Tag Archives: Children

Grand ambitions & wayward dreams

This may not happen to all stay-at-home-parents, but for me, by the time August rolls around my goose is cooked. I have run out of ideas and the energy to get the kids out of the house for an adventure. The boys seem to think that bickering and fighting is a great way to pass the waning days of summer while I stare at the calendar like a kid waiting for his birthday, fantasizing about all that I am going to get done and be able to do once the boys are in school. I know this will be the case because during those long last weeks the days are never ending, just like when I was a kid in school staring out the window of a stuffy classroom.

Before the school year started I made a list of goals, like put the laundry away right away, keep up with the clutter that materializes on every flat surface, have dinner prepped before the boys get home, go paddle boarding, exercise every day. I saw myself doing yoga in a clutter-free house, because the kids were out of it all day and I had all the time in the world.

We are now three weeks into the school year, and my grand ambitions are mostly wayward dreams–even though I’ve been writing out a list of daily tasks each morning and I tell myself I am going to stay focused and get these things done. I do fairly well until high noon and then, due to what is clearly a time paradox which disrupts the space-time continuum, time speeds up and I turn around to see that I need to meet the kids at the bus stop soon. My list is only half finished. I just don’t know where I went wrong. But it is such a nice day outside maybe I’ll go out and lie in the hammock for a bit. I need to take some time for myself anyway. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself; now, where did I hide those bonbons?

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The case for microadventures

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 12.58.40 PMWith the sporadic warm weather finally upon us, everyone in the house has begun to grow a bit antsy. We are ready to shed the heavy layers of winter clothing and play outside until the sun casts long shadows across the ground. We daydream about wringing as much adventure out of the following few precious months as we can.

In past years, we’ve talked a good game about all of the things we are going to do over the summer. Then life grabs hold—we don’t write any of our ideas down or schedule them on Erin’s weeks off. We become comfortable in the rhythm we happen to fall into, and excuses come easier than the little extra effort it takes to make an adventurous memory with the boys. Then the summer is gone, and we are left wishing we had done more. This year we are determined not to let this happen.

Alastair Humphreys has bicycled around the world, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, run 150 miles across the Sahara and much more. Most of us don’t have the time, the finances or the gumption to take on challenges like this. Which is why Alastair came up with the term microadventure. At its heart, a microadventure is simply a way to get people out of their routines, out of their comfort zones and into a wild place. It does not matter what you do, as long as you’re out there.
From a parent’s point of view, I classify a microadventure as anything that is out of the house, out of the yard (unless you’re having a family slumber party there) and outside for an hour or more. Adventure is more attitude than anything else. It will take a little extra effort and some planning on your part. You’ll have to slow down, disconnect and focus on wherever you are at the moment. Let the kids lead the way, but most importantly stoop down, look closer and see the world through their eyes. By doing these things, a simple walk along the edge of a field can reveal an amazing world you never knew existed.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 1.01.19 PMPack a simple dinner and head to your favorite trail for an evening hike. Pack a thermos of hot chocolate and watch the sunset from the water’s edge or the top of a cliff. Anything you can think of can be a microadventure. If you want to turn it up a notch, then I would encourage a mid-week campout at a designated campground or at a suitable spot a short hike from your house or car. After all, the hours between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. are easy pickings for an adventure.

In next month’s column, I hope to share a longer list of microadventures for the upcoming summer, along with some other nuggets of information. I would love for you to share your ideas and suggestions with me by clicking here. The more ideas and information we have, the easier it will be to plan your next adventure.

Written for The Charlotte News Vol. 58 no. 19 – April 21, 2016

Caleb’s Story

Bully LogoIn the fall of 2014, Caleb, a bright blond-headed boy with inquisitive eyes and a great curiosity for learning, started kindergarten. He loved his teacher, made friends easily and was happy to go to school. Then Caleb began to come home with stories of how Joey was tormenting some of the kids on the playground. One time he told his mom, Rebecca, that Joey pushed Timmy so hard that he split his chin on the concrete, requiring Timmy to get stitches. The stories continued, as did the accusations that the recess attendants spent more time talking among themselves than they did watching the children.

Caleb has never been one to tolerate injustice, and he tried to protect the other kids when he saw them being bullied. This quickly made Caleb the target. The gang would chase after him and yell “Get him!” and Caleb would run and hide. His mom talked to him about not running and hiding and perhaps playing closer to the teachers, but Caleb did not like that idea. He and his friends liked to play by the swings where they had a lot of space to run.

