Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kids Grow (They Sure Do)

It's interesting to see dynamics in a household change and, of course, I cannot simply sit back and enjoy it (but really, I do). No, I need to delve into it with excess scrutiny...maybe.

In the past few weeks, our younger has learned to walk. He started slowly, but quickly found his legs and now rarely ever crawls. It feels like it happened overnight to Chanel and I. The trouble is, he didn't stop at walking and right away started trying to run. Running is a needed skill if he wants to keep up with his older brother. Needless to say, he's been bumped, bruised, even cut with one of his falls. The best thing, though, is seeing him get back up each time he stumbles, determined to go the distance he intended...unless Mom gets to him first.

At the same time, I've seen a change in behavior of our older boy. He strikes me as being less whiny, less needy, over all more mature. Maybe it's his attending pre-school twice a week that's bringing on the growth. Maybe it's all the playgroups and activities Chanel takes them to during the week and meeting and playing with a variety of people. Maybe it's just that he's reached the "age" that ends one phase of life and begins another (it is nice to think the terrible 2's/tortuous 3's might be over). I like to think that he and his little brother are learning from each other, though.

There are direct lessons (as those typically learned by the younger from the older) and there are indirect lessons (often the reverse). Those indirect life lessons are important; even at this early stage, 3 year-olds are already learning the golden rules of society without even being told them explicitly.

Having kids, in a way, could serve as a refresher course for the parents.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beating Homesickness

I've come to think of relocation like this: you spend the first three months trying to unpack, settle in, familiarize yourself with the new town, meet people, and adjust to your surroundings. Then, around the 3 and 1/2 month mark, it starts to sink in that, wow, this really is your new home. You are not going back. For better or worse.

For me, this crazy realization hit somewhere around the beginning of October. We'd been here several months and we getting into the swing of things. We had a very manageable routine and we were starting to be invited to different outings by our new friends. I remember joking to Rob about the fact that I could no longer slum it to Walmart (you know, unshowered, pj pants, greasy hair, no makeup) anymore because I was bound to run into someone I knew! We were feeling on top of our game and very confident that we'd made the right decision to move.

I'm not exactly sure what triggered my feelings of homesickness earlier this month. It could have been the fact that the holidays were approaching and we knew we would not be spending time with family. It could have been the fact that David started walking and we had to post a video online (rather than show him off in person) so that our friends and family back home could share in our joy. Or it could have been a simple question posed by a friend: Chanel, what do you miss most about New Jersey?

It really got me thinking. I'd spent months listing all of the reasons why I was thrilled to be far away from that crowed, congested, and polluted state. In fact, the only aspect of the move that saddened me was that my family was now 1,000 miles away...right? Could there really be more that I miss about New Jersey???

Someone once told me that the best way to conquer my fear (or any other emotion, really), was to face it head-on. This tactic had worked well in the past so I had no reason to doubt its effectiveness in my current situation. Sure enough, once I had written out all of the tidbits of New Jersey that I was missing, I began to feel better. I came to terms with the fact that those things would still be available to me, just not as often. They would truly become luxuries whenever I visited New Jersey. And, as I was discovering more and more, Kentucky has its own pearls and gems that I never experienced in New Jersey. Some are better, some are worse, and some are just...different. Comparing the two states and what they have to offer helped me to realize that my exposure to both is what will make me a more well-rounded person able to better relate to a wider variety of people. Not so bad, right? :)

So here is my list:

What I Miss About New Jersey...

-The mall! Call me crazy, but when you're used to a mall 20 minutes in any direction, being without one feels, well, pretty damn strange.

-The zoo! My kids LOVED the zoo. The closest one is 2 hours away, and I've heard it's not even that good. The next closest one is nearly 4 hours away. Now we're talking a weekend trip. Just for the zoo...

-Diners! Oh, a true Jersey classic! Where can I go to eat at 2 AM that's not Taco Bell or Wendy's? Here? Nowhere. I miss diners, especially the jukeboxes and bar stools that come with them.

