Mom Fear

The world is a dangerous place.

My friend Audrey was over for coffee and as I walked her to the car, I grabbed my mail. There was an envelope I recognized immediately. It was a notice from the Warwick police department informing me that a sex offender had just moved into the neighborhood. We get one of these notices every year or so. Anyone with a child registered in the public school gets them.

Audrey was somewhat aghast.

'What do you do about it?' she asked.

Good question.

The police have no advice in the letter. They warn against harassing the guy. They give the street he lives on, and offer a hint as to the nature of his crime, but they don't say anything about what we are supposed to do with this information.

Do I keep the kids home, where I can watch them? Noah is at the age now where he wants to ride his bike around the neighborhood to visit his friends. Every day after school, the pack of them migrate like cape buffalo, eating their way from one house to the next. Am I supposed to keep them home?

Do I show him the letter and tell him to avoid this guy if he sees him somewhere? Do I tell him to run in the opposite direction? Do I plant little seeds of fear in his heart?

So far, I haven't done any of those things.

Here's what I do do. I talk to the kids. I tell them what to do to stay safe. I remind them that they should always tell me if something scary or uncomfortable happens to them, even if they are warned not to tell. Especially if they are warned not to tell. I tell them about my own close encounters with dangerous people when I was a kid. I pray for my boys that they will be safe. And maybe I will pray for healing for the offender, too.

But somehow, I don't feel that letting fear get the best of us is a healthy way to be in the world.

Grades for Sale

Audrey says:

The new head of public schools in Washington DC is planning to pay middle school students for good grades. This just might get more A's and B's on the report cards. What the heck, let's pay them to eat healthy foods, for acts of courtesy and kindness too. We've commodified everything else in our children's' lives, it's about time to sell out learning.

What have we gotten with the runaway focus on money, jobs, advancement, and lives spent in pursuit of material goods? We've ruined our reputation in the world community, we've quite possibly ruined the planet, we've become one of the fattest nations on earth, just to name a few consequences.

Yes, as far as I'm concerned, there is a link. We need to go back to stressing learning over fact-gathering, critical thinking over test-taking, and informed citizenship over consumerism.

We need to teach and model the genuine satisfaction that is found in really learning, knowing, thinking. We need to let our children hear intelligent conversation so they can recognize the respectful play of ideas. We need to teach them to love good literature so that they can turn to it for real insight and solace. We need to turn off the TV and walk around outside in the air, saying hello to our neighbors.

We don't need to pay for good grades.

I recommend Susan Jacoby's new book, "The Age of American Unreason" on this topic.

Rachel Chimes in:

Paying kids for good grades in an under performing school system seems like a band aid to a much bigger issue. The system is clearly broken. My parents never gave me incentives for grades. I just got good grades because that was what was expected. I would never pay my own kids for grades, either. But I am really lucky to have two motivated and engaged children.

I do have to say, though, that sometimes the spiral downward in the inner city school system seems so out of control, I understand why the superintendent is considering this. Maybe he figures if he can break the cycle and help these kids feel some enthusiasm for school, it will have an impact on the rest of their issues.


Rachel writes:

Those of you who work full time are going to wonder what I am fussing about, but I have just started a couple of part time jobs for the first time since my kids were born and boy am I noticing the impact on the home life.

When my oldest son was born, I was in the fortunate position to be able to quit my full time work and stay home with him. Over the years I have had several occupations, from teaching childbirth classes to selling kitchen tools, but all of those gigs have been in the evenings when my husband was able to watch the boys. Once the kids started school, I had my days free.

In the last couple of weeks, I have started 2 very part time jobs during the day. These are mother's hours jobs which get me home in time to pick the kids up at school. On paper, it seems like this should have no impact at all on the family life, right? I mean, how hard is it to juggle home and work when you are only working a couple of shifts a week?

