Every morning, before dawn, we’re awake and writing. My eleven-year-old son usually gets up first. I’ll enter the kitchen, intent on coffee, and find him perched on a stool over the family laptop – the ancient iBook where he types his stories.
Sometimes, he’ll tell me what they’re about: a funny, complicated anecdote involving a school friend or a chapter in one of his fantasy worlds: the Tolkienesque realm with “dark elves,” the city with zombie-battling teen warriors.
But most mornings, I just get a glimpse of a Word page on the screen, black letters marching along in paragraph blocks as he types. I see the curved back of my son’s slender body, his black bangs tumbling toward the keyboard. I note other open pages, obscured by the one he’s working on.
He’s a tween. There’s so much he now keeps to himself, as do most kids approaching the watershed age of twelve. But for an adoptee like my son, there’s more at stake in describing life on his own terms and nobody else’s.
Today is National Adoption Day – November is National Adoption Month – and it’s a time to celebrate what adoption means to families like our own. It’s a time to raise awareness about the hundreds of thousands of children around the world waiting to find permanent homes, especially those in foster care in the United States.
It’s a time when I love to tell the story of how we became a family. Yet, on this National Adoption Day, I’m struck by my son’s compulsion to write without my help or vigilance. I want to honor the many-layered stories that adoptees tell themselves, in secret and in public, and the way those stories enrich us all.
An adoptive family crafts one version of reality together. An adoptee, however, has at least one other version. For my son, it’s mostly imagined at the moment, pieced together from our recent visits back to Vietnam, his birth country. But it’s his, not ours, and I sense that he holds it close, like all those hidden pages behind pages on the family laptop.
He’s an unusual boy, one who thinks in terms of dialogue and scenes. He’s already a writer, and the world still seems infinitely malleable to him. But I believe all adoptees want to tell it their way, to find some control over what happens next.
That desire shines forth in Jill Krementz’s 1996 classic, “How It Feels to Be Adopted.” She interviewed 19 young adoptees, many close to my son’s age, and the book presents their first-person stories. Krementz refers to the big questions adoptees have – for instance, “Do I have any brothers and sisters I don’t know about?” or “Are my parents happy they adopted me?” – questions that are the stuff of storytelling. More important, though, they’re the questions adoptees contemplate on their own, no matter how supportive their adoptive family is.
Even in 2013, two decades beyond Krementz’s interviews, with more public awareness about adoption and acceptance of birthparent searches, these stories remain as fresh as ever. Take twelve-year old Carla, who was in foster care until about age three, when she was adopted. Carla says she doesn’t think about adoption “all that much.” But then:
“There is one time when I do always think about my biological mother, and that’s on my birthday. I’ve never skipped a year without wondering, How does she feel on this day? Does she think of me, or does she just pretend that I was never born and it’s any other day? Is she sad, or is she happy?”
Such basic questions are like pearls, hidden within the growing self, worthy of polishing over time and preserving. They eventually become the stories that give anyone’s life meaning.
I can hazard guesses about the stories hidden on our family laptop. Once, my son admitted to compiling a page of forbidden curse words. Another time, he joked with both his dad and me about the many-paged “Parent Agreement” he was drafting, following the lead of oddball physicist Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory.”
But here’s the only thing I know for sure, as a writer: Reality isn’t simply whatever we wish it to be, yet there’s magic in the connections we create ourselves. As an adoptive mom, I’ve found, to my joyful surprise, that my son and I share a passion for words. It’s not genetic. But it’s a form of kinship, as mysterious in its way as love.
I can’t claim I’ll never peek at those secret files without his permission, because I don’t know what future challenges we’ll face. Still, my son is old enough now to define himself as more than an adoptee or a “lucky boy” or the kid we think he is. As melancholy as this sometimes makes me – who knows what a child born of another woman’s body will discover as he writes his own way into being? – my sadness is mixed with sweet awareness. He’s becoming exactly who he’s meant to be.
The recent implosion of the Blockbuster Video chain was, for me, one of those watershed moments when I realized the world really does change, I really am aging, and I really will have to explain a lot of things to my infant son so that he can understand where I'm coming from. And I'm resigned in advance to the fact that whatever age he happens to be when I explain these things, he won't really listen, understand, or care, but it'll still make me feel slightly better to try to describe the world of my youth.
