Play Anything is a forthcoming book by game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost. The subtitle -- The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games -- provides a clue as to what it's about. Here's more from the book's description:
Play is what happens when we accept these limitations, narrow our focus, and, consequently, have fun. Which is also how to live a good life. Manipulating a soccer ball into a goal is no different than treating ordinary circumstances -- like grocery shopping, lawn mowing, and making PowerPoints -- as sources for meaning and joy. We can "play anything" by filling our days with attention and discipline, devotion and love for the world as it really is, beyond our desires and fears.
Reading this little blurb, I immediately thought of two things:
1. One thing you hear from pediatricians and early childhood educators is: set limits. Children thrive on boundaries. There's a certain sort of person for whom this appeals to their authoritarian nature, which is not the intended message. Then there are those who can't abide by the thought of limiting their children in any way. But perhaps, per Bogost, the boundaries parents set for their children can be thought of as a series of games designed to keep their lives interesting and meaningful.1
Two chores I find extremely satisfying are bagging groceries and (especially) mowing the lawn. Getting all those different types of products -- with their various shapes, sizes, weights, levels of fragility, temperatures -- quickly into the least possible number of bags...quite pleasurable. Reminds me a little of Tetris. And mowing the lawn...making all the grass the same height, surrounding the remaining uncut lawn with concentric rectangles of freshly mowed grass.
I don't know about other parents, but 75% of my parental energy is taken up by thinking about what limits are appropriate for my kids. (The other 25% is meal-planning.) What do they need right now? What do they want? What can I give them? How do I balance all of those concerns? What makes it particularly difficult for me sometimes is that my instincts and my intellect are not always in agreement with what is appropriate. What is easiest for me is not always best for them. This shit keeps me up at night. :| ↩
Steven Johnson's new book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, will be out in November. In it, he describes how novelties and games have been responsible for scientific innovation and technological change for hundreds of years.
This lushly illustrated history of popular entertainment takes a long-zoom approach, contending that the pursuit of novelty and wonder is a powerful driver of world-shaping technological change. Steven Johnson argues that, throughout history, the cutting edge of innovation lies wherever people are working the hardest to keep themselves and others amused.
Johnson's storytelling is just as delightful as the inventions he describes, full of surprising stops along the journey from simple concepts to complex modern systems. He introduces us to the colorful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showmen, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, taverns, gambling tables, and magic shows.
They all revolve around the creative power of play: ideas and innovations that initially came into the world because people were trying to come up with fresh ways to trigger the feeling of delight or surprise, by making new sounds with a musical instrument, or devising clever games of chance, or projecting fanciful images on a screen. And here's the fascinating bit: Those amusements, as trivial as they seemed at the time, ended up setting in motion momentous changes in science, technology, politics, and society.
[Ok, riff mode engaged...I have no idea if Johnson talks about learning while playing in his book, but I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately so...ready or not, here I come.] Being the parent of young children, you hear a lot about the power of play. I've never been a fan of a lot of screen time for kids, but lately I've been letting them play more apps on the iPad and also Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. I've even come to think of their Kart playing as educational as well as entertaining. Watching them level up in the game has been fascinating to watch -- Minna (my almost 7-year-old) has gone from not even being able to steer the kart to winning Grand Prix gold cups at 50cc (and she's a better shot with a green shell than I am) and Ollie (my 9-year-old) is improving so rapidly that with his superior neuroplasticity and desire, he'll be beating me in just a few months.1
Ok, but what is Mario Kart really teaching them? This isn't about preparing them for their driver's license exam. As dumb as it sounds,2 Mario Kart is a good vehicle (har!) for learning some of life's most essential skills. They're learning how persistant practice leads to steady improvement (something which isn't always readily visible with schoolwork). They're learning how to ignore what they can't control and focus on what they can (Minna still watches green shells after shooting them but Ollie no longer does...helloooooo Stoicism). They're learning how to lose gracefully and try again with determination. Most of all, they're learning how to navigate an unfamiliar system. Teaching someone how to learn -- knowing how to learn things is one of life's greatest superpowers -- is about exposing them to many different kinds of systems and helping them figure them out.
Ok, maybe in a year or two. Old Man Kottke is pretty good at Kart and has a few tricks left up his sleeve. Wisdom and experience can often be more than a match for youthful brilliance. ↩
It's a bummer to have to caveat this. Even in the age of Minecraft, video games aren't often thought of as learning opportunities. Very few in the US would bat an eyelash if I were talking about basketball or Little League. ↩
Lobel's Frog and Toad series, published in four volumes containing five stories each during the 1970s, remains his most popular and enduring work. Frog and Toad, two very different characters, make something of an odd couple. Their friendship demonstrates the many ups and downs of human attachment, touching on deep truths about life, philosophy, and human nature in the process. But it isn't all about relationships with others: In the series, and in his lesser-known 1975 book Owl at Home, Lobel offers a conception of the self that still resonates decades later. Throughout his books, he reminds readers that they are individuals, and that they shouldn't be afraid of being themselves.
Frog and Toad are favorites at our house. I'm going to read them to the kids this weekend with a new appreciation. Wanting to fit into the group is a powerful impulse for children, reinforced these days by the increased focus on group work in schools, so it's nice to have a counterpoint to share with them.
Update: From the New Yorker's Colin Stokes, another appreciation of Arnold Lobel. Lobel's daughter Adrianne suspects the Frog & Toad books were "the beginning of him coming out" of the closet.
Adrianne suspects that there's another dimension to the series's sustained popularity. Frog and Toad are "of the same sex, and they love each other," she told me. "It was quite ahead of its time in that respect." In 1974, four years after the first book in the series was published, Lobel came out to his family as gay. "I think 'Frog and Toad' really was the beginning of him coming out," Adrianne told me.
The article also sadly notes that Lobel died at age 54, "an early victim of the AIDS crisis". (via @bdeskin)
A parent hack can be as simple as putting the ketchup under the hot dog, minimizing the mess. Or strapping baby into a forward-facing carrier when you need to trim his fingernails-it frees your hands while controlling the squirming. Or stashing a wallet in a disposable diaper at the beach-who would ever poke through what looks like a used Pamper?
Dave Pell from Nextdraft tipped me off to the book, writing:
My friend Asha Dornfest has turned her excellent parenting blog into an even more excellent parenting book with 134 ingenious ideas for simplifying life with kids. Parent Hacks is so good that I may even have a few more kids.
In this book, fellow bridge-lovers Dave Eggers and Tucker Nichols tell the story of how it happened -- how a bridge that some people wanted to be red and white, and some people wanted to be yellow and black, and most people wanted simply to be gray, instead became, thanks to the vision and stick-to-itiveness of a few peculiar architects, one of the most memorable man-made objects ever created.
The kids and I sat down with the book last week and they loved it. The pages on the design of the bridge prompted a discussion about Art Deco, with detours to Google Images to look at photos of the bridge,1 The Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building. The next day, on the walk to school, we strolled past the Walker Tower, a 1929 building designed by Ralph Thomas Walker, one of the foremost architects of the 20th century. We were running a little early, so I stopped and asked the kids to take a look and think about what the building reminded them of. "Art Deco" came the reply almost immediately.
I'm really gonna miss reading to my kids -- Ollie mostly reads by himself now and Minna is getting close -- but I hope that we're able to keep exploring the world through books together. NYC is a tough place to live sometimes, but being able to read about something in a book, even about a bridge in far-away San Francisco, and then go outside the next day to observe a prime example of what we were just reading is such a unique and wonderful experience.
We also looked at several photos of the bridge under construction, including this one of a construction worker standing on some wires near one of the towers without much separating him and the water below. I've heard about this gentlemen from the kids several times since. Like, "remember that guy standing on the wires when the Golden Gate Bridge was being built? I bet he isn't scared of spiders."↩
Netflix made big news by increasing its maternity and paternity leave to a year. But in a really interesting piece, The New Yorker's Vauhini Vara provides some historical and economic background and makes the case why not all paid family leave regulations should be left up to private employers:
Among the earners of the highest wages, twenty-two per cent have access to paid family leave, while among the lowest earners, only four per cent do. It turns out that a disparity exists even within Netflix.
Mario Koran writes about how tough it can be to be a parent (particularly a single parent) and the impossibility of describing parenthood to someone without kids. This all rings true to me, especially this bit:
I also learned that being a dad means living in constant fear. Due to dumb, random chance, or a second's negligence, my entire world could implode at any moment. She could be electrocuted, shot, run-over, kidnapped or poisoned. She could get leukemia. It's all there, just waiting to happen. Each week, the fear seems to grow.
During the day, I keep these emotions contained in wire mesh. I can see the feelings. I know they're there, behind the wire. But I ignore them. I focus on work. At night, that wire mesh falls away. It's just my wife and Lucia and me, singing Twinkle Twinkle or ABCs -- or Twinkle Twinkle to the tune of ABCs. Some nights, after we tick off the lights and everything's quiet, I feel so much I suddenly realize I'm crying.
Elsewhere, danah boyd on "the irrational cloud of fear". Even Steve Jobs, not the best parent in the world, said that having kids is like having "your heart running around outside your body". Not every parent feels this way, but if you are prone to anxiety, that pretty much covers it.
Parents, grateful for ways to calm disruptive children and keep them from interrupting their own screen activities, seem to be unaware of the potential harm from so much time spent in the virtual world.
The grandparent who is persuaded that screens are not destroying human interaction, but are instead new tools for enabling fresh and flawed and modes of human interaction, is left facing a grimmer reality. Your grandchildren don't look up from their phones because the experiences and friendships they enjoy there seem more interesting than what's in front of them (you). Those experiences, from the outside, seem insultingly lame: text notifications, Emoji, selfies of other bratty little kids you've never met. But they're urgent and real. What's different is that they're also right here, always, even when you thought you had an attentional claim. The moments of social captivity that gave parents power, or that gave grandparents precious access, are now compromised. The TV doesn't turn off. The friends never go home. The grandkids can do the things they really want to be doing whenever they want, even while they're sitting five feet away from grandma, alone, in a moving soundproof pod.
