Is this a good guy with a gun, Mom?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

If you send a child to school in this decade, you know the feeling that creeps up on you. Will my reality be shattered by another — the fact that this country offers little protection against someone breaking into my kids’ school and firing off multiple rounds of ammunition with the intention of killing as many people as possible?

This is one of those things you simultaneously try to bury in your subconscious to protect your sanity and emotional fortitude to send your child to school and also keep top-of-mind so that you can do your civic duty of participating in a collective force against the gun lobby.

Maybe you don’t want to believe that guns are the problem. Maybe your political and social views have had you favoring lawmakers who happen to support your values but also are funded by gun manufacturers through the NRA. Maybe you are beginning to understand that conflict of interests. My guess is that you still feel the same fear most parents these days do. If this is the case, I am still talking to you. In fact, I am especially talking to you.

We’ve seen many articles and opinion pieces — lockdown drills have been added to the fire and tornado drills we grew up with. Kids shouldn’t have to know how to barricade themselves in a closet because someone armed like a terrorist has come to kill them. Teachers shouldn’t have to devise way to squeeze 20 little kindergarteners into a cubby space to hide them from a disturbed individual with dozens of rounds of ammo. Armed combat should not be part of the requirements for being an educator of children.

Today I saw something just as unsettling — a photo of a man exercising his open carry rights in a donut shop, taken from the perspective of a family sitting 20 or so feet away.

It didn’t appear that this man was participating in a staged protest. He was simply buying a donut, or some coffee, and he happened to have a sizable weapon sticking out of his pocket.

In the foreground of the photo is a child. I think about what this looks like to him.

If I was sitting at that donut shop, what would I have done?

The gun lobby protests that in a world where there are so many guns, more guns are needed — that to be armed is to be safe, that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to be a good guy with a gun. But research shows that this is very, very rarely the case.

Look at the photo. What do you see? If you love guns, you might see a piece of gear you admire. If you want responsible gun control, you see someone whose mind you want to change. If you are the NRA, you see dollar signs.

Do you see a good guy with a gun?

I don’t know this man, as is the case for the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who will see him on social media in the coming weeks. I have no idea if he has any intention of harm. He could simply be a misguided individual who is otherwise kind and thoughtful — a real good guy.

But if you are a child drilled in the art of hiding from people with guns, I think what you might see is the monster who, rather than hiding in your bedroom closet, lurks outside the door to your school. And now he’s in the donut shop. Is it time to hide under the table? Can you barricade yourself in the restroom before he opens fire?

If you are a parent, how likely is it that you will stick around to find out?

I don’t want to demonize this man. It has been my policy to avoid name-calling and assumptions about people who own guns, because I believe that putting people on the defensive won’t support change. This image isn’t about this man. It’s about the gun, and what it represents to our children.

The gun lobby may find reassurance in this scene, but my guess is that most people don’t — especially our kids. Isn’t it time that we make guns less a part of their lives?


Suggestive song lyrics — yesterday and today

car stereo dialIt’s not easy being a GenX parent. So much has changed from the decades dominated by the free-range parenting style. I even had the idea to start a special feature about how much harder it is for parents these days, and I get ideas all the time. I’ve just been too lazy to put them into thoughtful posts.

Take for example song lyrics. Considering that music-oriented pop culture is introduced at younger ages these days, and that Miley Cyrus seems to have no limit to what she is willing to do onstage or say in interviews, one might suggest that this is another way in which GenX parents have been burdened with yet another hazard to circumvent.

I’m not sure this is true. As a kid, I heard an ample number of suggestive songs on the pop music stations of my ultra-conservative hometown. (I lived in one of the markets where George Michael’s late-80s hit was, “I Want Your Love.”)

Let’s take a look at yesterday and today through the lens of risqué lyrics.

Today: “Get Lucky” — Daft Punk
Yesterday: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” — Rod Stewart

It’s a lot easier to tell your kids “Get Lucky” is about visiting casinos in Monte Carlo than trying to explain the concept of sexy and how Rod Stewart could be considered as such. Throw in a rumor about what was found when Rod’s stomach was pumped, and out through the school bus window goes your 10-year-old’s innocence.