Video stores are an obvious place to start, what with the fact that we'll likely have movies and "TV" "shows" streaming directly to our Google Glass or cerebral cortex within the decade.
"When we wanted to watch a movie that wasn't on TV or in theaters, we went to a place called a video store and looked at box after box containing movies, which were recorded on magnetic tape." And in some ways, this could be the highlight of a night out with friends or a date – you'd spend half an hour – or an hour – or two hours – walking the aisles of the video store (my favorite was Four Star Video Heaven), debating what to watch and why, arguing about film, asking clerks for recommendation, and generally immersing yourself in culture. Going to the video store wasn't the prelude to the activity – in many ways it WAS the activity, and it was awesome, and you're never really going to get to do that. On the other hand, you've had access to the iPhone since birth, so you've got that going for you, which is nice.
"When we wanted to go online, we used something called a modem." And generally speaking, we were talking to people in our area code on a system called a BBS. And the modems were so slow at 300 or 1200 baud that even text would load relatively slowly, and graphics were agonizingly slow unless they were composed of text. (Thus: the rich library of ASCII graphics that is still bouncing around out there for some reason.)
"Phone calls were place-to-place, not person to person." That means that when I called my high school girlfriend at home, the odds were good or excellent that the first person I would talk to would be her mom – or dad. An interaction that might be best punted three or six months down the line in a relationship happened early on, and you just needed to be ready for it. The up side of this is that my parents drilled excellent manners into me at an early age, and my likable phone persona meant that parents instinctively liked me, despite having no real idea of my checkered academic background or disgraceful disciplinary record.
And people were often unavailable, sometimes for a long stretch of time if they were traveling or had roommates unable to take a message (i.e. the vast majority of roommates in college.) You could eagerly want to get a hold of someone to share an urgent insight or ask a question, and you were at the mercy of Chad, who had been up partying too late the night before and didn't know or care where the memo pad was. And rather than finding it, he would just say: "Uh-huh ... yep ... got it" while you relayed your urgent message, in order to sell the idea he was writing down the information that was literally less interesting than anything else in the world to him.
"Maps used to be printed on paper." They would unfold and take up a tremendous amount of space, and if you wanted to fold them back up again, you would need to find an engineer or scientist. (Fortunately, my dad was and still is both of those things.) If you got lost on a map, your best bet would be to stop the car and talk to a locally-based human being, who could hopefully direct you to where you were going, or to find a pay phone – what, you don't know what a pay phone is? – and call whoever you were trying to visit to have them talk you through it.
"Oh, yes, we used to give directions verbally." It was essentially a sport: someone would ask you how to get somewhere, and you'd give them a 15-minute long description of the journey, including landmarks, possible wrong turns, estimated travel time, and whatever street names you happened to remember. And if there was a third party in the room, that third party would jump in and offer THEIR favorite way to get to the place, which would vary from yours in some significant ways and guarantee that the person who asked for directions in the first place would get hopelessly lost and need to find a pay phone.
"Pay phones were like iPhones, but much bigger, with cords on them, located in public places. You'd buy a phone call on them with a quarter. They didn't have any apps. No, they didn't have the Internet, because the Internet was just a crazy thing that several thousand computer science academics and military personnel used to trade pictures of actresses from Star Trek. Yes, Star Trek was around. No, it had different actors."
Today many Whovians down in Doctor Whoville, kids and parents too, woke to Google’s 50th Anniversary Doctor Whodle to play the Who game, while American families waited crying “Boo Who! Why isn’t it on our home pages too?”
“Mom, the WHOLE WORLD’s playing the Doctor Who doodle and our browser’s not showing it,” wailed Quin, 10, whose friends in England were crowing online about the largest doodle Google has done yet.
Shortly thereafter, I began to wail in frustration as my Internet tech skills completely failed me. I couldn’t find the doodle. It isn’t on my home page.
After getting some help from an editor, I can tell parents there’s nothing wrong with your browsers or Internet skills, the interactive Doctor Who doodle is just not available on the US site, but The Telegraph of London reports “it will soon be on home pages all over the world.” Impatient Whovians can find it now on google.co.uk. [Editor's note: The link to the British Google home page was misprinted in the original version of this article.]
