Thursday, June 30, 2011

Anatomically corrected


The Associated Press had an interesting story this week about a preschool in Sweden that is trying to establish a gender neutral environment for its students by not using gender specific pronouns and designing the classroom to minimize stereotypical gender-related preferences. (Think Legos stored near the Play Kitchen.)

Teachers at the school refer to students as "Friends" instead of "Boys and Girls" and encourage literature that questions generalizations of gender specificity, while conversely baning books that offer classic examples of traditional gender roles, such as "Cinderella." The school puts forth great effort to foster an environment tolerant of homosexual and transgendered individuals.

Which, honestly, all sounds perfectly lovely to me.

Referring to boys and girls grouped together as "friends" -- to me anyway -- reinforces the idea of fostering respectful relationships more than individual identities.

My problem in this comes not from what the school is promoting but from what it's manufacturing.

By disallowing the use of personal pronouns to the point where they had to make up a word to keep from having to label a person by gender, they are more than likely reinforcing another kind of judgement: That somehow it's not acceptable to actually be male OR female, nor to identify strongly one way or another.

I can't help but think it's natural to try and understand the world and ourselves by compartmentalizing. We all have a gender. Some of us have preferences that others view as gender specific. This should not be viewed as fundamentally wrong or destructive in and of itself.

A teacher's job (be they professional or parent) should be exploring with children where their ideas (about any subject) expand, contract and disappear from preconceived notions. It shouldn't be throwing the preconceived notions away and pretending there are none.

Ultimately I think it's kind of unnatural to try and reduce gender to a neutral in the hopes of furthering egalitarianism. Equality through neutrality just seems like EVERYONE will be shortchanged. We are different. We should explore those differences fairly and without judgement.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Missives and meanderings

Instead of the usual craft time, our babysitter reported today, the story-hour librarian rolled up the reading rug and handed out big pieces of sidewalk chalk.

Her instructions were simple: Pick out an area of concrete (story time is in the basement of the village library) and draw a picture - Anything you want.

Guess who needed a space that would ensure his lines blurred into those of his each and every one of his neighbors?


"I need to make a stream. A gurgling, splashing, crashing stream ... with a waterfall ... that goes WHOOOOSH!"


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I'm not sure why I worry


Yeah ... that whole summer camp first-day jitters thing? She's sooooo over it.

"You know what was the best part of camp today?"

"No, what was the best part?"

"The best part was when the camp counselors told us things they probably shouldn't be telling us."

"Oh yeah, like what?"

"Like where they're getting tattoos."


Monday, June 27, 2011

Looking back

are we done yet

Today was the first day of summer camp. Her first day at a new camp at that.

And she was alone. Alone with more than a hundred kids.

It was so noisy and confusing. Her friend would be there ... only not until later.

Until then she'd just have to be a lone, lonely loner ... in a sea of noise, and strangers with stoic faces.

Introductions rarely go well inside chaos. They weren't going well.

She gripped my hand.

I stayed through the morning announcements, but then I had to go.

She gripped my hand tighter. Her nails in need of trimming.

"Stay," her eyes told me.

"I have to go. You will be OK. You will see. You will make lots of friends."

She walked up the hill toward the other campers and disappeared.

I stood there for a long time, waiting to catch sight of her; hoping it would be alright. That she'd find a friend. That she'd wave and smile back at me. But I couldn't find her among the crowd.

"She will be OK. She will make new friends," I tell myself again, hoping it's true.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What's your favorite Grouchoism?

How he got in my pajamas I'll never know.

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Like father, like son


His dad got him his first REAL toolkit for his birthday.

Today he decided he needed to use his tools ... "Just like daddy dos ..." to hang an artwork he'd drawn of the family. (I'm the tall one).

seriouscarpenter nailing nailed waned to hang

Then he celebrated his achievement of being "Just Like Daddy" by taking a potty break.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cocktails and dreams

cocktails -n- dreams

ME: "I had the WORST dream last night."

HIM: "What happened? Did they run out of stamps at the Post Office?"

ME: "No."

HIM: "Was it anything like the dream you had about The Champ becoming a bartender and opening a joint called 'MilkaMilk and Juice'?"

ME: "No!"

HIM: "OK ... What happened?"

ME: "Well, I was touring a nuclear reactor site and it became apparent that there was a plot underway to assassinate ....

