Kids at play new endangered species

There are six—no wait—make that seven boys playing in the street on this Saturday afternoon. A football is rolling downhill, one end over the other. Two of the boys are on skateboards, several are on bikes and the others are zigzagging across the street, running through yards, laughing and shouting.

signA mom comes out of a garage, stands in her driveway and surveys the action. She returns to the garage and reappears with a large, round pillow that she tosses down on the driveway. A brown mutt appears and curls up for a nap. The woman goes back in the house.

The boys, ranging from ages 7 to 12, are now dribbling basketballs, generating the sounds of play that draw you to a window, cause you to look outside and smile. The odd thing is that there is no obvious direct adult supervision. What an anomaly.

You wonder if the parents didn’t get the memo that you must never let kids out of your sight. We live in a world that thrives on pumping suspicion and fear.

Not that we didn’t teach our own children about stranger danger and cultivate a healthy awareness. And now we keep an eagle eye on our grands.

Yet here these kids are, a throwback to childhood of years gone by, playing hard in suburbia.

We let our kids set up a produce stand at the end of the block when they were this age. (This was before cities began cracking down on crime, busting kids operating lemonade stands without business licenses.) I checked on the kids periodically, but I didn’t sit with them.

One of our grown kids asked if we would let kids operate the Champ Produce stand today. It’s a good question.

A family around the corner lets their daughter have a lemonade stand. (Please don’t tell the city.) She’s personable, responsible and sharp. She is also in the sight line of the family’s front door.

Maybe I am relishing watching these boys running free because it smacks of a more care free time. Nobody’s dad is checking names on a roster and nobody’s mother is running behind them dragging a cooler filled with snacks.

In the simple act of play, these boys are learning to take risks and problem solve. They are finding out who has the best throwing arm, who is fast on a bike and who can balance on a skateboard. They’re also looking out for one another. A vehicle drives up the street and one of the older boys yells, “CAR!” They scatter and the car slowly passes.

They may even be forging community. Should one of these boys be bullied on the bus next week, he well could have a small platoon rising to stand beside him.

We have to be smart today, that’s for sure. Kids need to be savvy and on guard, but they also need the freedom to be kids.

The good, bad and the bossy

Dear Miss Bossy Pants,

You might not remember me, but I was one of the girls you bossed around when we were kids. I was the short one, kinda quiet, a little shy. I was one of the girls you mowed down in the lunch line, barreled over in gym class and dictated what games we had to play at recess.

I even had a jacket with your footprints running across my back. I was the one you interrupted, talked over and looked straight through. You were the one who designated yourself as in-charge. Even the teacher was afraid of you.

You were Lucy from the Peanuts gang and Margaret from Dennis the Menace. Bossy, bossy, bossy. Yak, yak, yak.

We’re not supposed to call girls like you bossy anymore because we could hurt your self-esteem. (Like that was ever in short supply.)

You must be pretty jazzed to have someone like Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook launching a Ban Bossy campaign on your behalf. Sandberg says calling girls bossy can keep them from their dreams of executive leadership. My dream was to get the ball back from you so I could play four square.

Sandberg was called bossy and look how it damaged her. She’s worth more than one billion dollars.

Sandberg has a lot of rich and famous women on board, including Condoleezza Rice, Beyonce, the head of the Girl Scouts and Yahoo. It’s a pretty downtrodden group all right. If their dreams of leadership were squashed, they sure recovered well.

Anyway, about banning this word bossy. I’m against it. I’m anti-censorship in general. I’m a freedom-and-liberty kind of gal. I’m not going to be hitting the like button on this one.

The thing is this, if someone calls you bossy, why not think about it? Maybe you are. And if you are, maybe you need to change. Maybe you’re not the only one with some ideas. Maybe you can be overbearing, obnoxious even.

And if you’re not bossy, let it roll. Don’t make a federal case – let alone a website, buttons and a social media campaign.

