Today, my sister and I are moving our mother into assisted living. She flew up a few days ago to stay with me while we waited for her things to be moved from southern California. My brother and his three kids are visiting from Oregon (not staying with me).

When I told my mother that I’d cleared out my garage to make room to store her extra things, she said, “Oh, I’ve got to clean out my garage. I’ve got so many boxes in there.”

We sold her house. An estate agent is selling what was left behind. There was very little in the garage. Twelve years ago, she cleared out the boxes. I got a stack of my high school newspapers.

In packing her things, I found a notebook she kept for a master’s thesis on children’s literature.

As a first grader, I read The Cat in the Hat and moved on to Buffalo Boy, Sandy and the Balloons, The Little Mermaid Who Could Not Sing, “true” books about pioneers, oceans, animal babies, deserts, cowboys, and freedom and a lot more. The only one I remember is Cat in the Hat — and possibly Buffalo Boy.

My sister, a second grader, read Bambi, Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Jungle Book, Black Beauty, Stuart Little, The Rachel Field Story Book and more. I remember all those vividly.

Our mother read us Black Beauty when we were too young to read to ourselves. We loved it. She thought it was sentimental slop. When she finished, we begged her to read it again. She did. Years later, I reread Black Beauty. It is sentimental slop.

Connecticut decriminalizes ‘stealing’ education

“Stealing an education” by enrolling an out-of-district child in school isn’t a felony in Connecticut any more.

“Everyone agrees that enrolling a child in a school outside the district is wrong, but that doesn’t mean it should be considered a felony, meriting criminal prosecution,” said State Rep. Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk, said, who sponsored the bipartisan bill.

“Under this legislation, people who enroll children illegally in another district won’t be charged as criminals, tying up the criminal court system. Instead, the issue will be dealt with by the individual school districts, which are best equipped for deciding how an out-of-town enrollment should be handled,” Morris said. “Residency issues will be treated as civil matters.”

Two years ago, a homeless single mother who lives in a van was charged with “stealing” $16,000 of education for enrolling her kindergartener in a Norwalk school. Tanya McDowell, 33, plead guilty to felony charges of first-degree larceny — and to selling drugs. She was sentenced to five years in prison. Her son’s grandmother is raising him.

4-year-old boy outgrows girly clothes

My Little Boy is Outgrowing Hearts and Rainbows, writes Stephanie Kaloi on The Good Men Project. It was “fun” for her to dress her preschooler in “bright colors” and  what she considers gender-neutral clothing, Kaloi writes. It was “half a political stance and half a frustration with how despondently boring I find most boy’s clothing.”

Granted, my son has worn his fair share of puff sleeves and rainbows, but MOST of his clothing has been boy-leaning, with a dash of glitter on a sleeve.

Boy-leaning with glitter? I don’t think so.

. . .  I was leafing through the racks of a local Goodwill when I saw it: a bright pink sweater covered with multi-colored hearts. I swooned, smiled, and then stopped: Was this too girly?


Now, 4, her son wants to look like a boy. Kaloi will let him, though she seems to be hoping he’ll turn out to be gay so they can have more fun with glitter.  “I suppose this is all part of realizing my kid is getting older, but there’s a real part of me that mourns the loss of freedom in clothing, however temporary it may be,” writes Kaloi.

“Whose ‘freedom’ would that be?” asks Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess. The “nitwit mom” doesn’t mention Daddy, Alkon adds. The little boy’s only male role models seem to be his preschool buddies.

A commenter known as Conan the Grammarian asks the relevant question: “Did she have a child or a doll?”

Mother-child language researcher dies

Betty Hart, whose research showed the importance of mother-child communication in the early years, has died at 85 in Tucson, reports the New York Times.

“Rather than concede to the unmalleable forces of heredity, we decided that we would undertake research that would allow us to understand the disparate developmental trajectories we saw,” she and her former graduate supervisor, Todd R. Risley, wrote in 1995 in “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children,” a book about their findings, which were reported in 1992.

. . . “Simply in words heard, the average child on welfare was having half as much experience per hour (616 words per hour) as the average working-class child (1,251 words per hour) and less than one-third that of the average child in a professional family (2,153 words per hour),” Drs. Hart and Risley wrote.

“By age 4, the average child in a welfare family might have 13 million fewer words of cumulative experience than the average child in a working-class family,” they added.

Educated mothers were much more likely to use an encouraging, warm tone with young children,  while welfare mothers were more likely to reprimand their children.

The Hart-Risley research has been very influential, yet I think we could do more to help poorly educated mothers improve their parenting styles. Early childhood education funding should be focused on very disadvantaged children who need social and emotional support and exposure to language.

The myth of the good mother

Today’s women face a new form of oppression — the pressure to be a perfect mother — argues French feminist Elisabeth Badinter in The Conflict.  The good mother is a “myth,” Badinter tells The Globe and Mail. “A frustrated mother who is denied her own desires and ambitions is not good at all for her child.”

Ms. Badinter argues that yesterday’s patriarchy has been replaced by the tyranny of a suckling baby, and the pressures of “natural” parenting in the form of drug-free childbirth, co-sleeping, and cloth diapers. Moreover, women’s decision to step out of the workforce to devote themselves to their children is setting the cause of equality back to their grandmother’s generation.

When feminists fought to involve fathers in childrearing, bottle-feeding was “very practical,” Badinter says. Now breastfeeding and co-sleeping make fathers de trop.

The new model of super-parenting might work for some women, she concedes, but it’s not right for everyone. “And to those who don’t feel like adopting motherhood as a full-time job, don’t believe you are bad mothers.”

A retired professor, Badinter and her husband have three grown children.

Mom fails 2nd-grade (Everyday) math

By the end of her daughter’s first=grade year with Everyday Math, Crystal Intini Alperin was unable to help with homework, she writes on Parenting Without A Parachute.

