no tears.

That didn’t lower their resistance either. I guess hearing a story secondhand about someone else’s success isn’t all that inspiring.

Finally I realized I needed to dig deeper and tell a personal story and show them I know what the fear of blood draws is like.

So I told them about when I was six weeks pregnant with their 14-year-old sister. I had unexpected bleeding and marinated in anxiety in the examination room chair, afraid I was having a miscarriage.

The doctor patted me on the knee and told me he wasn’t going to do an ultrasound because he thought it would be too emotional for me if we couldn’t hear a heartbeat.  His tone and mannerisms suggested I might well be having a miscarriage so he sent me to the lab instead to get a blood draw that would determine whether or not I was still pregnant.

“How do you think I felt while I was getting a blood draw that would tell me whether or not your sister was still alive?” I asked the girls.

Their eyes got big as saucers and they hung on every word.

Then I told them how powerful blood is and how it can tell us so many things about what’s going on inside our bodies. Information like this would’ve bored them if I was just lecturing them, but my story made them eager to hear all about the power of blood.

They literally started tugging on my arm and begged me to take them to the lab immediately for their blood draws.

They did this even though I also told them a story about how I once had a blood draw that ultimately gave me bad news.

I felt it was important that they know the full score in the event this blood draw, or one in the future, gives them news they’d rather not hear. Not every blood draw has a happy ending.

Ten years ago I found myself bleeding once again and I knew that this time there could be no doubt I was having a miscarriage. The midwife sent me off to get a blood draw to confirm what I already knew.

I told the girls how the cello and piano version of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise (the version I listened to was by local cellist Parry Karp on a CD called Postcard From Madison) was my soundtrack during the week after that blood draw, as my hormones came crashing back down and my emotions were all out of whack.

Even though the girls now knew blood draws don’t always result in happy news, they went willingly to the lab. There were no tears except for when my youngest cried with empathy during her 8-year-old sister’s blood draw and turned to her big sister for a hug. Scenes like that don’t make it into scrapbooks but fortunately remain in a mother’s long term memory.

The blood work came back normal. Whew. But that didn’t stop my 8-year-old from asking, “When can I go get another blood draw?”

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One day last week while walking my daughter home from swimming lessons at the pool, a 5 or 6-year-old girl biked past us on the sidewalk, politely saying “Excuse me” as she confidently whizzed on by.

She was wearing a swimsuit and shorts and had clearly just come from the pool too.

I noticed that no other kids were with her and there wasn’t even a parent in sight!

My mind immediately flashed back to the early and mid-1970s, when I and the other kids in the neighborhood routinely rode our banana seat bikes all around the neighborhood…and beyond.

Ahhhh, banana seats. Remember those? My bike was early-1970s shades of green and yellow with a floral banana seat, white basket and streamers coming out of the handlebars.

Eventually I ditched the basket and streamers and swapped out the floral seat for an edgier black one, so I could fit in better with all the boys in my neighborhood.

Of course I coveted my cousin’s green Schwinn banana seat bike because it had five speeds and one of those cool stick shift things, like this:

I also liked those seats with the high chopper style bars in the back:

Anyway, back in my day, a young child riding a mile home on a bike from the pool would’ve been completely routine.

Now it’s not normal at all.

So I silently cheered this little girl. Kids from the Millenial generation are the most over-parented kids ever so I thought that maybe there’s hope after all. There’s at least one girl out there who gets to taste the same independence we middle aged folks (and older) did at that age.

She continued to bike down the street and, eventually, I noticed a car slowly pull up and drive alongside her.

The girl reached the intersection, turned right, and the car kept slowly following her.

Oh oh.

Was she being followed?

As it turns out she was… a parent eventually got out of the car. Alas.

Kudos to the parent for at least letting the child experience that much independence (I haven’t done that much). And, like any parent, I, too, haven’t ever let my kids bike alone at that age. Sigh.

The book Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) talks about this phenomenon.

The author let her nine-year-old son take the subway home alone in 2008 (something that was routine in the 1970s and 60s) and caught so much flack about it she ended up on national TV shows defending herself.

She gives all kinds of statistics that show how crime rates are lower now than they were in the 1960s and 70s yet parents today marinate in anxiety.

She even shows how if you actually wanted your kid to be abducted and put him in your front yard in the hopes that someone would snatch him, it would be more than 700,000 years years before someone would come along and take him.

