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!