The Myth of the Spoiled Child

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I really thought I would be too busy gardening this summer to read.  I am so excited that I have, in fact, read 2 books in the past 2 weeks.  Yay!

A friend of mine told me, “I loathe the word ‘spoiled’ when it applies to anything other than rotten food.”  After reading The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn, I fully agree with her.

I should state that I was introduced to this book via FAIR.org.  I should also state that the link I just provided isn’t the one that I read.  What I read was a chapter excerpt which prompted me to get the book from the library.

In the interest of social change, Kohn argues that there are many misconceptions about how children are being raised today.  He argues convincingly that they are not, in fact, more spoiled, entitled, rude, etc. than the children raised years ago.  He also uses the book as a platform to argue for unconditional parenting–a topic explored in depth in one of his previous books called… Unconditional Parenting.

Since I am also interested in and committed to positive change, here are some parts of the book that I found intriguing:

– Every generation for thousands of years has complained about the generation that will succeed it–even the ancient Greeks!  A well-worn tune, apparently.

– Most of the complaints about children’s behavior is anecdotal and not research-based.

– Many children are still not being heard, cooperated with or listened to about things that matter to them either at home or at school.

Solutions?

– Listen to children.

– Promote skepticism, media literacy and help children learn how to question authority.

– Encourage solutions for positive change by engaging in projects that reject a status quo that is not helping children reach their potential.

– Parent by “working with” your children, instead of “doing to.”

One section, in particular, stood out for me as both a teacher and a parent.  It was about “deep modeling” as opposed to simply modeling behavior.  Kohn asserts that modeling a certain behavior, while useful, can be made even more effective by taking it a step further by “deep modeling.” He uses the example of an instructor who tries to solve a problem, makes mistakes, corrects them, and works toward a solution.  He suggests that students will learn in the process to feel less anxious about making mistakes themselves and will also be more aware of the process behind problem solving, that it takes work, errors, revisions and so on.  I found this compelling because I have always questioned myself when I don’t have a ready explanation for Philip for why we aren’t going to do something that he wants or when I make a mistake while writing on the dry erase board in the classroom.  In the former, I chide myself for being a confusing parent.  In the latter, I feel as if my students have concluded that I’m an idiot with no grasp of the subject matter.  Reading this section, however, was quite reassuring for me.  It also gave me some ideas for more collaborative work in the classroom.

This weekend, we celebrated part of Philip’s birthday in Chicago.  One of his gifts was a trip to the Adler Planetarium.  While we were in the Planet Explorers exhibit, Philip was busy building a robot jetpack with PVC pipes and I was enjoying the show.  Nearby, there is a magnetic cogs station.  At this site, you take wooden magnetic cogs of different colors and sizes and try to get them to interact and spin on a magnetic board.  I watched casually as a young boy worked diligently to align and interlock nearly all the cogs in the station.  While he was designing his master work, his father visited.  He told the boy that the design wouldn’t work because there was too much weight.  The father tried to twirl one side with his fingers to illustrate his point and then he started relocating some of the cogs.  The boy protested.  The father persisted.  The boy protested again.  The father persisted.  Eventually, the father walked away and I could tell he was thinking, “Geesh, I was just trying to help.  I was just trying to have a little fun.  My kid is so…(insert your descriptor here).”  The boy continued his work.  A few minutes later, his father returned.  It was almost like watching an instant replay.  The same remarks were made.  The same attempts were made by the man to change the boy’s work and correct it.  The same verbal objections were voiced by the boy.

I don’t know how this all ended up.  My memory tells me that the boy eventually abandoned the project, but that may not have been the case.  More likely, Philip began to show me something about his project and I forgot all about the boy at the station.  But, it did get me to thinking about this book and the importance of having children become thinking, questioning and passionate adults.  Further, I saw that, as parents, we have to resist our urges and see things from our child’s perspective and not just our own.  It isn’t easy.  It takes time.  But, I believe it is worth the effort.

In one of my favorite movies, Contact, with Jodie Foster, there’s an exchange between her character and Dr. Drumlin (her adversary and former boss).  He tells her something to the effect, “It’s a cruel world out there” (suggesting that he knows how to navigate it and his lying to get on the ship was justified) and she says, “I’m sorry.  I thought the world is what we make of it.”  I love that line and I fully agree with her sentiment.

I think the world is what we make of it and it is also one that our children make.  Thankfully, there are a lot of people trying to make the world a better place.  I am grateful that Alfie Kohn, despite all of the challenges he has seen in education and parenting, is still trying to do just that.  I hope more people are inspired, as I am, to keep trying.