As a writer for screens, someone who spends a tremendous amount of time each day staring at screens, and an involved parent of two grade-schoolers, this is precisely where my professional and personal lives meet, so I've done a bit of thinking about this recently. Here's what I've come up with and am attempting to actually believe:
People on smartphones are not anti-social. They're super-social. Phones allow people to be with the people they love the most all the time, which is the way humans probably used to be, until technology allowed for greater freedom of movement around the globe. People spending time on their phones in the presence of others aren't necessarily rude because rudeness is a social contract about appropriate behavior and, as Hermann points out, social norms can vary widely between age groups. Playing Minecraft all day isn't necessarily a waste of time. The real world and the virtual world each have their own strengths and weaknesses, so it's wise to spend time in both.
This advice from Amanda Hesser on how to get young kids to eat everything is 1000% solid gold:
You may wonder how we get our kids to eat kale and clams, and here is the answer: we make them (we're warm but firm), and we don't offer choices. Psychologists will tell you that kids respond to consistency and confidence. While I can't say I'm great at this when it comes to bedtime, I never waver at the table. People don't want to hear this because we live in the Age of Coddling but I strongly believe that kids need and actually crave guidance and direction, especially when they're young. And since I also believe that we should eat the same meals as our kids -- showing unity and companionship -- I don't want to eat boring food, so they're not getting boring food.
This is exactly what we did with our kids and while it's super difficult to be consistent and firm, especially with a picky kid, I recommend this approach wholeheartedly. My kids definitely have their preferences and would eat pizza and burgers for every meal if given the chance, but they eat a wide variety of different foods -- including a lot of stuff I personally don't care for (oysters and mussels for starters) -- and are always up for trying new things. How else are they supposed to discover that they really like Sri Lankan food? (Which they do.)
When Minnucci started this forest school experiment two years ago, she knew it would be good for the rowdy boys who clearly need to run around more than the typical school day offers.
What she didn't expect is how good it would be for the kids who can sit still and "do" school when they're 5 years old. She gives the example of a boy last year.
Inside the classroom, he was one of her best students. But when he got outside and kids were climbing a tree, he couldn't get very high. "I think he was a little surprised to not be meeting his peers' ability," says Minnucci.
Then, partway up the tree, he fell. And got a bit scraped up. "I felt terrible," Minnucci says. "I thought, 'Oh this poor guy. He failed.'"
But two weeks later, when the kids were climbing the tree again, he looked over at them. "I want to try the tree," he said.
"And he went to the tree and he got higher than he'd been before and he was beaming," says Minnucci. "And I thought, 'Oh, this good, this is good!' This is a kid who may have gone so far before he met challenge that he wouldn't have known what to do when he got there."
Kids who are good at school need to understand there's more to life than acing academics, says Minnucci. And students who aren't excelling at the academic stuff need to know there's value in the things they are good at. Doing school in the forest offers "something really important" to everyone, she says.
I have a lot to say about Free to Learn (it's fascinating), but I wanted to share one of the most surprising and unsettling passages in the book. In a chapter on the role of play in social and emotional development, Gray discusses play that might be considered inappropriate, dangerous, or forbidden by adults: fighting, violent video games, climbing "too high", etc. As part of the discussion, he shares some of what George Eisen uncovered while writing his book, Children and Play in the Holocaust.
In the ghettos, the first stage in concentration before prisoners were sent off to labor and extermination camps, parents tried desperately to divert their children's attention from the horrors around them and to preserve some semblance of the innocent play the children had known before. They created makeshift playgrounds and tried to lead the children in traditional games. The adults themselves played in ways aimed at psychological escape from their grim situation, if they played at all. For example, one man traded a crust of bread for a chessboard, because by playing chess he could forget his hunger. But the children would have none of that. They played games designed to confront, not avoid, the horrors. They played games of war, of "blowing up bunkers," of "slaughtering," of "seizing the clothes of the dead," and games of resistance. At Vilna, Jewish children played "Jews and Gestapomen," in which the Jews would overpower their tormenters and beat them with their own rifles (sticks).
Even in the extermination camps, the children who were still healthy enough to move around played. In one camp they played a game called "tickling the corpse." At Auschwitz-Birkenau they dared one another to touch the electric fence. They played "gas chamber," a game in which they threw rocks into a pit and screamed the sounds of people dying. One game of their own devising was modeled after the camp's daily roll call and was called klepsi-klepsi, a common term for stealing. One playmate was blindfolded; then one of the others would step forward and hit him hard on the face; and then, with blindfold removed, the one who had been hit had to guess, from facial expressions or other evidence, who had hit him. To survive at Auschwitz, one had to be an expert at bluffing -- for example, about stealing bread or about knowing of someone's escape or resistance plans. Klepsi-klepsi may have been practice for that skill.
Gray goes on to explain why this sort of play is so important:
In play, whether it is the idyllic play we most like to envision or the play described by Eisen, children bring the realities of their world into a fictional context, where it is safe to confront them, to experience them, and to practice ways of dealing with them. Some people fear that violent play creates violent adults, but in reality the opposite is true. Violence in the adult world leads children, quite properly, to play at violence. How else can they prepare themselves emotionally, intellectually, and physically for reality? It is wrong to think that somehow we can reform the world for the future by controlling children's play and controlling what they learn. If we want to reform the world, we have to reform the world; children will follow suit. The children must, and will, prepare themselves for the real world to which they must adapt to survive.
My favorite book when I was a kid was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ronald Barrett.1 So I was excited when the kids brought home a book from the library from the same authors that I hadn't seen before: Old MacDonald Had An Apartment House. The story is about an apartment building super who starts growing food and raising livestock in vacant apartments as the increasingly alarmed tenants move out. Totally awesome 70s hippie energy crisis stuff. It didn't click that I had actually read (and loved!) this book as a kid until we reached this page:
Love that page. Hot and cold running sweet potato vines.
I still have my 1970s-era copy that I read with my kids. It's delicate though, so I bought them their own copy to read on their own too. The upsetting part is there are minor differences in the text (but not drawings) of the two books. And the new phrasing is worse...no idea why they'd change it.↩
In our home, Lego currently rules the roost...the kids (a boy and a girl) spend more time building with Lego than doing anything else. This weekend, they worked together to build a beach scene, with a house, pool, lifeguard station, car, pond (for skimboarding), and surfers. Dollhouse stuff basically. Then they raced around the house with Lego spaceships and race cars. Nailed it, 1970s Lego.
For the past year, Joanna Goddard has been running a series on her blog called Motherhood Around the World. The goal of the series was to tease out how parenting in other countries is different than parenting in the US. From the introduction to the series:
We spoke to American mothers abroad -- versus mothers who were born and bred in those countries -- because we wanted to hear how motherhood around the world compared and contrasted with motherhood in America. It can be surprisingly hard to realize what's unique about your own country ("don't all kids eat snails?"), and it's much easier to identify differences as an outsider.
The results, as Goddard states upfront, are not broadly representative of parenting in the different countries but they are fascinating nonetheless. I've picked out a few representative bits below. On parenting in Norway:
Both my kids attended Barnehage (Norwegian for "children's garden"), which is basically Norwegian pre-school and daycare. Most kids here start Barnehage when they're one year old -- it's subsidized by the government to encourage people to go back to work. You pay $300 a month and your kids can stay from 8am to 5pm. They spend a ton of time outside, mostly playing and exploring nature. At some Barnehage, they only go inside if it's colder than 14 degrees. They even eat outdoors-with their gloves on! When I was worried about my son being cold, my father-in-law said, "It's good for him to freeze a little bit on his fingers." That's very Norwegian -- hard things are good for you.
No one thinks twice here about sharing breastmilk. Why let something so valuable go to waste? Not long after my second daughter was born, I went on a work trip to Kenya. I pumped the whole time I was there and couldn't bear to throw away my breast milk, nor imagine the nightmare scenario of leakage in my luggage. So I saved it all up in the hotel fridge in Ziploc bags. On the day I left, I took all the little bags to the local market and said, "All right, ladies. Who's got babies and wants breast milk?!" Not a single Kenyan woman at the market thought twice about taking a random white woman's breast milk. My driver even heard I was handing out milk and asked if I could pump some extra to take home to his new baby.
There are no car seat or seatbelt laws here. You will regularly see toddlers with their heads peeking out of sunroofs or moms holding their infants in the front seat. The government and the car companies are trying to educate people about the dangers, but the most locals (Emiratis as well as people from countries like India and Egypt) believe that a mother's arms are the safest place for her child.
In a country in which space comes at such a premium, few parents would dream of allocating a separate room for each child. Co-sleeping is the norm here, regardless of class. Children will usually sleep with their parents or their ayah until they are at least six or seven. An American friend of mine put her son in his own room, and her Indian babysitter was aghast. The young children from middle class Indian families I know also go to sleep whenever their parents do -- often as late as 11pm. Our son sleeps in our bed, as well. He has a shoebox of a room in our house where we keep his clothes and crib, and he always starts the night in there, falling asleep around 8pm. That way Chris and I get a few hours to ourselves. Then, around 11pm, Will somehow senses that we are about to fall asleep and calls out to come to our bed. It's like clockwork, and he falls right back into a deep sleep the second his head hits the pillow.
On sleep camps: Government-subsidized programs help parents teach their babies to sleep. I haven't been to one (though I did consider it when we were in the middle of sleep hell with our daughter) but many of my friends have. The sleep camps are centers, usually attached to a hospital, that are run by nurses. Most mums I know went when their babies were around six or seven months old. You go for five days and four nights, and they put you and your baby on a strict schedule of feeding, napping and sleeping. If you're really desperate for sleep, you also have the option of having a nurse handle your baby for the whole first night so you can sleep, but after that you spend the next few nights with your baby overnight while the nurses show you what to do. They use controlled crying and other techniques. I have friends who say it saved their lives, friends who left feeling "meh" about the whole thing, and a friend who left after a day because, in her words, "they left my baby in a cupboard to cry."
Giving treats to children is seen as a sign of affection, so strangers will offer candy to kids on the street. I'll sometimes turn around and a stranger will be handing my daughter a chocolate bar! Several months ago, we were on a bus, and a woman near us was eating cookies. She saw my daughter Mia and said "Oh, let me give you some cookies." I said, "No, thank you." But she kept on insisting. Then, a random stranger, who was not even connected to the first woman, chimed in, "You should give your daughter the cookies!" They were very serious about it! I was frustrated at the time, but after the fact I found it funny.
