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do not touch?
Oct 12th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

Recently, I was at elementary school, talking with our gym teacher about my son. I’ve noticed lately that the boy likes to stand on his head, flip around, and basically bounce. A lot. While team sports don’t seem to work well for him yet, some sort of physical activity would probably be beneficial for energetic little him, for me, and frankly, for the rest of the world. (You can thank me later.)

In short, I’m wondering whether gymnastics might be a way to go for him.

I hearkened back to my own gym experience. We had entire units on tumbling, on the rings, on the pommel horse. While I never did grow up to be Nadia Comăneci (and yes, I know I am dating myself, you Mary Lou Rettons out there), I enjoyed gymnastics — the weightlessness, even for just that second, before flying over the horse (and often into one of my less intelligent classmates who didn’t move away from it fast enough.) Leaping ever so carefully on the balance beam. What I would give to be able to perform those flips I once did without living in fear that I’d require traction and anti-inflammatories!

So I asked our gym teacher: when will my son’s class get to do a unit on gymnastics? His reply?

Not in this school.

Apparently, the threat of litigation has backburnered this pursuit in our public school. I was told that when a teacher spots a student, he or she may have to actually touch the child; and since movement is involved, there is too much fear that a teacher might accidentally be in contact with a child in an improper manner. And even if that contact is purely accidental, the fear of getting sued, losing your job, and having your reputation sullied beyond all recognition outweighs the possibility of teaching a child to discover this ancient athletic pursuit.

Obviously, my sympathies are ever-present with any child who has fallen victim to a predatory adult; and there’s no question that persons in power who are abusive ought to be severely punished. However, this situation makes me think about where we are going as a society. When teachers cannot teach to children because of a fear that they may touch a child and that the child, in turn, may cry foul (whether true or not), what is lost? There’s a certain communication that comes with physicality; and while I don’t advocate that teachers go out of their way to lay hands on their pupils, this scenario tells me that litigiousness has won the day.  And how sad: for I remember fondly teachers patting me on the head, hugging me, and yes, spotting me in gymnastics. I know how I appreciated all of these gestures; and I mourn the fact that my children will likely have radically different educational experiences with their teachers. There will be little touching.

There is a beautifully sad story entitled Hands in Sherwood Anderson’s masterpiece Winesburg, Ohio that concerns a dedicated teacher named Wing Biddlebaum. Biddlebaum is estranged from society for decades because he has one “flaw”: he expresses himself with his hands. The story shares that in his younger years, Biddlebaum was a teacher who never touched any child inappropriately, but who caressed his students’ heads and shoulders in a supportive manner. Unfortunately, one day, a “half-witted boy” falsely alleged molestation, and Biddlebaum was driven from another town to Winesburg, where he lived alone on the outskirts, cut off because of his hands. He feared communicating with anyone ever again, all because of his fluttering, expressive hands.

Such a loss.

Originally posted on Smartly.

Waiting For The World To Change
Aug 5th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

Have parents become the whiniest group ever?

I have witnessed mothers publicly flagellating their favorite hipster bar/restaurant because it has the audacity to not provide high chairs, even though these places they frequented prior to parenthood cater more to the childless set.  I have heard parents chafe when their ginormous double strollers don’t fit on a city bus, cursing at the entire transit system because it requires parents to actually fold the monstrosity so that others have a fighting chance to get on and off the vehicle. I’m still marveling at parents who self-immolate and who consider litigation because their doctor decided to deliver a child by caesarian for the safety of mother and child, as that was not the birth the moms signed up for! Yes, I’ve heard America’s parents weeping.

And, in short, they are weeping for themselves.

Somehow, in this vast universe of possibilities, some people become parents, most in this nation by choice. And once you move away from the Pottery Barn Kids-decorated fantasy of sunny nurseries with clean sheets and sharp decor, you realize that parenthood is not a cakewalk.

Well, duh.

And many first-timers enter into this phase of their life expecting their life to be as it was…with a little addition who just sort of goes along with it all.  Oh, how your life will be different! the grandmothers coo.  But nothing’s going to alteryour world, nothing beyond having another mouth to feed and love and enjoy. Sure, you’ll change both health insurance levels and diapers, but it’s your world, and they are merely a part of it.