Today: “Can’t Feel My Face” — The Weekend
Yesterday: “Cocaine” — Eric Clapton

I am ready with my explanation. If they ask, I will tell my kids that The Weekend is talking about vampires. My supporting evidence is the line, At least we’ll both be beautiful and stay forever young. This may not be the most comforting interpretation, but it beats telling my kids the real story. I’d like to see a parent concoct an alternate meaning for what Clapton sang about.

Today: “Teenage Dream” — Katy Perry
Yesterday: “Afternoon Delight” — Starland Vocal Band

Eventually your kid is going to understand, Let’s go all the way tonight. No regrets, just love. But you can pretty much ignore it until that time. “Afternoon Delight,” though; it’s just so forthright in its ickiness. This song still makes me uncomfortable and embarrassed and all those things you feel when you finally realize what those feminine protection commercials are about. I seriously wonder if this song put a damper on daytime “escapades,” rather than encouraged them. My kids hate it when I sing along to, “Can’t Feel My Face.” They have no idea what my generation suffered hearing our moms singing “Afternoon Delight.”

Today: “Cool for the Summer” — Demi Lovato
Yesterday: “Like a Virgin” — Madonna

“Cool for the Summer” is stuffed with more innuendo than it takes to make Paul Stanley blush. But until kids have already been introduced to these concepts otherwise, the lyrics are explainable. (Really you should turn the song off due to extremely low artistic merit.) “Like a Virgin” has no innuendo. Madonna just puts it all out there. And you can’t turn the station when Madge is on.

Today: “Animals” — Maroon 5
Yesterday: “Sexual Healing” — Marvin Gaye

So the same hometown stations that refused to play “I Want Your Sex,” had no problem putting “Sexual Healing” into heavy rotation. That aside, it’s hard to come up with an innocent twist on a line like, Let’s make love tonight. Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up. ‘Cause you do it right. The most egregious of lines from “Animals” can’t compare.

One question about Ahmed and his clock

Good for Ahmed! But we still have problems.

Good for Ahmed! But we still have problems.

Last week 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for making a clock, because the circumstances of the situation led those in charge to believe that it might be a bomb.

It looks like it’s going to be a better Monday for Ahmed this week, but I still have a question:

Are we really living in an era where a home-made clock created by a high school student with a passion for inventing has no place at a school?

The home-made clock

I’m not sure if in the history of our public education system there has been a more confused time for striking the right balance of quantifiable measurement and intuitive teaching, standards and freedom to explore, serving the gifted and addressing the challenged and giving the best opportunities to everyone else, and providing the right learning environment for kids who have abundant resources and those who are simply just hungry. Perhaps my teacher friends can confirm or deny this, but judging from all that is said and written about education today, we are faced with a crushing number of issues. Many of our educators disagree with how political leaders are addressing them.

Thanks to my teacher friends and family, I read a lot about how standards impact those who have a hard time in the classroom, whether due to abilities, home environment, racism or otherwise. But I also see how creating a narrow channel for our teachers to draw from debilitates kids who aren’t fully served by what happens in the classroom.

Should we expect someone like Ahmed Mohamed to stifle his excitement for what he discovers, what he can do, and not share it with his teacher because it is atypical?

Has our educational system has become so rigid that kids are no longer expected (or welcome) to “color outside the lines”?

This boy, like other “maker” kids, goes beyond the standards to take ownership of his learning experiences.

Some might call it inspired.

The student

Ahmed Mohamed is Muslim. He lives in a community where the mayor has had a strained relationship with the Muslim community. Some of the things that were said to him when questioned indicate that his religion had some influence on how the situation was being treated.

My son attends an enrichment program for kids who like to and have the talent to invent, run by one of this country’s most prestigious universities. The requirements to attend are fairly narrow, so I can’t say it is a diverse group on the whole. But when I show up to drop him off and pick him up from his classes, the kids, parents and teachers I see have different skin colors. The groups are not fully representative of all the major world races and ethnicities, but there are kids there who look like Ahmed Mohamed and others who do not look like my white son.

It’s not the perfect picture of diversity, but isn’t this the kind of direction we want head toward for our kids?