Here in the U.S., there is a huge "baby industry," which does not exist in Romania. There's special baby food, special baby utensils, special baby safety precautions and special baby furniture. In Romania, children eat with a regular teaspoon and drink from a regular glass. They play with toys that are not specifically made for "brain development from months 3-6." Also, before I came here, I had never heard of babyproofing! Now I'm constantly worried about my daughter hurting herself, but my mom and friends from home just laugh at me and my obsession that bookshelves might fall.
And the more permissive and involved parenting:
I was surprised that American children as young as one year old learn to say please, thank you, sorry and excuse me. Those things are not actively taught in India. Another difference is how parents here tend to stay away from "because I said so" and actually explain things to their children. It's admirable the way parents will go into basic reasoning to let the child know why some things are the way they are. When I last visited Bombay, I explained to my then four-year-old about that we couldn't buy too many things because of weight restrictions in the flight, etc. My relatives were genuinely wondering why I didn't just stop at "no."
Like I said, the whole series is fascinating...I could easily see this being a book or documentary (along the lines of Babies).
On improvising in the kitchen: We often have to be resourceful and adjust our cooking plans around what we can get. At the moment, it's been a few months since I've seen chicken breasts available at the market, for example. Last year on Thanksgiving, my father-in-law and I spent hours driving around trying to find potatoes, which are a black market item. People will normally walk up to you at the vegetable market and whisper, "I have potatoes." But, that day there were none. We were like potato junkies trying to get our fix of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving!
As the familiar story goes, not long ago there was an orphan who on his 11th birthday discovered he had a gift that set him apart from his preteen peers. Over the years he endured the usual adolescent challenges -- maturation, relationships, social conflicts, general teenage neuroses. He also faced the less common challenge of battling a murderous, psychopathic wizard set on establishing a eugenic police state. I'm referring to the young wizard Harry Potter, the bespeckled, morally-upright protagonist in author JK Rowling's wildly popular fantasy book series; his nemesis is Lord Voldemort, the story's malevolent antagonist. And, while it might sound far-fetched, new research suggests that Rowling's world of house-elves, half-giants and three-headed dogs has the potential to make us nicer people.
I've been reading Harry Potter with the kids for awhile now. We're almost finished with The Prisoner of Azkaban. One of my favorite parts of reading it with them is when they're confused about a situation or a particular word and we get to have a conversation. While reading Chamber of Secrets, we talked about mudbloods, prejudice, and fascism. We've talked about good and evil and how many of the books' characters actually possess both good and not-so-good qualities. More recently, we talked about bravery and cowardice in the context of being a friend and how even Neville, who seems frightened of everything, is a brave and true friend for trying to stop Hermione, Ron, and Harry from leaving the Gryffindor common room in search of the Sorcerer's Stone. I don't know if they're better people for it, but I value the chance to have those conversations with them about something they're really into.
Today at 3pm, I'm going to pick up my 6-year-old son and his friends at school and bring them back to my place for his early birthday party. We're going to watch The Lego Movie, eat popcorn, scarf pizza, and demolish a bunch of mini cupcakes. Everyone is excited.
Today at 3pm, Eric Meyer and his family will be holding a funeral service for his 6-year-old daughter. Rebecca Meyer died on Saturday on her 6th birthday after a months-long battle against cancer. I have been following along as Eric has written beautifully and powerfully about his daughter's illness and the family's search for treatments. Each new piece of bad news was tough to read, and her death devastated me.
Sometimes parents tend to get caught up in the minutia of parenthood: the logistics of getting from one place to another without losing your shit, the weary deflection of the 34th "why?" question of the afternoon, and all the rest. At least, I know I do. You forget to lift your head up to appreciate what you have. Author Elizabeth Stone once wrote that having kids was deciding to "have your heart go walking around outside your body". Steve Jobs put it similarly: your children are "your heart running around outside your body". That's the truest sentiment I've ever read about parenting; it feels exactly like that to me. Reading Eric's writing about Rebecca, a girl so close in age to both my kids, has affected me greatly. That could be me. My kids suffering. My heart, broken and dying. Imagining one of them...I can't even do it, the tears come hard and fast, washing away any such thoughts.
Those dark sad thoughts of mine have to be but a tiny fraction of what Eric and his family are feeling right now and in the months to come. Their heart is gone forever. Eric, I will be thinking about you and your family this afternoon even as we celebrate our happy event, while appreciating what I have more than ever. Rest in peace, Rebecca.
In racing video games, a ghost is a car representing your best score that races with you around the track. This story of a son discovering and racing against his deceased father's ghost car in an Xbox racing game will hit you right in the feels.
This may be the strangest parenting book I've ever come across: Parentology by Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU. In an interview with Freakonomics, Conley explains what makes his parenting approach so unconventional:
As an immigrant society with no common culture, we Americans have always made things up as we go -- be it baseball, jazz or the Internet. Parenting is no different, whether we admit it or not. If we want to keep producing innovative kids who can succeed in today's global economy, we should be constantly experimenting on them.
For example, I read the latest research on allergies and T-cell response and then intentionally exposed my kids to raw sewage (in small doses, of course) to build up their immune systems. I bribed them to do math thanks to an experiment involving Mexican villagers that demonstrated the effectiveness of monetary incentives for schooling outcomes. I perused a classic study suggesting that confidence-boosting placebos improved kids' actual cognitive development, fed my kids vitamins before an exam, told them that they were amphetamines -- and watched their scores soar.
Unlike having fewer kids, birthing them in the Northern Hemisphere during October of a year when not many others are having kids, avoiding the mercury in fish (while still getting enough omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids), and being rich, well-educated, and handsome to boot, there is one thing you can bequeath your kids that is entirely within your control. I'm talking about selecting their names. We may not control what race or gender we bequeath our offspring (unless, of course, we are utilizing a sperm bank in the Empire State Building for IVF), but we do have say over their names. If you play it safe with Bill or Lisa, it probably means your kids will be marginally more likely to avoid risk, too. If you're like us and name them E or Yo, they are likely to grow up into weirdoes like their parents-or at least not work in middle management.
Early studies on names claimed that folks with strange ones were overrepresented in prisons and mental hospitals. But the more recent (and in my professional opinion, better) research actually comes to the opposite conclusion: Having a weird name makes you more likely to have impulse control since you get lots of practice biting your tongue when bigger, stronger, older kids make fun of you in the schoolyard. This study makes me happy, given the growing scientific literature around the extreme importance of impulse control and its close cousin, delayed gratification. These two, some argue, are even more important than raw IQ in predicting socioeconomic success, marital stability, and even staying out of prison.
The NightLight is a Wirecutter-esque site for baby gear: strollers, car seats, bottles, etc. headed by Gawker's Joel Johnson and his sister, Rachel Fracassa.
Brought to you by brother-and-sister team Joel Johnson-from Consumerist, Gizmodo, and The Sweethome-and Rachel Fracassa, mother of four and doula, with contributors from Parenting, Babytalk and more, The NightLight takes the hand-wringing out of buying baby gear, with in-depth reporting and research that determines the single best product that parents should buy.
As a parent of a young child, you're plenty busy already. The NightLight's team of writers and researchers will help you pick the best strollers, carriers, bottles, diapers, car seats, monitors, breast pumps, and-yup-nightlights. We spend between 20 and 40 hours researching and testing on average for each guide, and in ongoing review to make sure our recommendations are always correct.
My kids are thankfully past the baby stage, but this would have been an indispensable resource 3-4 years ago.
Have you guys read the latest parenting study? The New Yorker Sarah Miller has the scoop: Parents have had enough of parenting studies.
Paul Nickman, forty-five, was taking a coffee break at his Visalia, California, law office when he began to leaf through an article about the importance of giving kids real challenges. "They mentioned this thing called grit, and I was like, 'O.K, great. Grit.' Then I started to think about how, last year, I'd read that parents were making kids do too much and strive too hard, and ever since then we've basically been letting our kids, who are ten and six, sit around and stare into space." Nickman called his wife and started to shout, "Make the kids go outside and get them to build a giant wall out of dirt and lawn furniture and frozen peas!"
Don't do your kid's homework. Try not to even help them that much. It's better for their development. And it's better for you not to have to relive your school years. That seems like sensible advice. Until all the other parents in the school start helping their kids on their homework. That's when you'll be tempted. But still, really, don't.
What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire-regardless of a parent's race, class, or level of education.
Do you review your daughter's homework every night? Robinson and Harris's data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children's Education, show that this won't help her score higher on standardized tests. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.
On the reading list for this weekend is Hanna Rosin's cover story in the most recent issue of The Atlantic: The Overprotected Kid.
I used to puzzle over a particular statistic that routinely comes up in articles about time use: even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers -- and fathers -- of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to. This seemed impossible to me until recently, when I began to think about my own life. My mother didn't work all that much when I was younger, but she didn't spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn't arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend's house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.
It's hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the '70s-walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap-are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of "children's independent mobility," conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it's even lower. When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn't true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost -- and gained -- as we've succumbed to them?
I love my mother a not-normal amount. It's all twisty because she tried to kill me when I was young. Just kidding. My mom is an excellent mom. She knows I am irascible, prickly and antisocial. She knows that most human interaction makes me tired and that I either scare people away with precise invectives or trot out the fakest, nicest skinjob of myself because it requires zero effort. She nails me on all of it, asking one billion follow-up questions until I get behind my eyeballs and engage. She forces me to call distant relatives, dialling the phone and pressing it into my cheek while my eyes get hot and watery. She pulls rank all the time and once judo-flipped me onto my back in a grocery store to remind me where things stood. She is my favorite and it makes me crazy. You can tell that she was popular in school, but I am a fundamentally more popular person. I care more and I'm great at rules. I've known it since the first grade.
I'd NEVER heard a kid scream so loud or for so long and still manage to run around a room tearing drawings off the wall, shoving kids all over the place, tossing chairs across the room.
It was AWESOME, in a moderately terrifying kind of way.
And the tears. Oh the tears. You'd have thought we'd taken his pet dog and made him slit its throat and then skin and cook it.
That day NEVER ended. I mean of course it did, but it never ended. You know what I mean. So, I'm hanging in the room straightening up from Justin's rampage, when our supervisor comes in and tells me to come outside.
Which is how I met Justin's grandparents, the two nicest, sweetest grandparents ever. No, nicer and sweeter then that. When I stuck my hand out they brushed that aside and it was semi-bear hug time. They both thanked me for what I was doing with Justin and how he didn't talk about anything else but me.
