Have Kids Lost the “Huck Finn” Gene?

Have Kids Lost the "Huck Finn" Gene?

Picture this: Jeannie and I have two forts: one is a pile of fallen tree logs in the corner of her backyard. The other is a lean-to-shed next to her parents’ garage. It has no window, but they let us paint it bright yellow with blue trim. There’s also a weedy rock garden (her mom has no time for gardening with seven children and more to come) and though if I were to transport myself to that rock garden today, it would be small–but to Jeannie and me in the lower grades, it was big–and in our imaginations the perfect place to push imaginary evil doers. Hot oil anyone? We might not yet have read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finnbut we were swimming in their gene pool as “adventure” and “creating our own worlds” flowed in our blood.

OUR PRESENT NEIGHBORHOOD? RIPE FOR FORTS

Now where I live in Southern California, my husband and I take frequent walks. We see open space between rows of houses that is lined with trees on either side and filled with piles of leaves and even inviting dead branches in every size you can imagine. But no forts, in a tree or on the ground.

If it rains, the dry creek behind our house fills up with water. The trails we can easily walk to take us up low hills where you can look out over your neighborhood, pick wild flowers and challenge each other to see who can make the rise first.

WHAT DO WE NOT SEE? WHAT DO WE NOT HEAR? Children. Their shouts, their bikes streaming by, their arms loaded with an old quilt or a cardboard box to add to some fort that is gradually taking shape in their minds or behind their houses. Do kids even know what a fort is anymore?

WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN?

Where are the children and what are they doing? When the few children that live near us come out to throw a ball around or rollerblade, we are thrilled. We hear their voices on the evening breeze and are immediately taken back to our old neighborhood, where in summer the sweetest sounds were children’s voices: freeze tag, hide and seek, hopscotch, baseball in the street, tree climbing, bike riding and of course fort-building.

When we were raising our three children–how joyful. In the first suburban Chicago house there was a shed, and because it was filled with lawn equipment, the area BEHIND THE SHED became the fort for our two daughters, complete with dishes and bricks for a table. Our children knew how to make this work. The second house had a huge side yard with play equipment and my son was out there constantly, always joined by his friend who lived–you guessed it–across the fence.

Then in Iowa, we had a tree fort, built right around one of the huge oaks in our backyard. But once again the space behind the garage often attracted friends like Charlie, who could get to our garage roof from the higher ground back there. Why not? That’s what boys do!

BROKEN ARMS OR UNDREAMED DREAMS

So what keeps kids inside and away from the fun? Maybe weather. Okay. Global warming sucks, and one reason, if you lived in the Midwest this past winter, they didn’t even have enough snow to make outdoor play fun. My son would race out of the house during a good Iowa snowfall–because the street one block away provided a magnificent sledding hill. Yes, there were cars, but they were extremely careful going down that hill in a rollicking Iowa snow storm.

Fear. A younger parent reading this will think about broken arms and head trauma. Okay, I get that. So buy your kid a bike helmet and make him wear it. When I was a kid, my old friend Bing broke his arm falling off the railing of our back porch–the distance could not have been more than a 3 foot drop. But it was an accident, it was the angle of the fall. Why stay inside to prevent that. My son broke his arm sliding in a wading pool. I kid you not. Charlie climbed our roof–he was fine. I fell off a bike with a quick turn on the grass after coming down our steep hill–I was no young chicken but I was fine. You can’t stay inside because of what MIGHT happen.

I say give kids some guidelines and then let them go. They have to feel that life is an adventure. You cannot lock them up with a television or a computer, please.

SOME STATISTICS. 

Almost all (96%) of the 1,001 parents with children aged between four and 14 quizzed for the National Trust thought it was important their children had a connection with nature and thought playing outdoors was important for their development. The research found, on average, children were playing outside for just over four hours a week, compared to 8.2 hours a week when the adults questioned were children. To read more go here. 

I HAVE THE VELCRO STORY FOR YOU: I’M SURE YOU HAVE MORE

Tom Sawyer knew how to attract his friends, even if the attraction involved a little bit of work. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was so damn smart. He wrote: Tom had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. 

Let’s pledge to get our children and grandchildren to covet the outdoors, adventure, and creativity. Sure, some young people are making millions bent over their computers and creating apps. But there is still room for roaming that stimulates the brain in a different way. Take, velcro.

George de Mestral invented his first touch fastener when, in 1941, he went for a walk in the woods and wondered if the burrs that clung to his trousers — and dog — could be turned into something useful. See! What if de Mestral had stayed indoors that day. He patented it in 1955 and subsequently refined and developed its practical manufacture until its commercial introduction in the late 1950s. He gave his invention the name Velcro, creating it from the French word velours or velvet and crochet or hook. The rest is history, as they say.

FORTS, SPORTS, BIKE ADVENTURES & MORE

Parents reading this might claim that there children get enough of the outdoors through sports. Yes and no Sports today are usually organized with adults there. Sports today are not the backyard lot when you created your own rules and learned how to WORK THINGS OUT with the kids down the block. That’s SO important. Children need to grow up slowly, yes, but as they do, day to day they learn skills that they will never lose. Jeannie and I had to negotiate when selecting the color of our fort or even deciding it would be in HER backyard. Getting out of the house and away from the eyes and ears of parents is part of growing up. STILL WORRIED? Well today, someone in the group that is roaming the hills or building that fort will have a cell phone, connection to Mom or Dad. So let them go out into the world. And don’t call or text them. Give them a deadline and hope that they wander into the world of imagination without an app or a screen to guide them.

Thanks to: DiviantArt

What American Kids Need: Love, Education and Public Schools

What American Kids Need: Love, Education and Public Schools

We all know what education is and we know its purpose. I would not be writing this piece if I had not had some form of education. But I also feel compelled to support with great emotion–public education.

