Category Archives: Being a Better Parent

Teaching Kids to “Respect Their Elders”– Is It A Lost Cause?


Sorry for not writing for more than a few days, but I’ve been deep in thought and research about a topic that I know is near and dear to many parents’ (and grandparents’) hearts, not to mention Aretha Franklin’s: Respect. It has occurred to me this fall that, among the many values that Andy and I have actively tried to impart to our kids over the years, respect for adults has not been one of those we’ve worked especially hard at.  Geesh,  do we have to teach everything? Can’t some things just occur naturally? Well, for our oldest, respect for adults pretty much did come naturally, with the exception of the adults known as her parents, but hers is more of a “defying parents for the sake of defiance” issue rather than respect.  As far as I know and have seen over these past (almost) 17 years of her life, she is generally nothing but polite to teachers and other adults in her life.  We often hear compliments on her maturity and politeness.  Our youngest is a different story. I should have taken more notice during past Girl Scout meetings, when Emmie would talk to others while I or another leader would be trying to explain something to the group.  I should have taken more notice during elementary school—teachers would tell us she was talking back to them in class, talking while they were talking, arguing an unjust punishment for herself or others, laughing at something they’d say to her when she wasn’t supposed to be laughing…we’d implore her to behave and to stop getting in trouble. But we rarely had her look at things from the respect side—it’s not just “Behave so you won’t get into trouble”, it’s also, “These people are older than you, know a lot more than you, spend almost every day teaching you, and deserve your respect, or at least deserve to be treated with respect, whether you agree with everything they do and say or not.  Just like you like to be respected by younger kids.”  Emmie is a pretty deep thinker—I think she might have grasped that concept, especially if she’d heard it repeatedly, as I’m sure some parents repeat as often as they remind their babies to brush their teeth, when babies start getting teeth. But maybe because she’s the baby, we let things slide?


Now in Jr. High and about 5 weeks away from becoming a teenager, it’s not teachers she’s disrespecting– it’s us.  Our baby, the sweet, empathetic one, the one who gives random hugs and is still not afraid to snuggle up next to either parent in the church pew on Sunday? Say it ain’t so!  But, just like she thought she was on the same level as her teachers back in elementary school, she truly thinks she’s on the same level as her parents. Here’s a recent example: I need to make a phone call one evening while I’m at my computer, and so I pick up the phone on my desk. Before I can dial the numbers, I hear girl voices on the phone and realize that Emmie is talking to a friend. “Hey Emmie, I need to make a call so you’ll need to get off now,” I say into the phone. That’s happened before– it’s routine in a two-story house when I can’t hear what’s going on upstairs, and me telling her that should be no big deal–  in the past she has wrapped up her call and called the friend back later. But this time she argues with me over the phone, with her friend still on the line.


“You can use your cell phone,” she tells me. (Excuse me, what?!)


“No, I don’t want to use my cell phone, you have your own cell phone that you can use,” I say. 


“I don’t know where mine is,” she says.


“Well, you need to find it and get off of the phone now.  I need to make a call.”


She won’t give up.  I ask Andy to help out, and when she hears he is coming she tells her friend good-bye and gets off the phone, but she is not happy, and makes it known to him.  All about how rude I am and how I can use my cell phone just as easily as she can. He tries to explain to her that the reception on my cell phone inside the house isn’t that great and that, especially for a business call, I need to use the land line.  But she doesn’t understand.  She thinks that whenever she asks me to use my other phone, I should be polite and just use it—“No other parent would be rude by saying no!” she spouted.  He tries to explain to her that I am the adult and she is the child, but she’ll have nothing of that talk.  She goes into a rage and proceeds to lose many privileges.


In the aftermath, I realize that while consequences for bad behavior are important, Andy and I have to get to the root of the problem if any behavior/attitude is going to change— this phone incident isn’t isolated, and after all these years of “sliding by”, she really does see herself on the same playing field as an adult. Can we possibly get her to learn respect at this stage?


According to many experts, it’s going to be hard…respect is something that should be instilled from toddlerhood on.  But what else can we do but try? Among the tips I gathered recently, I liked the following, which, if used regularly, may help us and anyone else who needs a respect boost:


-If you don’t want kids to put themselves at your level, don’t put yourself at their level. Don’t allow  yourself to get into an argument with a child—repeat your request and follow up with consequences if needed, but don’t defend your request. You can let it be known that you will be happy to discuss things later, but at present, you need such-and-such to happen. So many experts say again and again, Use As Few Words As Possible. Be Succinct. Be Firm. And, (deep breath) Be Calm.


-If a child calls you to ask you something in your house (non-emergency of course), no matter how small or how big the house, don’t get up and go to them.  If they need something, they need to come to you and ask in person. Do not set up the atmosphere that you are at their beck and call. If you need to ask them something, they need to come to you as well.


-Make sure you are modeling respect of elders by acting respectful toward those who are older than you—your own parents, other older relatives, etc.  If you need to vent about something, do so to your spouse or a friend out of earshot of your children.


-Constantly remind your kids to be respectful of adults when the child is going to a friend’s house, a club meeting, etc.  I think some kids have the mentality that they don’t want to be seen as a “suck up” or Teacher’s Pet, but there is a difference in being kind and respectful and being an “Eddie Haskell” (yeah, I’m showing my age with that one and I don’t care). Have them get comfortable with simply asking adults, “Is there anything I can do to help?” I hear that rarely from kids but when I do, it’s such sweet music. Follow up when your child returns, and ask them if they were able to help.