Sure, it’s not always kind to call someone bossy. But consider the options: domineering, controlling, aggressive, overbearing, self-absorbed or simply “the girl who hogs the tempera paints.”

Banning bossy won’t empower little girls, it will only victimize them. One more thing they are to be offended by.

And the argument that little girls are being held back has more holes in it than my kitchen colander. (I have a house now. Does that surprise you?) The average ratio of female to males entering college is 56 to 44. Females graduate college at a far higher rate and the latest Fortune 500 listed more female CEOS than ever before.

I will say I enjoy the irony of the Ban Bossy campaign—wealthy, powerful, successful women telling the rest of us what we can’t say.

I should have said it years ago, but I didn’t, so I’ll say it now: You’re not the boss of me.

Sincerely,

The short kid with curly brown hair

What to expect at gender reveal parties

The first gender reveal party I attended was in our front hallway. It was what you would call low-key. Our expectant daughter-in-law arrived with a box of homemade cookies. She’s not a baker, so my antennae were up.

Baby outfitThe cookies had pink frosting. I got it. Very cute.

The rest of the family just helped themselves to the cookies and said thanks.

Gender reveal parties are far bigger events these days. Some hire professional photographers, stream live video and make the big announcement with a fireworks display. All of which makes you wonder what they’ll do when the kid passes kindergarten. Surely a coronation will be in order.

Women of my generation had the big reveal in the delivery room. Our party guests were masked medical personnel. The party theme colors were hospital green and more hospital green. The only drinks served were ice chips and appetizers were strictly forbidden.

It was a good system. Most of the time.

When our second baby was finally born, I said, “Oh, it’s another boy!”

The nurse-midwife said, “No, it’s a girl.”

“But it looked like a boy.”

“That was the umbilical cord, dear. You had a long labor.”

Confusion happens.

Our middle one knew the sex of their twins early on because they do ultrasounds every 10 minutes when you are a high risk pregnancy expecting multiples. They knew it was two boys. Or maybe a boy and a girl. Or maybe two girls. And they were. Two girls.

She didn’t want to know the sex of their third baby. She wanted to be surprised.

Our youngest is the first to have an actual gender reveal party. It was a small family affair. We were to choose a blue or pink clothespin when we entered to signify our guess as to the baby’s sex. Nobody’s going to make me vote against a grandbaby before the baby is even born. I took one of each and prepared for a win/win.

A family friend had been given the ultrasound technician’s note as to the baby’s sex and bought an outfit, which the expectant couple slowly pulled from a gift bag. The first thing I saw was black and white stripes.

That’s different, I thought. We still don’t know if it is a boy or a girl, but apparently the baby is a convict. Ultrasounds have sure progressed from my day. Then they pulled out the entire outfit and it had bright pink trim. What a relief. Turns out it’s going to be a girl.

Our daughter, a kindergarten teacher, took the gift bag and little outfit to school the next day to share with her students who had been asking if the baby was a boy or a girl.

“Who can guess what I’m going to pull out of this bag?” she asked.

A little girl yelled, “A BABY!”

If only it were that easy.

Why, yes, I do box

When someone asks you to go boxing, it’s not the sort of invitation you accept without asking questions. I had two: “Are you going to hit me in the face?” and “Will there be blood?”

Lori BoxingThe retired United Methodist minister who invited me is congenial, witty, and not the sort of man you would picture taking a swing at your face and breaking your nose, but all the same I felt better asking.

As it turns out, nobody in Marvin’s boxing class hits anybody else. They box heavy bags, speed bags and practice with two female trainers—one a three-time world champion boxer.

Oh, did I mention that all the boxers in the class have Parkinson’s?

Marvin was diagnosed at 61, a few months after he retired. Seven years later he’s still boxing, working to stave off the progression of Parkinson’s.

With any affliction, challenge or brick wall, when the determined ones can’t pass through, they hunt for a way around, under or over. It’s called grit.