Surprisingly, I am finding the impact to be much greater than I expected. All the things I used to do during school hours, like grocery shopping, paying bills, cleaning the house, etc, are squeezed into less and less time. The afternoon rush of picking up the kids, supervising the homework, getting dinner going and getting ready for all the things I still do in the evenings is really exhausting, I have to say.

I am extremely lucky that my work is in areas that feel meaningful to me. But I am going to have to learn how to balance all this on the home front.

How about you? How do YOU manage the work-home balance? I'd love to hear from those of you who work full time, too.

Audrey adds:

Boy Rachel, I know this feeling. I've always worked on a contract basis and controlled the hours I work. When my kids were little and I unavoidably had days with 3 different work appointments and found myself rushing to get home to greet my the bus and make supper, I found I had no physical, and little emotional energy for parenting. All I could manage on those days was getting the kids fed, and then making it through homework and then bedtime. Any small glitch or behavior problem seemed almost insurmountable. I remember thinking that this is what moms who work full-time paying jobs go through every day! I feel very lucky that my children's' father earned enough for me to work part time, though we always lived very simply.
As an aside, this is why I cannot believe that along with raising 4-5 kids, and running a city, then the state of Alaska, Sarah Palin says that she also ran 7-10 miles a day. I know the days can be long up there, but I'm pretty sure that they get the same 24 total hours we have in the lower 48.
I would also love to hear from full-time moms out there. Are you all drinking 10 cups of coffee a day? What does 6pm look like at your house?

Witnessing a miracle

The other day I brought my children to visit a family friend in the hospital. My friend has been on a transplant list for a new heart and has been stuck in a hospital room in Boston for weeks waiting. I knew it might be a little scary for the kids, what with all the tubes and equipment, but I also knew that it would be a blessing for my friend to see the boys. I also felt it it would be a blessing for the boys to see him again. It had been a long time.

We had a lovely visit. My friend told some wonderful stories, as he always does. The kids weren't upset by the IVs or tubes. We created a bit of a stir in the corridors because we were all on our way to a wedding and were decked out in our best clothes.

Later that night, after we left, my friend was informed that a heart was available. He had surgery the next morning and is doing extremely well. Today, in fact, he may move out of ICU and into a regular room.

My children know that I have been praying for my friend's recovery for years. We include him in our prayers at dinner time. We include him in our prayers at church. They have seen my grief at his setbacks and awe at his patience.

And now they know that sometimes, prayers get answered.

Audrey responds:

Rachel's friend is also a friend of mine. I'm so elated for him.

Though I don't believe in miracles or the efficacy of remote prayer, I honor Rachel for visiting the hospital with her children to support our friend. In my opinion, modeling active, engaged compassion is the best way to raise compassionate human beings.

The Best Backpack Ever

Rachel writes:

You already know I am not a name brand fan. I'll buy stuff from the thrift store at every opportunity. But I make a big exception for one thing: The kid's backpacks. For that, I am willing to buy retail, pay full price, and get a really good one even if it costs more.

Early on, I discovered Land's End backpacks. When Noah was about 2, he started at preschool a couple of days a week and needed a backpack to carry diapers and supplies. I bought a small yellow backpack from Land's End. It wasn't even that expensive. I think it was about $20.

Well. That backpack lasted until Noah was in Kindergarten. Then he passed it on to his baby brother, who also used it through Kindergarten. Altogether, I think we got about 6 years out of it.

Next, I bought them both Land's End Classmate backpacks. These lasted 2 years, and I think would have been good for at least another year if our bad rabbit hadn't nibbled holes in them.

This year I procrastinated, so at the last minute we ran to Sears because they sell Land's End stuff. Not only did we find great backpacks, but they were on SALE for 30% off.

I am not a name brand kind of girl, but when it comes to backpacks, only the best will do.

How about you? Do you have a brand that you absolutely can't live without?

Do tell!