-Be confident and sure of yourself in front of your kids—leave the self-doubts for another place and time.  Use whatever it takes to help you feel that way— prayer and quiet time; music (the theme song from “Rocky” perhaps? “We are the Champions”? J); parenting books/tapes (I always feel like I have a confident edge for about 24 hours after I listen to a Love and Logic CD while cleaning or driving); television (old reruns of The Cosby Show or Andy Griffith can do the trick…or watching whoever else you think is a “confident parent” role model); reading this blog so that you know you’re not alone; and treating yourself well, i.e. getting enough sleep and eating right, can also go a long way in helping you be on top of your game. It’s amazing how much better I can face the stressful late afternoons of chauffeuring cranky kids around when I’ve snuck a snack in my purse. But what does being confident and treating yourself well have to do with respect? When you’ve got your act together, you’re less likely to put yourself on a child’s level when the going gets tough– not to mention that kids, especially older ones, will give some measure of respect to someone who’s confident rather than someone who’s always second-guessing themselves.


What do you do, if anything, in your family to help foster respect for adults?  Or what did your parents do for you? I’m all ears…(’cause I’ve been “in the dark” for so long…)

It’s Cold Here Out On This Limb…

I have a friend who raised her daughter with the philosophy of never saying no, of never having her be upset for too long, of always giving her what she wanted, no matter how crazy the request or how far the parents would have to bend over backwards to grant it.  It didn’t matter if they hurt themselves while bending over—whatever she wanted, she got.  “I don’t like hearing the crying and carrying on,” my friend told me.  “It’s so much easier this way.”  Hah, I thought to myself, easier now, but just wait ‘til later. I imagined the girl as an incorrigible, unpleasant diva as an adult. 

Well, “later” is here– she’s an adult now, and as far as I can see, she’s  a nice, intelligent college graduate who lives on her own;  a law-abiding, church-going, tax-paying citizen with a good job and lots of friends.  Maybe it’s extra tough on her when disappointments happen, small or large… I don’t know…but by all accounts, she seems well-adjusted and “raised well.”

Lately I’ve wondered if I should become “cool” like my friend, giving in to whatever my kids want—letting them text and watch TV even when homework needs to be done, buying endless amounts of junk food and running to the nearest Wendy’s or Arby’s whenever they ask, giving them an endless  clothing budget, providing transportation at their every beck and call, and when they throw aggressive tantrums if something’s not to their liking, never punishing them for their behavior—soothe the savage beast instead, dry the tears.  I might end up in the poorhouse while embracing this style of parenting, but oh, wouldn’t it be easier on my well-being while getting there…

-I wouldn’t have to go through gut-wrenching second-guessing for days after I’ve taken a privilege away or imposed a sanction

-I wouldn’t have to see my children sob and beg for a replacement punishment (“You can take my phone away for a year, make me take care of the dogs from now on…anything but this!!”)

-I wouldn’t have to be at odds with my husband (he believes after a parent has taken a privilege away that kids ought to be able to “buy back” the privilege with good behavior… I don’t.)

-I wouldn’t have to miss out on planned “date nights” with said husband (when you ground a kid who has threatened to leave the house anyway, I think it’s important to stick around!).

-I wouldn’t have to hear the words “I hate you, Mom!” (I’ll bet my friend never heard that from her daughter…)

-I wouldn’t have to be badgered with a zillion excuses and manipulative statements to try to get me to change my mind, such as:

                I don’t do this often.  Why are you being so harsh?

                Mom, you’ve lost your cool before—why can’t I?

                This privilege means so much to me—why didn’t you

                pick something else?

                Can I just be grounded for ½ the evening?

 Can I have a freebie this one time?

It’s tough standing your ground with kids, especially when you love them with all your heart and hate to see them upset.  It feels unnatural—you want to make everything all right.  The mothering instinct is to protect.  And even though that’s what I’m ultimately trying to do…why does it have to hurt so much?

Uncool parenting ought to come with a warning label—DO NOT TRY THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE A SPO– USE OR PARTNER, ONE WHO IS UNCOOL  AS WELL.  AND IF YOU DON’T, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A LIVE-IN MASSE– USE.  Or at least one that works close by… AND REALLY, REALLY THICK SKIN, AND AN IRON HEART…     


Dieting With My Daughter: So Far, So Good

Looking back, I must say it really was genius.  To casually mention, in front of my teenage daughter, how interesting it is that my fitness instructor is doing the Atkins Diet to help lower her cholesterol and is losing weight as a side benefit– and my teen “grabbed it and ran”.  “Let’s try it!” she said.  She and I have now been following Atkins for about 7 weeks, and doing pretty good.  While I had a feeling that Allison would want to try it since she’s always wanting to do something different from the pack (last year she was a vegetarian and this year she bought clip-in hair extensions), and I knew she’d been wanting badly to shed a few pounds to get to a healthier weight, and I always thought it might be fun to diet together (my mother and I had tried a few diets together in the 70’s), and I definitely knew that if Allison was ever going to diet with me, her motivation would have to come from her and not uncool mom–  did I really realize, on that day back in June, all the possible positive outcomes of “lighting the diet fire” so that she could fan the flames? I’m not sure. But what a great decision it’s been, for several reasons:

1. A loud, persistent teen is a pretty good diet motivator.  For many years, I’ve been wanting to eat healthier, exercise more, and lose weight, but have always been “too busy”.  The energy of a demanding teenager is great energy to put behind starting a diet.  Once we decided to try this, I might still be waiting to buy an Atkins how-to book if not for her daily nagging: “Mom, have you bought an Atkins book yet?” “Mom, when are you going to buy the book?” “MOM– GO BUY THE BOOK!!” I bought it, and she read it first, on our road trip to Iowa in June.  Talk about having a personal trainer LIVING IN YOUR OWN HO– USE!!! Once she read the book, the next nagging I heard was, “Mom, when are you going grocery shopping?” “Mom, we need to stock up on certain things.” “MOM, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO THE STORE??”