We're not big on TV for our kids (they watch maybe two hours a week and frequently less than that), but one show we've come to love watching with them is Shaun the Sheep. Produced by Aardman Animations (Wallace and Gromit), Shaun the Sheep has a number of things going for it:
- No dialogue. Not even the humans talk. Everything is communicated through grunts and gestures. Your three-year-old can follow it, as can your grandfather who only speaks Chinese.
- It's frequently hilarious. I've never heard Ollie laugh so hard at anything. And not just for kids...my wife and I are usually in stitches next to them on the couch.
- Non-topical, non-contemporary. The show is almost entirely self-contained...you don't need to know anything about pop culture to get the jokes. The humor is timeless...the show will be as good in 50 years as it is now. (There are plenty of pop culture references for the parents though...as with Bugs Bunny and Wallace and Gromit.)
- Non-violent. The humor is typically not mean-spirited and not predicated on characters hurting or attacking or making fun of other characters.
- Not gender specific. Mostly. This aspect could be a lot better (e.g. all the main characters are male), but the show is not specifically for little boys or little girls in the way that some kids shows are.
In short, it's the perfect entertainment for 3-8 year-olds and their parents. I don't think it's available on Netflix Instant anymore, but you can get in on iTunes and at Amazon.
The Other F Word is a 2011 documentary about how punk rockers and other countercultural figures made the transition from anti-authoritarianism to parenthood. Features members from Devo, NOFX, Black Flag, Rancid, and also pro skater Tony Hawk. Here's the trailer:
To be sure, watching foul-mouthed, colorfully inked musicians attempt to fit themselves into Ward Cleaver's smoking jacket provides for some consistently hilarious situational comedy, but the film's deeper delving into a whole generation of artists clumsily making amends for their own absentee parents could strike a resonant note with anyone (punk or not) who's stumbled headfirst into family life.
The researchers discovered that relatively more mature students didn't have an academic edge; instead, when they looked at their progress at the end of kindergarten, and, later, when they reached middle school, they were worse off in multiple respects. Not only did they score significantly lower on achievement tests -- both in kindergarten and middle school -- they were also more likely to have been kept back a year by the time they reached middle school, and were less likely to take college-entrance exams. The less mature students, on the other hand, experienced positive effects from being in a relatively more mature environment: in striving to catch up with their peers, they ended up surpassing them.
I was the second youngest kid in my class growing up; only our valedictorian was younger. Meg was young too. And both our kids are among the youngest in the class...we didn't redshirt them because they seemed ready for the grades they're in. As the article states, the differences are starker now than they were...some kids in their groups are more than a year older than they are and most are several months older. NYC preschools have trouble finding a wide range of ages for each class because so many people are holding their kids back to gain a supposed competitive edge against their peers...fall kindergarten classes are full of 6-year-olds but few just-turned-fives. It's crazy...but so much of New York is competitive like this, why wouldn't kids' preschool education be the same?
You planning on having a kid soon? Check out Sandor Weisz's new project, BornYet. When you register for the site, you get a subdomain (like is.rummicub.bornyet.com) that your friends can use to sign up for a birth announcement. When the time comes, it takes two seconds log into BornYet and send out an email blast with the pertinent info (like so). Pretty neat.
My wife also gets a load of emails from people asking where our son's father is, as though I couldn't possibly be around and still allow a male son to display female behavior. To those people I say, I'm right here fathering my son. I want to love him, not change him. My son skipping and twirling in a dress isn't a sign that a strong male figure is missing from his life, to me it's a sign that a strong male figure is fully vested in his life and committed to protecting him and allowing him to grow into the person who he was created to be.
I may be a "guy's guy," but that doesn't mean that my son has to be.
Children tend to rise to the culinary bar we set for them, and children's menus in America set the bar very low indeed. To look at the standard kids' menu, greasy with prefab items like chicken fingers, tater tots, and mac-and-cheese, you might think that industrial food manufacturers have been responsible for setting it. But the delusion that a child even needs a special menu is a lot older than the chicken nuggets that have come to dominate it. In fact, the children's menu dates back to Prohibition, when, remarkably, it was devised with a child's health in mind.
I hate kid's menus. Our kids would happily order off the main menu but as soon as the promise of hot dogs and chicken fingers arrives with crayons, it's difficult to steer them away.
"Maya," I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, "very nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too," she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.
"Hey, what are you reading?" I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I'm nuts for them. I let that show.
Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.
"I LOVE books," I said. "Do you?"
Most kids do.
"YES," she said. "And I can read them all by myself now!"
Do not do this:
"Maya, you're so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!"
People do the "OMG, you're so cute!" thing with Minna all the time and it bugs the shit out of me. (I mean, I get it, she's cute. But come on.) It also completely shuts her down because she suddenly feels so self-conscious about herself and her appearance...which has led to her to be more cautious about new people and wary of cameras, the ultimate unblinking eye of cuteness collection. And this is a very chatty, social, and engaging kid we're talking about here, but the "you're so cute" conversation opener twists her up into a preztel of self-consciousness that's so unlike her usual self.
No, this story is not spot on at all. No one at our house is doing this. Nope.
"Well, I'm not making the same mistake he did," Campbell continued as he pulled out vinyl copies of Television's Marquee Moon, Miles Davis' Sketches Of Spain, and Big Star's #1 Record, highly influential albums that will in no way help his daughter interact with her peers at a particularly delicate time in her social development. "There's a lot of cool stuff out there, and it's never too early to start learning what's worth your time. I'm just glad I have the know-how to guide her."
Campbell said he has also been vigilant in ensuring Emma develops an increased familiarity with timeless classic films, a parenting strategy that will inevitably hobble her as she attempts to achieve individuation while negotiating an adolescence heavily influenced by the very latest pop culture.
Yeah, our kids definitely do not listen to Philip Glass, Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Piaf, Burl Ives, Joan Jett, and Miles Davis on a regular basis. Or watch Chuck Jones-era Looney Toons shorts. Or Miyazaki films. Oh God, what are kids into these days? Pokebots? Blay blays? Yo-yos?
The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children's writing, said: "When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.
"But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them."
It is this sort of thing that stimulates the imagination, she said, while the screen "tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity".
We have a rule of no screen time during the week ... On the weekends, they can play. I give them a limit of half an hour and then stop. Enough. It can be too addictive, too stimulating for the brain.
That quote is from a parent who develops apps for kids. The Atlantic's Hanna Rosin went to a developer's conference and what she heard from the parents there might surprise you: The Touch-Screen Generation.
Babies create strong emotions for the bearer, holder, and observer. I have discovered this holds true even when it is known the baby is not real.
I am photographing dolls that are created to look and feel like living babies. They are constructed and weighted to feel like infants, which includes a head that must be supported while in one's arms. They are the most powerful objects I have ever worked with, I am struck by the strong and palpable emotional reactions they produce. They provoke the dominant biological instinct to nurture and the entire spectrum of human behavior.
Many of the women involved have an especially strong passion for the stage of mothering babies and this is a method to keep this stage permanently in their lives. There is a wide range of personal stories and motivations for being involved in this community. Some create or collect these dolls because they cannot continue to give birth to living babies, or have lost a child, or cannot have one of their own. Some women admire the art form and are doll collectors, others create nurseries in their homes and integrate the babies as part of their families and lives.
Sometimes, women who have lost a newborn have commissioned artists to make a reborn doll that looks exactly like their deceased baby. Modeled after photographs of the real infant, these dolls are called portrait babies.
File this one under crying at work: a man finds a newborn on a subway platform and he and his partner adopt him and then blub blub blub, I'm sorry I have to go there's something in both my eyes and my nose.
Three months later, Danny appeared in family court to give an account of finding the baby. Suddenly, the judge asked, "Would you be interested in adopting this baby?" The question stunned everyone in the courtroom, everyone except for Danny, who answered, simply, "Yes."
"But I know it's not that easy," he said.
"Well, it can be," assured the judge before barking off orders to commence with making him and, by extension, me, parents-to-be.
They're not here to be at the top of the ladder; they are here to learn to climb. If they can't do it on their own, they will survive the disappointment. What's more, they will have a goal and the incentive to work to achieve it.
In the meantime, they can use the stairs. I want them to tire of their own limitations and decide to push past them and put in the effort to make that happen without any help from me.
It is not my job -- and it is certainly not yours -- to prevent my children from feeling frustration, fear, or discomfort. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that those things are not the end of the world, and can be overcome or used to their advantage.
If they get stuck, it is not my job to save them immediately. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn to calm themselves, assess their situation, and try to problem solve their own way out of it.
It is not my job to keep them from falling. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that falling is possible but worth the risk, and that they can, in fact, get up again.
So as a parent, you're left with the question not just of how to talk to your child about tragedy, but of whether you're talking to your child for your child -- or for yourself. There's the question of what to say, but also when, and if, you should say it. "If you're feeling panicked, and like there's no place safe in the world, then that's a good time to step back and get those thoughts in order," Dr. Rappaport suggested. "But if we try to wait until we've fully come to terms with something like this, then we'll never be able to talk. In fact, we'd never be able to get out of bed in the morning."
So far, I've found advice from Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. Any child psychologists reading today? Can you point me towards some other (possibly better) sources? Email me here: email@example.com. I will collect the best resources and post here.
Parental involvement has a long and rich history of being studied. Decades of studies, many of them by Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that the optimal parent is one who is involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects her child's autonomy. These "authoritative parents" appear to hit the sweet spot of parental involvement and generally raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are either permissive and less involved, or controlling and more involved. Why is this particular parenting style so successful, and what does it tell us about overparenting?
No. No no no. No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no. NO NO NO NO! No. No no. No no no no no no. No. No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no.
Some will spend $795 on Gucci backpacks or $1,090 on leopard print puffy coats from Lanvin.
Sasha Charnin Morrison, fashion director at Us Weekly, admits that some of the clothes are outrageously prices. But, she says, things like $200 Gucci sneakers make her kids happy.
"They're a walking billboard of you. They're a reflection of who you are, so if you are someone highly stylized, then you want to make sure your kids are the best-dressed kids out there," she says.
No no no no no no no no no. No. No no no no no no no no no. Fuck you.
How did parents in different cultures train young people to assume adult responsibilities? In the case of the Angelenos, they mostly didn't. In the L.A. families observed, no child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game.