The school

What shouldn’t have a place in school are the hard decisions administrators have to make about how to keep their students safe. Obviously in some places they need more guidance on what should be perceived as a threat. A simple home-made clock lands a kid in police questioning, but in some states his father wouldn’t have to leave his gun in the car to come in and pick him up from the principal’s office. We need another phrase to describe this inconsistency of logic, because “messed up” is inadequate.

Shouldn’t we be more afraid of people who have made it easier to bring weapons into schools than adolescents who like to tinker with circuit boards and digital displays?

Ahmed’s story has a fortunate ending. But even after he gets back from the White House and Facebook headquarters, the factors that influenced what happened will still be the same. Looks like this incident will turn out fine for him. And like so many others, #IStandWithAhmed. But we all know that there will be other kids like Ahmed who won’t be so lucky.

What are we going to do about that?

It’s Harder To Be A Gen-X Parent Than To Parent A Gen-Xer: Reason #1, Standardized Testing

Where are all the students? At the computer lab taking the PARCC test.

Where are all the students? At the computer lab taking the PARCC test.

My mother-in-law has said more than once that being a parent today is so much more difficult than it used to be. I think she might be right, so I am launching a series here to invite commiseration, which I am calling, It’s Harder to Be a Gen-X Parent Than to Parent a Gen-Xer.

Let’s start with the topic of the moment, standardized testing. I am not an educator, so the only true experience I have is having taken standardized tests, reviewed my kids’ test results, and prepared my kids to take theirs — you know, things like making sure they have snacks in the backpack, get a good night’s rest, don’t get sick, have some protein at breakfast, avoid stressors within 5 days before or following the tests, don’t get itchy, wear their preferred turtleneck, feel great about themselves and their capabilities so they can do their best all within the context of don’t worry, you’ll do great.

But even with my limited perspective, the message from educators and parents is clear to me — kids of my children’s generation undergo far more scrutiny by testing than I did back in the day, and it’s interrupting their education.

When my parents were parents, I don’t remember standardized testing being that much of an issue. Once a year, maybe less often, your mom gave you some extra no. 2 pencils to take to school, mentioning that oh, by the way, you were going to have some tests that week, no big deal. There were no snacks, nothing special aside from the fact that you got a break from the usual routine. A few weeks later, your scores showed up, and you weren’t entirely sure what they meant, and they had no relevance to your life (until high school). They also had much less influence on your teacher’s performance reviews or salary, if any.

In March and May of this year, many (or most) of the schools in Illinois (where I live) will administer something called the PARCC test. I can be relieved that my kids do not attend public school and therefore don’t have to take this test (this year, at least), because this thing appears to be a disaster-in-waiting. In the city of Chicago, there is a movement for parents to refuse the test. These people aren’t just trying to rock the boat because they like waves. Apparently of the 26 states that originally intended to administer the test, only 10 are going through with it. Even school administrators are speaking out, according to this piece in the Washington Post about a superintendent in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka who “warns” parents about the downsides of the test.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at the practice test for fourth-grade math. I’ve had two kids in the fourth-grade who have been taught with two separate (though similar) curricula, so I feel that I am pretty familiar with what fourth-graders are expected to know. My kids’ school sets the bar pretty high. It’s a Blue Ribbon school, so my assumption is that the teaching is strong enough for my assessment to be valid.

Here’s what I found. The first screen was a set of instructions that I hope teachers are walking through, as they are somewhat convoluted if you have the attention span of a nine-year-old. This is not a straight-forward fill-in-the-bubble deal or even pick the right answer. Some questions will have more than one answer, and you have to do this. Others will have only one right answer, and you have to do that. Fortunately, it was far more intuitive when I got to the questions, but what a way to elevate the nerves before the kids even get to the first question.

The first two problems were pretty straight-forward, though not necessarily easy. One on place value was, “The value of the digit 4 in the number 42,780 is 10 times the value of digit 4 in which number?” The test-taker has four numbers to choose from all with the number four somewhere in them. A kid may know place value when asked, “What is the place value of 4 in the number 42,780?” but this question requires them to use place value in an additional way by working in the 10-times-the-value part. I can’t say this is beyond what’s expected of a fourth-grader, but they aren’t factoring in any warm-up here, are they?