Missing Microbes

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It seemed like only a month or so ago (turns out it was 3) that I listened to Terry Gross interview Dr. Martin J. Blaser about his new book, Missing Microbes on NPR’s Fresh Air on my way to work.  I was so fascinated that I decided to get it from my local library.  After waiting patiently in the queue, I received the e-mail announcing that the book was finally available for me to check out.  Hooray!

I learned a lot about the microbiome in the book.  While I knew that we all share our lives with bacteria, I didn’t know that the body is composed of “an estimated 30 trillion human cells” but is also host to “more than 100 trillion bacterial and fungal cells.”  Specifically, “seventy to ninety percent of all cells in your body are nonhuman.”  All told, “these bacteria weigh about three pounds, or the same as your brain, and represent perhaps ten thousand distinct species.”  Incredible.

Dr. Blaser makes cogent arguments for the overuse of antibiotics in the United States.  I was personally thrilled to read that France has had 2 campaigns to instruct both physicians and patients about the risk of antibiotic overuse.  While Dr. Blaser didn’t suggest that this had economic motivations, I suspect that that may have also influenced the decision.  Nonetheless, that France–and other nations–are attempting to implement measures to reduce our excessive use of antibiotics, is good news.  I certainly don’t imagine that we will fully dodge the “super bug” (or bugs) that can resist current antibiotics, it is comforting to think that some public health officials are trying to minimize our risk.

I found the chapter on c-sections fascinating.  I had no idea that an infant is bacteria free when it is in the womb.  I don’t know what I thought prior to reading the book.   Probably nothing.  But, it was quite the revelation that babies receive their first “dose” of bacteria as they pass through their mother’s vagina on their way out into the world.  Children born from c-sections, however, acquire bacteria from the hospital surroundings and then from parents and so on.  Hunh.

Here’s a fun fact for you: each and every one of us has a unique microbiome.  It’s kind of like a fingerprint in that no two are identical.  That revelation prompted me to think about the reasons behind our different reactions to different drugs, foods, situations and so on.  How many times have you been talking with a friend about health problems and she has one kind of solution that works for her and you have another one that works for you?  In those conversations, I feel like, most of the time, both of us are wondering why.  Maybe I now have the explanation?

Dr. Blaser suggests that the dwindling diversity of our microbiome could maybe, possibly be a factor in the rise in obesity, diabetes, esophageal cancer, allergies, and asthma.  For some afflictions, he points to his laboratory studies on how mice have been shown to demonstrate a certain condition with certain types of antibiotics.  It seems that he and his team have scratched the surface of these modern “epidemics” and he is quick to point out that he doesn’t have all the answers.

Learning about possible solutions to our microbiome deficit was encouraging.  There are things that can be done.  Diagnostic tests to determine if an individual’s symptoms are driven by bacteria or viruses could be utilized (once they’re funded and developed).  Then, there’s fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).  Sounds nasty, but, rest assured, it isn’t coprophagia.  You get a slurry of “good poop” from a donor and, instead of drinking it, it gets dumped into your body via a tube.  But hey, it could save your life!  I was particularly intrigued by narrow-spectrum agents that are basically drugs that attack a particular bacterial strain that is wreaking havoc on your system.  Can it be done?  Not now, but it could be if it was funded and the research could proceed.  Sounds like a lot of painful work.  Lastly, Dr. Blaser mentioned that it would be a good idea to stop feeding antibiotics to cows, pigs, and other farm animals that become food since many people get extra doses of the drug that way.  Plus, and this is my comment, not the good doctor’s, a cramped, overcrowded space is a perfect place for a superbug to appear.    While it’s not a bacterium, nor is it currently a threat to public health, the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) sounds pretty awful.

Well, that’s all I have to say about the book.  Well worth the wait and the read.  I am sharing this information with you since it gave me a lot of food for thought.  Maybe it will for you, too.

Readers of Popular and Literary Fiction Can Get Along

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I have been away from this blog for a while.  I apologize.  I have a reason: I started a publishing company!  The company is called Hope Books, LLC and I am its manager.