2. When your teen really believes in the idea of a good diet, the junk food goes away and the whole family eats healthier foods.  I remember Mom and I trying jicama and brussel sprouts when I was a teen, and fixing some for Dad…this summer, there has been no junk food in the freezer or refined white flour and corn-laden, salty snack foods in our pantry– no chicken nuggets or onion rings, no potato chips, pretzels, or cheese puffs, and I haven’t heard any complaints from Allison…or Emmie and Andy! I make (or buy) a different dip, hummus, or cheese ball every week and keep it in a divided tray in the fridge with plenty of baby carrots and other cut-up veggies, and that seems to be working as a “replacement”. 

3. Your teen’s well-being, and your own, improve when progress is made.  She’s been getting a lot of compliments from friends and I’ve been getting them from my husband– and I went clothes shopping the other day and discovered I’d gone down a size, for the first time since…I can’t remember when!  (The only drawback is that soon I might hear her say, “Mom, I need a whole new wardrobe!!”)

4. Dieting together can be a good bonding experience. I remember my mom and I kvetching together over The Scarsdale Diet, trying to get our mind off the fact that we felt hungry all the time and couldn’t stop thinking about food, and could hardly wait until the next meal.  That is definitely not the case with Atkins, but Allison and I do get excited whenever I discover a new lo-carb meal idea or snack food at the grocery store, and one day we spent a long time at Central Market together looking at all the vegetables, marveling at the names we never see in other stores, buying a few to try.  Also, I’ve started going to exercise classes three times a week (remember that “destination walking” I was trying to do? The summer heat sapped my enthusiasm for that even before the thermometer reached the 100s) and so far Allison has joined me a couple times for a Zumba class (what a hoot).  Our teamwork and bonding can also be felt when we eat with others who aren’t doing Atkins– it would be much harder to watch Andy and Emmie get pasta, rice or potatoes with their meal if we were the only one not getting it. It would have been harder to be at the wedding reception last week or the BBQ on the 4th of July and be the only one not piling their plate with tortilla chips or potato salad.  “Mom, what can we eat?” she’ll ask me in those kinds of situations, and I’ll let her know.  And, I think it’s good to have a diet buddy as we go through the phases and transition into “maintenance”– for me, it’s not so much of a “diet” any more as much as it’s a way of eating healthier (basically, no refined starches or sugars, high fructose corn syrup is BAD and don’t be afraid of good fats), and I hope as school starts and life gets back to old routines that I can help her remember this new one.

So much media air time and print space is often devoted to being uber-cautious about “teens and diets”, telling us again and again on how moms better not push their girls to diet or harp on their weight or they’re going to send their daughters straight into the throes of poor self image and anorexia. While I whole-heartedly agree (I have never once pushed or harped on this issue and do not believe that magazine model sizes are the epitome of beauty), I do think a lot of teens’ eating habits, lifestyles, and waistlines could use some help, and I think all the anorexia press has made some parents scared to even talk about nutrition with their teens or pre-teens.  More voices need to be heard about how to do this in a non-threatening way– like letting kids help with the cooking or grocery shopping, putting interesting nutrition articles on the fridge for everyone to see, or even, heaven forbid, talking about the latest healthy diet plan, and then agreeing to try it with them.  Or, maybe just making healthy changes on our own, in the hopes that other family members will follow.  Enthusiasm (and good results) can be contagious.

When Your Child’s Email Gets Hacked: My Look Into the Evil World of Spamming

I guess our first clue should have been when our preteen daughter, Emmie, couldn’t get into her email account a few weeks ago– she said it wouldn’t let her in, and she figured that maybe she’d forgotten her password, even though it was the only one she ever used, and it always popped up automatically from our home computer, anyway.  (Her email service says that’s a sign that the account might have been compromised.)  But unknowing doofus parents that we are, we just went on about our business as she answered the security questions and reset her password (she chose to “change” it to the same one as before).  Then yesterday morning, suspicious emails, with blank “subject” lines, started arriving from her address, several every few minutes, into my inbox and into everyone else’s in her address book.  They contained a link to a “pharmaceutical” website, a site that contained descriptions of just how their products would help male enhancement and performance.  It’s bad enough we all get bombarded with those ads on radio and TV, but now kids are being specifically targeted for that message as well?

“How do they know it’s a kid’s account?” Andy asked me after I phoned him. I was mad and needed to vent. I think they have a pretty good idea, I told him.  I’d found out, after doing a bit of Internet research, that spammers often get into email accounts because many people use the same password for all their online accounts, and the spammers simply find a not-so-secure website where the person has entered their email address and password, and they figure that same password is good for that person’s private email inbox. Which had been the case with Emmie, and probably so for a lot of kids.  Which means that, based on her Internet presence, that spammers troll everywhere, even kid websites like Neopets, Webkinz, American Girl…and that’s just sick. 

You are probably wondering, as I did, why pharmaceutical spammers would want kids to find their website, since it’s doubtful a kid is going to beg Santa Claus for some Viagra. Why waste time going after kids? Well, it’s simply a matter of clicks– the more clicks their site gets, the more that spammers make money. (Even exiting out of an unwanted spam pop-up earns those spam vermin some cashl!)  And unsuspecting kids might just be the “perfect” audience to give their site a lot of traffic, especially those kids who get the giggles every time they see the word “penis” in print.  A 2008 study done by the University of California-Berkeley and UCSD showed that even at an average rate of only one response for every 12.5 million spam emails sent, spammers turn a nice profit.  For one large spam network, it was to the tune of $7,000 per day, over $2 million per year. 

