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Archives for Parenting

Be Like Barack


A lot of parents took notice when president-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle discussed in an interview last month how they would try to keep certain rules in place for their two daughters when they’re living in the White House. Malia and Sasha, 10 and 7, will have to continue cleaning up their rooms and making their own beds, Michelle Obama said.

Terrific, said the conscientious parents who were watching, I can talk about this as a good reinforcement to help keep my kids from slacking off.

Then there’s the other kind of parent. Uh oh, said those of us who take a more slatternly approach. Er, how often are you supposed to make the beds anyway? Are we talking daily?

When a seven-year-old could show up my housekeeping (well, actually it’s not that hard) you know you’re dealing with a family that’s full of disciplined achievers. The girls are also supposed to clean up after their dog when they finally get it, but I’m betting after a few weeks as an Obama, the puppy will have figured out how to hold the scoop in one little paw and the bag in another and then toss the whole mess in the trash all by itself.

Okay, so maybe we can’t all jump completely in on the Obama parenting model. But the president-elect has provided me with another useful mom tool. Obama has written that when he lived in Indonesia, his mother had him doing English schoolwork through correspondence courses.

Well hey, living in Spain, I try to keep my kids’ English up to speed with some work at home. This goes over better at some times than others.

But for those times when it doesn’t go over so well, now I have an annoying mom phrase to use with the kids: The man who’s soon to be president did extra work in English with his mom, and look where he’s ended up! (Of course, Obama writes that he and his mother got up to study at 4 a.m., something that does not happen in my house.)

But while citing presidential qualities is a great, traditional noodging tool, I’ve found you do have to be careful not to carry it too far.

For example, once you use Obama as an example of the importance of studying English, you might then go on to try to generalize it, saying, “After all, how could someone be president if he or she doesn’t use proper grammar?” Or maybe you’ll try to sneak in something like, “A president needs to know how to spell.” But it’s tough to come up with a phrase like that – that’s accurate – if you think about the wide variety of language skills of presidents and wannabe office-holders.

In the interest of minimizing the number of fibs we tell our kids, I recommend cutting off the nagging with just the example of Obama, a particularly skilled writer and speaker.

Besides, it’s no small thing to have a leader who gives you an example you can use in parenting.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 10:52 AM | Permalink

Home Spaces


It’s always been pretty clear that astronaut wasn’t my dream job – mention a spacesuit to me, my first thought is, “What about itches?” – but it’s now certain beyond a doubt that I should cross that one off my potential career list.

You have one little butterfingers move and it’s worldwide news? Is this fair? Forget it, I couldn’t take the pressure. How could you not let a hammer or something go when you’re out there on a spacewalk repairing the thrust decombobilator or whatever? If the astronaut examination board were drinking mai tais one morning and let me go up in space, there’d be so many nails and screws and things flying around out there, astronomers would have to name a new asteroid belt.

Not that it seems that this astronaut really dropped the tool bag. It sounds like it might just have been a knot that came undone, which can happen to anyone too. But as ever, it also comes down to cleaning: astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper seems to have been partly tripped up by a greasy mess, and hey, what woman hasn’t?

The way the whole crowd around my house lets dishes and glasses and other breakables go flying (accidentally) is enough to make the husband check out that rubbery playground flooring to see if it would work in kitchens.

Although there is one really appealing bit to the astronaut gig – I’m jealous of how quickly they can get a toilet fixed. Plus, they’ve got a whole team to do renovations? This is how many thousands? millions? OK, really it’s hundreds, of miles out in space? But they’ve just done some additions, changed a few rooms around, and the team even cleaned up after themselves? And this summer they got someone to come right out to the space station, fix the toilet and they’re all set? I bet it’s really fixed, too, not like some of the “fixes” I’ve seen.

If the space station worked like my household, I’m telling you, there’d be a heck of a lot more space news bulletins. They could even build a TV series, maybe one of those docudramas that National Geographic likes so much.

First: “Space station crew says, ‘Toilet seems to be working funny.’” Then, “Crew hopes toilet will repair itself.” And, “Crew agrees, toilet definitely not working, someone should call someone.”

Then the action part of our drama: “Crew searching for decent plumber.” “No good plumber recommendations found, crew calls random plumber, schedules appointment for two weeks from now.”

The climax: “Plumber comes, does something, charges a lot; crew agrees plumbing is a fine career for offspring.”

And the re-runs. “Crew says, ‘Toilet still seems to be working funny.’” And so on.

So maybe I should check out the astronaut career path. Since the astronauts are actually their own plumbers/contractors/carpenters/etc., NASA must train you in these home repair skills – while you’re learning not to scratch.

