Tag Archives: parenting

It’s Just Middle School by John E. Stack

This is a letter to the cool parents of middle school students. These are the parents who pull their children out of school for a week to go hunting or to take a random week to the beach or allow grandparents to do the same. These are the parents who think they are they are their child’s best friend and allow that child to stay home from school so they (the parents) won’t be bored. Whether you want to believe it or not you are hurting your children in regards to their education.

Like I said I teach middle school and I know that for every day your child is absent from school they get two days behind. Some of my students missed thirty, forty or fifty days of school. I saw “A” students drop to D’s and F’s. This week, I saw many students in tears because they didn’t understand why their grades dropped, or it hit them that they have to retake a course since they didn’t pass the course exam. Most of these students had missed weeks of school.

Parents often ask for work that the child will miss, but in my 17 years of teaching I’ve only had one or two make-up the missed work. Mom and dad make up excuses on why it didn’t get done. I’m only caught by surprise when the student does the assignments. In my grade book assignments that are not made up become zeros.

Don’t get me wrong. I usually give students 2 to 3 chances to make up work missed, but in their mind it they can’t do it. Along with everything else it is just too much.

I believe that school is your child’s job during the year and they are giving 2-3 months of vacation during the summer along with multiple breaks throughout the year. Please pay attention to the school calendar to plan your get-a-ways. With hormone changes and school drama your student has enough stress without worrying about keeping their grades up. Sure they get excited when they get to miss school, but then struggle when they return. Just think, if you missed work at a very busy, stressful time , your boss might not be very happy. Neither are their teachers. Things like this also double the teacher’s workload. Thanks.

Decisions like this along with affecting your child’s education also affect your child’s work ethic in a very negative way. In a sense you are telling them that to have a poor work ethic is okay. That will stick with them for a long while. But, that is okay since most are convinced that you will always be there to bail them out and provide money for their support. I hope that this is true since they will not be able to hold down a job for longer than a few weeks, plus if they make it to college they have less than average chance of finishing.

Think before you pull your child out of school. Yeah, it is just middle school, but it the time where your child develops their work ethic. These habits are what they take into high school and into the work force. Your kids need to be at school every possible day and you as the parent are responsible for making sure they are there and doing their best.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Let’s Grab a Bite by Harry Margulies

I’ve always been a hands-on sort of person. Cereal 1Not in a creepy, leave me alone kind of way, or a give me all the gory details because I insist on knowing everything kind of way. I’d just rather not use a fork, knife, or spoon when I eat.
 
 
7A IceCreamDelight:CerealByDesign©I don’t think I’m alone on this, either. There’s some sort of social mandate, I guess because we live in a society, or maybe because our moms didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of company or friends, that dictates we must use utensils when we dine. When we were toddlers we all ate with our fingers, right? And we all really enjoyed eating, or, more accurately, scooping up globs of food from our highchair trays and shoveling it into our mouths (when we were on target), right?

Cereal 3Eating with our hands wasn’t a problem until we wereCereal 4 ridiculed for being slobs. And being a slob wasn’t a problem until we understood the implication of the word. It’s my contention that this is the reason some children take longer to start speaking than others. They’re just postponing the inevitable, when they can no longer pretend that the meaning of the word slob evades them. Anyway, I, for one, was never encouraged to play with my food – until I was a grownup with kids of my own.

When my daughters were school age (not college age, but probably not as young as you’re picturing them), they struggled with the whole process ofCereal 5 starting their day. With much coaxing, and some screaming, they would eventually get out of bed, get dressed, decide on a bowl of cereal, and then persuade me to drive them Cereal 6to school so they wouldn’t be late. After a while (not ten years, but probably not as brief a period as you’re picturing it to be), I decided to do what I could to mitigate their slothfulness – and my screaming. I figured I could erase a good ten minutes of squandered time each morning by making their cereal selection for them. I’d pour it into their bowls, pick from their collection of archaic, curiously durable, plastic Happy Meal cups for the milk, and have it all waiting for them to enjoy – or complain about.

Cereal 7Cereal 8This routine somehow worked well, at least until the girls realized they’d been gifted with an extra ten minutes, ten minutes which I soon began to spend staring at uninspired bowls of Rice Krispies, waiting for my princesses to show.

I had a choice. I could be upset that I had wasted time coming up with this time saving Cereal 9scheme, or I could make the most of the time I was wasting while waiting for them. I started playing Cereal 10with their cereal. They weren’t watching. Nobody was. I could get away with it. I started combining different cereals into one bowl, mixing flakes with Krispies, Trix with Mini-Wheats, merging rivals as if world peace were a real possibility. The girls didn’t mind. In Cereal 11fact, they started looking forward to seeing what idiotic combination I’d come up with each morning. They started showing up for breakfast earlier and earlier, out of curiosity, not because they wanted to be on time for school. I had succeeded, inadvertently (like all my successes), and I was grateful for this accidental achievement.