Emmie was definitely upset when she arrived home, bleary-eyed and tired after a sleepover, to find out what had happened.  By that time, I’d emailed everyone to whom the messages had been sent to tell them not to open up any emails from her. Her mouth dropped open in horror every time she realized just who might have received the spam, as she remembered who was on her address list– “My teachers from last year?” she asked.  Yes.  “All my camp friends?” Yes.  “The gymnastics coaches?” Yes. And yes to the email addresses of music instructors, relatives, even some of her friends’ parents.  The more upset she got, the more upset I got on the inside, and the more I wanted to go after the jerks who did this.  I called up Andy again.  “I want to find out who did this, and I want to press charges!” I told him.  After signing in to Emmie’s email account, he found a list of the origins of the last 10 sign-ons, and called me back. “Well, I guess you’re going to have to send that lawyer to Azerbaijan, Turkey, Chile, and Poland,” he said.  Because someone, or someone’s computer, from each of those countries had gotten into her account that morning– one at 5:12 a.m., the next at 8 a.m., another at 9:43 a.m. and the latest at 12:06 p.m.  Creepy, isn’t it? He felt it was futile to do anything except make her account more secure (email providers usually offer how-to’s), but he underestimates the lengths moms will go to when someone messes with their children.

A few Google searches and a little more reading and I came upon a website called The Spamhaus Project. The Spamhaus Project is an international nonprofit organization whose mission includes tracking the Internet’s spam operations and sources, working with law enforcement agencies to identify and pursue spam gangs worldwide, and to lobby governments for effective anti-spam legislation. It maintains a Register Of Known Spam Operations, or ROKSO, collecting information on “known professional spam operations that have been terminated by a minimum of 3 Internet Service Providers for spam offenses.”  The list is long, but represents a group of about 100 “spam gangs” that put out 80% of the spam we receive at any given time, most operating illegally and moving from ISP to ISP. It didn’t take long to find the name of the website to which all of Emmie’s spam emails had directed her friends–though each email housed a different address/link, they all led to one place:  “A long time running pharmacy spam operation. They send tens of millions of spams per day using botnet techniques. Probably based in Eastern Europe, Ukraine/Russia. Host spammed web sites on botnets and on bulletproof Chinese web hosting”.  Just as I was thinking it really was futile to bring charges against someone sitting several continents away, I decided to click on a ROKSO feature labeled “Contact info.” And there in black and white were the street addresses of the spam pharmaceutical company’s three “known” offices: one in Canada; their “warehouse” in India; and their “U.S. branch office”, located in… Austin, TEXAS. Yee-HAH! (Now I may not be proud of some things in Texas, but prosecuting criminals is something Texas does really well, so at that moment, I couldn’t have been happier to live where I do– even in this nonstop triple-digit heat…)  I double-checked Spamhaus’ address information with what was listed at the pharma website and it matched. 

SO- to make a long story shorter, I checked with the Texas Attorney General’s website (yes, spamming is illegal in our state, not to mention selling prescription drugs on the black market), and I called their Austin office, and was encouraged to file a consumer complaint– it’s easy to do and the form is online (see below for links). Maybe if enough angry parents complain, spammers will be put out of business, or at least put out of state. (Various state attorney generals have had success in prosecuting spammers.) The TAG’s office also encouraged me to phone the Austin police non-emergency line, who gave me a national link where people in any state can file a complaint against spammers (see below). I’m also thinking about a call or email to the Austin Better Business Bureau, and an email to the FTC (they take spam complaints at

A ridiculous waste of time, you may be thinking? Just get used to spam? Ah, but think again. Where one crime is being committed, usually others are, or will be, as well. Not only do website spammers often branch out into identity theft and fraud schemes (like bilking senior citizens), they’ve been known to be pedophiles and child pornographers as well. As responsible
citizens, we’ve got to treat any Internet crime just like we’d treat a hit-and-run or an assault, and report it, especially when it happens to our children.

Texas Attorney General consumer complaint form:

Internet Crime Complaint Center (run by FBI, National White Collar Crimes Center)

The Register Of Known Spam Operations:

Kids and Summer Boredom: Should Parents Come to the Rescue?

I got screamed at yesterday.  Surprisingly, not by my teenager, but my soon-to-be teenager. And just what were those oft-repeated, often-heard-in-summer-words, this time uttered at the top of her lungs?  “I’M BORED!!!!!!!”  Followed by: “WHAT CAN I DO?!! FIGURE OUT SOMETHING FOR ME TO DO!!!!!!!  Followed by bedroom door slamming, and after that, crying.  Geesh.  I thought I was over those years of “Mommy, please fill my every waking void…”

So that I could get even a shred of work done during the summer, I used to do just that, at least two to three days a week: schedule day camps, mothers-day-outs, etc., planning far in advance to fill the summer calendar, beginning as early as late February.  But as kids get older, I think they need to be more responsible for filling in their time, to foster creativity, independence, etc., and so each summer for at least the last three summers, I’ve cut back on scheduling with Emmie, and it happened around the same age for Allison.  Yes, I offer suggestions and do help them fill in some of the time with planned camps/activities/volunteer work, but it’s definitely less scheduling than before.  As a result, I have seen some creative stuff happen– I remember a cool bulletin board collage Allison created one summer, and this summer, Emmie’s tried to do a lot of money-earning activities, like a lemonade stand with a friend, extra yard work, and last week she hand-rolled all the pennies in Andy’s 20+ year-old, giant penny jar, netting $30 for herself and $30 for charity.

Yet, why has this summer been christened by her, several times, as The Most Boring Summer Ever?  Is it because it’s the hottest summer since she’s been born? I don’t think so.  She still gets outside in this heat, whether it’s to jog around the block, or ride her bike to the neighborhood pool. Is it because we chose to take our vacation early in the summer rather than later? Maybe.  Normally, we’d be out of town during this late part of the summer, and it seems like a lot of her close friends have been out of town lately.  I keep telling her to “expand her friends list”, to not just call up girls from her school class.  What about from gymnastics? What about from Girl Scouts? What about the friends she made at past summer activities? Sometimes that works– it netted her a fun day out at an old friend’s house last week… but when no friends are returning calls, and your kid doesn’t know what else to do, and they’re tired of reading, watching TV and practicing their musical instrument, should a parent step in?