In another representative encounter, an eight-year-old girl sat down at the dining table. Finding that no silverware had been laid out for her, she demanded, "How am I supposed to eat?" Although the girl clearly knew where the silverware was kept, her father got up to get it for her.
In a third episode captured on tape, a boy named Ben was supposed to leave the house with his parents. But he couldn't get his feet into his sneakers, because the laces were tied. He handed one of the shoes to his father: "Untie it!" His father suggested that he ask nicely.
"Can you untie it?" Ben replied. After more back-and-forth, his father untied Ben's sneakers. Ben put them on, then asked his father to retie them. "You tie your shoes and let's go," his father finally exploded. Ben was unfazed. "I'm just asking," he said.
For Allan LaReau of Kalamazoo, Mich., and his 11 colleagues at Bronson Rambling Road Pediatrics, who chose in 2010 to stop working with vaccine-refusing families, a major factor was the concern that unimmunized children could pose a danger in the waiting room to infants or sick children who haven't yet been fully vaccinated.
In one case, an unvaccinated child came in with a high fever and Dr. LaReau feared the patient might have meningitis, a contagious, potentially deadly infection of the brain and spinal cord for which a vaccine commonly is given. "I lost a lot more sleep than I usually do" worrying about the situation, he said.
"You feel badly about losing a nice family from the practice," added Dr. LaReau, but families who refused to vaccinate their kids were told that "this is going to be a difficult relationship without this core part of pediatrics." Some families chose to go elsewhere while others agreed to have their kids inoculated.
After a woman from his hometown posted repeatedly to say she couldn't find a donor, Trent knew she was the one. "I thought, I'm probably not going to hurt anyone. The worst that can happen is someone will waste their time with me." He met the woman, a 37-year-old lesbian schoolteacher, and her partner, in December 2006 at a nearby Barnes & Noble, where the couple's 3-year-old adopted daughter played while they questioned Trent for two hours. They liked that he'd been raised Christian and worked in technology. The recipient provided a donor contract, drafted by a lesbian-run law firm, negating both his paternal rights and responsibilities. The couple gave him a box of Ziploc food containers from Wal-Mart and scheduled a first appointment. On that day, they texted Trent when they were twenty minutes from his house, and he set to work on the "recovery," as it's known. When they rang his bell, he handed over a Ziploc. Two weeks later, they sent Trent another text, with good news. After a year of fruitless trips to a sperm bank, the recipient had gotten pregnant on Trent's first try.
At the end of this month Jeff Atwood is leaving Stack Exchange, a company he cofounded with Joel Spolsky. In a post on his blog, he explains why:
Startup life is hard on families. We just welcomed two new members into our family, and running as fast as you can isn't sustainible for parents of multiple small children. The death of Steve Jobs, and his subsequent posthumous biography, highlighted the risks for a lot of folks. [...] Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange have been wildly successful, but I finally realized that success at the cost of my children is not success. It is failure.
In his post, Jeff points to a similar post by another entrepreneur, Brad Wardell.
In the last several years, the company has been successful enough to generate a substantial amount of capital. And with it, I have been fortunate to bring in people with great talent. And so I started thinking of all the amazing things we would do. I would put in crazy hours to do it, of course, but we would go and do amazing things.
Then Steve Jobs died.
And suddenly I realized something. What is the objective here? My oldest child just turned 15. My other two are no longer little either. And I have been missing out on them.
For a long time, work was my only thing. I worked evenings, weekends, and Christmas. At those rare times when I wasn't at work in body, I was there in spirit, unable to speak or think of much else. I wanted so badly to climb the mountain that I stopped asking why I was doing it.
I admire [Jobs] for the mountains he climbed. At the same time, I wonder if he missed the whole point, becoming the John Henry of our time. He won the race, but at what cost?
Me? I may turn out to be a failure in business, but I refuse to fail my kids.
This mirrors my main reaction to Jobs' death and Isaacson's book as well. I wasn't working 80 hours a week or leading a growing company or even spending very little time with my kids but I was pushing pretty hard on Stellar, pushing it towards a potential future of insane working hours, intense stress, and a whole lot less time with my family (and selfishly, less time for myself). Since Jobs died, I've been pushing a little less hard in that direction.
Four is hardly a trend but it is interesting that the death and biography of the greatest businessman of our generation -- someone who was responsible for so many world-changing products and ideas, who shaped our world through sheer force of will & imagination, etc. etc. -- is inspiring some people to turn away from the lifestyle & choices that made Jobs so successful & inspiring in the public sphere and to attempt the path that Jobs did not.
The French, I found, seem to have a whole different framework for raising kids. When I asked French parents how they disciplined their children, it took them a few beats just to understand what I meant. "Ah, you mean how do we educate them?" they asked. "Discipline," I soon realized, is a narrow, seldom-used notion that deals with punishment. Whereas "educating" (which has nothing to do with school) is something they imagined themselves to be doing all the time.
One of the keys to this education is the simple act of learning how to wait. It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don't pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep. It is also why French toddlers will sit happily at a restaurant. Rather than snacking all day like American children, they mostly have to wait until mealtime to eat. (French kids consistently have three meals a day and one snack around 4 p.m.)
We have a French pediatrician who advised us to do almost exactly what is in this article and we've had pretty good success with it. It's not all roses (kids are kids after all) and a lot of work, especially for the first couple of years, because you have to be consistent and steady and firm (but also flexible) and I know I haven't always done a great job, but the dividends have been totally worth it so far.
2. Box Another toy that is quite versatile, Box also comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Need proof? Depending on the number and size you have, Boxes can be turned into furniture or a kitchen playset. You can turn your kids into cardboard robots or create elaborate Star Wars costumes. A large Box can be used as a fort or house and the smaller Box can be used to hide away a special treasure. Got a Stick? Use it as an oar and Box becomes a boat. One particularly famous kid has used the Box as a key component of a time machine, a duplicator and a transmogrifier, among other things.
This city letter carrier posed for a humorous photograph with a young boy in his mailbag. After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.
Great new site from Rion featuring online videos, photos, books, and other media that's appropriate for little kids.
There's just so much science, nature, music, arts, technology, storytelling and assorted good stuff out there that my kids (and maybe your kids) haven't seen. It's most likely not stuff that was made for them...
But we don't underestimate kids around here.
With obvious exceptions, media "made for kids" is mindnumbingly dumb. YouTube, Flickr, and Vimeo are amazing resources of not-made-for-kids but totally-appropriate-for-kids stuff like what Rion is posting here. I've often wanted a Wikipedia For Little Kids (for the iPad) that's almost exclusively video- and image-based that I could let Ollie loose on to learn about stuff. (via @swissmiss)
"Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground," said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. "I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed."
After observing children on playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, Dr. Sandseter identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling), and wandering alone away from adult supervision. The most common is climbing heights.
"Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run," Dr. Sandseter said. "Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years."
Now, I'm not here to judge anyone, but I'm totally judging: this is insane. A gender cake party goes like this:
My husband and I would like to do a cake party to find out the sex of our baby. So basically we will have the ultrasound tech put the sex of the baby in an enveloppe and we will give that enveloppe to our cake maker. The inside of the cake will either be pink or blue so when we cut into it our family, friends, as well as ourselves will find out what were having. We planned on having our close family and freinds over for this big moment....sounds lovely right?
But at the heart of the concept and the business of KidZania is corporate consumerism, re-staged for children whose parents pay for them to act the role of the mature consumer and employee. The rights to brand and help create activities at each franchise are sold off to real corporations, while KidZania's own marketing emphasizes the arguable educational benefits of the park.
Each child receives a bank account, an ATM card, a wallet, and a check for 50 KidZos (the park's currency). At the park's bank, which is staffed by adult tellers, kids can withdraw or deposit money they've earned through completing activities -- and the account remains even when they go home at the end of the day. A lot of effort goes into making the children repeat visitors of this Lilliputian city-state.
A US outpost of KidZania is coming sometime in 2013.
But nowadays people just have to know the sex of a baby or young child at first glance, says Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, to be published later this year. Thus we see, for example, a pink headband encircling the bald head of an infant girl.
Why have young children's clothing styles changed so dramatically? How did we end up with two "teams" -- boys in blue and girls in pink?
"It's really a story, what happened to neutral clothing," says Paoletti, who has explored the meaning of children's clothing for 30 years. For centuries, she says, children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. "What was once a matter of practicality -- you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached-became a matter of 'Oh my God, if I dress my babies in the wrong thing, they'll grow up perverted,'" Paoletti says.
It is nearly impossible, even in NYC, to find girls clothes that are not pink unless you pay through the nose for imported European kids clothes. See also vocabulary in boys and girls toy advertising. (via megnut, who is fighting to keep our kids in gender neutral clothing)
This is the first part of a four-part interview with Chris Ware, in which he discusses comics, working, and family. Ware on becoming a father:
Yeah, it kind of fixed every mental problem that I had within an hour. So I highly recommend it if anybody out there is thinking of having children, you should really, I mean, it's the only reason we're here, and if you have any doubts in your mind about yourself or where your life is going, it'll be answered easily and almost instantaneously. It's a clich'e to say, but it also immediately sets you aside from yourself and you're no longer the star of your own mind, which is really not a very good state of mind to be in. Unfortunately, in my country it is one that seems to be encouraged until about the age of 60 or something, now. I really think the main export of America is this sort of fountain of youth that we somehow manage to tap into, like with pop music -- it's not out of the question to see 50-year-old men still dressing like teenagers and I just feel like, "What happened?" It's like we won World War II and now we can be idiots for the rest of time.
I don't know about an hour, but yeah, similar experience here. Here's part 2, part 3, and part 4.
Parents these days go crazy worrying about their kids' progress: Should she be reading? Should he be writing? She can't catch a ball! The kid down the street can say her numbers up to 100 but mine only knows 1 through 14. Magical Parenthood posted an article about what a four-year-old should know and it doesn't have anything to do with how well your kid can spell.
1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn't feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
This advice for parents is gold:
That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children "advantages" that we're giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
Loulou seemed like such an alien thing, that the first time I heard her sneeze, I was filled with joy.
It was the first human thing I'd seen her do that made any sense to me.
Imagine listening to someone speaking a foreign language, and then suddenly you hear the word "McDonald's."