MY PERSONAL INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC EDUCATION 

I minored in education in college and spent five years teaching at the secondary level in a public high school. This school in the far Chicago suburbs pulled together a very diverse group of students, but wow, it was amazing. I loved teaching. It was hard work. I not only had to be facile with my subject matter, but also be able to help students work through physical, social and demographic challenges. They often struggled and so did I. After all, I was so young! Right out of college. But by the time I left teaching, my reputation was a good one and I had some serious “how to deal with unrest and problems” chops. I gave everything I could to those young people.

PLEASE TOLERATE A FEW DEFINITIONS 

But for this subsequent discussion, a definition. These are taken from the website: Center for Public Education:

  • Public education means a tuition-free, publicly funded system that must provide an education to each child in a neighborhood school within a publicly governed school system. The academic standards, the teachers and administrators, the values and methods of operation employed in these schools are all subject to oversight and direction by public policy-making bodies. The rights of students and parents are legally defined and are enforceable by the courts. 
  • Public education means that a wide range of decision making resides at the community level through the operation of locally elected school boards and through other avenues of direct citizen participation in the schools.
  • Public education also means a system in which parents and the general public can obtain detailed information about their schools and be involved in school activities.

The website then goes on to ask a few very important questions.

  • What would education and society in America be like if these principles weren’t at the core of what is meant by public education?
  • What if education were turned over to publicly funded schools that did not have to adhere to these principles?
  • Which of these principles would be eliminated ?
  • Which children would be left behind?

It is so wrong and totally unfortunate when the needs of children are abandoned because of an ideologue’s vision of the future that does not encompass what is good for EVERY child.

SO LET’S TALK ABOUT RELIGION  

Would you believe that I attended private schools (Catholic) from grade school through college, but will always advocate for public education? Why? Many reasons. First because private education should be a personal choice–a family willing to PAY FOR the opportunity to send their child to a religious-based school. Or to get a scholarship to a private school that specializes in some facet of education. PRIVATE schools should not be given funds that are to be appropriated through our tax base to public schools.

Our country was founded on a basis that does not honor one religion over another. There have been times in our history when that principle was seriously challenged–and still is. But when we come together with a variety of beliefs into the PUBLIC FORUM, we should agree to educate American children and not skew educational content to one religion or another. (Note: my grandchildren attend a public school in California. If their parents wish them to participate in any kind of religious education–then they attend AFTER school hours.)

THE CHARTER SCHOOL PROBLEM

The fact that in our history individual citizens have tried to keep their children from attending integrated schools, schools in certain neighborhoods, schools that are housed in older facilities–have contributed to what we are experiencing now: the charter school.

Here is a clear explanation of why charter schools have twisted the law to allow them to utilize public funds. It was written by Barbara Miner a reporter who lives in Milwaukee. She writes: For more than a quarter-century, I have reported on the voucher program in Milwaukee: the country’s first contemporary voucher initiative and a model for other cities and state programs, from Cleveland to New Orleans, Florida to Indiana.

Milwaukee’s program began in 1990, when the state Legislature passed a bill allowing 300 students in seven nonsectarian private schools to receive taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. It was billed as a small, low-cost experiment to help poor black children, and had a five-year sunset clause.

That was the bait. The first “switch” came a few weeks later, when the Republican governor eliminated the sunset clause. Ever since, vouchers have been a divisive yet permanent fixture in Wisconsin.

So by eliminating the sunset clause of five years, the program continued and expanded. The program WAS NEVER put to a public vote in the state of Wisconsin.

HERE ARE THE RESULTS: Today, some 33,000 students in 212 schools receive publicly funded vouchers, not just in Milwaukee but throughout Wisconsin. If it were its own school district, the voucher program would be the state’s second largest. The overwhelming majority of the schools are religious.

Miner goes on to explain just what that means: Even if every single student at a school receives a publicly funded voucher, as is the case in 22 of Milwaukee’s schools, that school is still defined as private. Because they are defined as “private,” voucher schools operate by separate rules, with minimal public oversight or transparency.

Miner lists some of the ways these schools can get around laws that normally govern publicly funded schools.

  1. They can sidestep basic constitutional protections such as freedom of speech.
  2. They do not have to provide the same level of second-language or special-education services.
  3. They can suspend or expel students without legal due process.
  4. They can ignore the state’s requirements for open meetings and records.
  5. They can disregard state law prohibiting discrimination against students on grounds of sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or marital or parental status.

You pay taxes for the public schools in the area where you live. If you are good to go with the above–fine. I AM NOT! Violating the above principles that are so deeply a part of public education is not giving children LOVE and SUPPORT. Milner’s article attracted my attention, BECAUSE LIKE ME, she attended Catholic schools. But she writes: I believe that this country’s long-standing defense of religious liberty is a hallmark of our democracy. But the voucher program has distorted this all-important concept of religious freedom. 

The voucher program allows private schools to use PUBLIC DOLLARS to:  proselytize and teach church doctrine that is at odds with public policy;

  1. that women must be submissive to men
  2. that homosexuality is evil
  3. that birth control is a sin
  4. that creationism is scientifically sound.

Privatizing our public schools while forcing taxpayers to pay and not giving then A VOICE, WEAKENS OUR DEMOCRACY. And this is not a small amount of public money that is being funneled into these charter schools. Miner states that this year alone, the tab for the private and religious schools in Wisconsin is 248 million. That’s a chunk of change being taken from the public school system and weakening the education given to many children in that state.

I know you have your own opinions on this topic. But please consider: though it has had deep-seated problems PUBLIC EDUCATION PROVIDES THE BEDROCK FOR PROGRESS IN OUR COUNTRY and is needed to EDUCATE GOOD CITIZENS.

The solution is to fix our public schools–not abandon them. Our public schools are the only institutions with the commitment, the capacity, and the legal obligation to teach all children. With Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, the entire country now must answer this question: If public education is an essential bedrock of our democracy, why are we  undermining it? Why are we thinking of abandoning it?