Kathy Adds:

I am not so much loyal to a product as I am to a store. I am the queen of reward cards and do all my shopping accordingly. I hit Staples for all office and school supplies, CVS for the occasional toiletry, card or gallon of milk. Dicks is the only place I go for sporting goods and DSW for shoes. I hit Barnes and Noble or Bed Bath and Beyond for gifts and household items when necessary. And then there’s Bobs, which any mother of boys has to visit only once to know they have everything boys need. While I would shop at Whole Foods every day if I could afford it, my Stop and Shop card has saved me hundreds so far this year. I rarely go to any of these places without a coupon or a check for $10 toward a purchase that I was going to have to make anyway. I have an envelope in the door of my car with all my coupons and checks in it, and always look it over before I go to make a purchase.

Many people have said that these things just lure me into the store so I buy more, but I really don’t believe that is the case. There are certain things that every family needs routinely. We are no different than anyone else. I just only buy at certain places. These stores are clean and well stocked with helpful employees. There are all conveniently located within 10 minutes of my house. At this point, I know their layouts like the back of my hand, making my trips quick and saving me time. And if I can save some money each time I shop, why not? Sign me up!

Shopping for School Clothes

When I was young, I loved shopping for school clothes with my mom. Or, I should say I loved the thought of it. Every year I imagined that I'd finally find the right combination of skirt, sweater, and shoes that would launch my social career. It never happened. My Mom would invariably veto items that were not her own taste, too expensive, or too “grown-up”. But I'm a slow learner and hope sprang eternal in my unfashionably flat chest. I especially remember princess pumps, then ribbon trimmed cardigans, then leather mini-skirts. I did have a faux leather mini that stuck to my chair and was as comfortable as a thick layer of Saran Wrap in the hot Rhode Island Septembers.

I'm assuming that parents are still buying back-to-school clothing for their young children. I wonder at what age the kids are just being handed some cash as they're dropped off at the mall. For most of my children's younger years, we shopped at an excellent resale shop in the wealthier section of Providence. The kind proprietor seemed to know every child's name and if you were looking for a special outfit for a recital or awards ceremony, she would keep an eye out. I loved that shop.

Both of my kids attended a magnet inner-city primary school and there was very little competition about fashion. Even in middle school and high school, the fashion of impossibly baggy jeans and a very large t-shirt for the boys, and tighter jeans and top for the girls seemed to foster conformity as well as any uniform. Sure, there were boys with their belts literally below their butts, and girls with clothing so tight that it seemed you could identify their internal organs, but my kids either didn't care, or knew that they weren't going to win any argument about showing underwear or the more intimate body parts.

There are many private schools in our region and I've always wondered about uniforms. The boys seem fine in sensible slacks and a polo or button down, but the girls look either frozen or entirely too sexual in their little plaid skirts.

I do have to wonder about the way some parents dress their littler children. When the 3 and 4 year old little girls at one of the nursery schools where I teach came in wearing black clothes and leopard prints, their wonderfully French teacher was appalled, saying something to the affect of, “Children should not wear black or animal, they have no idea what it's for.”

Where's the line for you on school clothes? Is it more important to fit in with a peer group, or to appear to be civilized in adult eyes? Are you the final judge or just the ATM? At what age do you just keep your eyes on the road or the newspaper and say a cheery, “Have a good day?” as they head out the door?

Kathy adds,

I feel fortunate to have my boys in a Catholic grade school and high school, so I don’t have to deal with this too much. The younger ones have uniforms, the older ones a shirt, tie and khakis. Pretty simple. Keeps the cost low which I appreciate and eliminates most of the competition.

They are growing like weeds though and need clothes for the rest of their lives. And it is at those times that I feel even more blessed. I have become the personal shopper! I love to shop, they don’t care and I spend infinitely less money shopping alone. These boys are happy when I bring home a few pairs of Levis, new shirts, a pack of boxers and some new socks. What is wrong with them? Have they no fashion sense?