The third question was interesting. It involved adding three multi-digit numbers from a chart to get a total number of reports for a science fair, then figuring out how many tables would be needed to fit the reports, working with two different size tables, one size of which was available in a fixed amount. Once you used up all those tables, how many of the other size would you need at minimum?

Then there was a part two that asked a similar sort of question. And I might actually be wording this question better. (If you want to check it out, it’s the Computer-Based Practice Test under PBA Practice tests at this link.)

Granted, every step of that question is acceptable for a fourth-grader. They need to be able to read from a chart, add multi-digit numbers and multiply. But there is a certain amount of mental endurance necessary for answering questions that have multiple layers.

My son recently had a similar, though less complicated, question for extra credit on a test. He ran out of time, so we went over it at home. I know adults who opted for liberal arts majors in college just to avoid this kind of math. (Granted, one could argue that math avoidance didn’t help us compete with educational systems around the world, but my guess is that the problems we expect teachers to solve have little to do with an overabundance of English and history majors.)

Full disclosure — I am not one of those parents who doesn’t like Common Core math. Actually, the way that it has been taught to my children, I think it’s an improvement over how I learned. My issue with these tests is whether or not they align with how the kids are learning in the classroom.

This PARCC test and others like it seem a lot like veneer, the idea that problems will be solved by the introduction of more (and more complicated) testing. Standards will be followed. Students can be evaluated. Teachers can be told to raise their scores or else.

What about the learning, or, even more important, the desire to learn? Are these kids going to school to gain knowledge and explore the world, or are they showing up so they can be measured and make a few people who guide educational policy feel better about this country’s performance compared to Korea and Finland? This seems like a ridiculous question, but how close does this recent article in The Onion feel to reality?

They say in carpentry, “Measure twice and cut once.” Maybe in education the new saying could be, “Measure, measure, measure and measure again. And then measure some more.”


Open Letter to This Week’s New Parents

You're gonna need more than this!

You’re gonna need more than this!

Welcome new parents! Now that my oldest child has turned twelve, I feel like a veteran… or rather a “seasoned professional” who has some advice on launching your new career in raising children. Think of me as that older (but not “old”) woman with the corner office down the hall. You know, the one with the personal shopper at Nordstrom who leaves a bit early every Friday for a fabulous weekend in San Francisco or New York or Montreal with her hot husband. But subtract the wardrobe and the travel… and add a couple of kids. Oh, and the office is no longer on the corner, but if you push aside the pile of back-to-school forms, bills and unfiled this-and-that, there is a nice view out the window.

At any rate, to those of you reporting for your first day as parents, what I am about to tell you may go against the grain of other things you’ll hear. You can take it or leave it, but I share it in the hopes that someone somewhere is spared at least one slap-to-the-forehead mistake that they might make in their new job.

Let’s start with compensation…

The pay isn’t great, but the rewards are________. Insert whatever dreamy adjective you’d like, but the fact is that people will say this to you, and it will not make you feel better… at all… and it just might make you more miserable.

The world is filled with well-meaning men and, especially, women who are a good 10 years past the active child-rearing phase whose memory has spared them the agony of recollection of the “fourth trimester.” (This is actually a good thing, because you’ll need grandparents to be willing to watch your little one(s) when you celebrate your 40th in the Virgin Islands.)

Sometimes the rewards of parenting aren’t good. Sometimes they are non-existent. It’s okay to believe this. It doesn’t matter that someday you will know what they mean. If today sucks, then it sucks. Just like any other days that suck, you live with it and move on. You do not need to carry the extra burden of thinking there’s something wrong with you for not experiencing constant joy. So unload that baggage. You have permission to not treasure every moment.

The time off policy…

You will sleep again, but not soon enough for your liking. When I was pregnant, I was told that “babies don’t sleep.” Now, unless you have some insight into infanthood, there is no way that this phrase makes sense. Of course babies sleep, right? How often do you see sleeping babies snuggled in their portable car seats (aka buckets) atop shopping carts in Target and at the grocery store? Plenty. So that warning that “babies don’t sleep,” can’t possibly be true.

The problem with “babies don’t sleep,” is that the words don’t adequately serve the situation, kind of like reading an instruction manual for IKEA furniture. What people should say is that “babies don’t sleep when you need to eat, use the bathroom or do anything that sustains you as a human being” or “babies only sleep when immersed in the white noise of a busy restaurant” or “babies don’t sleep for longer than 20 minutes at a time and only at intervals of once every two hours.”