-Smoke-free establishments! The smell of cigarettes lingers in my hair all day long. Ugh! Here the hosts ask you, "Smoking or non-smoking?" when you walk through the door. Everybody knows that the smoke doesn't stay in the smoking section. It inevitably floats over to your table and into your food. Worse yet, into your baby's mouth. Yuck. I never appreciated smoke-free dining until now!

-More than one Catholic church in a county! We lucked out, because we absolutely love our parish, but what if we did not? Where would we go? There are 100 Baptist churches in town but only one Catholic church. I am not used to being outnumbered like this.

-Access to public transportation! We used to think nothing of hopping on NJ Transit and arriving in NYC 45 minutes later. Here, if you don't own a car (or realistically, a pickup truck), you aren't going anywhere. At least not anytime soon.

-The desire for higher education! Not that people here do not go to college; it's just that fewer do than in New Jersey. College isn't the end-all-be-all, but it certainly helps to get your foot in the door most of the time. And truthfully, college was one of the best times of my life. :)

-An abundance of colleges/universities! Nothing like having options, especially since I'd like to work in a college setting once I'm done raising my family. Hmmm...we live near one university but the next closest one is, well, pretty far. Hope this one will be hiring when the time comes!

-The club scene! Okay, Rob and I were never "clubbers", but we enjoyed a night out dancing every once in a while. And we liked that it wasn't far away! We could hop from one to the next all night long if we so desired. We've already figured out that there are no clubs here and the closest thing to a club ( s-t-r-e-t-c-h....) is an hour away. And from what we've been told, you really have to go to St. Louis to get the decent ones. Whew. Can't do that in one night.

-Not having to pump my own gas! Yes, call me crazy, but I don't mind letting someone else do it. When it's hot, cold, or when you'd just rather not get out of the car, it's great to hand it over to the attendant, who does a wonderful job. I'm managing, but not enjoying it at all.

-The mountains! Apparently there are mountains here, about 7 or so hours away. My parents live in the mountains and boy do I miss the scenery, especially this time of year. The only place you can get better foliage is in New England. And of course I miss my parents. But that goes without saying.

-Atlantic City! What a thrill AC was. We never did that well, but we certainly enjoyed our time getting sucked into the abyss. Nothing compares to Atlantic City when it comes to gambling. Ok, Vegas. Anyone want to fund my trip there so I can do a proper comparison???

So has facing my homesickness head-on worked? Well, it's certainly helped. I will keep this list around to review periodically whenever the need arises. More importantly, I will continue to add to my "Perks of Southern Living" list. There is, after all, much appeal in this area. :)

Peace out, y'all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Brilliant Video

Once in a while a twist on an old argument is made so skillfully, you have to sit back and be impressed by it. The fact that Chanel and I both agree on this subject very strongly makes it almost essential that we post it up here (even though as of this writing she hasn't sat down to watch it).

The only potential counterpoint I see that some people could raise against this video is to make a claim that it's only interested in a shock value with the comparisons it makes. Maybe so, but an open mind can realize that sometimes a shocking statement isn't just shocking; sometimes it's also true.

I'll tell you up front (ok, this isn't exactly "above the fold" down here), if you're not interested in history, the first 13 minutes might be tough to get through but at least it'll be educational. I encourage you, still, to watch through to the end if for no other reason but to share with me your opinions about the realism of people changing their minds.

Interestingly, I saw what direction this documentary was going to go partly because I made a similar comparison between the subject matter and slavery while talking among engineering students waiting for a classroom to be opened up. Come to think of it, at least one said he'd get back to me with his response...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Education System Seen Through the Prism of a Web-Comic

A picture has been going around Facebook the recently that attempts to capture the cultural shift that has taken place in the last 40 years when it comes to education. Being married to a teacher, I get what the message for this graphic is: that parent's do not take responsibility for their children's performance in school the way they used to. At the same time, I feel pictures like this do a disservice to the discussion of how to improve the situation.