For the past few months I have been juggling teaching with parenting with late-night publishing work.  I was thrilled to have received a summer class to help pay the bills.  I am excited to see all that Philip is learning and discovering.  And, it has to be said, I have had some fun sharing my love of Bruce’s book, Schism, and helping to make sure people know about it and, for those that can, buy it.  To leave no stone unturned, people who have the means can buy it via the following vendors:

amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Kobo.com

goodreads.com

For those who do not have the means, you can read it or listen to it online for free here:

Wattpad.com (read for free)

itunes (listen to podcast for free)

Smashwords.com (OK, for this one, you can only read the first 30% for free)

That said, I want to tell you what’s been on my mind today.  In the interest of that “better world” dream I persist in having, I would like to talk about readers of POPULAR fiction versus readers of LITERARY fiction.  There seems to be a long established tradition of enmity between those who read for fun and those who read for status, a mental workout, etc.  In my recent experience, I have seen friends and relations in the literary fiction camp frown on popular work as lacking in intellectual gravitas.  I have also witnessed independent bookstores rejecting popular fiction categorically because it is not literary fiction.  (Plus, there seems to be a high correlation [or reputation] between poor craftsmanship and self-published works, which is unfortunate.)

I will tell you, most unreservedly, that I am a fan of both.  That was not always the case.  As a young woman, I felt that Jane Austen and I were soul sisters.  Even in college, I had a hard time breaking the mold and venturing out into new genres.  I loved everything that rambled with a mellifluous bent.  If the characters were pathetic, miserable and had a horribly tragic end, all the better.

I have since changed my tune.  I think the transition occurred when Bruce and I started to read Harry Potter.  I remember it very clearly.  He had gone to our local bookstore and found Harry Potter #2 (The Chamber of Secrets) on a 20% off stack.  He brought it home, started reading it and loved it.  Then he said, “You should read this, too.”  I snootily replied that I was, in no way, going to read a CHILDREN’S BOOK.  He said, “OK.  Well, I’m going to go back to buy the first one.  I really think you’d like it, though.”  So, he bought it and two things happened.  First, I agreed to read it and started on the path of reading for entertainment and not just to prove my intelligence.  Second, we began our tradition of reading books aloud to each other.  We have, in fact, read ALL of the Harry Potter books this way (and we even reread the series from the start prior to each new release).  But, of course, we haven’t only read Harry Potter.  We discovered Suzanne Collins, Jim Butcher, Greg Rucka (Tara Chace and Atticus Kodiak–AWESOME), Alexander McCall Smith (charming Mma Ramotswe) and many others along the way.  We have also supported our love of Michael Chabon (however you pronounce his last name, we still think he’s BRILLIANT), Cormac McCarthy (house divided on this one) and others.

The point?  There is room, my friends, to love them all.  There is space out there in the universe for us all to enjoy the quirky and the sublime.  We do not need to fight.  We do not need to pose.  We do not need to disrespect each other.  And whether you prefer to get your knowledge in life from fact or fiction, pulp or parchment, via the library or bookseller, in-person or online, remember this quote from Dr. Peter Nazareth, one of my professors in college: “You can get something out of everything you read.”  So true.  You never know where that next book will come from that will change the way you think about things.  It’s worth the risk to cross the line.

Accentuating the Positive

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Poor Philip.  Being 4 can be rough sometimes.  Lots of rules.  Lots of expectations.  Lots of emotions.

Sometimes, his emotions erupt like a volcano.  I understand.  I feel that way sometimes and I am still a work in progress on “turning the wheel” and keeping my emotions under control.  Today, in fact, I felt a rumbling of anger when he had drenched himself with the rainwater (irresistible!) while I walked the dog.  I had this big plan.  It was a cloudy day so we were going to relocate some of the 4′ x 4′ garden beds from the back garden and put them in the front garden.  But, a soaked child in cool, persistent wind is no good and I was not in the mood to dress him in fresh clothes, stick his feet in plastic bags to allow him to wear his sodden boots and layer him in a fleece and a windbreaker since his winter coat was dripping.  It was so disappointing.  We were going to be EXCAVATORS!  We were going to unearth these beds and haul them.  He was going to get wonderfully worn out and I was going to tackle a chore.  But, it drained me.  I lacked the reserve to be resilient about it.  We went in.  I removed all of the wet items, made sure he was warm and dry and relocated myself to make a bed while he listened to Poetry Speaks to Children in the kitchen and read along with the book.

As I made the bed, I argued with myself about whether or not this was a major big deal (not really) or just a learning opportunity (probably) and what I could do about it (get calm, move forward).

When I got downstairs, he was still listening to poetry, and I was still feeling pretty negative.  So, I grabbed a notebook and a pen and just started writing.  I sat on the chair near the window (trying not to think about all of the seeds that I have not yet planted) and I got my mood back in order after about 2 paragraphs (I wasn’t given much time for more).  He came up with some games to play, we had book-and-a-snack on the chair a bit later, then enjoyed reading the graphic novel version of The Little Prince over dinner.  Afterwards, he had a fabulous splash fest in the bath followed by a bedtime book, then lights out.