Although mixing, swirling, and merging disparate cereals Cereal 12seemed to satisfy my children’s need for early morning entertainment, it was Cereal13becoming wearisome to me. I had food, I had a kitchen to myself, and I had available hands – hands I could use to play with cereal. I sorted it, stacked it, arranged it, and Cereal 14generally amused myself with it, just as I had when I was a toddler, before I was told not to, before I admitted to being a slob. The simple designs became more intricate, more inspired, more…inane.
 
 
Cereal 15My girls have since graduated and moved on. My Cereal 16wife no longer dreads dining with me in public. She no longer waits for the embarrassing moment when I push my silverware to the side at a restaurant so I can maneuver my arms and hands as I see fit. She knows I’ve had my slob fix already, in the early morning Cereal 17hours, on a playground that I suppose might also be described as my cereal bowl.
 
 
 
 
 
See more of Harry’s imaginative cereal designs on INSTAGRAM

 
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Harry Margulies is the author of The Knowledge Holder and the recently released The Weight of the Moon. When he’s not writing about romance, money, women, and other subjects he thoroughly enjoys but knows nothing about, he’s frittering his precious time as a cartoonist.

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This tough gig we call ‘parenting’

Being a parent and raising a well-mannered, polite child is the perhaps the toughest job there is. And I say that having worked in some lousy places, for some even lousier bosses.

The thing with parenting is that, unlike your job, where there is, at best, a handful of people who give you feedback, everyone feels it’s their job to tell you what you’re doing wrong with your child. Which, as we all know, is simply their way of telling you that you are not doing in the way they did it.

It starts out when your children are babies with your neighbor questioning your clothing choice for the either too warm or too cold day. “Should she be wearing that?” Your neighbor asks, eyeing the sweatshirt you chose. You then question yourself as to whether or not the brisk fifty degree weather actually warrants a hat, scarf, and gloves along with the LL Bean jacket that is suitable for temperatures below zero.

As your child ages, everyone has an opinion everything from their clothing, to your choice of school, to bedtime. We find ourselved justifying our choices and explaining our reasoning, which shines a spotlight on our insecurities. And being a parent is the one place I don’t need to feel insecure. It’s tough enough to please the two mini’s I’m trying to raise. Never mind my parents, neighbors, and friends.

You’d think that with all this scrutiny, we’d do what we can to make things easier on ourselves, but we don’t. We do more and more for our kids, seeming to forget that our job is to raise an independent adult who is able to think for himself. Perhaps the one method of parenting that causes me to wonder about all of this is how we discipline.

It seems that over the past twenty years or so, there has been a shift in parenting style from consequences that are swift and firm to a style that is more feedback oriented. You know what I mean. It’s where the parent warns the child to stop doing a particular behavior. We may count to three, or ten, (or twenty!) and then explain exactly what will happen if said behavior doesn’t stop.

I can’t help but wonder if this method is teaching our children that the only consequences they should only expect are the ones that are specifally spelled out for them. By spelling out the consequences for them, do they learn to not think about what might happen on their own? It seems to me that after a lifetime of being told exactly what is going to happen if they perform a certain act, it may take away their internal caution barometer. Are they being taught over a lifetime that for each action, there is a specific effect? Does this somehow train our children not to ponder the countless possible consequences?

I have no idea. I do know, however, that if our children aren’t taught to think about everything that might happen, bad things occur. Take the child who has a couple drinks, then drives home. What about the child who is late to work on more than one occasion and loses his job because his boss in in a bad mood on that particular day. Perhaps the most horrific example I can give is something I watched many years ago.

It was one of those dateline specials and it showcased a water park. A group of teenagers decided to see how many of them could fit into one of those enclosed water slides. They started at the entry point and climbed in, one by one, back to chest, filling the slide. The weight inside the slide became too heavy and the slide fell into the water. More than a dozen teens lost their life that day. I can’t help but wonder why no one pondered the possibility that there is a reason only one person at a time is allowed into the slide. Personally, I can’t even fathom what it would take to get me to climb into a dark tunnel with water flowing through it.

This is a horrific example but life is full of surprises and many of them are unpleasant. What is scary to me as a parent is that I cannot begin to cover all that may or may not occur if my child chooses to perform a particular action. And if I don’t cover all the possible consequences, am I somehow not doing the best by my child?

I certainly don’t know the answer to any of this but I thought I’d pose the question. Parenting is always a hot topic!

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Striking a balance between nurturing creativity and instilling a sense of reality in your child

My approach to parenting is to encourage my children to try new things (within reason), which is why I have become a “sports mom” with a mini-van that is overflowing with various sports equipment and has the permanent odor of sweaty kid’s feet.