Grit is what they develop at Rock Steady Boxing. It’s an intense 90-minute workout. They start with warm-up exercises in a ring that used to be a backup ring at Madison Square Garden years ago.

After their warm up, they hit the exercise machines and after that they don the gloves. Then they box against the heavy bags and the speed bags. Periodically, a trainer yells to drop and give her three pushups. Some shake, some tremble, some falter, but nobody quits.

The drill with the jump rope is fascinating. One man jump ropes the length of the gym, others lay the jump rope on the floor and practice jumping over it, back and forth, back and forth. Making the feet move is hard for people with Parkinson’s. There is something about seeing a line that encourages the brain to tell the feet to step over it. Maybe it’s the same effect as signs that say “Wet Paint” or “Don’t Walk on the Grass.”

And then there is the drill with the focus pads. Focus pads are the baseball gloves of boxing. Trainers put a focus pad on each hand, and boxers punch into them, working on speed, endurance and agility. A trainer calls out a large man with an unsteady and halting gait. He turns toward her and nearly loses his footing. He hesitates. He doesn’t say anything verbally, but it looks like a body language no.

She calls him again. He lumbers over, raises his gloves and throws a punch. His stance is uncertain. She yells and he throws another punch. Then another. Left, right, left, right. She demands more of him. More and more. She’s pushing him hard, and if he falls it won’t be easy getting him back up.

He throws faster and faster, harder and harder. He has found a rhythm that moments ago was beyond reach, or at least beyond my imagination. She slowly raises the focus pads higher and higher still yelling, challenging, encouraging. His punches follow her moves with a fluid grace. Her arms are extended as high as they will go. He reaches high and throws hard in complete and utter defiance to the forces working against him.

Determination 1, Challenges of Life, 0.

More dad moments, please

It truly was a dad-moment. Harry Connick, Jr., amazing musician, husband, father of three daughters and all-around nice guy, recently asked an “American Idol” contestant, who had just turned 18, to repeat the first line of the song she just sang.

“You got me down on the floor, so what you got me down here for,” she replied.

He asked her if she really wanted to be singing about, you know, being down on the floor.

She squirmed. The camera cut to her parents sitting in the audience. She squirmed a bit more and then said something along the lines of why yes, she did want to sing about being “down on the floor, so what you got me down here for” because it was about women, power and what women want.

The audience roared and her parents beamed.

The dad in Connick had trumped the entertainer and celebrity in him. He didn’t flinch. In challenging the girl with a pointed question, he was actually attempting to protect her. That’s a brave move in today’s world.

We’re an odd lot. We strive to give kids the best schools, the best experiences, brag that they’re talented and ahead of the curve, yet shrink from asking basic questions that reveal whether they can follow simple logic.

If you’re down on the floor when you’ve barely turned 18, where do you think you’ll be at 19?

We do better with friend-mode than dad-mode or mom-mode. Friend-mode is comfortable, less confrontational. Yet asking kids pointed questions helps them connect the dots. It’s nothing new. It’s the same way Socrates taught Plato.

The thing about pop culture is that it demands such strict allegiance that few have the courage to question it. If you don’t think pop culture inflicts a suffocating sameness, note that gaggle of girls at the mall, the ones striving for individuality, yet pressed into conformity. They’re all wearing the same leggings, the same boots and twirling the same highlighted hair.

We sidestepped much of pop culture when our kids were young simply because so much of it was (and still is) coarse and vulgar. They were cheeky enough without the encouragement of Bart Simpson.

Were we protective? Without apology.

When they were older and ready to date, we protected them again.

Boys interested in spending time with our girls were often invited to dinner. We would tease that three out of the five members of our family belonged to the NRA. They’d laugh a nervous laugh, which is what we were going for. The message was, “We’re a fun family, but don’t do anything stupid, son.”

A graduating high school senior once said that of all the girls he dated, we were the only parents who had ever talked to him.

Was parent-mode ever interpreted as aggressive? Yes.

Did it cause conflict? On occasion.