A few of you will have babies who don’t appear to sleep at all. You will lay them in their car seats (because there is a high correlation between babies who don’t sleep and those who will tolerate a bassinet for only three seconds), and as you listen to the tension-inducing sounds of their snorting and whimpering, you will enter some kind of semi-conscious state where you will have visions (can’t call them dreams if you aren’t sleeping) of eating banana splits from from a trough or Joey from “Friends” refusing to give you back your baby, only to be snapped into reality (and you’ll question how real it really is) by full-blown wailing. You’ll doubt if anyone was, in fact, sleeping during that strange period of time which might only amount to seven minutes on the clock.

How long does it take to get over this kind of psychological torture? It depends. But eventually kids sleep, or they get to an age when you can better manipulate the situation. Though this may not result in your sleeping. The worries are parenthood are excellent contributors to insomnia.

Indulge in binge viewing. Yeah, maybe you should be sleeping. Yeah, maybe you should be making your own baby food with one of the three food mills you received at your shower. But in the future, you won’t have the energy to watch six straight hours of anything, let alone the hottest new series you haven’t yet seen because reruns of “Will & Grace” are on during the baby’s feeding time and/or you are now saving for college and purging your lifestyle of anything “frivilously expensive,” like HBO (a drop in the bucket, BTW). My husband and I look back on those Saturday nights we spent rolling through six whole seasons of “Sex & The City,” with fondness. It was kind of like date night but without the expense of a babysitter or the necessity of trying to squeeze back into my pre-pregnancy clothes.

Colleagues you can count on…

Resale is your friend. Trust me, when you get more than a decade into parenting and it is time to clean out that toy room or basement (or both) once again, you are going to feel fairly sick to your stomach at all the money that could have gone into your children’s educational fund but instead was invested in parade of primary-colored plastic objects that is about to march out your door to the Goodwill. If you are like me, you will experience the horror of having to toss any number of those broken toys into the garbage, thus contributing to the Plastic Ocean. Save yourself, the planet and your bank account — buy as much as you can second-hand.

Some of you will be a bit troubled by the idea of your baby engaging with something that is less than pristine. You will learn quickly that these kids do all sorts of things to spread germs, dirt and unidentifiable smudges. It becomes hard to tell what is “foreign.” Thanks to people like myself, there are loads of child paraphernalia in excellent condition from smoke-free homes. You’ll have no problem finding things that are more than adequate. Tell the grandparents, aunts and uncles — especially those who have a knack for buying the last thing you would want your child to have — to pad the education account. That’s one thing that never seems plentiful enough.

Your instincts won’t always serve you well. Trust them anyway. It was confusing when people told me to trust my instincts as I approached my final weeks of pregnancy. How in the world could I possibly have “instincts” for something with which I had no experience? What do “instincts” feel like anyway? What do “instincts” tell you?

Instincts under the influence of new parenthood will tell you all sorts of things, including plenty that are completely over-the-top and incredulous. One minute you’re convinced that the snorting and sniffling of your newborn indicates a breathing problem. The next you are certain that the absence of those sounds means the absence of breath. You just know your baby isn’t eating the right amount, until he/she drinks enough to begin choking. Then you fear precocious gluttony. You start the car after someone left the stereo cranked really high, and your baby will now suffer from hearing loss from the 0.7 second blast of sound.

But the thing is, your instincts are one of the best tools you’ve got. All the other resources you can tap into — books, grandparents, physicians, nurses, lactation consultants, parenting gurus, friends on social media, random commenters on mommy/daddy blogs, moms who cross four aisles in CVS to hear your newborn’s tender cry — they aren’t water-tight either. There will be that one time when you’re swimming upstream against everyone else, that one time when someone dares to utter the word “paranoia” to describe your “concern”… and it turns out that you will be right.

So, next time you reach for your phone to call your pediatrician’s office for the fifth time that day, remember that if it’s instinct that’s driving you, even if you are overreacting, you are doing your job.