Luckily, my kids are also interested in academics, the arts, and video games, so it’s not all about sports with us. I’m sure it’s probably no surprise that I encourage my kids to create stories and we often play the “what if?” game about things we see, or hear, or even think about. Sometimes, the stories are just silly, sometimes they are a little scary, and sometimes the stories are quite good.

Both boys have some creative talents, thus I am a regular customer at Michael’s craft store and have a well stocked collection of paints, chalk, sketch pads and the like. My husband and I were both musicians in our pasts, so there are also a variety of musical instruments in the house that the children are encouraged to play with. And, I’ve been known to show the boys how to make a musical instrument with craft supplies. For example, an empty frozen orange juice can with lid, duct tape, and a collection of small rocks makes a great maraca or rumba shaker. With a love of music comes a love of dance as well, so it is not unusual to find me or my kids dancing around the house when doing chores or playing “Let’s Dance” on the Wii.

What I am not is one of those annoying mothers who believe her special snowflake should do anything he wants to do regardless of ability and everyone else should get with her program to applaud his efforts. Radical concept these days, I know.

So, what happens when these two mindsets collide?

They did last night and this morning I am still wondering if I handled this the right way or if I need to put some more money in the therapy fund. (Their grandparents have the college fund covered. My husband and I are putting aside money for therapy – hopefully, if we’re doing this parenting thing semi-right, the kids won’t need it and can go buy a car for their graduation from college or put a down-payment on a house.)

My youngest informed me he was going to enter the talent show at his elementary school.

“Really? What are you going to do?” I asked, wondering what exactly he was thinking about since our talent shows tend to be all about the kids who have studied dance, martial arts, music, or sing in their church choirs. Nate’s talents aren’t really the sort of ones that translate well to the school talent show stage. One day, he could become a comedian of the Chevy Chase variety, but at 7, he is definitely not ready for Prime Time.

“I’m going to dance.”

That awkward moment when you realize your kid is dead serious and you love him to the moon and back for his absolute lack of fear, and yet, you know that his dance skills – unless something major changes between now and high school – will one day be an excellent means of preventing teen pregnancy.

Seriously, how the kid can be so coordinated on a sports field and such a flailing train wreck on the dance floor is beyond me. It’s adorable in that “only your mom will love this” way and sort of painful to watch all at the same time. No teenage girl is going to want to get anywhere near that no matter how cute he might be when standing still.

“Um, have you actually tried out and gotten accepted?” Thinking this current culture of “there are only winners” has taken things one step too far if my son’s dance skills are considered talent show worthy.

“Not yet, you need to sign the form.” G-r-e-a-t. Enter Mom, the wrecker of dreams unless I want to allow him the experience of public humiliation.

“Well, honey, you know you’ve never taken any dance classes and these sorts of shows are really for the kids who have studied. Is there anything else you can think of that you could do?”

Tossing a baseball, wrestling, or training his dog to do a trick weren’t really activities that would be allowed, so I steered the conversation to some of the other things he could do – like play a tune on his Ukulele or compose a song on the piano. Neither of which interested him because he thought no one would like it. Granted, his Ukulele playing is pretty basic and his compositions on the piano are more Schoenberg-esque than I think his classmates can appreciate. My husband would probably prefer Nate dance than play a piano, but Hubby isn’t a big fan of the expressionist style of composition.

Nate wants to dance, because he loves it and all his friends think he has great dance moves when they are on the playground at recess. He is confident enough in himself that when his friends laugh and encourage him, he interprets it as a positive. I want him to hold onto that confidence for a little while longer so he doesn’t become self-conscious and let fear of being ridiculed hold him back. As I listen to him talk, I am torn. How to tell your kid you don’t believe he dances well enough to enter without forcing reality on him too soon? I go for something less than brutal honesty that I hope will be somewhat supportive.

“Nate, I don’t think you are quite ready to dance for the talent show. Tell you what, why don’t we look into some dance classes this year, then you can sign up next year?” I’m afraid of the next stage of the conversation. The moment when he realizes I honestly don’t think he can dance.

He thought about it for a moment or two. “Could I take magic lessons instead? Or get a magic kit for my birthday? Then I could do magic tricks as the Great Nate next year!”

“You have a deal, but you can still take dance classes if you want.”

“Mommy? You know you’ll need to make me a cape, right?”

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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A Good Parenting Moment? You tell me….

Recently, my daughter got into some trouble at school. Now, this wasn’t anything serious. Nothing that warranted, say, a suspension or even a trip to the principal’s office. What my child did was talk when she was on the blue line in the cafeteria.

I know, an egregious offense.

As was explained to me, when you’re on the blue line in the cafeteria, you’re not allowed to talk. It’s when you’re on the red line that talking is allowed. Simple, right? Well, apparently not for my child who, is very much her mother’s daughter.

Those of you who know me and those of you that have ever come into contact with me know that I”m a talker.

No, really. It’s practically a diagnosed condition.