Like playing one of those kid's games where you're supposed to point out the differences, I found myself studying this graphic for all the differences and abnormalities.

  • The obvious one, of course, is the attitude of the parents and who they hold responsible for the grades. 
  • Then there's the kid's attitude, which is naturally changed with not being the object of any scrutiny. 
  • The teacher's expression in each panel is similarly changed now that parents in modern times focus their energies on the teacher. 
  • Call me chauvinistic, but after those primary differences, I ask myself about the teacher's dress. A skin covering dress to blue jeans and a low-cut cleavage-showing shirt? 

To those who would prefer to see all parents behave as in the 1969 panel, you cannot force every set of parents (if they are still a set, these days) to "care enough" about their kids to take an interest in their education. They will either play a significant role or they will remain passive--and their decision is likely to be less a function of how much they care about their kids as it is time and energy available left at the end of the day of work, getting dinner together, and every other chore in the house completed--and that's if they aren't working evening jobs, are actually home for dinner, and the kids aren't raising themselves for the most part. If there's nothing left, homework doesn't get checked.

At the same time, parents who are able to take an active role see one of two outcomes: their child does well in school because lessons are reinforced and reviewed at home or their child does poorly in school because the parents are doing too much of the assignment with the short-term goal of excellence outweighing the long-term goal of learning, only to have the child stumble in the classroom assignments when they cannot be coached by their parents. Teachers aren't likely to hear from the parents of the first case, while the parents of the second case end up in places like the second panel of this comic.

When such parents do meet with the teacher about poor grades, they commonly meet a young, female teacher, within years of having graduated college (because so many older ones are already burned out), possibly not even tenured, and dressed more casually then they dress for their own "professional" positions. Given their experiences and observations, can you really fault the parents for jumping to false conclusions?

Why did the teachers change? Educational theory has changed plenty in 40 years, but did that really change the dress code? You might scoff at worrying about how teachers dress, but the fact is that the way you dress acts as a catalyst for the relationship between how you feel and how others perceive you. Dress like a slob, others will treat you as a slob, and you will become a slob. Dress to impress, you will, and your confidence is enhanced. Figuring out which came first: lax teachers or overbearing parents will have to be determined by someone with greater credentials than I in historical sociology.

When it comes down to it, though, the disparity and overall low quality in the education system is not because people in one town are rich and can pay their teachers more while the tax base in another isn't as strong with more people living in poverty. The disparity is because people everywhere, rich and poor (though disproportionately poor to middle class) have more dual income earner households with each earner having multiple jobs to afford a meager living space and food on the table, all while having less time to dedicate to reinforcing their children's educations. It's economics, in more ways than the obvious. If we continue to misdiagnose the problem and have each side blame the other, there will be no improvement and the only ones to suffer will be the children.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Water a Tree Instead

Our kids love building with blocks. The younger can best handle the oversized Mega Bloks, but does well with the smaller Duplo sized as well. Our older is in the recommended age range for the Duplo sized, but would prefer to play with regular Lego. The only reason we had to take my old Lego blocks away is that the younger would have access to them and some Lego blocks are so small, they really are a choking hazard. 

When we go to parks with playgrounds, we often find recommended ages for the equipment. The tallest areas are usually marked about 5-12 years, mid-sized ones around 3-5 years, and the smallest, most boring ones are labelled 2-3 years. Guess which ones our at-the-time 2 year old wanted to play on? Not only that, but which ones the same child did well with in the presence of older kids and excelled on when the place was empty? 

At about 4 months, I started our oldest on alphabet flash cards. Chanel thought I was nuts, but it wasn't long before he was sitting there, looking at the cards through the entire alphabet (sometime twice through), and able to pick out the correct letter when shown three and asked for one. I introduced numbers eventually and he was able to count to 100 before we even started looking at pre-schools. Now Chanel works with him out of 1st grade workbooks.