Performance standards…

Especially for moms… it’s okay to not be good at “motherly” things. Enter motherhood and you will find there are many things the world automatically expects you to be into. Granted, you’ll spend more time than you ever imagined discussing things like nipple confusion. You may never have expected to pay such close attention how often another human being has a “BM,” and then share that information with others.

But not everything “motherly” will appeal to you, and this makes you no less capable in your role. For example, walking around Michael’s, your feelings of inadequacy increasing with every aisle of scrapbooking doo-dads and cake decorating what-nots you pass, because you feel compelled to do something “crafty” for Halloween may amount to nothing but a waste of time. Birthing a human being does not make one skilled with glitter, glue or even iron-on things.

By the way, it also doesn’t mean that you have an internal tracking system for every object in the house (though this perception only gets worse as your children and husband get older). Becoming a mother doesn’t mean that you will magically learn how to cook. And deciding that you’ll learn to cook during your maternity leave isn’t a good idea either, unless you want your lactation consultant to scold you for eating nothing but handfuls of dried fruit (too much acidity).

The culture…

“They have their whole lives to show the world how smart they are but only one time to be a kid.” I borrowed this from another parent of a 12-year-old I spoke with a few years ago. It has become my guide on so many decisions. Especially in this modern world of curated Facebook feeds and junior superstar everything, it’s tempting to want to respond to any glimmer of special skill or talent your child has. You may be sitting here thinking I won’t fall victim to this kind of thing. And maybe you won’t. But we live in a world of measurement and comparisons, and the compulsion to give your child opportunities is strong. You can read dozens of New York Times articles quoting psychologists who warn against the dangers of over-scheduling and lack of free play, but many of you will still waver over that sign-up sheet for just one more activity because you want them to be socialized, ready for the fourth-grade soccer team, have a shot at the youth symphony or any number of other things.

It’s definitely good to celebrate your child’s successes and support their growth. Just make sure that your child wants to and can own them.

Good luck out there, new parents! This baby thing might be overwhelming, but the on-the-job training is amazing, and you will always be challenged with something new.

Eco-guilt protects my wallet

This piece originally destined for this blog takes a fortunate detour through, a fabulous magazine featuring thoughtful non-fiction and photography on all manner of topics. In this issue, Industry, I talk about a modern weapon for my kids’ assault on my wallet in “Beware the Plastic Ocean” on page 55. Check it out here…

Gen X as slacker parents — not so much.

Does this look like the child of a slacker?

Does this look like the child of a slacker?

This morning, I was watching a segment on The Today Show featuring Jessica Lahey, an education and parenting writer, and Wendy Mogel, a family psychologist and author, on the importance of creativity. One of the guests commented on how offering creativity boosters like free play goes against the current trend of days filled with structured activities.

How ironic — the generation known for being slackers is raising its children with an intensity that appears to be unparalleled by previous generations.

As soon as Gen Y graduated into an awful economy, they became the hopeless unemployed basement dwellers who feasted off their parents’ generosity. But let’s not forget our roots. We were the original lazy generation, though no one accused us of being coddled by the latch-key lifestyle of many of our formative years. Yet, I’m sure the phrase, “They aren’t willing to put in the hard work,” has been uttered about every generation when they entered the workforce, especially those gifted with poor job prospects.

Research does show us, though, that each generation has some defining characteristics, and Gen X is supposed to be filled with free thinkers who value family and personal time. And I know that as we matured into our parenting years concepts like “free range parenting” and the like gained notice (though maybe not popularity). But so has the “helicopter parent.” So what’s behind the intensity of the current parenting generation’s practices?

Not only are our kids over-scheduled (which, in turn, suffocates our families and ourselves with commitments), but we do things like put them in sports leagues that require incredible amounts of practice time, increasing their risk of injury to growing bones and joints, or sign them up for other endeavors meant to help them stand out among their peers. I used to work with an orthopedic surgeon who said he does procedures on teenagers that were previously only done on ex-athletes whose joints wore out in middle age. Where I live (and I think it’s the same in other major urban school districts), kids test into the good public high schools, which means that they spend their middle school years being tutored on top of their normal academics and have to hope that they won’t get an A- in gym, which would sink their GPA too low to compete. This kind of thing is only good if you are in the business of test prep or treating anxiety disorders.