I will talk to anyone at any time. I converse with the people in front and behind me in line at the grocery store, the patients waiting at the doctor’s office, and the women trying on clothes in a dressing room. My kids have spent countless hours tugging me away from someone I am chatting with.

The point is, the apple most certainly doesn’t fall far from the tree.

So, when my child sat in my car with her eyes brimming with tears, I was terrified. I felt certain some mean girl had done some damage to her self esteem or some Bieber-wanna-be with that stupid haircut had broken her heart. I was geared up for a fight. I was ready to drive back to the school and demand swift and severe punishment for whomever it was that had caused my child pain.

Imagine my surprise when her little voice choked out, “I was talking while on the blue line.”

“What?” I asked, thoroughly confused as I’m not proficient in middle school protocol.

A tear slowly made its way down her cheek as she continued to tell me the rules and how she’d broken them. When I finally understood, I couldn’t help it.

I laughed.

Emily looked at me as though I had three heads. Quickly, I tried to explain myself.

“Honey,” I said, “I’m forty-four years old and I still haven’t figured out how to keep my mouth shut! And if this is the worst thing I ever have to deal with, I’m good!”

The look of relief on her face nearly made me weep. I’m certain she felt she was going to be punished severely.

Now, I’m certain there are some of you that disagree with my handling of the situation but I will hold firmly to my position. In the overall scheme of raising a child, this is a minor blip on the screen. Compared to what I could be dealing with, I’ll take a chatter box any day of the week.

Did I, even in some small measure, teach her that this infraction isn’t such a big deal? Maybe.

But let me point out that we did talk about her doing her best to keep quiet when she’s suppose to and I hope I conveyed the right message but am I going to ground her? Yell at her? Or take away her cell phone for talking? No. God knows, if that were the case, I’d have lost mine a long time ago.

I honestly feel that compared to what troubles might befall her – drugs, smoking, sexting, gangs – I think we’re doing just fine.

And while I will continue to speak to her about listening to her teachers and respecting the rules, my kid isn’t going to be yelled at for talking when she’s standing on the wrong color line.

And you know what? I’m okay with that.

Donna Small is the author of two novels, Just Between Friends and A Ripple in the Water. Both are available from Second Wind Publishing

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Raising Readers – Maurice Sendak is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself

I was lying in bed reading a book one night, when my oldest son came in.

“Dad, I can’t sleep. Can I read in here for a while?”

The answer wasn’t even out of my mouth before he dashed out of the room to fetch the book he had just started reading; the first book of The Spiderwick Chronicles series. He returned to my room, and I set up a pillow for him to lean on. After he had adjusted himself into a comfortable position, we made some small talk about the books we were reading – prompted by his stealing glances at me reading. And I, in turn, stealing glances at him reading.

“Dad – You read books, and mom is Catholic.”

I sat back and looked at my son. “What?” He clarified, “You read a lot of books, and mom is Catholic.”

As funny as it may be; the kid was on to something. When my son made this declaration, I had been pondering how to get him to be more interested in books. Not that he’s uninterested in books. He is. We just hadn’t found the books he was really interested in; books he had a magnetic attraction to.

Last summer, he and his brother discovered Star Wars, and like most little boys; they became completely brain-damaged by it. Every word spoken was about Star Wars. Every synapse that fired sounded like a laser bolt inside their little melons. So – what do I do? I pick up every Star Wars book I can find – Star Wars novellas for young readers, character encyclopedias, spacecraft manuals. I even bought them a Star Wars cookbook (I’m not kidding. It’s called Wookie Cookie. The Boba Fettuccine isn’t bad). The problem was, as much as he enjoyed the books; I got the feeling he just wasn’t crazy about the Star Wars novellas like he was about pretending to be in a galaxy far, far away.

When he was younger, I used to pick up the heavily discounted encyclopedias from the front of the bookstores. I bought books on snakes, primates, helicopters, dinosaurs, sharks; anything I thought they’d be interested in. I would leave the books around the house for him and his little brother to pick up. The goal wasn’t to have them read the books; neither of them could read at this point. I wanted them to get used to books; to become comfortable with them. I would also rent documentaries on dinosaurs or sharks, whatever they wanted to watch- we then would look up in the books the animals we had seen. We watched a dinosaur documentary every Sunday night, and we would place post-it notes on the pages of the dinosaurs we saw in the documentary. I then read the pages to them for their bedtime story. This went on for a year or two. We went through a spider phase, shark phase, and venomous snake phase. It worked out for me because, let’s face it, you can only read Goodnight Moon so many times before you want to hurt someone.

But that didn’t matter as much to my children as what I was doing.

I think I have a healthy appetite for books. Going back through my Goodreads.com and Amazon.com accounts; I estimate that I read a book every seven to ten days; approximately 45-50 books a year (not including the books I read to my children or work). I don’t know if that qualifies as a voracious reader. We’ll just say I like books.