Everyday Math introduces and teaches mathematical topics as a part of a spiraling curriculum.  Topics are introduced, and students are given homework, called Home Links, using real-life practical applications.  Mastery is not required because all topics will continually reappear throughout the years and will be presented in many different ways with increasing levels of complexity.

In second grade, daughter Cassie “came to me and slapped down the Home Link from Hell,” Home Link 5-6.

Cassie had completed a household scavenger hunt to find examples of three-dimensional objects.  She had found examples for prisms, pyramids, cylinders and spheres.

However after searching our house, she still couldn’t find an example of a cone.

Finally, Mom could help! She suggested the top of a martini glass. Problem solved!

Or not. The homework came back marked in red:  “Not appropriate for school.”

Cassie never asked her mother for homework help again.

State snatches home-made lunch, subs ‘nuggets’

A four-year-old’s home-packed lunch — turkey-and-cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice — was rejected by a state lunchbox inspector at a North Carolina elementary school, reports the Carolina Journal. Instead the preschooler ate three chicken nuggets from the school lunch – and nothing else. Mom was charged $1.25.

“What got me so mad is, number one, don’t tell my kid I’m not packing her lunch box properly,” the girl’s mother told CJ. “I pack her lunchbox according to what she eats. It always consists of a fruit. It never consists of a vegetable. She eats vegetables at home because I have to watch her because she doesn’t really care for vegetables.”

The state requires all lunches served in pre-K programs — including in-home day-care centers — to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, which call for one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables.

As it turns out, the lunch did meet USDA guidelines. “With a turkey sandwich, that covers your protein, your grain, and if it had cheese on it, that’s the dairy,” said Jani Kozlowski, the fiscal and statutory policy manager for the division (of child development). The lunch has to include a fruit or vegetable, but not both, she said. Potato chips don’t de-nutritionize an otherwise health lunch.

So North Carolina hires lunchbox inspectors — at what salary I wonder? — to snatch turkey sandwiches from little girls. (OK, they didn’t take her home-packed lunch away, but she didn’t eat it because she’d been told  it was “not healthy,” according to her mother.)

The school principal says parents aren’t charged for the school lunch. The pre-K program is funded by the state for children from low-income families or those with special needs.

It’s a “non-troversy,” argues The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. The inspector was investigating the school’s compliance with the subsidized lunch program, which requires providing additional food to kids who don’t bring a healthy lunch.

A second mother has complained, saying her daughter was told not to eat her home-packed lunch (salami and cheese on a wheat bun and apple juice).  Instead, she ate chicken nuggets, sweet potato and milk. A letter sent to parents warns they may be charged if they miss a food group and their child receives supplemental food.


‘No excuses’ for teachers, but plenty for kids

‘No Excuses’ Is Not Just for Teachers, writes Laura Klein, who teaches at a Bronx middle school, in the New York Times‘ SchoolBook. “By allowing ourselves no excuses, and doing whatever it takes to make students successful, we often find ourselves accepting excuses from them.”

Students don’t complete an assignment, and we give them a second chance. A parent comes to school, upset to hear that his or her child is failing math, and we say, time and again, “they can make up the work.” A test is failed and we provide a chance to retake it, or do test corrections for extra credit.

Teachers want to be understanding and supportive, Klein writes. But it’s easy to turn into an enabler.

“Being a jerk is not a disability,” one teacher said to me about a boy who was cursing, bullying and harassing students during class. He was a special education student, and often this status was used as an excuse for his behavior. But what type of future are we setting him up for if we allow him to act in a way that will not be accepted once the training wheels of middle school have been removed?

Children need to experience and overcome failure on the path to success, Klein writes. They need to learn what lines can’t be crossed.

Hube of The Colossus of Rhodey recommended this.

Speaking of lines that shouldn’t be crossed, check out this post on the mother-daughter pair protesting because the yearbook staff rejected the girl’s sexpot photo.


Merry Christmas to all

Christmas is about family. My daughter’s here from New York City. My sister, her husband and my nephew (unemployed college graduate) live nearby. My brother, his wife and their three kids are visiting from Portland.

But my mother’s not here. A few weeks ago, she fell and hit her head. She’s now in a nursing/rehab facility trying to regain her mental abilities.  At first, the doctors said her confusion was a result of the head injury and predicted she’d recover. Then she got worse.

Three weeks ago, my mother was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle every day. Now she is very confused and disoriented. She starts sentences and can’t finish. Her memory — short-term and long-term — is very poor. She can recognize family members, though.

My sister was there for the first week after the accident. My daughter and I flew down last weekend. My niece and her boyfriend, who live in LA, are spending the holiday weekend with her. Then my brother and his family will drive down to see her. I’m flying down for a second visit in two weeks, when we hope she’ll be going home with a live-in caregiver.

I’m so grateful for being in a family that pulls together in times of trouble as well as cheer.



Jailed for sending kids to a better school

Kelley Williams-Bolar is serving 10 days in jail for using her father’s address to enroll her two children in a high-performing school in a suburban district instead of her neighborhood school in Akron, Ohio. She refused the district’s demand to pay $30,000 in back tuition, claiming she lives part-time with her father.

Williams-Bolar, who said she was trying to keep her daughters safe, also runs the risk of being disqualified as a school teacher. She currently is an aide for special education classes and is near completion of a college degree that would allow her to become a teacher. Felons in Ohio can be disqualified from working as teachers.

The district says it can’t afford to educate children whose parents aren’t paying taxes in the district.

Many sympathize with the single mother’s plight, reports ABC News.

Update: Williams-Bolar was released from jail today after serving nine days. Ironically, her daughters have been living with their grandfather.