Want to fight back–attend the school board meetings at your local high school. Get involved. After all, WE THE PEOPLE still have a say.

Photo Credit: onelineathens.com  

The Gift of Winter Winds: Surprise and Memories

The Gift of Winter Winds: Surprise and Memories

Of course I would believe my younger daughter Christie and my husband if they were all about my choosing the proper outfit to wear to a fundraiser last Saturday night. John and I were to arrive at my daughter’s home at 5:00pm to enjoy some time with our grandchildren and then leave around six for this event. The Los Angeles area was experiencing strong winter-like winds and because it’s the holiday season, the notorious 405 freeway was even more notorious. We finally ditched that plan and took side roads to our daughter’s house. Bottom line: WE WERE LATE. But I had no clue. The fundraiser would have to wait.

At the front door, my Harry Potter loving granddaughter had, unbeknownst to me, covered a party dress with her Hogwarts cape, eager to show me one magic trick before we left. I was told to close my eyes as she led me into the family room. When I opened them? The magic was a tent attached to the house and strung with sparkling Italian lights that shed glow on the faces before me. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN GIFTED WITH A SURPRISE PARTY? This is my blessed third. It’s a stunning experience.

I was blown away with the winds of surprise. Why was my older daughter Carrie and her husband here? We had just texted earlier that day. She was in Boston. And my son Andrew was in Chicago with his girlfriend Amy. They weren’t arriving for Christmas until the following Thursday evening.

NOT! Here they all were and my brother and his wife and my grandchildren and son-in-law and my niece and her boyfriend. Here they all were smiling and shouting Happy Birthday, though that date is a few months away. But all agreed with my younger daughter–people would be gathering for Christmas, let’s celebrate MOM now.

And so they did, with an elegant meal and flowers on the table and glasses of champagne and fancy hats. Because this was my Jubilee and was celebrated as if we were all attending an English garden party to celebrate my “quiet” aging.

But mothers who are dearly loved don’t get away with perfection. The banner expertly and lovingly prepared by my older daughter became a list of mom-isms. I could tell that everyone contributed:

GRAMMAR POLICE           BRITISH HISTORY FAN        BOO-BOO FIXER

JAMES TAYLOR FAN          DAD’S BEST AUDIENCE      GREEN THUMB

CHICKEN SQURES CONNIOSSEUR     KEEPER OF MEMORIES

WHITE TORNADO (I love to clean)          BEAUTIFUL SINGER (some exaggeration)

LOVING WIFE     BEST NOTES IN LUNCH BOX           BEST SMILE

AMAZING WRITER            BETHIE           WONDERFUL MOM

They also presented me with a book of memories that include precious letters from everyone there AND notes from friends from everywhere. My younger daughter Christie contacted people and they wrote back or emailed. She typed up those who emailed! Lots of work and yet so precious. She also added photos that people sent. Something to cherish, her labor of love beyond words.

Though the winds have died down in southern California, winter is here and so are the holidays of the season. I wish all of you celebrations and precious memories as you gather with those you love, Beth.

The Gift of Winter Winds: Surprise and Memories

Feeling like a queen.

The Gift of Winter Winds: Surprise and Memories

My grandmother’s china on the table, a wonderful reminder of connection

 

 

Child Healthcare Should be a Right, Not a Fairytale

Child Healthcare Should be a Right, Not a Fairytale

Really sick kids are not just in commercials on TV. They exist. They suffer. Sometimes they die and sometimes because of poor or nonexistent healthcare, their health is forever compromised. Children should always be one of the first things a government remembers to protect and take care of. Children deserve good healthcare. They are our future. And parents, grandparents reading this post–you might know more about these issues than I do, but bottom line: a sick child changes your day or your week. A chronically sick child changes your life.

The Beginning of the Story–The Symptom

During the time when Andrew had developed the symptom, the first thing I thought about when I awoke each day was the results of the blood test. If a neighbor called, I could barely concentrate on the conversation. I wanted the answer. I kept creating the conversation in my head. The blood test would be normal. His symptom would be normal. Our lives would be normal again.

“How long has he had this pain in his feet?” the doctor casually asked. Thank God we had a general practitioner who saw Andrew for high temperatures, immunizations, a checkup after a broken arm–you name it. Now this.

“I don’t know. He’s growing. I can’t keep him in shoes. He’s going to be tall.”

“How long,” the doctor asked again. I looked at my notes. This doctor was a step up. a podiatrist, a specialist. “A month, longer.”

She nodded. She was continually prodding, pressing, massaging Andrew’s feet, appraising his reactions. She picked up the X-rays she had ordered and looked them over again. “In order to be sure, I’m going to have to do blood work. Or we really could just wait and see.”

“What are we waiting for?” I asked. She had let go of Andrew’s feet. He was pulling on his socks. What twelve-year-old boy likes all this fuss and about feet, no less.

“To see if he has rheumatoid arthritis. It can develop at this age and the pain he is describing is symptomatic.”

“Or his feet are growing,” I said with emphasis. I was fighting back with my own logic. I didn’t want her forcing me down this path of chronic illness, but the purpose of my story is to relate how fortunate I was as a parent to avoid delay, to see a doctor. I had access to healthcare. I could take care of my child no matter what the answer would be.

Remembering Sleeping Beauty

In the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty–a christening party is planned after a princess is born. When the King realizes that he has only twelve golden plates to serve 13 fairies, he invites only 12. But during the party, the 13th fairy arrives. Angered by the slight, her gift is a curse: the princess will later prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. But the youngest fairy, who has hidden behind a curtain so that she can give her gift last, is able to alter the old fairy’s wish. She promises that the princess will only fall asleep and that after 100 years a king’s son will find her and awaken her. This was early healthcare–the best she could do.

And Now the Conclusion to the “Andrew’s Feet” Story 

After a long five days, the podiatrist finally called me. The blood work was normal. No signs of rheumatoid arthritis. My son was growing rapidly and I needed to make sure that he always had proper footwear to support his bones and tissues. I thanked the doctor more than once. A few years later when I needed a podiatrist, she became my doctor.