I was somewhat of a reluctant father as well. I think it's ok to feel that this stranger in your life maybe isn't the greatest thing ever. Newborns are hard; you do feel like chucking them out the window at times. Your interaction with others, especially with your spouse, becomes weird and one-sided and not at all about your needs and desires. But that's how it is...you fake it 'til you make it. Of course, I love my kids to pieces now and it's difficult to remember when that wasn't the case.
Don't feel guilty. Modern parents are made to feel as if they are depriving their children of "the best" if they don't sign them up for every lesson, take them to every movie, or buy them every brain-enhancing toy. Advertising companies are paying billions of dollars to make you think this. It is not reality... it is a fictional version of reality they are selling. Let it go. Don't "buy" into it. You are not depriving your children; you are enhancing their mental and emotional development by letting the real world around them captivate and interest them. Do you think the Smiths' kids are really better off because they spend all their free time in front of a television or playing with a DSI?
From the perspective of the species, it's perfectly unmysterious why people have children. From the perspective of the individual, however, it's more of a mystery than one might think. Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines. Perhaps the most oft-cited datum comes from a 2004 study by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist, who surveyed 909 working Texas women and found that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities. (Among the endeavors they preferred: preparing food, watching TV, exercising, talking on the phone, napping, shopping, housework.) This result also shows up regularly in relationship research, with children invariably reducing marital satisfaction. The economist Andrew Oswald, who's compared tens of thousands of Britons with children to those without, is at least inclined to view his data in a more positive light: "The broad message is not that children make you less happy; it's just that children don't make you more happy." That is, he tells me, unless you have more than one. "Then the studies show a more negative impact." As a rule, most studies show that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy still, that babies and toddlers are the hardest, and that each successive child produces diminishing returns. But some of the studies are grimmer than others. Robin Simon, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, says parents are more depressed than nonparents no matter what their circumstances-whether they're single or married, whether they have one child or four.
I appreciated the description of being a parent as living in "a clamorous, perpetual-forward-motion machine almost all of the time". Bang on.
He spends much of the time arresting criminals, taking people to the hospital in an ambulance, and putting out fires.
At this point my son was familiar with the game's mechanics and hopped into the ambulance. As he put the crime fighting behind him, he wondered aloud if it was possible to take people to the hospital. I instruct him to press R3, and then he was off to save a few lives. He was having a blast racing from point to point, picking up people in need, and then speeding off to Las Venturas Hospital. During one of his life saving adventures, he passed a fire house with a big, red, shiny fire truck parked out front. He didn't want to let his passengers down, so he took them to the hospital and then asked if I could guide him back to the fire truck.
You know how iPhone and iPad have "airplane mode", which turns off all connectivity? Right under that, I want "Toddler Mode". When switched on, you'll get a dialog letting you know you are entering Toddler Mode, and an explanation of how to get out. Unlike Airplane Mode, you can't get out of Toddler Mode through settings, because there's no way Toddler Mode should allow access to the settings panel. I haven't figured out the best way out of Toddler Mode, but I'm thinking a quick triple-click on the home button, followed by a swipe, should work.
The problem with toddler mode is that the capabilities of kids change very quickly at that age. For instance, the home button is only a problem for a short time. My almost-3-yo son Ollie pretty quickly figured out that if he wanted to keep doing what he was doing, he had to lay off the home button. Now he knows exactly what it does: gets him back to the screen where he can pick a new activity. He also has no problem finding his apps...he knows exactly which of those icons mean fun and which do not.
(BTW, if you're an interface/interaction designer and you haven't watched a preschooler using a touchscreen device, you really should. It's fascinating how quickly they learn some things and just can't get the hang of other things. It's a really eye-opening experience.)
Mr. Marzovilla welcomes young children at his restaurant, even discounts their meals on Sunday evenings, and is not above serving a simple appetizer portion of pasta to please little ones. But he has strong opinions about food, and about the messages parents convey to their offspring through what they eat. Children's menus aim too low, he argues -- they're a parenting crutch.
An improvised toy: Old Fashioned Quaker Oats canister ($4). You know, the big can. Buy it, eat oatmeal for months, and then give it to your kid when you're done with it. It's a drum, a car garage, a cave, a shaker, a block carrier, a hat, an echo chamber, a steam roller, a doll's bed, and flower pot. Basically the perfect cheap, replaceable, recyclable, open-ended toy.
Tom Junod says that the key to understanding how Obama governs is to look at how you'd imagine he might raise Sasha and Malia. Specifically, Junod compares the President's community organization roots with the parenting technique of positive discipline.
You don't have to win, we were told at the positive-discipline workshop. Your child is not damaged, morally, if your child wins, if the battle is withdrawn, or, better yet, never joined. Our culture has viewed parenthood in terms of decisive moments, but it's better to view it in terms of development, as a continual process, and to be in it for the long haul. Nothing lies like the moment of truth, and if there's no powerlessness, then there are fewer power struggles. If your child has a problem with authority, it's likely that you have a problem with authority, or your lack of it. The answer is to return it to your child in the form of choices, while you set an example. Your example is your authority. Positive discipline does not mean no discipline; it means that discipline is a matter of teaching mutual respect, rather than making your child suffer. "Children do better when they feel better, not worse," is what it says on my kitchen cabinet, and so when faced with intransigence, parents have to respond by stating their expectations, repeating the rules, and then giving their children the love and support they need to follow them. Always try to include, rather than isolate; avoid labels; don't negotiate, but don't escalate, either. If your children are not doing well, either take them out of the situation or remove yourself. You -- and they -- can always try again.
It is a philosophy that could have been minted by Cass Sunstein, the White House advisor who is developing ways to "nudge" citizens to make the right choices without them being aware of the manipulation. It could serve as a precis for how Obama has dealt with Joe Wilson, not to mention Skip Gates and Sergeant Jim Crowley, not to mention Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was never threatened but rather told to "think carefully" while answering the protests of the Iranian presidential election with the truncheon and the gallows. One could almost hear Obama saying, "Use your words, Mahmoud. Use your words."
The piece is interesting throughout, but I particularly liked this observation:
Barack Obama, then, is not the agent of change; he's the fulfillment of a change that is already occurring culture-wide, in every place but politics. That's why the Republicans fear him so much; why, while waiting for him to fail, they just come off as the political party for people who want to hit their kids.
Between 1977 and 2002, the percent of the American population eating three or more snacks a day increased to 42 percent from 11 percent.
Also, this is a great use of quotation marks:
Kara Nielsen, a "trendologist" at the Center for Culinary Development, a brand development company in San Francisco, cites the proliferation of activities, from soccer to chess club to tutoring sessions, that now fill children's afternoons.
That's actually not a "real" "job", is it? (via @megnut)
After giving birth to her first baby in the hospital, Schoenborn, 31, chose to have her next four children at home -- by herself. Although her husband was in the house during the births, he didn't help with the deliveries.
"My hospital births were very managed," says Schoenborn. "I wanted privacy and to be free of internal exams. I wanted to give birth in an upright position and they want you to lie down. I feel birth is an instinctive process and in the hospital they treat women like they're broken and birth like an illness."
A Story Before Bed allows you to record yourself reading a bedtime story to a faraway child...maybe you're away from home on business or a grandparent who lives in another state or just working late. When storytime rolls around, the child sees the book onscreen plus a video of you reading it to them. Slick.
Ah, risk. It is the idea that fuels the anti-vaccine movement -- that parents should be allowed to opt out, because it is their right to evaluate risk for their own children. It is also the idea that underlies the CDC's vaccination schedule -- that the risk to public health is too great to allow individuals, one by one, to make decisions that will impact their communities. (The concept of herd immunity is key here: It holds that, in diseases passed from person to person, it is more difficult to maintain a chain of infection when large numbers of a population are immune.)
Anti-vaccine activists are degenerate idiots who deserve to get polio and live out their days in iron lungs while Child Protective Services takes away their children to be properly raised. Or tetanus. Get lockjaw and shut up and die. What's the point of living in 21st-century America if not to avoid dying of stupid, easily preventable disease?
Ordinarily I wouldn't question others' parenting choices. But the problem is literally one of live or don't live. While that parent chose not to vaccinate her child for what she likely considers well-founded reasons, she is putting other children at risk. In this instance, the child at risk was my son. He has leukemia.
There's something very interesting about vaccine scares. These are cultural products. They're not about evidence. If vaccine scares were about genuine scientific evidence showing that a vaccine caused a disease, then the vaccine scares would happen all around the world at exactly the same time, because information can disseminate itself around the world very rapidly these days. But what you find is that vaccine scares actually respect cultural and national boundaries.
If your ex-spouse has run off and taken your children abroad, and the international legal system is failing to bring them back, what are you to do? One option is to call Gus Zamora, a former Army ranger who will, for a hefty fee, get your children back. Operating in a moral gray area beyond the reach of any clear-cut legal jurisdiction, Zamora claims to have returned 54 children to left-behind parents. Here's the story of number 55.
They direct the parents to temporarily back off almost entirely: to stop asking their child to do the desired behavior and say it's OK not to do it at all, stop offering praise or other rewards for doing it, and mask their attitude of engaged enthusiasm or frustrated rage with an appearance of bland disinterest in whether the child does it or not. What happens next, frequently, is that within a day or two the child starts doing the behavior with no prompting from parents or anyone else.
The explanation of why this technique works is pretty interesting. We've tried it a bit recently with Ollie and his extreme disinterest in brushing his teeth and we're seeing some promising results, although I imagine this works better with slightly older kids.
Scour the parenting forums on the Internet and you'll find the common lament that "DH" (darling husband) expects a medal whenever he "babysits" junior for a few hours. I have little sympathy for DH in these cases, but maybe a step in the right direction would be to stop using language that suggests hired help -- to stop referring to DH's job in the same terms as somebody who could legitimately stick his hand out at the end of his shift and demand a tip. DH isn't babysitting, he's parenting, and just changing that one word changes, for me at least, all sorts of connotations.
Let's face it: Our culture has lost the ability to usefully disagree. Most Americans seem to avoid argument. But this has produced passive aggression and groupthink in the office, red and blue states, and families unable to discuss things as simple as what to watch on television. Rhetoric doesn't turn kids into back-sassers; it makes them think about other points of view.
I had long equated arguing with fighting, but in rhetoric they are very different things. An argument is good; a fight is not. Whereas the goal of a fight is to dominate your opponent, in an argument you succeed when you bring your audience over to your side. A dispute over territory in the backseat of a car qualifies as an argument, for example, in the unlikely event that one child attempts to persuade his audience rather than slug it.