Some of this is forced upon us, such as the choice between spending the equivalent of a college education on a private high school or tutoring and test-prepping your child for a shot at a good free education (something most of us were raised to expect in this country). Work schedules make it tough for some people to offer blocks of free time in one’s bedroom or backyard, and many schools have addressed the need for after-school supervision with structured programs.

This problem has been chronicled over the past several years, and Wendy Mogel isn’t the first child expert to warn us against neglecting free play. Why does it seem that we are still heading in the wrong direction?

I can admit that some of the intensity that taints my parenting is self-inflicted. When my child wants to do everything, it’s hard for me to say no. I listen to parents “lament” their weekends dominated by their children’s schedules, and I detect an air of superiority in their “Oh, we’re just so busy,” that has me questioning how productive my family’s weekends are. When I see my kids’ toy room and could submit a photo of it to The Weather Channel as a post-disaster scene, I wonder if they have too much free time on their hands.

But Wendy Mogel said on The Today Show that mess is the work of creativity, so we have that going for us. Perhaps next time I feel belittled by a fellow parent’s weekend field-to-course-to-court odyssey, I can sigh and talk about how da Vinci’s parents must have had to live through such assaults on their household order as we do.

Apparently those sacrifices we make with our feet when we try to cross through the land of 10,000 Legos are, in fact, part of the formula for future success. I heard only the end of this part of the segment, but experts have determined that creativity is a key trait of business leaders. While I have issues with guiding a child through life with only the goal of a well-paying job in mind (see We Are More Than Our Metrics), perhaps this will get more people on board with the idea that we Gen Xer parents should chill out a bit.

In the beginning, there was a kid, a Classic and Croce

This week I step further into the mysterious world of midlife. And to celebrate, each day, I will post a song that holds significance from my past.

Let’s start with my first love song… Time In A Bottle by Jim Croce

I first learned the true meaning of love in the back seat of a Malibu Classic.

I was five years old, a passenger on the weekly journey to the A&P and Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime, along with my younger brothers.  My mom, who patiently endured the back-of-the-car antics of the five-and-under crowd, always had the radio on.  Time In A Bottle was in heavy rotation on our town’s biggest AM radio station, and just hearing the song in my head brings back the sensation of looking out the window watching life go by at 30 miles per hour.

I can’t remember what intersection we were at, but I can picture the stop sign, the crossroad and the overgrown grass around the old bungalow that occupied the corner lot amid the new houses surrounding it.  The theme from M.A.S.H. was ending and Time In A Bottle began.  By the closing notes of the song, I realized that love was more than just a word.

If I could make days last forever… if words could make wishes come true… I’d save every day like a treasure and then, again, I would spend them with you.

It dawned on me… each moment that passed, I was getting older.  Each moment that I aged, my parents were aging too.  I panicked at the thought – kids make parents grow old.  By having us, they were committing to a life limited by the passing of time.

So, for the next several months, I thought about how I could stop myself from growing up.  By doing so, I would keep my parents young.  But despite actually thinking something as crazy as being childless would stop time for them, I knew that not growing up, for a child at least, was impossible.  These were the sands of time, slipping out of my desperate little hands, and I was helpless to stop them.

And I have never been able to listen to Time In A Bottle without feeling the twinge of regret I knew as a small child.

Ironically, Jim Croce died shortly after releasing this song.   I knew this as a child, because the DJ often said, “That was the late Jim Croce…”  His death brought even more meaning to the lyrics.  It was a reminder that I would not be the five-year-old in the back seat of the Malibu Classic forever, just like Jim Croce wasn’t a recording artist forever.

Now, I realize that my reaction to this song was right in many ways, aside from the idea that people won’t age if they don’t have children.  Parenting is a sacrifice. Moms and dads commit their lives to their children.  Raising a child speeds up time immensely.  Jim Croce was right that there never seems to be enough time.

Years later, I have kids of my own.  My youngest is seven, and he has inherited my sensitivity to sad songs.  Even those that don’t have heartbreaking lyrics speak to him with their melancholy melodies.

I told my son this story about Jim Croce’s song.  I laughed when I told him about my strange first reaction to the lyrics, hoping that he would find this silly.  Like many children, he says he wants to stay with me forever. But I know that I will hang on to him much longer than he will need me.  He and his older sister will never fathom how much I love them until they become parents themselves.