Healthcare Should be a Gift from Birth

So what’s the connection to the fairy tale? Every child born in our country is a gift. And regardless of their pedigree and financial abilities–they should be given the gift of good healthcare–from the start. Each child born in the U.S. should not need a fairy hiding behind a curtain–they should be able to grow and develop into a healthy adult. We are not a third world country. Everyone of us deserves the proper immunizations and periodic checkups. Every child should be assured the gift of health at his or her birth.

Changing the Ending

In our creative world today, television shows and some books allow the reader or viewer to change the ending. So let’s do that now. Let’s assume that I could not afford a general practitioner to see Andrew. Or let’s assume that he saw a medical person who was not particularly skilled at figuring out what might go wrong with a 13-year-old’s feet! And then let’s assume that Andrew did have rheumatoid arthritis. Check out basic info from the Mayo Clinic: the most common signs and symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis:

Pain. While your child might not complain of joint pain, you may notice that he or she limps — especially first thing in the morning or after a nap.
Swelling. Joint swelling is common but is often first noticed in larger joints like the knee.
Stiffness. You might notice that your child appears clumsier than usual, particularly in the morning or after naps.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can affect one joint or many. In some cases, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis affects the entire body — causing swollen lymph nodes, rashes and fever. Like other forms of arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by times when symptoms flare up and times when symptoms disappear.

If Andrew had developed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, his life would have radically changed, but he also would have had healthcare. My message today: not everyone in the U.S. is as fortunate as Andrew. So…help those who need the following information.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HEALTHCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN NOW Click on this link to learn more. There’s a video on the site to explain the relationship between the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) and CHIP, Children’s Health Insurance Program. On the site you will read: Don’t Wait to Enroll in the Children’s Health Insurance Program
Under ObamaCare kids, there is no reason to wait to make sure kids are covered. Millions of children qualify for CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) 365 days a year. The CHIP program provides free or low cost coverage to kids and other family members, even kids whose parents make too much money for Medicaid coverage can qualify for CHIP. Over the past 15 years, CHIP has done an excellent job in reducing the number of children without health insurance and under the Affordable Care Act even more kids are covered.

Even states that didn’t expand Medicaid still tend to provide good CHIP coverage. In many non-expansion states, parents who wouldn’t normally qualify for Medicaid can qualify if children qualify for CHIP. Medicaid and CHIP cover:

  • Children and teens up to age 19
  • Young people up to 21 may be covered under Medicaid
  • Youth who have “aged out” of foster care can be covered under Medicaid until they reach age 26

More information here. Health Insurance for Children and Young Adults Under 26. healthcare.gov

Every mother or father who has ever drawn breath worries about one thing and one thing alone–the inability to help their sick child. I no longer believe in fairies, but I do believe in government taking care of its citizens. Stay informed. Reach out and give those who need the information provided here. Seeing the photo of a cute kid on television can lead one to believe that everything is all right with the world of children. It is not. But this would not be the United States of America if we fail ONE CHILD–let alone the over eight million that are currently taken care of by (Children’s Health Insurance Program) CHIP.

PHOTOS: US NEWS HEALTH, PINTEREST

Child Healthcare Should be a Right, Not a Fairytale

 

Using “STORY” To Support Facts

Using "STORY" To Support Facts

Story telling is powerful. Presenting an argument using a story is the first step to winning that argument and possibly getting others to follow our thinking. It’s basic psychology. It’s understanding how the brain works. Story is universal. WE LOVE STORY! But the story doesn’t always tell the truth.

Author Lisa Cron provides a succinct analysis in her Ted Talk, Wired for Story. She relates how we believe things over time because of the stories we have heard–her example: “women are responsible for a clean house.” She believed this story because every cleaning commercial she had ever seen showed women using the product.  Eventually she realized the story wasn’t true for many reasons–but it helped her understand its power. Story is emotion. We evaluate life and our choices through the emotion of story and we have to FEEL something in order to make choices: our spouse, our home, our clothing etc. Story is the reason our ancestors knew NOT to eat the red berries. Because someone died and the stories got passed along. Cron points out that story is often how we survive.

The message in THE LION KING? You either run from the past (the story) or you learn from it. How you think about a story is always related to how you feel about it.

In her Ted Talk, Cron mentions TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee, underlining that the author used “story” to move us in a different direction so that as a people we could combat decades of racism in American culture. That novel, that story about Scout Finch, a young girl living in American’s South, changed many people’s hearts and cut into the formidable stain of racism. Cron says: “You aren’t reading about Scout, you are Scout. Story takes you there.”

Former First Lady, Laura Bush, said that Lee’s book was a prime example of how words can create strong ideas and impact the mindset of readers for decades. All the scholarly facts and figures about race might not have had as profound an effect as the words of Atticus Finch and Scout in that  story.

When you boldly think about it, racism is a learned pattern of thinking that humans become exposed to through story–while they are growing up. It’s like young Thomas or Claire deciding not to like Uncle Dennis, because of all the stories they’ve heard from their family: Dennis swears, always wears the same shirt, has been known to tell dirty jokes and once stayed with the family for a week and never offered to pay for a meal. But then Thomas and Claire meet Dennis and within an hour discover he’s kind, will play ball out in the yard and knows more about science exploration than anyone. He’s not a bad guy–he’s just not, for reasons the kids can’t figure out, a family favorite. Story is powerful and you might still not like certain people in your life because of a STORY you once heard about them.

Now think about someone you’ve met who is against vaccines, telling a story about a child she knew getting autism from being vaccinated. In the book, DENYING TO THE GRAVE, WHY WE IGNORE the FACTS THAT WILL SAVE US, Sara and Jack Gorman explore story as a means to understand and then counteract harmful lies. They relate that we should not dismiss and walk away from people who deny facts. Instead, we should be challenged to counteract their beliefs. (WOW. Just think about the present political climate, everything resting on it, and all the lies floating around. THAT’S a CHALLENGE.)