Thanks to that foreign link, Quin is hopelessly addicted to the Doctor Who Time Lord game that’s part of today’s doodle.
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Time Lords march along the top of word Google to mark the shows 50th anniversary and the second "O" has been transformed into a play button, which when pressed releases a "dalek."
The dalek “exterminates” the word and starts the game where users can choose which of the 11 Time Lords they want to be in a maze challenge traveling time and space in the Tardis (time machine) as you go up in levels. Every time the player loses a life they regenerate as the next doctor.
The highly quotable, inspiring and funny Doctor Who is a common thread in our family history that binds us together, as the Doctor (when played by David Tennant) would say, “from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.”
We’ve watched all the seasons together and on our own time-y wimey. Last year Ian, 18, was headed out the door to his senior year of high school in a bright red fez and bow tie.
“It's a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool,” Ian quoted directly from a Doctor Who episode I’d missed in which the doctor (played by Matt Smith) says exactly that.
Here’s a little hit parade of the best Doctor Who quotes for kids to hear:
1. “You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world!”— The Doctor, Season 2, Episode 2
2. “In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.”— The Doctor, Season 6, Christmas Special
3. “When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… Grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”— Elton Pope, Season 2, Episode 10.
4. “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” — The Doctor, Season 5, Episode 10
5. “There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive… wormhole refractors… You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.”— The Doctor, Season 6, Episode 6
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Perhaps the most important quote doesn’t come from The Doctor at all, but from the character Rose Tyler who said, “You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand! You say no! You have the guts to do what’s right, even when everyone else just runs away.”
This may be the only visit to “the doctor” the kids will ever love and remember fondly because his practice is universal, he makes house calls right into your living room, prescribes books, hand holding, the value of life and the occasional fez.
Time to make an appointment with the telly, the time machine, and your kids for the 50th season.
There’s a canoe in the Kindergarten, and kindergartners in the canoe. They are paddling the great waters of Lake Superior, heading for the mighty salt sea. They are paddling to the sea, because they have been reading "Paddle to the Sea" by Holling Clancy Holling, the story of the Canadian Indian boy who whittles a wooden canoe one winter and places it in the snow at the headwaters of a watershed that includes the Great Lakes and ends in the sea.
His “Paddle Person” flows from stream to beaver pond to rapids to sawmill, along the freighter-lanes of Lake Superior to steel mills, waterfalls and locks. He ends on the Grand Banks off of Newfoundland and is returned, serendipitously, to his maker. Perhaps you remember this book. Perhaps you too are a Paddle Person.
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Is there an educational watershed herein?
Even with a map, it’s hard to comprehend such a journey. But now, for the kindergartners, such a journey is made real through some real props and some imaginative play. They have real paddles, real life preservers, a real red 17-foot canoe (they carried to the classroom from the school swimming pool – a portage!), and they are paddling hard, practicing man-over-board drills, and imagining the water route that will take them to the Great Big Water of the Atlantic Ocean. Paddle Person’s journey has become their journey. Epic imaginative play.
Sure, paddling gets tiresome. And it’s tricky getting everyone’s paddle in and out of the water at precisely the same time, going the same direction. Furthermore, as young Jack told it, “We were in Lake Superior on our way down to Lake Erie. But the wind came up and the current was taking us away. So we needed to make a sail.” As Plato says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Is that the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald down there? Time for a mast. Excellent. This will involve sawing a big cardboard tube (a grandparent just happened to bring one by that day), painting it, lashing it to the gunwales, and hoisting sails – teamwork! Now all hands on deck! And this canoe does hold everyone. Wait, what’s a gunwale?
The journey of our intrepid paddlers conjures something akin to Marianne Moore’s hope that the poet-learners among us be capable of presenting “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” Is paddling a real canoe on an imaginary Lake Superior like a poem? Sure. It is also school done right.
The teachers wrote home about it. “The second the kids paddled into the classroom it became Lake Superior (with a portal to France!),” they reported. “The canoeists faced severe weather, sea monsters and lots of men overboard. Outstanding work is going on and remarkable lessons have been learned all because the canoe rules! Among many other things the canoe has fostered learning in literacy, math and spatial reasoning, team building, resilience, and of course, imaginary play.”