Now, that would be very handy.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 5:57 AM | Permalink

A New Floss-iphy


Does anyone else get a little tense when they read/watch/inject the news these days? Even when the economic and business news these days isn’t unremittingly bad, it’s still so uncertain.
Uncertain times can keep many of us closer to home. It’s either an instinctive nesting/hunkering down in defense, or gee, maybe the fact that who has money for trips and going out these days anyway? Even if you do have money (and can I have a loan by the way?), this nouveau poverty ethos being preached in many parts is an encouragement to lay low and practice those economical domestic arts, like handcrafting furniture out of nothing more than flour, water and shoe polish.
Stressing about the economy can only be bad for us, which is something else to worry about. But wait – there’s good news. As Slate’s Jack Shafer points out, journalists get bored with reporting the same old same old – and even the worst news becomes same old awfully fast these days. So even amidst the teeth-chatteringly scary items there’s some cheer to be found. You know this global financial crisis that makes you wake up sweating in the middle of the night? Well hey, it might actually be good for your health.
That’s right. Remember when people used to fret about the huge portions of unhealthy food they were eating too much of out at restaurants, and feel guilty for not staying in and whipping up some healthful home cooking? Well, no more. Now, we’ll be eating home to save money and getting healthier meals as a bonus. So hooray for the crisis. Because I’m sure everyone’s cooking up healthy beans instead of pulling out the frozen chicken fingers made with mystery oils that were on sale, or the bargain-priced instant mac ´n´ cheese. And for a little comfort food soothing, baking bread instead of hitting up the half-price donuts the grocery puts out at the end of the day.
Well, OK, maybe only some of us are hitting up the half-price donuts. Others of us, I know, have a better attitude. It’s like in The Waltons, that 1970s TV show about a warm, close-knit family pulling together to get through the Depression on love and not much else. The last scene in most shows was of the house with the lights mostly turned out and the family all saying their goodnights to each other. Well, some of us would be calling out those loving goodnights and some of us would be the window with the light on, still burning electricity, yelling out, “Could you all shut up, I’m trying to read here.”
No, no, I’ll join in on the making lemonade out of lemons too. I mean, I have a background in economics, I’ve covered international financial markets as a journalist, I think I really can help provide a useful answer for our current troubles, one inexpensive domestic detail that can provide a small measure of comfort as we’re tending our home fires against the unknowns in the outer darkness. I have just one word: flossing.
First of all, flossing your teeth is a pretty cheap activity – less so if you use those handy little sticks with the floss built in, but that’s between you and your budget, or you and your manual dexterity. I’ve read it mentioned as something couples can do together too to promote mutual good health – and hey, that really sounds like a way to spark that loving feeling – staring into a mirror together with slimy bits of blech-covered string hanging out of your mouths. Flossing might also promote all sorts of good health benefits, which is good for future savings in health costs, and if you’re sure what kind of health insurance coverage you’ll have in the future then congratulations to you and your psychic.
Most of all there’s the psychological benefits. One small exercise of willpower, like flossing, may help to develop willpower in general, and now that shopping’s no longer a patriotic exercise (well, it still is, but everyone’s hoping the Chinese will catch on to it first), you can use that willpower to keep on moving past the stores.
Hey, it’s not like you’re going to have to be working out those big chunks of expensive meat that get stuck between the teeth anyway; a bean skin is a lot easier to flick away.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 5:00 AM | Permalink

Changing My Stripes


The last thing any of us need right now is any more uncertainty in life, any more shifting sands under our feet, any more treasured truths thrown by the wayside. Unfortunately, there’s a new reality we all must now face.
Brace yourselves: Horizontal stripes do not make you look fat. And vertical stripes do not slim you down. Apparently, it’s the reverse that’s true – horizontal stripes actually make you look thinner. Really – it’s been scientifically proven. A psychologist at York University in England recently presented the results of a (small but I’ll buy it) study showing this. However, he does still back the idea that black makes you look thinner, so at least the whole world hasn’t gone topsy-turvy.
If you’re like me, you figured the time you wasted absorbing stupid fashion “rules” (in magazines in the old days; now whenever I’m tempted to an errant click) at least would be compensated for by a better appearance, and – or so conventional wisdom has it – that is supposed to offer some kind of concrete payback in the real world. Every so often I’d be tempted by some cute sailor stripes, or a multi-colored sweater, but steer myself away or eventually purge it from my wardrobe (when it comes to worries about looking fat it’s a lot easier to get rid of the stripes than the brownies).
And now it turns out I should have trusted my instincts. And just worn what I liked. What’s next? I suppose now I’ll find out I’m not really a winter – or that those colors are all wrong anyway. Or that a good bra doesn’t really matter? That no matter how hard you shop there isn’t a flattering pair of jeans for everyone? The right piece of jewelry can’t perk up an outfit? The only way to look ten pounds thinner is to – lose ten pounds? Believe me, I am no slave to fashion, but I always figure a few tips can’t hurt (like, if you wear a t-shirt with a stain that didn’t come out, can you pass it off as the pattern? can you wear white sweat socks with clogs if the socks are super cozy and keep your feet warm?); still, it looks like my secret vice – checking out Oprah-type makeovers – is even more of a waste than I thought.
Here’s another annoying part – researcher Peter Thompson was inspired to do his study because of an idea about optical illusions from the 19th century. The good old Helmholtz illusion shows that for two same-sized squares, the one with horizontal strips looks taller and thinner than the one with vertical stripes. Thus, notes Thompson, 19th-century German physicist and physician Hermann von Helmholtz was backing totally different – and more accurate – fashion tips than nowadays. So what happened? We all got confused? I wonder just how much popular wisdom (in all areas) is simply wrong, or what other (arguably) useful knowledge was once common but is now buried. Just when I was hoping Google and Wikipedia were the way to find all the answers, now it seems we’ll have to look further. Of course, there’s always the all-black wardrobe.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:44 AM | Permalink