What my son had cued in on was not the books I was gently introducing him to, but the family attribute of being readers. It was interesting to me he likened being a reader to being Catholic. It was a way for him to categorize the family based on a strong, identifiable trait.

Similarly, my five-year old told me this weekend that he and his brother don’t believe in God when they are with me, and they do believe in God when they are with their mother   (Which was never my intention with them. I always told them to pick the path that was right for them). He tells me this as he poses his Star Wars action figures on my large, wooden statue of Buddha. I can only assume he is referring to the one-true-god who looks like Barry Gibb, and not any of those weird, foreign gods. But he’s only five years old, so I couldn’t really argue with him. I did tell him to get his gun-toting Star Wars bounty hunters off Buddha or he’ll release the flatulence of a thousand vegetarian curries under his covers as he’s falling asleep. To which he replied, “Cool!”, and quizzed me on exactly how bad that would smell.

My ex-wife, the Catholic, isn’t a prolific reader. So it’s only a matter of time before they think atheists are readers, and Catholics – not so much. I could head them off and correct them before they make the connection, but why spoil the fun?

On March 27th, USA Today ran an informational snapshot which stated 18% of 4th grade boys felt they did not have enough time to read, while 10% of 4th grade girls felt similarly. In comparison, 40% of 8th grade boys and 24% of 8th grade girls felt they didn’t have time to read.

Without getting into the disturbing gender disparity (I mean, 76% of 8th grade girls have the time to read and kiss their Justin Beiber posters!), our children are not reading or getting enough time to read. The really sad news is, the children are reading more than many adult Americans. An MSNBC poll showed 27% of adult Americans had not read a book in a year. In 2004, a study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts found only 57% of American adults had read a book that year. Of those 57%, the median number of books read per year was 9 books for the women, and five books for the men (Come on, guys! Why so low? You can read more than five books a year if you only read while sitting on the toilet!). I am willing to bet the children who aren’t reading are raised in households where the adults also do not read.

When I was in the Navy, I had the benefit of having some very good leaders, as well as some atrocious ones- and I learned from both. One of the good ones taught me that any failure on my crew was ultimately my fault (and subsequently his fault, etc.), because we had not identified the weak link and given that person the necessary training they needed to do their job. The goal was never to punish the person for not meeting the standard, but to give them additional attention. I also had a boss who we could not beat in our qualification tests. For years, I struggled and studied to beat him in one of those tests. His ability to stay just out of our reach was indicative of his lead-by-example style of leadership. He was far senior to us and it wouldn’t really matter if we scored higher than him on a qualification test, but he did it because it motivated us. Years later, after he retired, he told me how hard he had to work to stay ahead of us. I can say I eventually did score higher than him on an exam; I beat him by two points. I had studied for months for an upcoming exam. Then the night before we were to be tested, I got him drunk and sent a hooker to his room at 3 in the morning- which is something I learned from those bad bosses I mentioned earlier.

I think we can take the same attitude with children reading (Maybe skip the hookers, but if that’s what it takes to motivate them. Right?). We can lead by example and be their role models for reading. We can blame the internet and texting, but ultimately the failure falls on us. I have zero evidence to support this rant, but it would seem that if we want to raise readers, then we need to be readers ourselves. It’s like when people say to not go on a diet, but make a lifestyle change. Make reading one of your traits; a part of your personality.

We also need to provide better examples of readers in books, television, and movies. The people with books in any movie or television show are either rich, white people who have expansive libraries nobody believes they read; liberal, white people who have books stacked around their loft as part of their decor; or the crazy, mad scientist. Not exactly the typical American family.

In books, there are only two characters holding the book pennant up for our children: Klaus Baudelair of the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events series, and Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series. Both are avid readers fueled by a thirst for knowledge. For both characters, the ability to apply the knowledge gained from books is their super power. However, neither character seems to read for the simple joy of reading.

I believe movies can also play a role in raising readers. I recently let my kids see the first Harry Potter movie to get them interested in reading the books. We then began reading the series after their approval of the movie – and by “We”, I mean “I” am reading the books to them. My oldest can read the Harry Potter books, but he can’t read it smoothly as a storyteller. His little brother also wants to hear the stories, so I do the reading.

The annoying thing about reading the book after seeing the movie was they knew what was going to happen. For the second installment of the series, I read the book to them and then rented the movie. The book-then-movie path seems to work better for us. The movie becomes a sort of reward for finishing the book, and it seems to make them look forward to the next book.

I decided to continue with the trend of renting movies based on children’s books series as an introduction to new series. I rented Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as well as The Spiderwick Chronicles. Along with the movies, I picked up the first couple of each series to read if he was interested.

I presented the boys the first two books of The Spiderwick Chronicles,  along with two supplemental stories to the second book. I picked up the books at a used bookstore for roughly $.75 each, so even if they don’t like the books, I’m only out a couple of dollars.