Are children worth it? Absolutely.

When a lovely young woman croons about being down on the floor, someone needs to slip into dad-mode. Someone needs to ask her hard questions and let her know that she’s worth so much more.

Bird’s eye view of work

I picked up the phone. Without so much as a hello, a voice said, “What’s new? We have an eagle in the backyard.”

EagleThere was a three-second brain lapse before I recognized the voice as my nephew’s. He was excited.

“It has a white head about the size of a baseball and a big yellow beak. He’s sitting in the top of a dead cottonwood tree at the back of our property. You know, where we used to keep the trailer.”

My nephew is visually impaired as we say today.

“It has white tail feathers that must be a foot long. He’s been there a long time. We’re sitting out in the sunroom watching him.”

The term “visually impaired” lacks the full kick in the gut. He is blind.

Retinitis pigmentosa began stealing his sight when he was 12. He’s in his twenties now.

“It’s a big ol’ thing. Dad saw it fly in and said it must have a wingspan of six feet. We’ve got an eagle sitting out back. Can you believe it?”

I can believe they have the rare pleasure of spotting an eagle in the top of a cottonwood. What I can’t believe is that my nephew without sight is giving the color commentary. It shouldn’t be that surprising really.

His sight might be gone, but he sees plenty. From memory mostly, from conversation around him, from listening to television and radio. He has amazing recall. We took him into town with us when we were visiting once. Our GPS wouldn’t work, so he gave us directions. Turn by turn, complete with landmarks, approximate distance and cautions on curves in the road. He knew exactly where we were and got us to where we wanted to go.

Second to his family, there are two things that have been pivotal in this young man’s life: a guide dog and a job.

The guide dog unleashed confidence he didn’t know he had.

The job, well, as his dad said, “Having a job makes him like everybody else. Now he has something to come home and gripe about at the end of the day.”

I never have a conversation with my nephew without asking about his job in case he wants to gripe. If he does, I join the club and grouse a bit about my work, too.

But I know, and I know that he knows, work is a gift.

We were created to work. We were made to produce goods and services, invent, engineer and solve problems. Work, including the nonpaying work of mothers and caregivers, is what drags us out of bed in the morning.

Work gives us something to do and somewhere to go. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, talk to someone unemployed. You might even help them paint over the claw marks running down their walls.

Work is how you prove that you have what it takes, to the world, and more importantly, to yourself. It is working hard that enhances the time that you don’t work, from kicking back and reading a book to watching an eagle.

Take the money, please

I hope I’m not asking too much, but could I just pay?

Could I just hand you some cash or swipe my credit card, take my purchase and go?

Why do you have to make me feel like a worm?

I’m friendly by nature, really I am. Surely you saw that when I approached the checkout counter and smiled.

We’re getting along fabulously, the transaction is going smoothly and then you have to sour it all by asking for my phone number.

Are you going to give me your phone number? I didn’t think so. I’m not giving you my phone number any more than I’m going to the parking lot and writing it in the dirt on the back windshields of pickup trucks. I don’t need a new best friend; I just need a new scrub brush I can fill with dish soap.

Now you look hurt and disappointed because I won’t give you my phone number. I feel terrible.

What’s that? You’d like my email address? No, you can’t have my email address.

What’s that? If I give you my email address, you’ll take five dollars off my next purchase? Look, I’ll pay you five dollars here and now if you’ll never ask me for personal information again. No? You can’t take cash? Too bad.

What’s that? Would I like to give you my street address? Why? Are you coming over? No, you can’t have my address. And if I see you follow me out of the store, I’m calling the police.

My zip code? All right. My zip code you can have. Now will you wipe that sad-puppy look off your face?

That’s better.

Did I know I could “like” your store on Facebook? Marvelous.

Would I like to donate to a charitable cause? If I say no, you’re going to think I’m cold and uncaring. What does it matter? You already think I’m a snob.