And Still About Sarah


If you’ve just gotten back from an interplanetary voyage, first, welcome back to Earth. Second, you might not know that Alaska governor and mom Sarah Palin has gotten a bit of news attention since she was revealed as the Republican vice presidential candidate.
Palin’s the “fun” choice so everybody’s been weighing in on her. This is partly because talking about someone else’s babies and family details is a lot less depressing than trying to sort out a war and the economy these days.
So she’s a mom and we all like to talk about other moms, but away from the sound and fury I can’t see that her being a mom means anything. The fact that both Palin and I fit in a category of “moms in their 40s” shows just how meaningless that category is, because as far as I can tell, she and I hold opposite views on just about everything except possibly the pleasures of Alaska salmon, but she’d be fishing it first and I’d just take it straight from the grocer. After all, what does being a mom mean (besides having a child)? Being nurturing? So is that supporting policies that protect the environment, or that make sure you can defend your home with a machine gun?
Over in Spain, as I’ve mentioned, the defense minister is a new mom, and coincidentally this weekend the Sunday magazine of the leading national newspaper had a cover story headlined “Mother and Minister” with a cover shot of Minister Carme Chacon cuddling her baby. Here or in the U.S., it’s an irresistible image to explore – a woman in power who’s also a mother of young children. So there was the picture of Chacon getting something from her refrigerator and the anecdote about Chacon zooming upstairs in the ministry elevator from a meeting to her private apartment, unbuttoning her jacket as she goes, to nurse her crying baby. Vaguely interesting, like the stories about Palin combining breastfeeding and work. But meaningful? The Spanish Socialist minister, who is quoted saying, “I’m a pacifist and the armies of the 21st century are also,” seems unlikely to have much else in common with Palin.
Palin’s also gotten lots of commentary on her personal choices, questioning how and whether a mother with five kids, one a special needs infant and one a pregnant teen, can or should take on the 24-7 stress and time of a vice presidential campaign, not to mention possibly the office (it’s been repeated so much it’s starting to sound like a line for a song in “Sarah: the Musical”). How it will affect the kids is interesting but irrelevant (although Palin has made it a fair topic by making being a mom a main part of her image), how it will affect the job is relevant but unknowable. An average mom probably couldn’t do so well, but an average mom wouldn’t even be in the position in the first place. And let’s get real, we’re talking about kids who now have no more than one degree of separation from U.S. presidents, whose mom, win or lose, can set up a nice trust fund from book royalties and speaking fees. This is not the upbringing the likes of your kids and mine will have. Sure, it’s schadenfreude-ish fun to tsk at the children being neglected (abandoned to their own father?), but although mom might not have time to help decide between the red or the blue back-to-school notebook, she’s sure giving them a different kind of edge in becoming successful adults. Their therapists can sort it all out one day.
So Palin can raise her kids her way, and let me raise mine my way. But that’s of course the real problem and the piece of legitimate interest in the exaggerated examination of her mom-o-rama life: extrapolating from Palin’s personal choices to policies that affect us all. She went back to work three days after giving birth? Does that mean we don’t need parental leave policies? Kids run around the office while she works? Does she understand that doesn’t go over so well in most workplaces? Conservatives have applauded the consistency between Palin’s opposition to abortion rights and her 17-year-old daughter having a baby. If her personal is to be made my political, or perhaps her political to be made my personal, I just might have to check out the Spanish army.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:04 PM | Permalink

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