There is something about the vulnerability of love, whatever form it takes or relationships it creates, that ties back to Time In A Bottle.  Love can be sad, like the melody.  It can be sweet, like the lyrics.  It can last forever and not long enough.

A couple of months ago, I heard the chiming first notes of Time In A Bottle while switching radio stations in the car.  In the back seat of our MDX, my son listened for a bit, frowned and, in a sad voice, asked me to turn off the song.  Then, he turned toward the window and watched the world go by at 30 miles per hour.

Does technology have you missing out on life?

I was thinking about what to post next… what is particularly GenX, and I found a blog post on the effects of technology on parenting.

GenXers are the first generation of parents who really have to contend with technology.  It’s our friend and our foe, and we get to create the map for how best to use it as a parent.

I saw this blog post recently, and it made me think about so many things, beyond just the subject of how technology can steal time from your relationship with your kids.  I also thought about how life has given us so many options, it’s difficult sometimes to consider swimming upstream and eschewing what doesn’t work for us personally.  Baby Boomers liked the idea of “marching to the beat of a different drummer,” but GenXers have to embrace it.

I thought about the irony of how tools like a smartphone can give and take away time.   Technology is supposed to give us benefits.  Why aren’t we tapping into that and creating more time for the pursuits we value?  As technology provides us with more options, the need to become more self-disciplined has increased.  Smartphones and other technology provide us with the opportunity to cram more stuff into our day and indulge in more entertainment.  We need to know where the line is between the convenience of always having something to read on the train ride home and the burden of keeping an eye on email while we read our kids a bedtime story.

I was certain this blog was wordpress, but I couldn’t find a button to repost.  So here goes the old-fashioned copy and paste routine…

Stuart Chaifetz Shows Us The Real Power of Technology

We all knew on some level how powerful technology has become in our lives, didn’t we?  Even several years back, when today’s revolutionary tools were referred to as Web 2.0, I had an admittedly rather vague concept of what was ahead.  But, often, a person needs to see something action to fully comprehend its impact.  This effort by Stuart Chaifetz to expose the horrible treatment of his autistic son at school has been my “ah-ha” moment.

So there is no confusion, I fully support what Chaifetz has done, from putting a microphone on his child to sharing his story through social media.  The fact is that he and his son — and clearly other families with children in the same classroom — have been victims of terrible treatment.  He followed the steps the system required, and when he ultimately could find no answers, he discovered a creative solution to the problem.  For the sake of Chaifetz’s child and his classmates, I’m glad he did.

My second thought about this situation is how much the world has changed in such a short amount of time.  Even 10 years ago, it would have been very tough for Chaifetz to share his story with anyone outside of his local area.  The process of information like this finding its way to a “traditional” news media outlet used to be difficult and time-consuming.  Granted, as an animal rights activist, Chaifetz knows his stuff.  But, a decade ago, there is no way that by Wednesday evening, I would have bumped into no less than ten people who also read or heard about a story of something that happened at an elementary school halfway across the country simply because it was reported on Yahoo! earlier in the day.  I can’t even remember Yahoo! even having coverage like that on its site.  This was a time when the concept of a “portal,” even, was in its infancy.

Chaifetz put together a website, is collecting online petition signatures, posted a video to YouTube, has a Facebook page, and as a result of all of the attention he’s getting has media coming to him to tell his story.  None of these things are new to me, but when it was put together for this purpose, I was struck by how much the world has changed.  It was just one of those midlife moments.

And what I hope from all of this is that people think twice about how they treat other people.  Maybe this idea is not so naive anymore.  We live in a time when a grade-school teacher who brings her foul mouth and perspective into a local classroom can be chastized by millions throughout the world.  Today this woman is “public enemy no. 1” in the minds of thousands, at least.  I wonder how it feels to be hated by so many people.  And I wonder if the potential of being hated like that will deter even a few people from acting on their worst thoughts or intentions.

If you haven’t seen the video, prepare to set aside 15 minutes to hear the whole thing.  You will be shocked, saddened and likely ultimately very happy that Chaifetz had the tools to tell his story in such a compelling way.