One day while Caleb was climbing the ladder on the jungle gym, Joey started beating him on the head, then he tried to kick Caleb in the face. Rebecca sent a note to the teacher and called the guidance counselor, but only got her voicemail. The next day Caleb’s teacher sat down with Joey, Caleb and another boy to talk about what was going on. The boys refused to sit near Joey out of fear. In the end the teacher made Joey write an apology. The teacher told Rebecca that Joey was often in trouble for this kind of behavior.

The guidance counselor, who worked only a couple of days a week, called back a few days later. She was surprised that Joey was acting like this and said she had not heard of him doing such nasty things. The recess attendants, the counselor stated, said that Caleb had started a group of kids who reported bad behavior to one recess attendant in particular––the attendant claimed that Caleb had a wild imagination and was trying to fulfill a dream of being a superhero. The counselor mentioned that school was almost over but nonetheless she would file a report and talk to Joey’s parents. The rest of the year passed without incident, and Caleb reported that Joey was acting much better. Perhaps, Rebecca hoped, things had taken a turn.

The start of first grade brought the discovery that none of Caleb’s close friends from the previous year were in his class. Caleb’s new friend, Toby, began threatening that if Caleb did not give him his school store money he would not be Caleb’s friend. In another instance he said he would bash Caleb’s face in if he didn’t give him a drawing that Caleb had done. On top of that Caleb was again coming home with stories of Joey and his gang causing terror on the playground.

Once again Rebecca spoke to the teachers and the guidance counselors, and promises were made to keep a closer eye on things. His parents discussed their options and worried about what had happened to the sweet, curious boy they had sent off to kindergarten the year before. Caleb was now quick to lash out or react in anger, he cried more easily, clenched his fist and hit his dad. By Thanksgiving break even extended family members noticed a difference.

The final straw came when Caleb told his parents about how before the break he was hiding in the tires from a boy who was chasing kids around and hitting them with a stick. Eventually the boy found Caleb and hit him on the back a few times before Caleb was able to run away. He lifted his shirt and showed them the faint marks on his back. Rebecca and her husband felt like the school had brushed them off and let them down. Shortly after Thanksgiving they pulled Caleb out of the school.

Vermont Law states that all schools are required to have a bullying and harassment plan in place that is equal to, or more stringent than, the one developed by the state. There is even an advisory committee through the Agency of Education that helps with the setting up of these policies. We cannot just send our children off to school and think that we don’t need to engage them when they get home. We need to be asking questions, look for the subtle clues and listen to what our children have to say.

I fully believe that to some extent situations like this can make a child much stronger and more fully prepared for the toxicity of our current culture. However, we need to know when to step in and pull them back from the ledge before they become part of the problem or, worse yet, decide it is just not worth facing another day.

Written for the Charlotte News

Bang! Toy Guns & Our Children

“Bang you’re dead,” Jamie yells as he pops out from behind a tree.

“1,2,3…” I begin to count out loud. When I reach 20 I dart off around the corner of the garage.

Guns was a game that my friends and I created and played for hours at a time as kids. The yards, fields, forest and outbuildings around our homes were the battleground. The rules were simple: be the first person to yell “bang” when you saw someone and you didn’t have to freeze and count to twenty. You couldn’t lie in wait for someone to finish counting and then “shoot” them again, and if there was a dispute as to who said “bang” first you both ran off in different directions.

My mother, who has always hated guns, never dissuaded us from playing with toy ones. There was, however, a lot of talk about gun safety, and we were routinely quizzed on what we should do if we found a real gun. Despite all the “shooting” we did at each other, we grew up with a deep understanding and respect for the power and danger that a real gun held, as well as the value of human life.

The knee-jerk reaction to the increasing fear of guns and violence in our society is to make toy guns completely taboo in hopes that our children will not have any interest in them. This, of course, is not the case as my mother noted when I talked to her.

“You were making guns out of all kinds of things and if you couldn’t find anything you used your finger. Having a toy gun was no different.”

 

Jorden 3rd Birthday

The author on his third birthday. Photo: Courtesy of his mother

 

At some point our society adopted an all-or-nothing attitude, and there is now no room for middle ground. Children as young as five have been suspended and interrogated for bringing a toy gun to school and allegedly pointing it at another student. A boy in Maryland was given detention and made to write a letter of apology for bringing a Lego gun, which was slightly bigger than a quarter, to school. We have become so overprotective of our children that they are given little to no chance to fail or are punished to the extreme.