As I gave Philip his bedtime hugs and kisses, I told him how much he helped me get chores done (he helped me vacuum and he helped me clean dishes), how hard he worked on controlling his emotions (He and I worked on a list together.  For example, “When I get angry, I will stop and think quietly.”), how gentle he was with the dog (lots of pets and a reminder to brush the dog’s teeth) and so on.

He was grinning ear to ear.  He even said he was blushing.

As Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, lecturing, preaching and harping about mistakes are ineffective motivators for positive change.  When the situation has passed, when the milk has been spilled, when the brains (both the parents’ and the child’s) are back in normal mode, it’s time to talk about ways to do things differently.  It can be really hard.  Parenting is a selfless act, but not all parents are selfless (nor, I think, should they be).  But, having faith and trust, leaning on patience and collective plans really can help ease the burden on all in the family.

Misc

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It is another gorgeous evening.  The sun has set and the temperature is warm and pleasant.  The mourning doves are making their last song of the day and the frogs have picked up the chorus.  The other night, I saw my first bat of the season.  That was wonderful.  The barn swallows haven’t yet returned.  While I am concerned about that, I am still hopeful.  Our official “last average frost” date is May 7th.  Maybe the swallows know that the bugs aren’t really out yet.  I am inclined to trust them and have some faith.

The semester is, thankfully, wrapping up.  As usual, it is hard to see the end of the term.  So many students make the choice between school and their jobs.  Their jobs always win.  School rarely does.  As a result, school performance is impacted.  You can’t earn an A when you don’t turn in assignments, come to class, study or take exams.  It is grueling to witness, but I am not the type of instructor that calls the student on the phone or drops by their home to find out why they didn’t come to class.  I accept that they are adults and let them make their choices, however lamentable those decisions turn out to be.

In the past few days, Philip and I have been busy outside.  We have started the foundation for a stick house beneath the white pines.  It is round and, as it turns out, accommodates the new teepee that Grandma E. sent today.  Nearby, we began digging the outline for the sunflower house.  I did a quick inventory and have decided that we could use more sunflower seeds, but we will do our best.  Around the magnolia, we tilled a large circle.  We are going to make plantings as if it’s a big clock.  I was thinking of placing tomatoes at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 positions.  We have started to transplant the daylily plants from the back of the house to the front.  The part of the area north of the mailbox has been completed; the area south of the mailbox still needs to be done.  We also transplanted several comfrey plants and situated them beneath the fruit trees.  It will help them thrive.  Mother’s Day is this Sunday and I am hoping for a non-rainy day.  A cloudy day is not a problem–in fact, it would be preferable–since I intend to have 2 helpers with me for the day getting the yard all arranged, planted and organized.  It is a very big hope.

The kitchen is a tad messy and there are things to do.  I will sign off now and then attempt to take care of them.

Have a good night.

Vive le French!

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Last night, we came home from the library with these 2 gems:

Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas by Philippe Coudray.   For emerging readers (and, I suspect, boys), this book provides enough words to convey a message with images that highlight the humor in the action and the text. What I love most about this refreshingly different children’s book is how it provides clean humor and wonderful wit without kowtowing to “what kids want.” When I buy books, I think about whether or not the author deserves my money. I fully believe that Philippe Coudray creates an entertaining book with charm and understated verve. Bravo!

Hello, Mr. Hulot by David Merveille according to Jacques Tati.  Another gorgeous book from the French.  Merci!  Monsieur Hulot is an exceptional character depicted whimsically and sure to make you laugh out loud. I particularly love “The Snowball Effect” (brillant), “The Umbrella Corner” (sweet ou doux) and “Francois the Postman” (tres drole), but all of the vignettes are wonderful.  A refreshing change from so many of the other children’s books that are out there.

I am so excited to have found these books!  I hope that you will pick them up and enjoy them, too.

Au revoir!

Fools Check In

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Fools Check In

A mower.
We had decided on a mower.
Push or riding?
Are you kidding?
Definitely riding.

Which one to get?

Big mower at fancy shop
With aloof sales guy:
$2,000.
5-year warranty
Bagger included.
Will bring it to your house
All repairs done at the shop.

Not as big mower at rough-and-tumble shop
With folksy sales guy:
$1,500.
5-year, 3-year, 1-year warranty
Depends.
You drive it home.
You break it,
Good luck fixing it.

$500 is a lot of money.
$500 is a lot of tree seedlings and berry bushes.
Think of the berry bushes…mmmmm

SOLD to the folksy guy
With peanut shells in his boot treads.

P.S.  The bagger is extra.  About $500.