HIM: "Wait, wait. You were touring a nuclear reactor site?

ME: "Yeah. It was a nuclear reactor site. "It happens!" "

HIM: "Ok ... back to the assassination thing ...

ME: "Yes. There was a plot underway to assassinate the president, who, I might add, looked a great deal like Goeffrey Rush playing Peter Sellers. ... Anyway, the thing appeared to be that while the president was touring the facility there was to be a nuclear ACCIDENT and everyone at the facility - including me - would get radiation poisoning.

HIM: "Wait ... and what was your involvement in this whole thing?"

ME: "Oh, I had no involvement. I was just there trying to buy stamps."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Feats of strength

Sack racin' her teacher Tongue sticking out. always

Ittybit's school held its annual Field Day today ... which is an event usually held at the end of the year ... wherein students run around for an hour or so in the hot sun, playing games of skill and coordination and making all the adults tired just watching them.

It also affords parents the opportunity to cheer on their little athletes as they try to avoid gigantic pink balls (Indiana Jones style), dress up in enormously large pants and run a fifty meter dash, or pass a rubber chicken on a track-length, four-person team relay race.

Only ... There are unwritten rules, you, as a spectator, might want to follow.

my mom ... with her camera

If you're smart(er than me) you'll keep your cheers to a whisper. Lest you be the cause of even the slightest embarrassment.

And ... perhaps most importantly ...

Field day in the shade ... under the bleachers ... with Legos ... and people's discarded wads of chewing gum

Those tiny bits of colorful "plastic" under the bleachers? The only place on the whole campus that is shaded? Not all of them are Legos.

Monday, June 20, 2011

We all look like our pets



Your face will stick like that

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bully pulpit

free speech

A Cohoes teenager is the first to be charged under a new law enacted in Albany County to fight so-called cyber-bullying.

The teen, who allegedly admitted to police he created a Facebook page in December where he posted photos and derogatory comments about fellow students, is being charged with 10 counts of harassment, a violation, and 10 counts of cyber-bullying, a misdemeanor under the new law, which was enacted in November of 2010.

After complaints about the site, the page was removed by Facebook and police tracked down the 16-year-old suspect from his IP address.

I've often taken the stance that we should not criminalize speech that is unpopular or hurtful, especially when it's hard to separate emotion from what should be blind justice. I just can't help but think laws like these are so much more counterproductive than they appear.

I can't help but think of this kid as just a kid -- like your kid ... and my kid ... and the kids of all the politicians in the universe who have ever tried to garner favor with voters by enacting impossible laws designed to protect them -- who, for whatever misguided reason, was a troll to a few dozen people, some of whom thought of him as a friend.

In my way of thinking, this is a kid who did something immature and mean, and being found as the author should be the biggest price he pays. Police investigations, court costs and being branded a criminal (that might one day soon include having his DNA collected and archived for when he presumably graduates from gossip columnist to murderer) seems excessive.

Even the police chief, according to that report, thinks the effort to investigate the incident was too burdensome for a small department and that federal help is needed.

Federal help. To arrest a kid who is being mean?

We can't arrest everyone who says mean things.

Can we?


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Empire State building

Empire State Boxing

When I'm in my darkest moods, I can convince myself we're all destined to be living in cardboard cities someday soon.

Now that's I've seen how they could look (these were made by middle schoolers at Ittybit's school), I'm not as worried.

Materials: Boxes, masking tape, pencil and Sharpie. (I imagine a yardstick was also among the tools.)


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Don't let the dog door hit you on the way out


She skulked into our room just as the blue-speckled morning light was breathing in pink from the sun, and started to howl.

"Your turn," I say to the mountain of covers to my left. "I already handled a squirrel, two chipmunks and what I can only presume was a bird this week. I'm taking the morning off."

Wordlessly, he pulls on a shirt and stalks downstairs passing Ittybit in the hallway.

"Where's he going?" she asks, scooping up the squalling mass of feline flesh as awkwardly as humanly possible. In Ittybit's arms, our black cat is more of a rag doll. She just limply hangs, catatonic.

I don't get a chance to answer before a stream of expletives and a few Lords'-Names-in-Vain come charging up the stairs.


"What did she kill?" I yell down in response.

"Nothing. It's still alive and its running around in the kitchen!"