Before the screaming started yesterday, I felt sorry for her, so I stopped what I was doing and started looking up info on other city pools (our neighborhood city pool is closed on Mondays).  “I’ll take you to another pool,” I offered. I have yet to go swimming this summer, and thought it might be fun. But she said it wouldn’t be fun with just me, that she needed to have a friend go along, and no one was available.  And that’s when the screaming began.  I politely clocked out of my “boredom busters” job for that day. “You know, when you act like that, you won’t get any help from me,” I said.

I was relieved to get out of the house soon after, to go pick up Allison from a drill team activity.  When we returned, Emmie had gotten out a set of watercolors and was sitting on a stool, painting on a white piece of paper at a kitchen counter.  It was a book cover, with each word a different color.  “WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR BORED!” it read.

I can’t wait to read what will go inside…

“Good for the child” is not always good for the group

Emmie spent every afternoon last week at a girls’ science and engineering camp at Southern Methodist University (probably the best bargain on that campus—only $50 for the whole week, and two days included lunch!).  She really enjoyed rubbing elbows with professional female engineers, learning more about the different types of engineering, working on projects, and making friends with girls from all over the Dallas area and even from as far away as Houston, ranging in age from 12-18.  The only thing she didn’t like about it, which she complained to me about every day, were the girls who talked all the time to each other and didn’t pay attention, making it hard for the few that wanted to pay attention. And unfortunately, there were only a few who really wanted to pay attention. Emmie says that on the first day, when the facilitator asked each girl to tell the group why she was there, many answered with some version of “Because my mom made me.”  And of course, those were the ones who made it hard on the rest of the group every day thereafter.  Emmie was shocked that there were so many who didn’t care, because to be at this camp, she had received a recommendation from her math teacher, and she was honored and excited to be there. (“Mom, one of those girls wore a T-shirt that said, ‘I May Be Bad, But I’m Perfectly Good At It’!” she related in disgust.)

I know that parents have good intentions when they force their children to do certain group activities (“I don’t want my child to be a couch potato”,”This will be good for her”, “He needs to make new friends”,  etc., etc.) but do they ever think how their child might act once there?  Do they ever realize how much life is sucked out of a group when a child doesn’t want to be a part?

I told Emmie I could totally relate to what she was saying. I’ve been a Girl Scout volunteer and troop leader for over 10 years, and the girls who don’t pay attention most often, have the most behavior problems and cause others to misbehave are usually the ones who are being forced to be there.  When I was a kid, I remember the kids at summer camp who “rained on everyone’s parade” were the ones not there of their own free will; in college, the most messed-up students I knew had their college choice (and their major) forced upon them by their parents.

I know I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I think it’s okay to require kids to do certain extracurriculars like music lessons in exchange for letting them do something else they like, but music lessons, sports skill-building, and other private lessons are often one-on-one, child and adult, not affecting other learners—and if it was a group lesson instead, I’d definitely think twice about forcing a child to participate, especially if the child wasn’t practicing his instrument (or tennis serve, or script lines) in between lessons.  Yes, sometimes a kid can come around, and suddenly “get into it” and be glad he’s part of the group, but I think if that magic doesn’t happen quickly, it’s time to change plans, especially with older children. Unfortunately, however, with brief activities like week-long summer camps, there’s not enough time to find out if your child will “come around”, and there’s not usually an “I made the wrong parenting decision” clause in the refund policy.

Maybe summer camps and other group activity applications should include an extra line that asks, “Are you enrolling your child because he/she really wants to be a part of this, or because you want them to be?” Not necessarily with the expectation that parents would answer honestly, but simply because it would make them think.  And if they did answer honestly, it sure would help teachers/counselors plan ahead…

Random Acts of Art: Why Yarn Bombing, Flash Mobs, and Other Unconventional Creations are Good for Kids…and Communities

An article in the newspaper recently caught my eye, about the “Surfing Madonna”, a mosaic that has been causing a commotion in California after it was installed clandestinely this spring on Good Friday/Earth Day, in the beach town of Encinitas.  The 10 ft. x 10 ft. rock and glass piece, depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe hanging ten and the words “Save Our Ocean” along one side, was created elsewhere and then brought to the site by people disguised as construction workers, and installed with powerful epoxy glue.  Though much of the public loves it, city administrators got in a huff and hired an art conservation agency to study how the mosaic could be safely removed and displayed elsewhere, since “grafitti” is against the law. After receiving thousands of dollars from the city, the agency told them the best plan for the artwork is to leave it where it was, protected from the wind and rain.  Gee, I could have told them that, for far less money… I mean, it’s not like it was a gang symbol sprayed in Krylon or a larger-than-life cuss word.  The city of Encinitas should be glad they got free art to beautify what normally is pretty ugly: the underside of a train bridge.  Yes, the colorful piece described as “breathtaking” and “inspiring” was installed on a bridge support.

It reminded me of the guerilla knitters that have “struck” Old East Dallas recently.  People there were waking up in the morning to find that the bases of a few street signs and lamp posts had been wrapped in colorful knitting– kind of like a “pole cozy” I guess.

An example of yarn bombing–
one street sign people might actually pay attention to! (See more
examples at the links below.)

The city called it littering and, when they could find it, had it promptly removed.  Guess they didn’t realize it’s a privilege to be “yarn bombed”, and that it’s part of an international movement to “change the urban landscape one stitch at a time”.  (And, by the way, International Yarm Bombing Day is this week, June 11th, so if something outside looks a little more colorful and fuzzier than usual on Saturday, you’ll know why!)  There has been a lot of support for this kind of public art (a local yarn store even offers classes on yarn bombing), but also naysayers as well.  “Why don’t they use all that yarn and time to knit blankets for preemies in the hospital!” some spout, without realizing that local yarn bombers in fact knit hundreds of blankets and caps for hospitals, and that the yarn they use for public art is usually old yarn not fit to snuggle against a baby’s skin anyway…

But even if they only knitted for public display– what’s so bad about that? Does leaving up the Surfing Madonna or a lampost wrapped in yarn really open up the floodgates for all sorts of other anonymous, noncommissioned public art, as the mayor of Encinitas is worried might happen? I don’t think so, but we could stand to have a little bit more, anyway.  Doesn’t it lift one’s spirits to be going through a humdrum day and encounter something artistic and out of the ordinary? I’m sure those “flash mobs” (groups that show up in public places and look like scattered, random bystanders, who suddenly break into song and/or dance) that are becoming so popular lately are somehow illegal, too, but I know it would absolutely make my day to see one in person.