There’s an algorithm to such successful play: equal parts virtual (paddling “Lake Superior”), plus actual (it is, in fact, a real canoe in the classroom). Now stir well, and the product is imaginative play.
Or it’s what the discoverer of another iconic algorithm, Albert Einstein, called “combinatory play.” This, he said, “seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.” Other luminaries chime in on how paddling real canoes across imagined Great Lakes develop into wonderful things. “Connecting the seemingly unconnected is the secret of genius,” says Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Metaphor, Robert Frost said, is “the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another.”
In more recent relevant commentary, this is also “unplugged play,” something the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concludes “is the best way for young children to learn to think creatively, to problem solve, and to develop reasoning, communication, and motor skills.” (See In “The Big Disconnect” by Catherine Steiner-Adair.)
Next door to Kindergarten, downstream in this chain-lake learning system, is the booming economic simulation engine of the fifth and sixth grade classroom. They too are simulating real life, this time in a spontaneous economy that includes banks, manufacturers of all kinds (tea, toffee, clothing and accessories?), service industries, currency, and municipal offices. The kids are handling real life problems in scale model, combinatory scenarios. This is higher-level reasoning, communication, and motor skills. But it’s some of the same skills that any of us are applying to adult careers. We are all down stream from “combinatory play,” if we are fortunate.
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This Great Lakes watershed could also be called childhood flowing into adulthood, and beyond. And this canoe of ours holds everyone, paddling together, in the same direction, hopefully. The AAP might be supplying a rudder for us. “In today’s ‘achievement culture,’ the best thing you can do for your young child is to give her a chance to have unstructured play – both with you and independently. Children need this in order to figure out how the world works.”
How the world works? You mean, how Lake Superior is connected to the other great lakes and, eventually, the great Atlantic Ocean? How to navigate; how to manage those blue water currents – and your fellow paddlers. Don’t forget man overboard and lifeboat drills – the world works best when there are well-trained first responders. To say nothing of exploring that portal to France! It’s a big world out there. But it’s a plenty big world right here in the kindergarten classroom. Paddle on.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, Pa.
Tis the season for your interfaith family to celebrate. But celebrate what? The 12 days of Christmas? The eight nights of Hanukkah? And what happens in the New Year? Should Junior have a confirmation or a bar mitzvah? Does the baby have a baptism or a bris? Some people say that raising your kids in two religions gives you the best of both – that if one faith is good, two must be even better.
In a recent piece in Time, Susan Katz Miller author of the recently published “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family,” argues just that. She says that raising children in an interfaith community that draws on two religions schools your kids in both sides of their religious heritage, avoids the need to favor one parent’s “better” faith at the expense of the other, and skirts a whole host of practical problems interfaith families confront.
Not so fast, say others, who warn against inclusivity at the cost of identity. After all, the essential doctrines of Judaism and Christianity – the religions Ms. Miller calls “the first great wave” of a growing phenomenon of interreligious marriage – are at odds. Do you believe that Jesus was the messiah, or that the messiah hasn’t come yet?
Jim Remsen, author of the “Intermarriage Handbook: A Guide for Jews and Christians” and former religion editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, believes the practice of watering down two religions to try to accommodate them both disrespects both religions. “Maybe this dumbing down is the way society is going. Maybe it’s the best we can do,” he says. But in articulating a “middling” approach to faith for the next generation, “You’re cheapening what’s a long and serious tradition and that’s a shame.”
Interfaith communities, schools, and practices are hard pressed to answer the obvious: “What is your message?” A single faith enjoys the institutional imprimatur, authority, and beliefs that have underpinned that religion throughout history. When it comes to the recommended interfaith religion classes, Mr. Remsen asks, what is taught beyond, perhaps, the very subjective experiences of a parent volunteering that day? Parents may think they are presenting two religions but in fact the interfaith model creates a third. “You can expose [children] in a superficial way but what is their identity going to be?”
Remsen, reared Protestant, agreed to raise his family Jewish, which was his wife’s religion. She was more religious than he, and though he never converted, he immersed himself in the Jewish community and in synagogue life with his family, including three now grown sons.