I recount these observations and activities not to be prideful of the accomplishments of our kids, but to question the appropriateness of the guidelines we've received every step of the way. Block manufacturer's lawyers and business managers have advised their employers at what age children should be able to play with different brands of their toys, not child development specialists. People in the same positions in companies that design playgrounds have determined when children should be allowed to play on different pieces of equipment. If the parent allows their child to play with a more advanced toy, others (sometimes parents, sometimes not) express concern over the child's readiness and perhaps risks being seen as not setting boundaries for their children and labelled a "bad parent."

I cannot explain why flashcard manufacturers would put inflated ages on their products, other than perhaps to avoid having to provide the customer service to explain that a child will not learn the alphabet overnight, or even in a week at 4 months old. I worked with him on it for months before he was able to identify letters, but I remain convinced that it was starting him early that allowed him to know it as early as he did. 

Taking it all in, I can only conclude that we water down our kids' lives. We assign such significance to the calendar year that we don't notice the developmental years passing in between that are wasted away. What it comes down to is a cost/benefit comparison. To let the kids play with things outside the recommended age range, you as a parent need to be there to supervise; to expose the kids to something with a structure they cannot comprehend at the start (like the alphabet or the decimal system), you as a parent need to instruct. Sadly, I know of no day care, preschool, or baby-sitter that has as much an interest in the success of your children as you do. 

Are the potential benefits worth the costs that we've incurred? Having Chanel stay home with the kids, moving out of state to better afford the lifestyle we wanted to give the kids, and everything else we've done, in our opinion, will be worth it. The value you place on it all is up to you.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Tale of Two Songs

Could they be the best of songs? Perhaps the worst of songs? Music has a powerful way of affecting the way people see the world, especially young minds, and it's always important to be mindful of what you're feeding your intellect. When Love the Way You Lie (and, no, I don't include the video as a cheap excuse to show Megan Fox on our blog) hit the airwaves, I was disgusted on a variety of levels--not the least significant reason was that Rihanna contributed to a song like this such a short time after the domestic violence encounter with Chris Brown. Another major contributing factor to my dislike of the song was the explicit nature Eminem's character in the song (yes, I give him the benefit of the doubt that he would not actually consider burning the woman he "loved" to death) talked about harming the female character.

Of course, they came out later and said the song was supposed to increase awareness of the problem of domestic abuse, which, to me, is little more than a "get out of jail free" pass to be able to push the envelope of what qualifies as "entertainment." The critics loved it, the people ate it up, and the artists increased their awareness of their full bank accounts.

Fast forward a few months, the controversy surrounding the song dies down, and we move to Kentucky where you can go half-way 'round the radio dial before finding a station that doesn't follow the country format. I had known about Martina McBride's Independence Day for a long time, but primarily from knowing it as the bumper music to Sean Hannity's radio show. Imagine for a moment my surprise when I finally got to hear the complete lyrics of the song and learn that it's not about the liberties that my least favorite conservative talk show host claims to espouse, but rather about another example of domestic abuse.

In a way, this song bothered me even more than Eminem's because the justification of murdering your abusive spouse/lover is couched in a tune with a catchy refrain (although I'm sure some thought Rihanna's singing about loving the way someone lies was catchy) and an attempt at legal justification: "I don't know if it's right or it's wrong, but maybe it's the only way."

I guess a song about someone getting beaten, going to the cops, and progressing through the legal system won't sell albums anywhere, city or country. However, I challenge the artists out there to make a hit song out of the theme of domestic violence where the abusee walks out on the abuser, taking any kids with him/her, and having all the legalities arranged ahead of time. Demonstrate and glamorize strength of character in your song, not strength of will. You'll simultaneously increase awareness of the problem and provide a practicable solution to those who suffer.