Apologies to those of you who descend upon this site for the current and interesting; I'm interrupting for a little personal blogging and parental advice interlude. Something happened to Ollie and me earlier today and I'm still upset about it for reasons that are unclear, so I needed to get this off my chest.
I took off work a little early today to take Ollie to the playground. We'd been there about 15 or 20 minutes and he was happy playing in his favorite plastic car. Another little boy, probably about 2.5 to 3 years old, came up to him in the car and after standing there for a moment, slapped him in the face. Now, I've seen enough accidental toddler flailing to know that this wasn't it. And then he slapped him again...pretty hard. I could see Ollie drawing back, shocked and perhaps getting ready to cry. As I moved over to Ollie to intervene, the kid slapped him again and was rearing back to do it again. I grabbed his hand, said, "hey!" and moved him away from Ollie a bit.
Now, this is normal playground stuff. Usually the hitting isn't so weirdly premeditated, but whatever...they're too small to hurt one another unless there are shovels or sharp sticks involved. Usually you just let the kids figure it out themselves but not when one kid is just slapping the other one just for the hell of it. And in that case, the parents usually move in, settle things down, one kid apologizes to the other, everyone rolls their eyes -- kids! -- and everything's fine. It's not about discipline, it's about teaching kids how to deal with these situations through sheer repetition.
So, I'd moved the kid away from Ollie, just a foot or so...I didn't yank him away or anything. (I wouldn't even have touched him if Ollie hadn't been trapped in his car...I couldn't just get Ollie out of the situation easily.) I repeated "hey..." and started in on the standard toddler anti-violence speech that leads to an apology, blah blah blah. The kid smiles at me like the cat who swallowed the canary and starts to run off. I took hold of his arm again so that I could finish making the peace. (Sort-of side note: We looked at a bunch of preschools for Ollie, which are not so much schools as they are organized social mixers for pre-K kids. Many of the schools stressed conflict resolution for the "twos and threes"...getting the kids playing well together and helping them work though their problems with each other is important. That's pretty much what I was trying to do here.)
Then this kid's mom finally appears. She yanks her kid away from me and says, "hey, what are you doing?"
"Your kid was slapping mine. I was trying to..."
"I know that. I saw."
A bit stunned by that, I tried again. "Ok, I was just trying..."
She goes right to eleven. "How dare you! You were going to hit my child!"
My eyes and mouth are wide as this point. "What?!"
"You were going to hit him! You're an adult, much bigger than him, you shouldn't be hitting little boys!"
We went back and forth like this for a bit and I finally just said, "Ok, whatever. Listen, lady. I didn't hit your kid and I wasn't going to hit your kid. Period." She eyed me suspiciously and moved away with her son. Ollie and I left shortly afterwards; I was pretty upset and just wanted to get the hell out of there.
On the walk home, I felt sick to my stomach. For one, I was shocked by the woman's reaction to her child's misbehavior. And then that she thought that I was going to hit her kid. Had she pressed the point, it could have gotten ugly...she could have called the police to have me arrested. For performing normal playground toddler intervention kiss-and-make-up! Then I started thinking that maybe I had been too rough with her son without realizing it. That really made me feel ill. It occurred to me while talking to my wife after the fact that maybe I should have let the kid walk away after he smiled at me... perhaps I have the right to protect my kid from abuse but I shouldn't attempt to "parent" the other child in any way.
So, I guess my question for the more experienced parents in the crowd is: what's the etiquette here? Am I being naïve in thinking that the playground is a collective parenting situation when it comes to this sort of thing? Or is touching or parenting another person's child, no matter how slightly or what the intent, strictly off limits in this overprotective and litigious society? (Just to anticipate a common question -- If your roles were reversed, would you be comfortable with someone parenting Ollie in that situation? -- I'd say yes, if Ollie was slapping some other kid around, absolutely...break it up, make the peace, and move on.) I know you weren't there and this is just one side of the story, but I'd be grateful to hear your thoughts, either in the comments or via email. Thanks.
The crime rate today is equal to what it was back in 1970. In the '70s and '80s, crime was climbing. It peaked around 1993, and since then it's been going down. If you were a child in the '70s or the '80s and were allowed to go visit your friend down the block, or ride your bike to the library, or play in the park without your parents accompanying you, your children are no less safe than you were. But it feels so completely different, and we're told that it's completely different, and frankly, when I tell people that it's the same, nobody believes me. We're living in really safe times, and it's hard to believe.
I can't remember where I heard this little story recently but the gist is that a family originally from somewhere in Africa but now living in the United States went back home for a visit. In this particular country, the kids all leave the house at 6am and don't return until dinnertime. They get up, pack a lunch, and they're just gone. And the kid from the family living in the US didn't do this...he couldn't really do much without his parents and hung around them the whole time, which the other kids thought was weird.
Todd Marinovich was supposed to be the best quarterback of all time. Instead, his life got derailed by drugs and alcohol and even more drugs. His dad has to be the all-time worst sports parent in the history of horrible sports parents...it was difficult to get through page 2 without wanting to FedEx Marinovich Sr. a punch in the face.
For the nine months prior to Todd's birth on July 4, 1969, Trudi used no salt, sugar, alcohol, or tobacco. As a baby, Todd was fed only fresh vegetables, fruits, and raw milk; when he was teething, he was given frozen kidneys to gnaw. As a child, he was allowed no junk food; Trudi sent Todd off to birthday parties with carrot sticks and carob muffins. By age three, Marv had the boy throwing with both hands, kicking with both feet, doing sit-ups and pull-ups, and lifting light hand weights. On his fourth birthday, Todd ran four miles along the ocean's edge in thirty-two minutes, an eight-minute-mile pace. Marv was with him every step of the way.
Update: In 1988 Sports Illustrated ran an article about Marinovich while he was still in high school: Bred To Be A Superstar. (via josh)
In this scenario, you change the words: "I do not like blue eggs and ham", then once again the pregnant pause, and the toddler leaps in with the correction; maybe in a sort of disturbed and urgent tone. You respond "Oh, right, green eggs...". After a couple of times she realizes it's a joke and you get giggles with each correction.
We're well into stage one with Ollie, although stage two is likely just around the corner. We've been playing a game recently where we ask him whether different objects have wheels or not.
The child initiates and creates free play. It might involve fantasies -- such as pretending to be doctors or princesses or playing house -- or it might include mock fighting, as when kids (primarily boys) wrestle and tumble with one another for fun, switching roles periodically so that neither of them always wins. And free play is most similar to play seen in the animal kingdom, suggesting that it has important evolutionary roots. Gordon M. Burghardt, author of The Genesis of Animal Play, spent 18 years observing animals to learn how to define play: it must be repetitive -- an animal that nudges a new object just once is not playing with it -- and it must be voluntary and initiated in a relaxed setting. Animals and children do not play when they are undernourished or in stressful situations. Most essential, the activity should not have an obvious function in the context in which it is observed -- meaning that it has, essentially, no clear goal.
He said that public health measures like cleaning up contaminated water and food have saved the lives of countless children, but they "also eliminated exposure to many organisms that are probably good for us." "Children raised in an ultraclean environment," he added, "are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits."
One of the decisions we made even before Ollie was born was that he was going to be a dirty kid. We wash our hands often with non-antibacterial soap and water, especially after being on the subway, but otherwise don't worry about it much. I can count on one hand how many times I've used the antibacterial hand sanitizer that seemingly comes bundled with toddlers these days.
Marano thinks that the infant-stimulation craze was a scandal. She accepts the idea of brain plasticity, but she believes that the sculpting goes on for many years past infancy and that its primary arena should be self-stimulation, as the child ventures out into the world. While Mother was driving the kid nuts with the eight-hundredth iteration of "This Little Piggy," she should have been letting him play on his own. Marano assembles her own arsenal of neurological research, guaranteed to scare the pants off any hovering parent. As children explore their environment by themselves-making decisions, taking chances, coping with any attendant anxiety or frustration-their neurological equipment becomes increasingly sophisticated, Marano says. "Dendrites sprout. Synapses form." If, on the other hand, children are protected from such trial-and-error learning, their nervous systems "literally shrink."
With Benny, Mr. Lewis went on to say, "we embraced a hybrid between home-schooling and unschooling. It's not structured, it's Benny-centric, we follow his interests and desires, and yet we are helping him to learn to read and do math." They read to him hours every day. "It's about trying to find things we both enjoy doing," Ms. Rendell said, "rather than making myself a martyr mom. The terror of home-schooling is you have to be super on all the time, finding crafty things to do."
The tomato water doesn't really transform into spheres so much as blobs with little tails of clear gelatin. And here my son begins to get really nervous; realizing that he will have to eat not only something tomato-flavored but something that in shape and overall texture most closely resembles a tadpole.
On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families. One of the mothers realized the mistake but chose to keep quiet. Until the day, more than 40 years later, when she decided to tell both daughters what happened. How the truth changed two families' lives -- and how it didn't.
The worst part about the whole thing is that the mother that knew, Mrs. Miller, always treated her non-biological daughter differently, like she wasn't really a full part of the family. The Millers sound like awful people.
When litigation piled up in the early 1980s, the industry responded by raising insurance premiums and adhering closely to safety standards set up by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Unsurprisingly, few creative ideas made it through these standards, lest any innovations be dangerous and result in more injury. God forbid a child jam his finger or scrape her knee.
But what the new, safe equipment is missing, of course, is the stuff that, according to Moore, makes play fun and crucial to early-childhood development: variety, complexity, challenge, risk, flexibility, and adaptability.
One of the most difficult aspects of Ollie's newfound mobility is balancing his need to explore freely and his safety.
"It's mind-boggling that in the 21st century we can still have a child who's just left in a room like a gerbil," said Tracy Sheehan, Danielle's guardian in the legal system and now a circuit court judge. "No food. No one talking to her or reading her a story. She can't even use her hands. How could this child be so invisible?"
If I said I was a fat thug who beat up women and sold bad coke, would you like my story? What if instead I wrote that I was a recovered addict who obtained sole custody of my twin girls, got us off welfare and raised them by myself, even though I had a little touch of cancer? Now we're talking. Both are equally true, but as a member of a self-interpreting species, one that fights to keep disharmony at a remove, I'm inclined to mention my tenderhearted attentions as a single parent before I get around to the fact that I hit their mother when we were together. We tell ourselves that we lie to protect others, but the self usually comes out looking damn good in the process.