It stands to reason, then, that everything you enjoyed prior to parenthood should remain your entitlement. Of-the-moment restaurants and their patrons will welcome your babe with open arms, spit-up and cries be damned as your child’s cuteness will obviously render any disapproval moot. Your co-workers will surely be delighted when you announce that baby will be hanging out and squalling in your office each day.  And of course, that museum filled with paying patrons, priceless antiquities, and art will gladly receive your stroller bearing your awesome offspring.

Would it be nice if the world bent a little bit more towards the needs of parents? Certainly, and what a laudable experience it is when accommodations are mutually agreed upon. But sometimes, they’re not. And sometimes, they shouldn’t be.  Parenthood is not about the parents; it’s about raising a child in a society that is how it is. The world doesn’t need to be Disneyfied. Teach your child how to accept life as it is and also to peacefully work for change when situations merit that action. But stop cursing the world because it doesn’t bow to your every need.

In fact, perhaps parents should look inward and decide whether they need to alter their expectations. Maybe you can’t exist in the same ways that you did BC (Before Children.) But maybe there’s a new way to be found, one that works best for you, your child, and the world around you. For example, there’s no doubt that your baby’s adorable; but other concert-goers don’t want their date ruined by a bawling babe. So hit the kiddie concert circuit instead. Or rent a movie.  They won’t be little forever, and your life will change yet again. Embrace the change in yourself and in your life; and when the world doesn’t change with you, you can still find those positives that made you decide to start a family.

Besides. Once everyone realizes that it’s actually all about me, the world will be a better place.

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(first published on smartly.com)

Celling Your Kids
Jul 9th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

My daughter recently received a cell phone in honor of her elementary school graduation. It’s not fancy, but it does permit her to make calls (something tweens apparently never do) and to text (which she does with wild abandon.)

Girlfriend has been instructed as to when and where she may use the phone. At the dinner table? No way. In the car while someone else is driving? No problem. Will she take the phone to middle school in the fall? Probably not. The child realizes that the phone has to stay in her locker all day anyway, so why bother? And if she needs to call home, they have actual phones in the front office.

Several of my parent friends called me a traitor; somehow, the beloved spouse and I have completely sold our souls to Verizon and should be shipped out to a penal colony. Maybe there are no penal colonies available at present for bad parents like us (and if they don’t serve mojitos there, I’m not going anyway), but we thought long and hard before handing over a phone to the girl. After all, every day I see kids oblivious to the world, texting or chatting while crossing streets or in other dangerous situations. In fact, it isn’t just kids who act this way; I’m annoyed by all people not participating in life around them because they’re attached to a cellular teat. Did I want that for my daughter?

In the end, we considered the girl herself.

Firstly, the girl has her head on pretty darn straight. Sure, she’s addicted to TV programs where someone inevitably ends up in the emergency room with a misplaced axe in his head. But ask her to turn off the TV and tune into her life — and she does. She doesn’t have to be nagged to do her homework (mostly); she’s helpful; and frankly, she’s trustworthy.

I knew she’d follow cell phone rules pretty well.

Next, all these years of being the person who answered all her… ehhem… interesting questions emboldened me to converse with her about sexting. While she is still at an age where she believes most boys are repulsive (and I can’t say I mostly blame her), I wanted her to know about people sending improper materials to each other. I clarified TheWashington Post Rule: if you share an email or photo with someone else, it’d better be something that wouldn’t make you cringe if it ended up on the front page of our venerable daily paper.

I explained that sometimes, people assume that a photo they send — or an email or text — will be kept between the sender and the original recipient. This will bite her on the butt if she is the sender, whether she’s gossiping about some mean girl or receiving a nasty photo. And, if she is the recipient of something not-so-nice, she knows to tell me so that we can figure out the best way to handle things.

Together.

I’m feeling pretty good about our decision to let the girl have a cell phone. Sure, she texted her grandmother at Ungodly A.M. And maybe kids at this age don’t really need a cell phone; but I considered the particular child before making my decision.

Recently, girlfriend told me of her two slightly older friends, who walk around our cul-de-sac together but text other people.  Why don’t they just talk to each other since they’re actually standing next to each other? she asked. Cells are great, but when I’m with somebody, I want to actually talk to them!

That pretty much cemented my decision.

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(first published on smartly.com)


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