While I enjoy paintings and sculptures in art museums, I’ve always loved “unconventional” or “unexpected” art even more, and have enjoyed sharing that love with my kids in the hopes that that they will appreciate “thinking outside the box” (not to mention whimsy) and be broad thinkers themselves.  Over the years, together we’ve checked out art cars in parades and driveways; an installation of 500 pink umbrellas in a local park; a house completely covered in pieces of beer cans; a giant Indian sand art painting on the floor of a local business; giant ice sculptures, and giant butter sculptures, too; the Fred Garbo Inflatable Theatre; and let’s not forget the Cadillac Ranch.  And if the Surfing Madonna was close by or a yarn-bombed neighborhood, we’d go there, too. 

Yes, there is the question of public decency, and communities all have standards about sexual content, violent images and offensive language that of course I would want city workers to uphold.  And even if random art doesn’t violate any decency standards, it might hurt or offend a large group of people, like American Indians or Catholics for example, and if enough got together and voiced a loud enough opinion about a mural, etc., of course it would make sense to take it down.  But if it passes “the test”, why not leave it up? What if a lot of people spoke up in support? Communities who have embraced their quirky art and the unique talents of their citizens reap tourist dollars.  Believe it or not, Beer Can House, America’s largest art car parade, and the birthplace of the yarn bombing movement all reside in Houston, Texas, which has gained international fame for its folk art in addition to its oil, gas and rocket ships.  And people are flocking to Encinitas to snap photographs of its mystery mosaic and/or lay flowers beneath.  

I know people could argue, ‘well, what’s art to one is not art to another, so why should everyone be subjected to it?’ But every day in communities, we are all exposed to elements of art for which we have no choice– like the design and color of public buildings, commercial businesses and landscapes, some which we just have to shrug off and say, “Hopefully someone likes that”–  so living among “art” we like and dislike is something we already do anyway. 

And the stuff we don’t like may actually provide parents with teachable moments about something else that’s important for our kids to learn, a good skill to have when living among other people: tolerance. 

Links worth checking out:

About yarn bombing

About the Surfing Madonna,0,279617.story

About art cars and Beer Can House

Flash Mob video

Respect the Rumble: Teaching Kids About Storm Safety

With the start of summer 2011, storms are definitely on my brain these days, from the tornadoes that ravaged Joplin and other cities across the U.S., to the severe storms that set off the emergency sirens in the Dallas area last week, to Hurricane Katrina—though it’s been almost six years since that tragedy, I was thinking about it this past weekend as our family took a vacation to New Orleans.  It was interesting to hear about the stories of people who had the means to evacuate but chose not to.  My friend who lives there told me that many people had weathered many hurricanes before, and felt like they could do the same again, and didn’t expect things to be as bad as they were.  But isn’t Mother Nature often full of surprises? A resident of Joplin was interviewed after their recent storms.  He said he’d heard the sirens going off, but when he went out of his garage to see if he could see anything bad, and didn’t see anything, he went about doing whatever he was doing.  When the sirens went off again, he finally decided to get everyone in his house to safety, but didn’t have enough time…  Andy often has the same attitude when weather sirens go off in our neighborhood.  Last week when that happened, the girls, dogs and I, plus a few pillows, all crowded into our downstairs bathroom. Andy stayed at his desk, working, and listening to the TV, saying that if there had been a tornado  in our area that we’d have heard about it from the TV news, and the sirens must have been meant for other areas of our large county.  Huh? Can’t tornadoes come up suddenly before the TV even knows about it? If I recall, TV weathercasters give the news about sirens going off after they’ve happened, as in “we have reports that sirens are going off in such and such a place”—doesn’t that indicate that they aren’t on top of everything? (and the choice by one prominent station to continue showing Dancing With the Stars while nearby roofs were getting ripped off buildings should also be a good indicator of TV’s level of concern over weather preparedness…)  The county was already under a tornado warning, which has always meant to me, “Get to a very safe place immediately”, and this was only underscored by the sirens.  But, nothing major happened outside our house that night, and Andy felt vindicated.  I think my kids were confused at the mixed messages we were sending…

Maybe when our travels take us through Joplin in a few weeks they will learn more about tornadoes.  In the meantime, hopefully they will at least remember the mantra  I’ve tried to teach them for many years about lightning:  “If you hear it, fear it, if you see it, flee it.”  A longtime friend passed that on to me.  She knows a lot about lightning.   Back in the late 90s, her husband was playing golf in Florida with his boss and another co-worker when a thunderstorm blew in. Her husband took refuge in the golf cart while his friends stood a few feet away under a tree, holding an umbrella, drinking a beer and joking about their predicament.  A few minutes later and one crackling flash, and my friend’s husband instantly lost two friends, two wives became widows, and three young children lost fathers.  My friend had the heartbreaking job of accompanying the police to inform the families back here in Texas of what had happened. 

A few years later, our next-door-neighbor’s house was hit by lightning, and about seven years later, the very first day Andy ventured into our newly-purchased home to move in some stuff from a storage unit, lightning struck our house. It burnt out the garage door opener, blew out a circuit, and frazzled other electrical wiring, and as Andy says, almost knocked him out of his shoes. I’m so glad he wasn’t operating any power tools at the time and that we hadn’t moved in yet!