Allowing children to play with guns is not promoting violence according to Michael Thompson, a child psychologist, it is about winning and losing, heroism and dominance and who gets to be the good guy. We have come to believe, despite research to the contrary, that aggressive play will turn our children into neighborhood thugs or desensitize them to violence instead of recognizing their play for what it is—a way for them to work through problems, learn to read facial expressions and body langue, and help them to process the world around them. All things that are vital for their development.

I posted an informal survey for this column on Facebook, and of the 40 or so people who responded, slightly more than half said they did not allow their children to play with toy guns. Some respondents gave the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph while others said that they would not let their child play with a toy of something they would not allow them to touch in real life. Yet children have toy tool sets, toy power tools or a toy kitchen in their home—All things that we talk to our children about not touching because they are dangerous—though we do not worry about them playing with their toy counterparts.

I’ve come into the room to see our boys cutting off each other’s arms with a red plastic saw or cooking up some poison in their toy kitchen. I’m always impressed with the imaginative story they have woven in these situations, but I also recognize it as a teachable moment.

We as parents need to stop being so controlling over what our children are playing and simply let them play. We need to demand that in our schools the punishment is on par with the offense. We need to be asking why the schools are not teaching gun safety like they are teaching fire safety in the classroom. This is easily accomplished using the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program (available free online) which teaches kids using steps similar to stop drop and roll.

It is not my desire to try and change people’s minds on this subject. However, I do hope to stimulate a conversation that allows us to step back and see the whole picture. After all, we wouldn’t dream of not talking to our children about drinking, drugs, sex or safe driving, so why then is there not a greater push to talk about gun safety?

This article originally appeared in the Charlotte News

I’m supposed to be the adult

Luke and I are in the basement playing with the wooden train track he and his brother constructed a few days earlier. One section continually falls over and I move some pieces around to make it more sturdy. Luke warns me that Noah is going to be really mad. I don’t listen. I should have.

Early one morning a few days later, Noah comes down into the basement to play trains. Immediately he sees that the track has changed and begins to cry. It is the latter part of the school week so his coping skills are low, and to compound the situation his mom worked late the night before and was not able to be home for bedtime. The latter always upsets the balance of the house. I quickly offer to help change the track back, but it’s too late. He no longer hears me and begins to take out his frustration by wreaking the track. I take Luke upstairs to have breakfast. Noah follows crying and tries to rip up some of Luke’s schoolwork. I lose my cool, snatch the papers out of his hand and yell at him.

I’m supposed to be the adult in this situation, but I’m not doing a very good job of holding it together. My coping skills erode by the end of the week as well it seems. Getting upset with Noah and yelling accomplish getting my heart rate up, causing Noah to dig his heels in more, and scaring Luke, who at this point is covering his ears and hiding behind the plant in the corner (something I did as a kid when there was yelling). If I’d just taken the papers out of his hand and said nothing and gone about the morning, the situation would have defused a lot faster. That’s not what I did and now I feel horrible that Luke is clearly scared and the morning has crumbled so quickly. However my stubborn prideful self causes me to stand my ground. I should just stop and give Noah a hug and admit I lost my temper. That’s what will work, but instead I continue to be an ass.

I called my mom to see if I had tantrums that were as colorful as Noah’s are. She said she couldn’t remember, though she did say that I stood at the top of the stairs and screamed when I was mad.

“We just ignored you when you did that,” she told me.

Recently my wife and I decided to have a code word for those times when one of us is getting out of line. Coconuts, is what we are supposed to say, the idea being that this will cause the other person to take a step back. It has been working with mixed results. What we really need to do is re-read the book called If I Have to Tell You One More Time. In it the author talks about how bad behavior is often just attention seeking behavior, which is what was clearly going on with Noah on this morning. In hindsight I should have just started putting the track back together the way he had it.

The remainder of the morning is a roller coaster but I manage to keep calm and use phrases like­–When you leave your bike there, then I am not going to help you put it away. Emphasizing the when and the then (we also learned this from the book) lets children know what the consequence will be and gives them a chance to make a choice. This works better than giving a command.

By the time we head off for school everything is back to normal.