Posts Tagged ‘children’

Looking at the moon

I can see the lunar eclipse from my balcony tonight. The bright part of the blood moon is just a fingernail sliver against a brown circle in the dark sky. It’s not all that dark even, because I live in a city now. But it’s clearly visible. Palladium windows alight in neighboring apartments echo the theme of partial circles.

Listen – is that chirping crickets or something that sounds like them? Traffic noise pulses too – or is that my own pulse in my ears?

Snips of muffled conversations drift up from the apartment above me, no real words but clearly human. Are they looking outside from time to time too? Are children being allowed to stay up later than normal on this school night so they can see the eclipse for themselves? Are parents explaining to them how it works? Perfect learning opportunities happen sometimes in pajamas. Not just something in a book, but real life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love books. I learn voraciously from books. But I’ve been reading a lot lately about the damage to children, in their learning and physical health and emotional wellbeing, because they are so totally scheduled and supervised that they have no time to just play and learn from the real world. Ho did we come to not understand this in our guts?

Yeah, I realize that most kids today are so conditioned to fast movement and electronics that their attention spans probably don’t last through an eclipse. Heck, I’m not sitting out there watching the whole thing. But bravo to any parent who is at least letting their children stay up to have a look at it and hopefully even enjoying it with them.

Of course this requires looking away from TV and all other devices. Ah, well, one can hope.


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I still miss my mom most of the time. My grandmothers too. My female heritage is strong. Not flashy, not radical, not even feminist. But strong. As in hardy, hearty, use your brain and use your body, can the green beans and peaches, save nickels to buy a hot water heater, come home from work and put on an apron, drill your daughter on state capitals while you iron, read classic kiddy lit to the kiddies at lunch time, trust in God, keep going when life gets hard, because it will and it does and it did.

My dad’s mother lived with us all the time I was growing up. Every Saturday before Mother’s Day, Dad would bring home corsages for Mom and Grandma to wear to church the next day and put them in the refrigerator in their little cellophane bags. Red flowers for Mom because her mother was living. White flowers for Grandma because her mother was not. That tradition has not continued, but today I decided to buy myself a white flower.

I’m a mom and a grandmom myself. I live a thousand miles away from my family, so on Mother’s Day I miss all the people I’m connected to mother-wise. I will get to see them all soon, though, so I focus on that. I ask myself how my children and grandchildren will view me, what legacy they will feel they received, what memories they will have of me when it’s their turn to get the white flowers.

Today, it is for me to live as true to myself and to God as I can, to love my dear ones and others as best I can, to invest myself in living out grace and justice and mercy the best I can, and leave the question of legacy to the future. That’s what Mom and the Grandmothers did. So, onward.

To my kiddos and grandkiddos, to the other younger adults/families who seem to like to hang out with me and treat me like family, to Mom and the Grandmothers — I love you all and I’m thankful for you.

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As we approach the Christmas shopping and gift giving season, I give you this quote, from Jane Martin in The Plain Reader:

“A child needs little more than warm loving arms. How Toys R Us can fill thirty thousand square feet full of toys is beyond me. When a pile of rocks is so interesting to a toddler, when sliding on the snow or making a house out of tree limbs is such wonderful fun for the elementary school kids, when a shovel and sand provide an afternoon of play, and when helping Mom sweep is a four-year-old’s favorite activity — how can we need thirty thousand square feet of toys? I say, keep you money and your child might be better off!”

Blanket fort, anyone?

2 children in pajamas play under blankets held up by chairs

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Last time I wrote some thoughts on education and elder care and how our current models for both seem to be industrial, and how disturbing that is given that people are not products.

Today I saw Garr Reynold’s blog, “Presentation Zen,” and on it his compilation of “Videos to help you rethink education.”  I’ve watched them all. Please take the time to watch them yourself, and together let’s rethink education, for the sake of precious individuals, for the sake of our world.

What can you do, you may ask, if you’re not in a position to effect legislation? You can teach another human being something that you know today. You can nurture delight and protect uniqueness. You can encourage perseverance through failure to finding new answers and new skills.

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Saturday morning

It’s Saturday, and here I sit in my jammies. I’ve had breakfast, I’ve had tea and I’m thinking about another cup. I’ve washed last night’s dishes, read the news online. I’ve checked my Facebook and Twitter accounts and done a crossword puzzle. Basically I’ve just been frittering the time away, and I only feel a hint of guilt.

When I was a kid, even on a Saturday mom would have made me get dressed by now. It was shameful to be found in your pajamas by anyone outside the family after about 9:00 a.m.  Since the paper boy came to collect in the morning, it was better not to loll around.

Here’s where this post goes totally retro and I run the danger of revealing my age, but oh well. Saturday mornings would usually find us on the living room floor watching TV. Now that I’ve raised my own children, I understand how freeing it was to Mom when something interested us more than going with her to the  A&P. She knew that if our attention was occupied, we could stay with Grandma, who lived with us, and it would be easier all around.

Here are some shows from my Saturday mornings past. I know they will seem unbelievably quaint.