Here’s a map that shows how much kids’ freedom to roam has been reduced over the generations.  An eight year old boy in 1919 often walked alone to his favorite fishing spot six miles away. Fast forward to 2007 and his eight year old great grandson is only allowed to walk 300 yards away from home alone:

There are all sorts of things to blame for our anxiety – things that didn’t exist a generation ago: 24 hour cable news shows, the stories that circulate on the internet making us more aware of every crime out there, true crime shows and shows like Law & Order, etc.

Last week I spotted a banana seat bike in an antique store that was in terrific shape. I’m tempted to buy it for my six-year-old. If we can’t bring back free range kids, maybe we can at least bring back the banana seat?

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Coloring My World With The Reverse Generation Gap

Parents spend a lot of time introducing their young children to things.

But the fun really begins when the child is old enough to start exposing you to new things.

My two teenagers have made me aware of retro music, art and comics/manga I never would have noticed on my own before.

When I was a teenager, mass culture was still the norm. That is, to be a 16 year old girl in 1982 meant you almost certainly listened to Duran Duran music, or were at least very aware of it.

Today that’s no longer the case. Mass culture is over and we are all about subcultures now.

This means a teen girl is as likely to listen to Frank Sinatra or other music from the past as she is Lady Gaga. It’s possible for her to be interested in indie artists most of her peers have never heard of.

It also means my daughters listen to music I wouldn’t have given the time of day at their age because it’s music from my parents’ generation. It wasn’t cool to do that back when mass culture dictated what you listened to.

It’s like a reverse generation gap. Recently my 17 year old daughter pulled into the driveway and Frank Sinatra was blaring from the speakers.

A Madonna song was blasting from my computer speakers because I was doing an exercise workout. I quick hit the mute button, much like I would have back when I was a kid and one of my parents walked into the room.

Anyway, I now routinely listen to retro music, thanks to my kids.

One of the things I’m now studying as a result of my oldest daughter’s interests is Andy Warhol.

I only gave Warhol the merest edge of attention when I was a teenager. I probably thought it was weird that he liked to paint things like Campbell’s soup cans.

But when I listen to my daughter talk about how we was able to notice the beauty in everyday objects, I decided I needed to check out Warhol’s art.

So at the library the other day I did exhaustive research…I checked out a children’s picture book about Warhol. (Of course my daughter checked out a giant Warhol book that’s two feet long and several inches thick.)

This picture book was a very fun read.

It’s called Uncle Andy’s and was written and illustrated by his nephew, who is an artist. It’s a very charming look at his visits with Uncle Andy and gives you a look at Warhol’s art and everyday life.  Even if you couldn’t care less about Warhol, you’d enjoy this book.

It’s a good thing I checked out the Warhol picture book instead of the giant book, because there’s a stack of books my 14-year-old daughter checked out today, in hopes that I’ll read them. Keeping up with their interests could become a full time job.

She’s the one who exposed me to Color My World by Petula Clark from 1966. It’s one of her favorite songs and it’s now one of mine too. It’s an appropriate name because her and my other daughters’ interests really do color my world.

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Nothing says housewife like a tangerine-colored pool table

I had not really thought much about the difference between housewives and at-home moms until I read this Caitlin Flanagan article in The Atlantic Monthly back in 2003.

Because there are so many differences between the two, and because the housewife era was so short-lived (about 20-30 years post WWII), it’s worth revisiting that article.

(It also gives me an excuse to talk about tangerine-colored pool tables but more on that in a minute. :D)

Perhaps the biggest difference between housewives and today’s at-home moms is that housewives were focused on house and husband and didn’t trail in the wake of their children  – the children trailed in their wake.

At-home moms tend to be more earnest and defensive than the housewives were and marinate in anxiety about their kids.

The Peanuts comic strip captures the housewife era so well by not ever showing a mother in any of the strips, the way so many modern day strips do, such as Baby Blues. There were no helicopter parents in Peanuts.

Here is a fun series of strips from 1962 where the characters talk about how their mothers are addicted to using the Van Pelt’s tangerine colored pool table:

I want a tangerine colored pool table!

As a work-at-home-mom I’ll never be as competent around the house as most housewives were but I like to think that maybe I could master the backspin on a cue ball too. ;-)

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