Would I like to take a survey? You’re circling the web address I can access to take a survey about my shopping experience today? If I say yes I’ll be lying, but if I say no you’re going to get that sad look again. I don’t say anything and now you’re certain I’m a snob, cold and uncaring.

Excuse me, I have a text: “Would you like a six-pack of Coke just for being you?”

How did the grocery get my cell? I never, ever, ever give out my cell. Blast that NSA!

For the record, the answer is no. No, I don’t want a six-pack of Coke; no, I don’t want to give you my phone number, my address, my email, my cell, my birth date, my Social Security number, my shoe size or my blood type. For the record, I make charitable contributions without solicitation and I probably won’t take time to go online and rate my shopping experience.

I’m leaving now. I feel like a jerk. I’m sorry it had to end this way. I just wanted to pay.

Giving your child unfair advantage

An acquaintance in his late 20s beamed from ear to ear as he told me that he is about to become a father. I gave him my hearty congratulations and commented on how happy he and his wife must be.

They are not married. I knew that, but I threw in the part about “he and his wife” hoping to plant an idea. I threw it in because the stories of kids growing up without dads are too many and too painful. I threw it in because Brad and Angelina may have assembled a brood of six before becoming engaged, but they are from that thin sliver of the population that enjoys unlimited wealth, own multiple homes and give private jets as birthday gifts. Rich celebrity couples do a great disservice when they make unmarried parenting look easy. Rich celebrity couples don’t shop Wal-Mart.

The fact is that this very kind young man, who surely chose a very kind young woman to deliberately replicate DNA with, will give his child a much better chance at success in this cold, cruel world if he advances from the role of father to that of husband.

The truth of this plays out every day. Literally.

If you are ever in a class or corporate training exploring diversity, you may be asked to play a game in which you will be “penalized” if you grew up in a married two-parent home because it has given you an unfair advantage in life.

What does the unfair advantage look like? Quite simply, two people can move a piano easier than one. When one of you is exhausted, the other one can take the lead. When one of you grows discouraged, the other one can find a new angle around a difficult corner.

Two are usually better equipped than one to avoid poverty, provide a roof overhead, food on the table, greater interaction, more supervision and conversation. Single parents can, and do, successfully raise children alone, but the path is far more difficult, which is why we readily give them generous amounts of support and sympathy.

From a child’s perspective, there is something mysteriously empowering about a wedding picture in a frame sitting on a shelf, the occasional envelope that comes addressed to Mr. and Mrs. and that crazy snoring at the end of the hall. It makes a kid feel stronger, smarter and taller. Marriage creates a safety net, visible and invisible.

People spend a lot of time assembling all the things a new baby will need, carefully choosing a crib, soft sleepers, diapers and baby creams. In a matter of several short years the child will have outgrown all of those things. But a child never outgrows the need for stability, a mom and dad committed to making a life and a home.

I wish I had been more direct with my young acquaintance. I should have said, “Your precious unborn baby deserves every unfair advantage. Why not give it to him? Why not give him the security of a mother and a father who are also husband and wife?”

Oh baby, here come the swaddling bans

When our fifth grandchild was born, I was in our daughter’s hospital room alongside our son-in-law helping him freshen up this adorable creature, their third baby. We changed her diaper, put a sleeper on her and prepared to swaddle her.

babyOur son-in-law has excellent swaddling skills. He employs a technique much like folding a flag, which reflects his military background. The folds are so crisp you nearly want to salute the infant when he’s finished.

As he was spreading out the blanket, my daughter said, “Mom, did you know swaddling babies is now frowned upon?”

I paused before saying the first thought that came into my head, and good thing, because a nurse had quietly entered the room.

I was about to proclaim, “If swaddling was good enough for the Christ child, it’s good enough for this child!”

The young nurse picked up the conversation and proceeded to inform me why swaddling is no longer an accepted practice. I gathered from her tone that swaddling is not quite as bad as letting your children play in traffic, but a close second.