The writers of DENYING TO THE GRAVE have found that when it comes to believing in science, we humans are uncomfortable with an event that does not have a clear cause–like autism–so we tend to fill in the gaps ourselves. Being emphatic creatures who can learn human understanding from the story of Scout Finch, we might deny science after hearing the story “you get autism from vaccines.” And we might stay there. The story has power, creates images in the imagination that statistics cannot always overcome.

Story is power and that’s why writers in widely read publications like TIME MAGAZINE, begin a news article by zooming in on ONE PERSON that story has affected. We readers immediately find our brains connecting with that ONE PERSON and so the facts begin to stick with us–the smart writer leaving the statistics for later, after the empathetic part of your brain has already been hooked.

DENYING THE GRAVE concludes that instead of chastising folks for their belief in a story,  we should figure out why we are drawn to this story in the first place and work to change minds with compassion and understanding–not disdain.

I challenge all of us to do that every day. When we hear stories that fall on our ears as lies, we should attempt a kind response, one that draws empathy from our listener, one that might be part of our own personal story, one that helps build a STORY for the truth.

Photo Credit: www.mlparentcoach.com

Using "STORY" To Support Facts

The Grandmother Hypothesis and Grandparents Day

The Grandmother Hypothesis and Grandparents Day

If you ask the evolutionary question: why do women continue to live after they are no longer able to bear, birth and breastfeed children, you come up with a researched and very interesting answer. They continue to be part of the evolutionary plan because they become grandmothers. And that is terribly important.

THE GRANDMOTHER HYPOTHESIS

In the 1980s, anthropologist Kristin Hawkes and her colleagues studied the Hadza tribe, the last known hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, Africa. Their findings:

1. the tribe’s old women did not just rest, they worked, digging up a deeply-buried tuber which provided the main source of starch for the tribe’s diet.

2. though the young women also dug for the tubers, the older women spent more time at this task, leaving early in the morning and coming back late in the evening.

3. and because of the presence of this food in the diet, the grandchildren of these older women had better growth rates.

From these observations, came the “grandmother hypothesis.” Simply stated: women past childbearing age help not just their children, but their children’s children. They strengthen the genealogy of the family, insuring that the line will continue. Having such a role or purpose eventually lengthened their own life span. When no longer required to carry an infant around, they were freed up to do work that helped their progeny. And very importantly, by foraging for more food, they prevented their grandchildren from dying. All generations were aided as the lengthening of the life span was then passed on.

The researchers added that the “grandmother hypothesis” clarified why humans are able to have children in quick succession, whereas in other species there are long gaps. Example: chimp mothers wait 5 or 6 years to give birth to another neonate. But with tribal grandmothers available, the younger women could continue to have children. This collaborative child-rearing allowed the young woman to focus on the next baby while the grandmother took care of the toddlers.

In her piece in the New Republic that analyzes the “grandmother hypothesis” Judith Shulevitz writes of another very positive reason for grandmothers –As the grandmother effect spread throughout the population over thousands of generations, it changed humans in another way. It made their brains bigger. As life lengthened, so did each stage of it. Children stayed children longer, which let their brains develop a more complex neural architecture.

WHY GRANDPARENTING IS SO IMPORTANT

It is my belief that grandparenting is the most important family role of the new century, says Roma Hanks PhD. There is much to substantiate that claim. In a society where many women have to work or choose to work, daycare centers, schools and grandparents often replace the role of the parent. Hanks is referring to the gifts that grandparents can bring to children whose parents are stressed and often emotionally unavailable because of work schedules and the worry of providing basic needs. In these cases and in families where life flows more easily, grandparents are vital in helping a family thrive.

Children need guidance, love and someone to listen to their fears and worries. Grandparents easily become that source and a bond forms, allowing for future communication.
Grandparents can babysit, allowing stressed moms and dads a chance to get away and relate to one another.
Grandparents can relate family stories, creating a history that forges a bond and provides a child with a sense of place and security.
Grandparents can be a source of information, providing advice, guidance and just plain helping out–like locating the phone number of a doctor.
Grandparents can be role models for their children’s parenting and for their grandchildren’s relationships with others. The love and gentleness found in the home is the first step to forming good citizens of the world who will have their own relationships and build their own families in the decades ahead.
In the end, grandparents can offer a shoulder to cry on, words of encouragement, or gentle reassurance to both their children and their grandchildren.

CHILDREN OF DEPRESSED MOTHERS

Kate Fogarty, PhD, stressed the importance of the protective role grandparents can play when grandchildren are cared for by a depressed mother. Her research showed that the formation of loving bonds between grandparents and those children could help develop positive behavior, increase cognitive development and prevent behavioral problems. She even went so far as to say that the possibility of the depression being passed to these children could be broken by the grandparent/grandchild relationship–a win win.

And though Fogarty’s research was with grandparents, certainly the role of loving aunts, uncles and friends will always make a positive difference in a child’s life.

IT IS TRULY ALL ABOUT FAMILY

There’s the familiar line: “If I’d known how wonderful it is to have grandchildren, I would have had them first.” What is that all about? Probably that with grandchildren comes experience, confidence in the role to be played, freedom from the harder aspects of child-rearing and the amazing chance to see once again the future in a child’s eyes.

Certainly some grandparents have more nitty-gritty responsibility for their grandchildren than others. Some are doing much of the raising and rearing. Some show up only for the fun times, like birthdays and holidays.

But hopefully most grandparents find the middle acceptable ground–they are eager to role up their sleeves and help when needed and they are always desirous of telling family stories, reading well-loved books, taking exploratory walks or singing well-loved songs. It’s a little like reliving your parenting. It’s a lot like looking into the future and once again having that uplifting feeling of knowing something of you will live on. That’s truly important.