When I reach the place where the coffee and toast are born, I find him standing by the coffeemaker. Perhaps he's willing it to become a Haveaheart trap, but I suspect he's more interested in getting a cup of caffeine to clear his mind.

"Coffee first. Then I'll think about what to do. It could be anywhere at this point."

He saw it scoot behind the dog food container and a case of bottled ice tea. All sorts of critters go back there, never to be seen again.

I moved the containers and saw the chipmunk all curled up in a ball. No head, no tail visible in the shadows. On the counter above it is a small movie popcorn box, saved for reuse because of its red-pin-stripe quaintness and lack of visible butter stains.

I grab it and bend to scoop up the cat's escaped snack.

In it goes to the bottom, scrabbling around for a second and then settling back into its protective orb.

I head for the great out of doors.

Ittybit wants to help release the varmint, but minds my urgent request and feeds the cat as a distraction. I tell I'll wait for her, and to meet me at the tree in front yard.

When she arrives, I pour out the popcorn box, kernels, critter and all.

For a long moment, it stands there all stretched out and close to the ground. I fan the box in its direction and it skitters up the tree trunk. Ittybit follows it, circling the tree, telling it all manner of helpful advice.

"Have a nice life."

"Be more careful."

"Stay away from cats."

As she skips around the tree, a first-grade Ann Landers, it chitters at her, loudly.

Its charm delights her.

"You're welcome!"


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Family values


Seems to me, passing legislation that provides equality in marriage would show how much we still value the institution.

Not to mention how much we value ALL families.

Tell your senators now is the time to do the right thing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Star quality

stars fell on alabama

Zombified, Ittybit sat staring at the T.V. watching an opera singer perform.

The little girl was tiny but her voice was bigger than life.

"I want to be like that girl," she said emphatically. "I want to be famous."

It wasn't for art's sake that Ittybit wanted to make her voice lift above the songs she hears on popular radios stations. Although the beauty of the music drew her in, it was the pretty little girl in a floor-length dress that held her transfixed. "She's only a kid ... and she's on TeeeeVeeee!"

"You don't want to be that girl," I say quickly, and just as quickly want to kick myself for saying it that way. Of course she wants to be just like that little girl. She wants the mental picture we all have about fame. How special it would be.

It's easy to fault with the logic, but more difficult to dismiss the feeling behind it. Don't we all have some degree of desire for acknowledgement and adoration? Only we want the well-deserved kind of fame that wipes its feet when we invite it in, doesn't snoop in our drawers when it uses our facilities, and never wears out its welcome.

"No. I do want to be like her. I want to sing on a stage in front of lots of people. Or I want to publish a book. Or I want to act in the movies."

I try a different approach.

"Well, I wouldn't want to be that girl. I was listening to an interview with her and she seemed extremely anxious for a little girl. She was worried about what would happen as an adult. Would she be able to keep the momentum? Would her voice change? Would it be as pretty when it did? I just think that's a lot of worry for a little girl to handle."

She shrugs her shoulders. She doesn't share my concern. The gun has fired and the stopwatch has started. The time to make your mark, she thinks, is now.

"She's already 11. Maybe that would be a problem if she were not yet 10," she says as if she's already decided it's all over once you reach the double digits.

I just smile and let her dream alone.

What does her old mother know about fame and what it's like, anyway?

We all have our dreams and anxieties no matter where we go or what we do. We all swim against tides. We walk down roads others travel and they're always new to us. The only thing I can really advise her to do is to follow what makes her happy until it makes her miserable. Then maybe she'll be ready to forge her own path.

We can only predict, we can't know for sure. Don't help. Don't hinder.


Friday, June 10, 2011

How to train your velocipede

"When dad gets home I'm going ast him ta take off da little wheels what's on my bike."

When he gets big he's going to wide a motorcycle wike Wyan

"My bike is trained now."

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

The usual suspects

the usual suspects

The message popped up in a facebook post. Perhaps you saw it:

"Florida is the first state that will require drug testing when applying for welfare (effective July 1st)! Some people are crying this is unconstitutional. How is this unconstitutional yet it's okay that every working person had to pass a drug test in order to support those on welfare? Re-post if you… agree!!! Let's get Welfare back to the ones who NEED it, not those that just WANT it."

One could practically hear the Tea-cups clinking at the Party as the revelers lined up to agree.