She explained that the new way to put a baby to sleep is to put the baby on her back in the crib, place a blanket over her and tuck the blanket in on both sides of the mattress. This, of course, is a direct violation of the standing edict of the past 20 years that you never, never, never put a loose blanket in a crib with a baby under age 1.

People have been swaddling babies for more than 2,000 years. But why should that stop us from denouncing the practice now? We are nothing, if not arrogant.

Any mother worth her stretch marks will tell you that swaddling calms babies. Swaddling simulates the tight quarters in the womb, reduces crying, allows babies to hold body heat and sleep well. Swaddling for a baby is like a Snuggie for an adult—only much tighter fitting and more socially acceptable.

Bureaucratic fingerprints are all over this baby. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education now states that “swaddling is not necessary or recommended.” What do you bet they were all swaddled as babies and swaddled their own babies as well?

In California, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, swaddling finds itself wrapped in virtual bans. Pennsylvania parents must obtain a signed wavier from a pediatrician if they want a daycare to swaddle their baby.

If only government bureaucrats intent on banning swaddling showed the same enthusiasm for deficit reduction.

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of the best-known gurus of baby sleep, maintains that swaddling has many benefits and “may well reduce infant sleep deaths.” But why listen to him? He’s only a well-respected, highly regarded specialist in how babies sleep; whereas the government specializes in . . . I’ll get back to you on that one.

When my obituary for Common Sense was published in a small book several years ago, it’s a shame we didn’t insert 100 blank pages at the back of the book so readers could add their own examples.

Sadly, you could fill a new page almost every day. This is definitely one for the book.

Nite, nite, Mr. Germ

Like a lot of kids during cold and flu season, our grandchildren have been trained for good health and good manners: Cover your mouth when you cough and say bless you when someone sneezes. Earlier in the day, one sneezed and another one said, “Hey! Don’t bless on me!”

Three of the grands are spending the night. Their mother is putting them down and I have been summoned to tell a bedtime story. The baby is already asleep, another is on the verge of sleep, and the third apparently has been downing espresso on the sly. The conversation between the very awake toddler and her rapidly fading mother turns to germs. “Grandma is going to tell you a story, because Mommy doesn’t feel well.”

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” the three-year-old asks.

“I have a virus,” Mommy says, getting up to leave.

“What’s a virus?”

“A virus is caused by a germ.”

“What’s the germ’s name, Mommy?”

Mommy sits back down. “I don’t know.”

“But, Mommy, what’s the germ’s name?”

“It’s probably rhinovirus. All right? Mommy’s going to leave now.” Mommy gets up again.

“But wait, Mommy. Where is the germ?”

“It’s in my mouth.”

“How did it get there?”

“I don’t know. Germs just travel this time of year.”

“Oh. What’s the germ’s name?”

“Rhinovirus.”

“Oh. I can’t say that.”

“It’s a hard word to pronounce,” says Mommy, who has inched her way to the door.

“And it’s in your mouth?”

“Yes, it’s in my mouth.”

Mommy leaves the room. I begin telling a story about a heavy snowfall and a full moon. It is a captivating story, if I may say so myself, and yet I am interrupted.

“Mommy has a germ.”

“I know. And on the most crooked branch of the tree sat a very round and puffy owl.”

“What’s its name?”

“What’s what name? The owl or the germ?”

“Mommy’s germ. What’s the name?”

“I think it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

“I don’t think that was it, Grandma.”

“Maybe not. I don’t remember the germ’s name.”

“It’s hard to say, Grandma.”

“Yes, I know. The owl had yellow eyes, pointed ears and a hook nose.”

“Grandma?”

“Yes?”

“Mommy has a germ. The germ has a name. The germ is in her mouth.”

“Yes, that’s why she has a sore throat and doesn’t feel well.”

“Do I have a germ in my mouth?” She opens her mouth wide.

“No, all you have in your mouth is your teeth and your tongue.”

“Oh. That’s good,” she says with a yawn. “Good night, Grandma.”