An interesting thing happened with The Spiderwick Chronicles series. My oldest began reading the first book on a Thursday night. When my alarm went off the next morning, he hopped into my bed and stated he read the entire book. Saturday morning, the same thing happened; he had read the second book in the series. After his baseball game on Saturday, he hopped on the couch and began reading the supplemental stories. By the end of the weekend, he had read all four of the books; roughly 300 pages total. He then took off reading The Lemony Snicket series.

I don’t know what it was about The Spiderwick Chronicles series that captured his attention. He didn’t pretend to be in the story or reenact a scene; all of the cues I had been using to pick books I thought he would be interested in. It seemed he just needed to be introduced to enough books to find the ones that he liked.

Although I am no expert on the matter, I do have a few pieces of advice for raising readers:

  • Treat books as regular entertainment for children. Too many children just get books as gifts. Make it a rule that your children can come and ask for a new book just like they do school supplies.
  • You don’t have to buy children books to get them to read. I pick up comic books for my kids whenever I’m grocery shopping. Reading is reading.
  • Ignore the reading levels printed on the cover of some children’s books. When I was first began introducing books to my son, there was a book he really like. However, the book was emblazoned with a large number 3 on the cover, indicating it was a Reading Level 3 book. Some well-meaning, but moronic adult had told my son he should be reading Level 1 books. I had to promise him I’d help him with any difficult words in the Level 3 book if he would read it. After that, I have purposely shied away from books with the reading levels printed on the cover. I have used the reading levels as positive reinforcement. The Scholastic website has reading levels for several children’s books. After he read The Spiderwick Chronicles books, I showed him how he, who is in 2nd grade, was reading at a 3rd-4th grade reading level.
  • Give them books to look forward to. I set aside a stack of books for the boys to read when they are ready. The stack includes non-traditional books- Peter Benchely’s Jaws, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Richard Matheson’s I  Am Legend; as well as the traditional- Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. It’s just a stack of books that will knock their socks off when they are old enough to read them.
  • You don’t need to spend a fortune on books. I picked up many of the books at used bookstores. I have bought grocery bags full of children’s books for under $20.
  • Stop caring what they read. My kids could read The Satanic Bible and I wouldn’t care. We need to stop pushing the books on them. You can – and should – introduce books to them, but you can’t force them to read a book you picked if they aren’t interested.

For more information on raising readers, check out these links:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/table-talk_n_1476274.html?ref=topbar

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-boy_b_1473167.html

http://www.burningthroughpages.org/

Unfortunately, as fitting as he would be to this blog; I would like to call for a moment of silence in the wild rumpus to mourn Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are is, and forever will be, the coolest children’s book. To this day, when someone get’s in my way when I am in the mood to make mischief of one kind or another, I still threaten to eat them up.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity, which should not be read by children.

http://www.amazon.com/Donations-to-Clarity-ebook/dp/B005BRRQ72

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Baseball, little league politics, and bad manners by Mairead Walpole

I was going to write about writing, but this week’s experiences at the ball-field watching my children’s games changed that.  This is going to be something of a vent and one that I’m sure any parent of a child in sports can identify with.

One of my sons plays T-ball, the other plays in the kid-pitch division.  Both of them love playing and while not the “star players” for their teams or in the league, they are pretty solid players and steadily working hard to improve.  From September to the first of November and from March to the end of June, my mini-van is full of baseball gear: bats, gloves, balls, catcher’s gear, batting helmets, batting gloves, extra jackets, blankets, water bottles, and camp chairs.  I may not a soccer mom, but I am a proud baseball mom.

I lose all traces of introversion when my kids’ teams make a good play or the kids are at bat, cheering, clapping, and jumping up and down hugging or high fiving other parents.  For the record, I am equally as enthusiastic for my children’s teammates and have even been known to applaud a brilliant play for the other team or, at the T-ball division, if a very young player on the other team actually hits the ball and gets on base.  What I don’t do and will not do is scream at or abuse the umpires, coaches, other players, or other team’s parents.  This past week I have witnessed some horrible behavior on the part of so-called adults – and sadly, it was all in the T-ball division.

A few years back, the league decided not to display the score for the T-ball division in an effort to curb the poor sportsmanship on the part of parents.  My oldest started T-ball when they still displayed the scores and went up to the next division after they changed the policy.  I can attest that it did help curb the outbursts and shifted the focus of the games on creating a love of the sport in the T-ball players.  This is not to say that it’s a “there are no losers and everyone wins” scenario; after the game the kids are told who won or lost and we do have playoffs with one team winning the playoffs for the division and the size of the trophy awarded is determined by where that team finished.  I think it is important for kids to understand that they can’t always win and that there is honor in losing especially if you have given it your best and played the game according to the rules.