I remember vividly shopping with my mom and my 3 younger sisters for school clothes. The woman is a saint. It took days. Finding something, putting it on hold in case there was something better out there, and then returning to where we started, only to buy that first item! I honestly don’t know how she did it. I am certain I would have killed me. But it was an experience, we were all together and happy and somehow the job got done.

Now that I have 2 in high school though, I am noticing a little more effort in appearance. Suddenly J Crew is much better than Kohl’s or Bob’s. Thank heaven for gift cards from the grandparents and aunts! The two of them actually pulled me aside in the Gap the other day to view a very stylish blazer, pointing out that the color was great with their red hair and made their shoulders look strapping! Maybe they don’t need a personal shopper after all……

Rachel's take,

I keep waiting for the moment when I realize that I am asleep and that this has been a dream. My kids have absolutely no interest in clothes whatsoever. We mostly load up on the basics at Wallyworld and then suppliment those with finds from the local department store thrift shop.

When I was a kid, I bitterly resented that I got all my clothes at thrift shops. Until, that is, I was able to take my own ten bucks and shop for myself. Suddenly the shopping seemed fascinating as I sifted through plaid mini skirts and dreamy 1940’s women’s blazers. I was a freak in high school, I admit, stomping down the hallways in stilleto heels with my sweaters on backwards. Once, a former babysitter ran into me on the street and pointed out that the skirt I was wearing had once been hers.

My oldest son has discovered grunge. For him the bigger, the baggier and the filthier the better. He now roots through my husband’s work clothes for jeans that are huge (on him!) and stained, ripped to shreds and apparently extremely cool.

Emmett just doesn’t want to wear power rangers anymore, thank you very much. Other than that stipulation, he’s ammenable to anything.

So, for us, school clothes shopping is a non-event. Next week they will have new shoes and the same shorts and shirts they have been wearing all summer. When the weather cools, we’ll get to the store after the rest of the frantic parents have left and pick up some stuff on sale. It’s all good!

Audrey concludes'

Okay, it seems like none of our kids are going to be voted onto the anyone's best dressed list in the near future. Parents of the fashion-forward out there, how do you deal with your Hannah Montana and P Diddy wannabes?

Hug a Grandma Today!

Have your kids hugged any older folks lately? I ask because I live in Rhode Island, which seems to be one of those rare American places where extended family still means a great deal. I know families that still gather at grandma's house for their weekly Sunday dinner. That said, my own parents moved 3000 miles across the country soon after my daughter was born, so my children saw them very rarely. Thank heavens for their father's parents. His mother was a wonderful grandmother, very loving and gentle. His father, still living, is a quirky representative from a quieter, more learned time.

I've been thinking about grandparents because there are some young people doing summer volunteer work at one of the nursing homes where I work. I wish there were many more children of all ages visiting nursing homes all the time.

Most older people love to see children and children need to realize that the old are just like them, with likes and dislikes, humor, and sometimes surprisingly interesting lives. They were young themselves, and during some very interesting times. I remember asking an 86 year old man who, at 19 had been at the bombing of Pearl Harbor if he'd been very scared. “No,” he said, “I was really mad 'cause we were supposed to have steak and eggs for breakfast, and there I was in the water thinkin', I'm not gonna get my steak and eggs!”

The young adolescent volunteers at the nursing home appear to enjoy their time there. They look confident and like to kid around with the older folks. Everybody seems to be having a great time.

If your children see their grandparents so rarely that they barely have time to get reacquainted before they say “Goodbye”, why not visit a local nursing home? Lots of folks wait until Christmas but the elderly are there all year round. Call your local nursing home and ask about volunteering to read books, sing songs, play games, or just sit and listen. It's a win-win situation for everybody concerned.

Rachel adds:

In high school, one of my brother’s friends had a regular gig going to nursing homes with his punk band. They’d show up with safety pins in their ears and funny colored hair, whip out a vintage silver microphone and start singing old standards from the 1940s. They were always a huge hit!