“Here I come to save the day!” — That would be Mighty Mouse. Note that shameless product sponsorship is nothing new. At least here it was toothpaste and not Twinkies.

Heckle and Jeckle — not my favorite, but still there, so I watched. That’s what you did when there were only three channels and no recorded movies, yet TV was still a completely, captivatingly, new medium.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. They saved the town from bad guys in 30 minutes every time.

American West heroes modernized: Sky King and his niece Penny to the rescue not on horseback but in a Cessna — or was it a Piper Cub? Obviously I don’t know my aircraft.  More shameless sponsorship: Nabisco

Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney with a live audience of kids. I’d almost forgotten about this one. Exclusively sponsored by Tootsie  Roll.

Enough of this. Gotta go back to being a grown-up, get dressed, and get to the bank before it closes.

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I have just watched two episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. If you haven’t seen it, you can catch it here or on hulu.com. Jamie Oliver is well known as a British chef. He has a vision to improve, nay, revolutionize, the way people eat in England and the United States. The main problem: our addiction to processed foods. (The video of his impassioned talk about this at last month’s TED conference is worth watching, too.)

On the show, he goes into one town in West Virginia to try to change habits and attitudes, starting with one elementary school and one family. I watched transfixed.

The health implications are scary. The government bureaucracy that perpetuates the junk in lunchrooms is shocking. But what got me the most was what children are being taught, or not taught, about food and life. It makes me sad and angry.

Six-year-olds in the school Jamie Oliver went to could not recognize fruits and vegetables. Yeah, some of their wrong answers showed a thin connection to the real thing. An eggplant is shaped similarly to a pear. Tomato and potato sound alike. Cauliflower and broccoli both are bumpy. But they couldn’t even identify a potato, and they had no clue that’s what fries were made of.

Then when he prepared a from-scratch meal for the school for which the kids would need forks and spoons, the kitchen staff and the principal had to think long and hard where the cutlery even was. When Jamie asked about knives, they just about came unglued. Didn’t he know you don’t expect five- through ten-year-old children to use utensils? (And of course one of those kids could go on a killing spree in the school with a table knife!) The staff even asked for documentation to prove Jaime’s truthfulness when he said that kindergartners in Britain are using them all the time.

I suspect this is way too typical of schools all over the nation. What are we doing? What does the future hold? It is so easy to teach these things, first at home and then reinforced at school, and we’re not doing it well at all, apparently. Not only are our children becoming less literate, their social skills are becoming more medieval.

One day after Jamie’s initial veggie/fruit test, the class invited him back for a redo. The teacher had taken initiative and in that one day they’d learned their way around a produce stand. Just like that–and they were proud. It doesn’t require a curriculum, scope and sequence, and certainly not a lesson plan, with metrics, submitted for review at all levels up and down the school district. It just requires living life with children, including them in day-to-day stuff.

Here’s what that might look like, in the life of a family. Take your children with you to the grocery store. Talk to them as you shop, particularly in the produce, meat, dairy, and bread aisles. I’m not talking about formal teaching,  just conversation: “Let’s see if the apples look good.” “Oh, eggs are on sale. Let’s get some.” Help them to recognize a potato before they know what a bag of chips is.

Keep the conversations going at home. Talk to them as you put the groceries away, or even let them help when they can. If you plan some family meals, actually at the table, you combine the food thing with the utensil thing. Get the kids involved in food prep and table setting. If we don’t teach our children to be competent with forks, spoons, and knives, we are handicapping them. According to child development milestones, most children are capable of using forks and spoons like adults by the age of four. Do we expect them to somehow morph into civilized, socially adept humans at, say, high school graduation? A child wants to learn new skills. Sure, it’s messy, and it requires some attention from busy parents. But they’ll get it, and my gosh, don’t they deserve it? Or are they just a notch above the family pet? Why do we put them in soccer when they’re four and continue to push athletic skills, but somehow assume they’re incapable of learning to use tableware until they’re learning multiplication tables ?

Talk to your children, casually, about all of life, including food and meals. Also, don’t many toddler word books have pictures of foods and kitchen items? When my children were small, reading to them and even looking at pictures with them kept me sane at times. If I was bored with the board or cloth books, I bought el cheapo grocery store ones that I didn’t care if the kids tore. If I was still bored, I’d page through an old magazine with them, pointing out and naming pictures and adding any other little bits of conversation I could manufacture. Lots of those were pictures of food. Not only is this a reading readiness activity, it teaches real-life skills and it provides a snatch of mother-child quiet time.

I understand that American parents are stressed to the max these days. But something is more than horribly wrong if we don’t have time to include our children in basic daily life or enjoy simple food.

The bureaucracy that is the American school system? For now I’ll just say that I am an education counterculturalist and a friend of true teachers everywhere, and that makes perfect sense to me.

(Honesty requires me to tell you that among my healthy grocery choices today, I also bought a short tube of refrigerator biscuits. See, I’m not immune from the temptations of uber-processed foods. My body will make me pay a very uncomfortable price, though, if I indulge often, and I’m not willing to go there.)

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