Carr's book is not the conventional memoir. Instead of relying on his spotty memory from his time as a junkie, he went out and interviewed his family, friends, enemies, and others who knew him at the time to get a more complete picture.
Simon points out what any parent knows very well: Children, especially young children, can create lots of work and stress. "There are very many positive things that come out of having kids, but it's a mixed bag," she says. "They are demanding. They are a responsibility, and it's a responsibility that doesn't end."
Changing a diaper isn't enjoyable, and teenagers can be such a pain in the ass, but having kids can also be a profound source of meaning for people. (I like the amateur marathoner metaphor: survey a marathoner in the midst of the race and they'll complain about their legs and that rash and how the race seems like it's taking forever. But when the running is over they are always incredibly proud of their accomplishment. Having kids, then, is like a marathon that lasts 18 years.)
My take is that the kids aren't the problem; it's all the other stuff. You just aren't able to do all the stuff you used to enjoy doing before you had kids and if you think you can, of course you're going to be unhappy when it doesn't work out that way. You need to be prepared and make a conscious choice: "I'm choosing to enrich my life with a child *but* as a tradeoff, I won't be able to live the way I was before." Even worse, many don't have a choice. When both parents need to work to make ends meet and there's no extended family to pick up the slack, throwing a child in the mix can add stress into a situation where time and money are already scarce. As noted at the end of the NPR story, the US doesn't value family as much as it could.
But Simon says that the importance of studies of parental depression lies in their providing a groundwork for fighting it. "People ought to understand where this unhappiness comes from," she says. "I would say it's not from their kids per se, I would say that it comes from the social conditions in which contemporary parents parent." Parents, says Simon, are far too often left on their own and have very few support systems. "We don't have family friendly policies," she says. "We don't allow people, I believe, as a society to reap the full joys of parenthood."
But at a press conference today, Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk emerged from a closed-door meeting with city, school and health officials to say that there had been no independent confirmation of any teen pregnancy pact. She also said that the principal, who was not present at the meeting, is now "foggy in his memory" of how he heard about the pact.
A group of high school girls in Gloucester, MA (about half of the 17 total pregnant in the high school, none older than 16) made a pact to get pregnant on purpose. One the girls resorted to impregnation by a 24-year-old homeless man.
The girls who made the pregnancy pact -- some of whom, according to Sullivan, reacted to the news that they were expecting with high fives and plans for baby showers -- declined to be interviewed.
After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.
Update:A 1913 NY Times article includes a query from a citizen to the Post Office inquiring whether they could send a baby through the mail:
Sir: I have been corresponding with a party in Pa about getting a baby to rais (our home being without One.) May I ask you what specifications to use in wrapping so it (baby) would comply with regulations and be allowed shipment by parcel post as the express co are to rough in handling
For weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own. So on that sunny Sunday I gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call.
No, I did not give him a cell phone. Didn't want to lose it. And no, I didn't trail him, like a mommy private eye. I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn't do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, "Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I'll abduct this adorable child instead."
Upon telling the story to others, she encountered some resistance:
Half the people I've told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It's not. It's debilitating -- for us and for them.
Salon had an interview with Pamela Paul the other day, author of Parenting, Inc., a book about the business of parenting. Paul starts out by disparging the $800 stroller phenomenon. Ollie's stroller was somewhat expensive (not $800 but not $100 either) but it's well built, flexible in use, nicely designed (functionally speaking), and was far and away the best one for our needs. We didn't feel good about spending so much money, but the eventual cost-per-use will be in the range of cents, so we're really happy with our choice so far. Some parents buy expensive strollers more as a fashion statement, so I can see where Paul is coming from on this one.
I thought the rest of the interview was quite good. We're still new to this parenting thing, but Paul seems to be on the right track. Here's her take on the best toys for kids:
When you think back to the '60s and '70s, all the right-thinking progressive parents thought toys should be natural and open-ended. Crayola and Kinder Blocks and Lego were considered raise-your-kid-smart toys. Then, all this data that came out which said that kids need to be stimulated. They need sound! They need multi-sensory experiences! Now, the more bells and whistles a toy has, the supposedly better it is.
Our parents' generation actually had it right. The less the toy does, the better. Everyone thinks: "Toys need to be interactive." No, toys don't need to be interactive. Children need to interact with toys. The best toys are 90 percent kid, 10 percent toy, the kind of thing that you can use 20 different ways, not because it has 20 different buttons to press, but because the kid, when they're 6 months old is going to chew on it, and toss it, but when they're a year they're going to start stacking it.
And then later:
At the most basic level reuse, recycle, repurpose. The average American child gets 70 new toys a year. That is just so far beyond what is necessary. Most child gear, toys, books are a lot cheaper, relatively speaking, than they were decades ago. In the aggregate it ends up being a lot more expensive, because we're buying a lot more of it, but kids just don't need that many toys. Kids lose out when things become less special.
We've been avoiding toys that make noise and light up. Half of his toys are garbage -- old toilet paper rolls, bags that our coffee pods come in, 20oz soda bottles filled with colored water or split peas, scraps of fabric, etc. -- or not even toys at all -- pots and pans, measuring spoons, etc. It seems like the right approach for us; Paul's "90 percent kid, 10 percent toy" really resonates.
Paul also talks about not overstimulating kids. When I get up in the morning or come home from the office, it's hard not to scoop Ollie up and give him constant attention until he goes to bed or down for a nap. Instead, I've been trying to leave him alone to play and explore by himself. He's getting old enough that when he wants me involved, he'll come to me. In this way, parenting is like employee management; give people the resources they need and then let them do their jobs.
This last bit reminded me of our trip to Buy Buy Baby (subtle!!) to procure baby proofing supplies. They totally had a Wall of Death designed to entice parents to coat their entire house in cheap white plastic.
The baby-proofing industry completely preys on parents' worst anxieties and fears. It really doesn't take a brain surgeon to baby-proof a house, and every store has the "Wall of Death" with like 10,000 products in it that you can affix to any potentially sharp surface in your house, if you choose to go that route.
It's difficult not to feel incredibly manipulated by the Wall of Death. You know deep down that it's ridiculous; your parents didn't have any of this crap and you turned out fine. But then the what-ifs start gnawing away at your still-shaky confidence as a new parent. Our encounter with the Wall paralyzed us, and with the exception of those plastic wall outlet plugs, we've punted on baby proofing for now. We're letting Ollie show us where all the problem areas are before committing to any white plastic solutions.
We have two small children who need to eat dinner and raids start at 5pm. Ack! How are we going to make dinner?! There are no problems with the kids running around playing and such while we raid. They're already used to that, they play in the computer room and we can get them things that they need (you know, cups of juice, snacks, what have you) when we have breaks. Before it was easy because if I was running an instance and in the middle of combat my husband might be in a a space between pulls where he could safely go afk for 30 seconds you know. But now we'll be on the same schedule essentially. We both play support classes too (he's a holy priest, I'm a resto druid) so the guild ideally would want us to both be in a forty man raid. It's not like we can easily switch off any raid nights other than say, ZG and AQ20 runs.
I was never a big believer in multitasking. One of the many realizations of having a kid is that true multitasking is a pipe dream. Watching Ollie and doing anything requiring more concentration than breathing or maintaining a heartbeat is just plain impossible. Conversation with others has become clipped and disjointed as the part of my brain responsible for speech is rerouted to help keep pointy objects out of his reach and remembering when he last ate.
What do these subjects have in common? The listener has nothing to add. He or she must just hear you describe your experience.
I'm particularly sensitive to the "recent changes in your child's nap schedule" one these days. I remember how bored I was as a non-parent with the tendency for baby-talk to completely dominate conversations.
Look, I know it's Friday you're just looking for some fun stuff to end the work week with, but we've got a pressing matter to discuss. Let's say you're a new father and a movie fan. When your child is of an appropriate age to start watching movies, in which order will you show him/her the six Star Wars movies? By original release date (Star Wars, Empire, Jedi, Phantom Menace, Clones, Sith) or according to the intra-movie chronology (Phantom Menace, Clones, Sith, Star Wars, Empire, Jedi)?
We're currently leaning toward by original release date, but I can see the advantages of the other way around too. At dinner the other night, a friend asserted that not only was original release date the way to go, but that viewing the original versions on VHS was essential as well. I believe the relevant tapes and a cheapo VCR have been stashed away for this purpose already.
What do you think? How would you approach this? (thx to rehan for the suggested topic)
In every mammalian species, immediately upon reaching puberty, animals function as adults, often having offspring. We call our offspring "children" well past puberty. The trend started a hundred years ago and now extends childhood well into the 20s. The age at which Americans reach adulthood is increasing -- 30 is the new 20 -- and most Americans now believe a person isn't an adult until age 26.
The whole culture collaborates in artificially extending childhood, primarily through the school system and restrictions on labor. The two systems evolved together in the late 19th-century; the advocates of compulsory-education laws also pushed for child-labor laws, restricting the ways young people could work, in part to protect them from the abuses of the new factories. The juvenile justice system came into being at the same time. All of these systems isolate teens from adults, often in problematic ways.
Epstein says the infantilization of adolescents creates a lot of conflict and isolation on both sides of the divide. Over at Marginal Revolution, economist Tyler Cowen adds:
The problem, of course, is that a contemporary wise and moderate 33 year old is looking to climb the career ladder, find a mate, or raise his babies. He doesn't have a great desire to educate unruly fifteen year olds and indeed he can insulate himself from them almost completely. He doesn't need a teenager to carry his net on the elephant hunt. Efficient capitalist production and rising wage rates lead to an increased sorting by age and the moral education of teens takes a hit.
Update: Bryan writes to recommend Neil Postman's The Disappearance of Childhood, saying that "Postman argues that the idea of childhood is a cultural phenomena that comes and goes through the ages". (thx, bryan)
Interesting article about the myth of American women opting out of the workforce to stay home to raise families. Most of the stories focus on white, married, upper-class women with high-earning husbands, maternity leaves are getting shorter, and bias and inflexibility in the workplace forces many women to "choose" to stay at home with the family. "The American idea of mothering is left over from the 1950s, that odd moment in history when America's unrivaled economic power enabled a single breadwinner to support an entire family. Fifty years later we still have the idea that a mother, and not a father, should be available to her child at every moment."