On Thursday night, we had an umpire who was making bad calls for the first couple of innings.  Now, the other team’s parents were perfectly content when the bad calls were directed at our team.  Our coaches were screamed at for talking with the ump about the calls and they taunted our parents if we seemed upset or confused by one of the bad calls.  The players on this team ignored rules, used excessive force in tagging players out – hitting a runner with the ball in the chest hard enough to knock him down, tripping or shoving runners, and my personal favorite – three of their kids standing on the bag so that our runner couldn’t get on the bag and pushing him away if he tried while they waited for their team mates to get the ball and tag our player out.  If anyone, especially our coaches tried to dispute this behavior we had profanity screamed at us.  If the ump did as he was supposed to and made the proper call – then they screamed at him.  This team’s parents even cheered when our “pitcher” was taken out of the game because their batter hit the ball straight at the kids face.  They were also upset because the ump called time and sent their player back to first – he had been heading for third even though time had been called.  Luckily, it was T-ball so the kid just suffered a split lip.  Yes, he and our first baseman are a good team and effective at getting outs, but cheering because a child was injured?  Really?

After the game, as we were walking to the car, we passed a parent from the other team berating their child for bad plays and strongly implying that the kid was why the team lost.  The look on that child’s face just tugged at my heart.  The kid was around 6 at the oldest and yes, he had missed a few catches that would have made the difference between a run and an out, but it is only one ball game out of hundreds this kid may play in the course of his life.

I know from my kids that they are all too aware if they make a bad play or even if they think they made a bad play.  No one has to say a word to them about it.  I’ve listened to play by plays all the way home of how “if only…” and I’ve comforted both of them after a game as they have relived dropping a ball or missing a catch or striking out when the bases were loaded and they were the last out.  I won’t lie to them and say they are wrong to feel that way or that they are mistaken that the play or the out may have been what turned the game, but I don’t give them a hard time about it or let them wallow in it.  I’m very matter of fact about it and we talk about what they can do to change the outcome the next time.  It may sound trite, but my kids are being taught that win or lose, it’s how you play the game that is the most important part, and while you go into something intending to win, the reality is that you are going to win some and lose some, so they must learn to lose and win with graciousness and honor.

In talking with other parents in some of the other leagues around town, I find that this is not uncommon and crosses socio-economic lines.  Just because our league pulls from a mix of low income to upper middle class families, doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the parental behavior.  I have friends whose children play in a league that is predominantly upper middle class to wealthy and they report similar occurrences, although the politics seem to be a bit more extreme.

What are we saying to our children when they witness their parents behaving without any honor or respect towards one another?  When children see parents cheering because another child is hurt on the field, what does it tell them in a society that is trying to fight an epidemic of bullying in our schools?  When parents condone poor sportsmanship and winning at any cost – what message do the children take away in terms of self-esteem or recognizing the rules and authority that a civilized society must operate under in order to succeed?

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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The Joys of Lying to Children by Noah Baird

I am a bad parent. I lie to my children.

I lie to my children nearly everyday. I’ve told them lies, they have repeated my lies in school, and I get phone calls from stern-sounding teachers wanting to discuss their concerns about my fibbing children. That was another lie; my ex-wife gets phone calls from the teachers. Then I get the talk.

I once told my son, who was attending preschool at a Presbyterian church, the reason we celebrated the Easter Bunny was because when Jesus died and was buried in a cave, an egg-shaped rock was placed in front of the cave so Jesus couldn’t get out. The Easter Bunny pushed the rock away from the cave and saved J.C. The chocolate symbolizes the wood of the crucifixion.

We got a very nice phone call from the school to discuss what I’m teaching the children.

Sometimes I lie because my children ask far too many questions for their size. I have two little boys, 4 and 7, who are bubbling fountains of questions. Sometimes I lie because I don’t know the correct answer, but usually I lie because it’s a lot more fun.

One day while shaving, flanked by both boys quizzing me on my shaving ritual, my oldest asked me, “Dad, why do you grow hair all over your body and mommy doesn’t?” I crouched down to their level, looked them both in the eyes, and very seriously explained to them I was a werewolf. I had to shave because some people are afraid of werewolves, and I didn’t want to scare them. I watched as their eyes grew big. They both nodded obediently when I explained this was a big secret and they shouldn’t tell people I was a werewolf.

Here are the facts as I described them:

  • My hair is brown when I’m a werewolf (they asked).
  • I don’t transform in front of them because I’m afraid it would scare them.
  • I won’t eat the dog.
  • I became a werewolf when I was bitten by a werewolf when I was a boy. That makes me a 2nd Generation Werewolf.
  • They may also be werewolves, but they usually won’t show until they are teenagers. They would only be half werewolf because their mother doesn’t like this werewolf business. That would make them 3rd Generation Werewolves.
  • They may show signs early. I instructed them to check their feet when they woke up after a full moon. If their feet were dirty, then they were out howling at the moon.