"Hell, yah!"

"Why should taxpayers enable a drug addict?"

"I'd apply for welfare, but I'm too busy WORKING!"

It's so easy to get on a band wagon when the place its taking everyone seems like a logical destination.

Why should public money go to support drug addicts?

The short answer is that the whole argument is a red herring.

The poor are easily scapegoated and held up as an example of all that's wrong in society. In the 80s the offending individual was painted as a "Welfare Queen," milking the system for handouts as she flaunted her government cheese from the windows of a shiny black Cadillac. Now the face of contempt is a degenerate junkie who could easily get a job if she'd accept personal responsibility for herself and the children she never should have had in the first place.

But the longer answer is so much more complicated. It has to do with the fact that welfare is the least we can do when there are children involved. The long answer doesn't really solve our problems, either.

The long answer includes the understanding that society is like a flawed chain with weak links that need reinforcement. We think of these as individual rights unless we're of the mind to excise them entirely, then we call them entitlements.

Sure, some will fight for a fetus' entitlement to life, but that's as far as that train goes. Don't come crawling to them for affordable healthcare or education. Those teachers are just one measly, money-grubbing step up from those worthless slugs on the dole. If you know what's good for you, you'll defy all odds and become a Wall Street banker. Then you can screw the taxpayer the acceptable way. Through capitalism.

The furor over Florida's welfare plan is nothing more than the most expedient way for politicians to get votes. They know hard-working voters love to place blame and will rise to the bait. But what the Florida law won't do is save any money.

If the goal of the Florida law were to get treatment assistance for the poor, it might be a provision worth fighting for. But it's not. It's more worthless legislation in the name of moral certitude. it's also costly: It may seem like a ten-dollar test but what happens with the test leads to untold amounts needed in social work, law enforcement, courts, incarceration and foster care?

And none of it will make a dent in problem we face with substance abuse.

Substance abuse (alcohol and not merely illicit drugs) is rampant in all sectors of society, and no more prevalent among the poor than the rich or the middle class.

That logic isn't the point, though, Is it? When we'd rather put children in foster homes and parents in prison than foot the bill for food stamps, I think we're paying too much for our principals and not enough on our problems.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

All little piggies go to market


She was busy, she and her friend, making mincemeat out of my fabric stash.

I wasn't going to complain. The decimation of sale-bought cotton fleece is the price one willingly pays to be able to clean the house in peace.

As I was emptying the dishwasher and sweeping floors, they were painstakingly cutting and matching fabrics, inventorying their characters (yes, there were two of every animal on the pattern) and selecting the thread that would tie the whole thing together.

They named their little creations "Boo Boo Babies," and begged me to help stuff and sew the round forms into pillows for them. The sewing machine, though sea-foam green and emblazoned with Hello Kitty logos, is still too powerful a force for tiny fingers.

I oblige. I'd rather sew than try to scrape the crusted-over waffle batter from the kitchen counter anyway. No matter how many times I mention it, somehow the waffle maker (the man not the machine) doesn't appreciate the economy of a damp sponge when the drips are fresh.

But these children know they need to strike when the iron is hot.

That's why they leave their one-woman sewing factory and move on the most important aspect of production -- marketing.

I was especially fond of this pitch:

the all important marketing component of crafting

However, the disclaimer was also quite nice, given the fact I was the one sewing and my results do vary:



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

family portrait

He's the one whose head looks like a heart.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Take me to the kittens

bela lugosi

Sometimes you really just want hang out with kittens. And do little else.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Cut. It. Out.

cut paper pictures

What you need:
* Construction paper
* Scissors
* Glue
* Imagination


Thursday, June 2, 2011

A reminder for elected officials and other political hopefuls this election season ....

your congressman calling

Robo-calls make children sad.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tough love

He didn't want to step on the ground because it was wet, and that would make his shoes squeak. She hugged him after forcing him to step off the curb and touch the ground. Oh. The. Drama.Sigh.

He doesn't like walking on even slightly wet ground.

It makes his shoes squeak. He H-A-T-E-S for his shoes to squeak.

She thinks he's being ridiculous. And that he needs to grow up.

So she nudged him off his dry patch of curb, where they'd been balancing, onto the wet grass.

When he started to cry she felt sorry for him.

Until he punched her.

Now they're square.

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