Celebrate Grandparents day, Sunday, September 11th, 2016

The Grandmother Hypothesis and Grandparents Day

Thanks to Google Images and grandparents.about.com

When Fathering Girls: Love and Protection

When Fathering Girls: Love and Protection

When Fathering Girls: Love and Protection

We’ve heard it over and over, but it’s still a truism, having a father is good for a girl. Having a father provides a girl with love and protection, encouragement and a relationship that is just WELL different, from what moms provide. Yes, there are troubled relationships between girls and their mothers and they could also occur between girls and their fathers. But for a girl to grow up and navigate the world of love and sex, marriage and children, or having children with a man without benefit of marriage, that father figure if he is loving and understanding, supportive and open-minded, can truly give that girl a head start. And if he is not?

Maybe he has only one of the above qualities. I don’t meant to describe the perfect father that maybe doesn’t exist. But I do believe a girl’s presence in a man’s life can soften his edges, open his eyes to the future of all of his dealings with women in a way no one else can. His daughter is the FUTURE of womanhood–as he relates to it. And he wants the best for her. Yes, he wants that for his wife, but caught in the constraints of time–he now sees more for his daughter. He sees change and advancement stretching out into the future and he routes for her. He begins to believe that girls, just like boys, can thrive.

This all might sound dated. You’re thinking–things have changed–all men are aware of the importance of fathering their daughters. We don’t need songs about it, like Billy Bigelow singing in the musical comedy, Carousel.

You can have fun with a son, But you gotta be a father to a girl.
She mightn’t be so bad at that, A kid with ribbons in her hair!
…But my little girl Gets hungry ev’ry night and she comes home to me!

Both parents prepare for their children and want to do the best for them. But life gets in the way. Families are so different now–with step-fathers and absent fathers and fathers raising children with no mother. The ability to fly from coast to coast, take jobs in different places or work remotely via the internet has also affected the composition of the family. Sometimes the mother is the constant, but sometimes it’s the father. That’s great, as long as there is a constant.

My father died when I was three. But I had a mother who was so loving and understanding, who put her children first, always, that I turned out all right. There were uncles in my life, fathers of my friends. They helped me see how fatherhood worked. Once, my father took me to see his brother, my uncle. But the man had a new television and was more interested in talking about how it worked. My mother related this little story more than once–how my dad came home with me in his arms and said to my mother: THEY JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT WE HAVE HERE. That’s father-love. I felt it then and it  sustained me through the years at some level, because I turned out all right.

The protective role of the father is needed more than ever in a world of Face Book and photo sharing, pornography and the sexualization of young girls. Readers might remember  when five-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered in the basement of her family’s Colorado home on December 26, 1996. JonBenet participated in child beauty pageants, because her mother had been a beauty queen and supposedly JonBenet wanted to echo what her mother did.

In an interview in 2012 her father, John Ramsey, reacting to the popularity of the reality television show TODDLERS AND TIARAS, said that letting his daughter compete in pageants is something he regrets. “Only because- that possibly might have drawn attention to us. I don’t know. But-  I think for- for advice to a parent is just recognize that- regardless of where you live, there- there could be evil around you. And- and don’t be naive about it. And keep your kids protected.” Even in death, that’s hard to do as a television series about JonBenet’s life and death will be airing soon.

Writer Naomi Schaefer Riley took a hard look at the reality show TODDLERS AND TIARAS. She wrote: One father, who had a rap sheet of drug and alcohol abuse, sued for custody of his daughter. The girl, now 6, was a regular on the pageant circuit, where she appeared dressed as Dolly Parton, complete with padded bra and enhancements for her rear end. Apparently, her father wasn’t happy about this.

Thousands of girls appear in these pageants, along with hundreds more on television shows glamorizing the whole culture of miniaturized sex objects. Last year, one of the 3-year-olds on the Toddlers & Tiaras reality show dressed up as Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman, before Richard Gere sent her on a shopping spree. Another little girl appeared singing Sexy and I Know It at a nightclub.

(My milllennial son was so upset about this he wrote a song about it.) I can’t imagine this for my daughters and granddaughters. I didn’t even like them watching the film Pretty Woman when it came out in 1990 and they were sixteen and twelve. I recently watched the film again. It is still true fantasy that could never ever happen to a prostitute. And I am sure the film has been used by pimps as a device to lure innocent but desperate girls. But many will still say ah, it’s so light-hearted! Maybe, but crosses a line that’s hard to pinpoint.

In her article Riley stresses the importance of fathers being involved in their daughter’s lives. She states: A protective presence lets girls grow outside the sexualized pressure of our culture. She is so right!

Where once fathers might play ball with their male progeny, now they can pick a sport or an activity that their daughters want to pariticpate in. And if busy work and travel schedules make attending practices difficult (and this can be mothers too) it’s not hard to find time to sit and talk about what a daughter has achieved in gym class or dance, softball or piano. SOMETHING! Attention and time with DAD is what girls need and fathers too. You can’t always know your child while they are part of the larger family crowd. One to one is meaningful and necessary. A game of chess or checkers, a walk, and the always possible drive in the car provides a quiet time to find out what’s going on in your daughter’s head.

Let’s hear it for slowing down the push to grow up; for reaching a plateau of growth that can be celebrated and yet HELD ON TO for awhile. Blink and your daughter (or your son) is beyond your control and you are asking what you did wrong. STOP THE CLOCK. Talk to her. Put her on the pedestal of attention she deserves. Protect her from stupid choices that can bring her sorrow. Love and protection are key. And beauty pageants? She’s beautiful in your eyes. Others eyes can wait until she’s an adult and ready to walk in the wide world.

Thanks to shutterstock.com and storyhighlighto and pinterest.com

When Fathering Girls: Love and Protection

Sorry-but this is NOT Cute.