So I’ve known someone who’s witnessed death by lightning, another person whose house was struck by it, and my own house has been struck.  Overturning the odds that a lightning encounter is about as rare as winning the lottery? My friend hates that lottery cliché and says that if conditions are right, a strike is much more likely.

For example, you’re at a greater risk of getting hit if you encounter a storm in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, and Colorado (information courtesy of NOAA). If you’re near a tree or water when lightning’s around (this includes being in the shower), or outside in wide open spaces, or talking on a corded phone or touching something metal, you’re at an increased risk as well.  Ditto if you can count to 30 or less between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder, says the National Weather Service.  If that 30 means 30 miles away, that’s not surprising, since lightning has been known to reach that far and in some cases has reached lengths of 80 to over 100 miles.  A “bolt from the blue” can hit you even if there are no clouds and rain in your immediate area.  I’ll never forget a home video I once saw on television of a young girl playing catcher in a softball tournament.  Though there’s a storm in the distance, it’s a sunny day at the softball fields, and as her Dad proudly rolls tape, lightning strikes this precious child.  If I remember correctly, she was brain injured and paralyzed. 

Lightning’s long reach is why weather experts say that at the first glimpse of lightning or hint of distant thunder, that people should take shelter (in the most substantial building they can, or a car with a metal roof and the windows rolled up, or, if nothing else, making yourself as small as possible) and to stay sheltered for 30 minutes after the last rumble. “Typically, people go out and resume activity too quickly and end up getting hit,” said Stephen Hodanish, a senior meteorologist and lightning expert with the National Weather Service in Pueblo, Colorado, when interviewed by

Little League and other sports organizations nationwide have been taking great pains in getting this word out to coaches and officials so that they will not wait too long to halt games and empty the stands.  (Little League uses a variation of my friend’s mantra: “ If you see if flee it, if you hear it, clear it”.)   I’ve noticed area lifeguards are instructed to clear out pools using the same guidelines, and though sometimes it seems like they are just looking for an excuse to take a break (“Mom, it’s not fair– t
here’s not a cloud in the sky!!!!”), the more I read about lightning strikes, the more I’m glad they do.

Taking weather safety precautions is not about being a worry wort, not about living life in fear, not about crippling society due to too much litigation– it’s just about being smart and recognizing the awesome power of nature, the way things work—the “ways of the universe”.  Is it annoying and inconvenient at times? Yeah, and so were seat belts and bike helmets, but we got used to those and don’t even think twice anymore.  Does it mean you sometimes have to seek shelter with strangers? Yeah, but you just might make some friends in the process, or at least get a good laugh.  I’ll never forget the time I was at a water park with my brother and his family when a storm hit and all park guests were forced to take cover in the gift shop, restaurant, anywhere we could. Yes, we were wet, and yes, it was crowded, and yes, we had to wait awhile, but it was an adventure, and we lived to tell the tale and go to many more water parks.

Really, my greatest fear during bad weather is not the weather itself, but apathy, skepticism and indifference.  As Little League so eloquently puts it in one of their brochures, “People cannot use their lifetime of experience in storms as a gauge for their safety.  Just because you have never been struck does not mean you cannot be.”

From Setbacks to Comebacks: Helping Teens Deal With Disappointment

All over town this past couple of weeks, you could almost hear the cries, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes staggered. Cries of joy and cries of pain, as teens from area high schools looked at posted “results”  and found out if they made it into next year’s school teams/groups/leadership positions—cheerleading squads, “elite” bands, the co-ed western dance team… drum majors, drill team officers, club presidents…and the cries weren’t just from the kids.  Parents cried, too. “When we found out she didn’t make it, we both boo-hooed together,” said one mom.  “I’d put so much effort into driving her to extra practices, and doing whatever else she needed me to do to help, that I felt like I’d lost, too.”  I could relate.  When I found out Allison wasn’t on a particular list (while using the browser on my phone in the grocery store check-out line) I almost dropped my bag of green beans and wailed at the checker.  She’d wanted this since she was in 1st grade.  She’d tried so hard.  WE’d tried so hard… how would she handle this setback?  What could I do to help her now? What should any parent do?

I guess grief and loss of anything follows a similar pattern.  First comes shock, disbelief, and complete puddle-of-tears anguish.  My husband and I both offered lots of empathy—thank goodness we’d both experienced setbacks in high school and could remember what they felt like.  Most “experts” (and I found a lot of advice online) say that’s the first and most important reaction for parents—let kids grieve, and offer understanding. Trying to gloss over things and telling them to “blow it off” and act like it’s no big deal is totally denying their feelings.  It’s good for kids to experience setbacks, no matter how painful it is for parents to watch, because it helps them build empathy for others and good coping skills for when they’re adults.

Facebook and texting have both helped and hurt the healing.  Comforting notes of support from friends can come your child’s way instantly, while at the same time they have to endure a lot of photos of celebration that are posted and shared by the “winners”.  Ouch—like salt on a wound.

After sadness comes anger.  Parents are angry—some are wanting to challenge the rules, write letters…and of course, kids get angry, too.  “I’m dropping out”, or “I’m quitting the team”, or “I hate everyone”, or “I’m moving to another school” might be the responses.  I heard all of that from my own child, and more.

I chose to stay in empathy mode, actually going over with her the other schools that are available, why we can’t instantly sell our house and move, how she might be able to live with a relative if she wanted to move out of the district…she didn’t like any of the alternatives (which is what I predicted), and I think the empathy and information I provided helped her focus on the next and what I think is the most important stage of loss: re-grouping.