At this point, the reader should expect a story about frightened children who could not sleep; afraid of the werewolf dad prowling around in the dark. My lie had the opposite effect: it stopped the bad dreams, monsters in the closet, and moving shadows on the wall. I hadn’t made the connection until I overheard the boys playing. My oldest, speaking as the elder statesman of the two, wished the boogyman would break into our house so they could watch me transform into a werewolf and scare him away. My youngest speculated I would only need to show the boogyman my claws and roar, and the boogyman would never scare another kid again.

My double life as a werewolf has been the answer to numerous pre-pubescent concerns. Vampires? Werewolves and vampires don’t bite each other’s children because we are equally strong. A vampire attacking a werewolf’s pups would be inviting an attack on their children. Peace is maintained through equal power; the Cold War with fangs. Zombies? Werewolves don’t taste good to zombies so they stay away from us. Of course, no self-respecting werewolf would ever eat a zombie. That’s just disgusting.

My oldest is now at the stage where he’s excessively fascinated with guns, war, and all about my military experience. Enter the werewolf; I fought in the Great Werewolf-Zombie War. Werewolves and Vampires rounded up all of the zombies and locked them into underground bunkers (because you can’t kill zombies. Duh!). You try to explain the U.S.’s foreign policy in the 21st century to a four year old. There are people running for president who can’t explain why we’re in Libya.

At dinner one night, my oldest gravely told me his teacher had explained to his class that dragons weren’t real. The child was upset with the thought that dragons didn’t exist in his world. So, like any bad parent would do: I moved dinner into the living room, and streamed a documentary on Komodo Dragons. Now, in case you don’t know, Komodo Dragons don’t breath fire, but they do have pretty nasty mouths which might as well be venomous. We couldn’t find a documentary on fire-breathing dragons because they’re hard to film. They keep melting the cameras. Armed with new knowledge, my son happily marched into school the next day and informed his teacher dragons do exist.

My question to the well-meaning adults out there: Why are your lies better than my lies? Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy are permissible lies because they fall into an agreeable construct we’ve all accepted? Open the imagination box wide. Better yet, kick the lid clean off. Let the kids have their imagination. It just might do you some good too.

 

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Donations-Clarity-Noah-Baird/dp/1935171445/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318131504&sr=8-1

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Parenting teenagers: any advice is welcome

First I have to brag on my kids a tiny bit. Despite being teenagers, they are good kids who make me proud. They both made straight As this last quarter, and they are involved in wholesome activities, like marching band, soccer, yearbook and dance. They’ve never done anything to break my trust, but some things make me wonder … so I ask a lot of questions. As a result, my son, 15, and my daughter, 13, recently told me I was too nosy. Is there such a thing as being too nosy when you’re a parent and your children are the object of your nosiness?

A few things that make me pause:

My son recently told me that a friend, a girl (but not girlfriend) has a nice sound system in her bedroom. Should I be suspicious?

My daughter informs me of her boyfriends though facebook. Should I be insisting that she tell me in person?

They are both voracious texters. How do other parents of teenagers feel about looking at their kids’ cell phone texts? I sneak a peek once in a while, but don’t do it openly. If I did, I imagine the nosy complaints would get much louder. AND, they’d be erasing the good stuff. So far, I haven’t found anything too shocking.

A few things that drive me nuts:

Housework. How much housework do other parents make their teenagers do on a daily basis? I find it interesting that they can remember anything related to their social life, but whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher is impossible to remember. I’m about to assign odd/even days for things, so that I can easily keep up. Anyone have any other good ideas on how to make teenagers remember household chores?

TV. Is anyone in favor of getting rid of the TV? Has anyone tried it? My husband is the biggest hindrance to this plan in our house, so it will never happen. But I remember when I was growing up, we didn’t have a TV for a while and it made me read. I might never be the reader I am, if it hadn’t been for that period of TV-lessness.

Clothes: Suddenly the consignment store clothes aren’t good enough.

Attitude. I officially know much less than they do. And I don’t dress well enough. And I’m weird about what foods they should be eating. And if I stray outside the rigid norm, I am an embarrassment.

A few things that hurt:

Volunteering at their schools is not encouraged anymore.

I’m a chauffeur now, rather than someone to do fun things with.

The dancing-around-the-house-for-fun is not something they do with me anymore.

The goodnight hugs aren’t as intense as they used to be.

But I understand … they’re growing up!

I SO appreciate the time I have left, especially when I think that:

Some 15-year-old boys signed up to fight in the Civil War.

Some 13-year-old girls were considered marriageable in eras past (perhaps in some cultures today, too).

As much as they annoy at times, I already know I’ll hate the empty nest.

But, from what I hear, there’s a good chance they’ll move back home eventually. Then I’ll be asking for advice on how to deal with adult children. LOL.

Lucy Balch

Love Trumps Logic

Available at Amazon and through Second Wind Publishing

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