Breaking Into The Conversation

Breaking Into The Conversation

You’re with a group of people. It could be family. It could be a gathering of friends. Or even your work buddies out to relax or maybe form a group to complain about something going on within the office walls. Then consider: you want to break into the conversation, but you can’t. Even with family gatherings this happens–no one is giving you an opening because someone is the leader, someone is choosing the topics and you find you are no longer listening but just waiting, waiting for a chance to break in. You lose the thread of the conversation. Or after a while you don’t even care.

CONVERSATION SHOULD BE AN EXCHANGE OF IDEAS 

  • We all anticipate being with people we care about and sharing conversation.
  • Often we are tired at the end of the day and eager for something fun.
  • And to add to our eagerness, we dressed up to be with friends for some meaningful exchanges.

This is part of being a member of society–the anticipation of TALKING to one another. You might even have some news you want to share and you’re just excited to be with this group and see their reactions and how they will support you. (Come on People, we still like the warmth of camaraderie and don’t have to open our minds and souls through Facebook all the time, but can wait for that gathering of hugs and smiles to give our news.)

We all crave that small spotlight when people will focus on us and listen to what we have to say. The KEY is the exchange. And friends and family can be so generous about our news or our opinions. From youth to old age–being able to steer the conversation is empowering and helps us grow no matter the topic:

a new job; the choice of a school or a career; the person we are dating or going to marry; the person we just broke up with; the death of a friend or someone being ill or someone injured or someone recovering. We made money; we lost money. We just met someone the group already knows; we have a new idea for our art work, writing project, music presentation. There are millions of topics. So enough–you get the idea.

But what if you’re having a bad time and you can’t break in or you suddenly don’t want to break in. There are a variety of reactions to this.

  • you give up and walk away
  • you try even harder to break in
  • you find yourself getting angry
  • you attempt to peel the person sitting next to you away from the group

I’ve been in situations with friends when the conversation was all about people I did not know. Everyone else was comfortable with remembering these folks, but since I didn’t know them, I sat quietly wondering when the conversation would take a turn into a topic where I could join in. Has that happened to any of you?

I think if you care about the group you are with you tend to be patient, maybe help yourself to another drink and wait for things to change. But if this happens to you a number of times, you tend to become sensitive to groups that do that. Your awareness of making a conversation COMFORTABLE for everyone in the room becomes one of your goals. When you are the host you are very aware of this. Conversation can be hurtful. Unfortunately it goes with bringing a variety of people together. Drinking can loosen tongues. You intended to have a fun party and maybe there are people leaving your gathering with hurt feelings and unless they tell you, you will never know.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WILL YOU DO?

There are going to be many situations in the next six plus months where the main topic of conversation will be politics. I think in some situations we will have to decide to preserve the friendship and so if the person is on the other side–better not to go there at all–or give it a try?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Again, what will you do?

It’s a hard choice. Strong feelings about a candidate can make us want to get up on a bully pulpit and shout to the world. If only we could always stay on an intellectual plain of ideas. Tricky, tricky stuff.

FLOOD YOUR BRAIN WITH IDEAS 

I found this note in one of my notebooks: Each of us has a pool of stories, opinions that we offer in conversation when there is an opening, when we find the space to express our views. But what if this pool would become so narrowed down that we might be expressing 20-25 ideas. There is never an excuse for not reading and learning about possibilities. The world is wide open inviting us to read, consider and take new things in our minds and hearts. Maybe that will help us break into the conversation of living–and people will no longer ignore what we have to say. They will be eager to give us an opening–they will be looking to us to YES, guide the conversation.

AGAIN, WHAT DO YOU THINK?  WISHING US ALL GOOD LUCK WITH THIS ONE.

Photo: Merlot Marketing.comBreaking Into The Conversation

Breaking Into The Conversation

A Feminist Easter Story for Children

A Feminist Easter Story for Children

A reprint of my favorite Easter post.

Many people, Christian and non-Christian, have heard of Mary Magdalene. She appears in the Bible at prominent places in Christ’s life—two being at Easter: she was with the women who discovered Jesus had risen from the dead. And in another reading, she comes upon Jesus in the garden adjacent to the tomb. She mistakes him for a gardener. Such a lovely story to awaken deeper Easter meanings–this woman was highly regarded and blessed–a new idea for that time.

Easter is spring and rebirth and invites us always to look at our lives and to grasp new ideas, live our lives differently, make our lives better. Spring holds so many symbols of rebirth and rethinking. Even the plethora of chicks and bunnies says that on a small level. But the birth of new ideas is what we need to focus on. And what better way than to teach children, the coming generations, equality for everyone–male and female.

Maybe that’s why DuBose Heyward, a southern author who is best known for his novel Porgy that was the basis for Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, wrote The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes. The title page states: as told to Jenifer, his daughter, who needed to know that her sex didn’t have to hold her back from becoming anything she wanted to be.

This heart-felt story cherished by many families during the Easter season, tells the tale of a simple mother bunny and how she became one of the five Easter Bunnies who travel the world bringing baskets of colored eggs and candy to children. With a copyright of 1939, it’s a tale ahead of its time.

The storyteller describes his heroine as: “a little country girl bunny with a brown skin and a little cotton-ball of a tail.” Her dream was to grow up and become one of the Easter Bunnies. “You wait and see!” she would say. But the Jack Rabbits with long legs and the big white bunnies who lived in fine houses scoffed at her and put her down.

After Cottontail grows up and has twenty-one Cottontail babies, these same Jacks and big rabbits really laugh at her. “What did we tell you! Only a country rabbit would go and have all those babies. Now take care of them and leave Easter eggs to great big men bunnies like us.” Heyward writes that “they went away liking themselves very much.” Note that Heyward’s editor wanted Cottontail to have a husband, but in the end she is a single mom.

The Grandfather Easter Bunny who is wise and kind, lives in the Palace of the Easter Eggs. In the story he must select a fifth bunny. This is Cottontail’s chance. She brings all of her 21 children to the tryouts where the Grandfather cannot help but notice her.