This is the part where parents hold their breath, because we all know that teens often have a hard time with this.  They can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and want to stop the pain as fast as possible.  They were looking for a change when they tried out for whatever—a change in status, a change in activities, perhaps the chance to belong to a group, and when they don’t succeed, they often try to feel better by creating their own change.  Which can be good or bad.  We all probably know of people who, after a setback during their teen years, turned to drugs and alcohol, and/or changed their group of friends to “the wrong crowd”, and/or altered their looks in a shocking way.  Sadly, we’ve all heard about teens who choose to end their life after a setback.

When a door closes, God opens another, I believe, and as parents, it’s our job to help our kids see that door.   But sometimes that can take awhile, so I think in the meantime parents can help their kids make other, quicker positive changes to help them get by.  Have they been talking about wanting to get in shape, get a new haircut, a new outfit?  Do they want to get a job? Maybe you can help them think of places to apply. Can you help them improve their sports skills or studying skills or whatever they need to do to reach their try-out goal in the future? Or maybe help them focus on a different  talent?  It might be fun to craft a “battle plan” with them.   Is it time for them to nurture some old friendships, maybe throw a party? Or, dive into community service together—there’s nothing like helping others to help you forget about your own challenges, not to mention help you feel appreciated, while making a difference in the world at the same time. (One of our favorite organizations is Special Olympics-if your teen is a finish line greeter at a Special Olympics track meet, I guarantee he/she will get instant appreciation!) (Special Olympics has year-round volunteer opportunities—Google your state’s Special Olympics website.  In Texas, it’s

The experts say that parents should model good coping skills when faced with their own disappointments, and if there’s one thing I think my teen knows about me, it’s that I generally put one foot in front of the other and keep moving on.  I’d like to think that somehow that knowledge helped her.  Because within a couple days of getting the bad news, she was crafting a “comeback”, on her own.   She plans to try out for an officer position again next year, and made a list of everything she needs to do to reach her goal.  In the meantime, she’s hoping she can be elected to a committee position within the same group (tryouts are today).

And I’m just hoping to be able to exhale—at least, for a little while.

Whose pep rally is it, anyway?

Excuse me for wondering, but weren’t high school pep rallies originally designed for the students and staff of a school to “rally” behind their sports teams and get them fired up to win? Later they were expanded to include pep rallies for everything from final exams to “just say no to drugs”—but, back in the day, I don’t ever remember the audience expanding to include parents.  I mean, why would kids want their parents at school, anyway? Don’t parents have a lot of other things to do during the day? Around here, apparently not.  Because as soon as my teen became a sophomore and a full-fledged member of the high school drill team, I discovered that not only did parents attend pep rallies, there was a whole section of the gym reserved just for them.  And it wasn’t just a bunch of stay-at-home moms filling the stands.  Working moms, too.  And dads–  lots of them.  From 9-10 in the morning.  And because so many parents attend, your kid doesn’t understand if you don’t…

“Mom, you’re going, right?” Allison said last fall.   

“Parents attend pep rallies?” I asked, surprised. 

“Yes, everyone goes! You’ve got to see one, they’re amazing!!  You’ve never seen anything like this,” she informed me.  So I went to a few, and I enjoyed them, because the drill team often debuts new routines at pep rallies and I like to see my daughter dance.  And I’m sure that’s why a lot of parents attend—they want to see their child play in the band, sing, act, dance, pump their fists in the air and run around in a gorilla costume…  But— I just don’t get it all completely.  I could see having one special pep rally where parents and the entire community are invited to attend—like the Homecoming Pep Rally.  But do we parents really need to add one more “must do” every other week to our already busy schedules?

Yesterday was the “Senior Pass Down” pep rally, held every spring to honor the graduating seniors who are “passing the torch” to the juniors on their teams, clubs, etc.  Allison wanted me to attend, but I told her I really didn’t think it was a good idea, especially since I would see her perform the exact same routine many times at the drill team show in two weeks, and I had a ton of things to do. Plus, I don’t have a senior, and I don’t know many seniors, either.  “But we’re doing our jump splits on a gym floor for the first time,” she informed me. (Gee, stop the presses and prepare a banner headline.) “And the Pass Down is so cool and so sad,” she said. 

“Yes, I can understand it would be, for you,” I said.  “It’s your school.”

I love my child as much as the next person loves theirs, but I also don’t think I need to watch her (and her school’s) every move in order to show that love…and I don’t think kids should be brought up to expect us to.  It’s unhealthy to be a helicopter parent and unhealthy to set up the dynamic where you do whatever your kid asks you to do.  I felt sorry for the mom I overheard last week lamenting the fact that after she dropped her daughter off at team practice at 7:00 a.m. on Pass Down pep rally day, she was then going to “have to” wait for two hours for the rally to start, since she didn’t work close by.  Yet her child, like mine, wasn’t an upper classman.  Would the child’s self esteem have been damaged that badly if Mommy hadn’t been there?  I don’t think so. 

Haven’t we all heard by now, from everyone from Dr. Ruth to Dr. Phil, that when parents set up their families to where they revolve totally around their children that they lose in the long run? Their kids act like entitled royalty and have a hard time coping in real-world jobs.  Many marriages suffer when a family’s schedule is so jam-packed with kid stuff that the parents never make time for themselves, to take weekend trips alone together or even just go to a movie.  And helicopter parents have a much harder time handling empty nest syndrome once their youngest child graduates.    

I come from parents who knew how to “get a life”, who didn’t worry if their child spent all day playing outside in the neighborhood and who went out with a group of friends every Friday night.  Who never felt the need to help with homework or be in constant communication with their child’s teachers, or attend every sports practice or music event.  But who were always there when it really mattered—a shoulder to cry on for the big break-ups, a smiling face in the audience for the big shows.  And I think most parents at the time were like that– after all, they were called the Greatest Generation.  But with helicopter parents setting the standards these days, what are the rest of us supposed to do?  Look like freaks in our kids’ eyes?

I just keep on doing what I do, and hope that one day they’ll understand.   And besides, we never completely “miss” an event nowadays anyway– thanks to the hundreds of photos and video that are shared online…