He tests her to see if she is as wise and kind as he is. But she must also be swift. When she scatters her 21 children and in seconds is able to round them up again, the Grandfather is convinced. She will be his fifth Easter Bunny. The writer tells us that when Cottontail arrives at the Palace of the Easter Eggs for this amazing duty, the other four Easter Bunnies do not laugh at her—“for they were wise and kind and knew better.”

Cottontail meets her challenges during this charming tale, her deep desire and loving heart capturing every reader and providing a sunny Easter morning finish.

Anita Silvey on her website A Book-A-Day-Almanac writes: The story stresses the importance of hope, determination, and courage. Not only was the book a feminist statement in a time when this perspective was rarely shown, it also celebrates the achievements of a brown bunny rather than a white one. Yet at no point does the reader ever feel as if they are being given a polemic—Heyward has created a totally satisfying world.

The copy I own is a First Printing, copyright 1939, paper edition. It is well-worn and well-loved. It might even be the one my mother read to me. But I know it’s the one I read to my three children. For anyone wanting to celebrate spring, rebirth and ideas that are meaningful–this simple story is powerful and yet gentle at the same time. Enjoy.

I want to thank my daughter, Christie, who is also a mother to a daughter and values this story for the simple power it holds for adult and child readers alike.

For more ideas on this interpretation go here.

Thanks to Istock Photos. Thanks to Washington Post photos.

A Feminist Easter Story for Children

Conversations: Younger Self, Older Self

Conversations: Younger Self, Older Self

Breathe in the perfume of the peony flowers parading down the front walk

What would it be like if my Younger self and my Older self had some conversations with each other. I decided to try it, to see what memories I could recapture and how they would touch me. To see how reflecting back and forward might illuminate some things. To see where I might still be going on life’s journey.

So Younger says to Older:  Walk with me, okay? Let’s go outside–come and take my hand. We’re going out the front door of the house where you were raised. The door is heavy, give it a push; the floor boards of the porch shift downwards toward the street and the steps creak. Breathe in the perfume of the peony flowers parading down the front walk–better yet, let’s run and pick up some of those petals, toss them up toward the blue sky and watch them fall onto the grass. It’s spring–the bushes are full around the front yard–so no one can see us. We can climb the mulberry tree, but don’t eat those berries and remember you don’t like it when you step on the fallen ones and they stick to your shoes. Messy. But hurry now, and let’s run into the backyard, ’cause the mock orange bushes are in bloom. Another great smell.

Jeanie might come over later and we can play in our fort behind the garage. But right now let’s swing. You take the swing nearest the garage, pump hard now and up you’ll go, up and up so that your toes feel like they’re touching the top of the apple tree. But your toes can’t touch the house–because the flowering apple tree hides it–but you know it’s there, that grey house in the sunshine. That’s where mother sits typing in the dining room. She’s always there when you need her. And your body shivers a bit with contentment–the swing, the grass, the clouds, the birds–and the very best, the sun on your face.

So Older responds back to Younger: I knew about love living in that house. I felt love every day of my life, and even though my father died when I was very young–my mother made up for that loss. And my brothers. Then I found a true friend, right in the neighborhood. A boy-friend at that. I found that “other” who loved me–my mistakes as well as my brilliant flashes of insight. Together we found our differences to be the best glue for our bond. And we helped each other through the ups and downs of becoming adults. And then we married and had three children. But Younger, you didn’t always understand that your life and its trajectory was NOT like the lives of many people. You didn’t get that. Then, as a teacher at a high school you truly woke up–met children who had no food in their houses, few changes of clothing, few chances in life. And then even later in your life, you found more wisdom when you decided to become a nurse and worked at a hospital where often your patient was a thirteen-year-old girl.

That was hard, Younger. Because you were still very much running the show and you wanted to be judgmental–to ask: Why had this girl not stopped the passion or experimentation or alcoholic stupor that was NOW bringing a new life into the world? Didn’t she have the voice in her head that we had, the voice to guide her? Well, it didn’t take long to realize she did not. She didn’t have the grey house and the mother typing in the dining room.

But Younger, my Older self decided that in birth there had to be hope. That somewhere in her world this new mother, though so young, knew what love was, knew because of someone. And she could parent, model, could repeat in her actions that love she once knew. Or her child would bring her into that light.

But it was a struggle–to crack open my older heart so that my belief in a sustaining relationship between this girl-mother and her child would overcome my initial negative judgment. So Younger, you know what happened? Conversation. I talked to these young mothers about love, about gentle care–I did that despite risking that they might turn away, think me a fool. I even mentioned caution with the male person in their life, the father of the baby. I encouraged that they focus on their child and not another sexual encounter. Later, I even became part of a social project called RISING STAR, teaching pregnant teens how to care for their unborn child through good health practices and how to set goals so that a high school diploma would be what they would seek instead of immediately having another child. (Read more about this period in my life here.)

Younger, you were so fortunate to have what you had growing up.The love and understanding of our family helped you achieve, helped you to become empathetic so that you could reach out to others and help them–something that continually brings peace and happiness back to me now.

The world says that wisdom increases with age. Younger, I believe that as we age, we learn how to examine life events with more care and with more empathy. When good things happen in our own lives, it helps us reach out to others–to want good things for others. It’s about spreading joy and love. Younger, I attempted that as a maternity nurse. I did that as a mother. But I was blessed because I was modeling back what I had already learned from my own beginnings, the love that filled my home–being you, Younger.

This conversation between us, Younger/Older has clarified some things. And I want to thank you, Younger, for one thing especially–your memory. That was a guide for me, a pathway, a map. When an Older me got scared or lost or wanted to give up–I remembered my Younger self, my positive beginnings and I held on to those. I know others can succeed, Younger, even if they don’t have what we had. But it’s a much harder journey. Let’s remember that. Let’s reach out and help when we can.

Photo Credits: daily mail. co. uk

Conversations: Younger Self, Older Self

But my Older self decided that in birth there had to be hope.