For those facing a similar decision, he says, choosing one religion for the family is not a win-lose proposition, where one spouse’s faith is squelched. Maybe religion is simply more important to your spouse than to you, or vice versa. Maybe you were actually drawn to your mate because of his different faith.
For Christian/Jewish couples contemplating their family religion, he advises that you take the time to think very seriously about what you really believe about Judaism and about Christianity – even to the point of making a checklist – and to identify what beliefs you are unwilling to surrender. What do you want your kids to believe – not just when they’re little, but at confirmation and bar mitzvah age, and beyond? How will the grandparents feel? Faith isn’t something for kids to “dabble in,” Remsen cautions. “Your concern is about their souls.”
Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink.
Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.
Princesses: They’re everywhere. Over the past decade, marketers have made “princess” a synonym for “girls. They use princesses as shorthand – a way of saying, “Hey, girl: Buy this!”
But ever since Peggy Orenstein spelled out the problems with princess culture in Cinderella Ate My Daughter, parents have come down with a serious case of princess fatigue. Sure, princesses are still popular – but in many corners, parents are so over it.
The girl culture industry is savvy, though. Aware of the pushback, they’re changing tactics. They’ve been working hard to rebrand “princess” as the equivalent to “empowerment” – as today’s girls’ version of girl power. (See this Disney ad, for example.)
The problem is that despite the branding, princess culture is very limiting. Marketers can claim “princess” has the capacity to empower girls all they want; but at the end of the day, in the marketplace, princess culture always reduces girls’ interests to being pretty and finding romance – as the Disney Consumer Products Division redesign of Merida from Brave proved.
As a result, the ubiquity of princesses actually limits young girls’ imaginations. They aren’t seeing many other versions of girlhood promoted to them. Although Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies is always reminding people that there are many ways to be a girl, pop culture is showing girls too many minor variations on the princess theme and calling these similar items “choices” – selling girls short in the process.
The upshot is that today’s girls are like the sailors in Coleridge’s famous, poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” They’re adrift in a sea of princesses, and their imaginations are parched. Being sold princesses everywhere they go – from toy stores to grocery stores to hardware stores—makes our girls’ worlds shrink.
Nor any drop to drink.
So with this in mind, I’ve been intrigued to see two anti-princess ad campaigns go viral in recent days. Let’s take a look at them.
First, there are the advertisements for the all-girls’ Mercy Academy in Kentucky that tells prospective high school students, “You are not a princess.” “Life’s not a fairy tale.” “Don’t wait for a prince.”
These ads all feature the tagline “Prepare for real life.” They clearly speak back against the princess fantasy marketers have been pushing to young girls for the past decade, and they speak the truth to girls: that studying hard and preparing for college is what it takes to succeed in today’s world. Not romance. Not marriage. Not a glass slipper.
The fact that the ads have circulated all over the internet speaks volumes. People have been cheering for them, expressing delight. They are thrilled to see an ad for a girls’ school directly contradict princess culture. (People have also been expressing surprise that a Catholic academy, in particular, would be so progressive. I’m not surprised, though; as an undergrad, I attended Emmanuel College when it was still an all-women’s college, and nuns can be far more feminist and forward-thinking than stereotypes would suggest!)
In a similar vein, a new ad for GoldieBlox has gone viral, gaining 6 million views on YouTube in the past four days alone. GoldieBlox is a toy meant to be educational, to inspire girls to become engineers. As such, their ad is a complete pushback against princesses. It argues against the idea that girls get pink princess stuff while boys get everything else. The fierce little girls in the ad sing about wanting a change: they say they can use their brains and engineer, because – like the girls in a previous GoldieBlox ad sang – they are more than just princesses.
Clearly, this ad’s virality shows that GoldieBlox is tapping into the same princess fatigue that has catapulted the ad for Mercy Academy into the spotlight. Parents are cheering it on, expressing delight for an ad that’s making such a great case for girls having diverse interests – for loving to build and create things – for having imaginations capable of expanding to include STEM-type activities.
But there’s one problem: the new GoldieBlox toy that this ad promotes, which appears on screen for only a few seconds, is actually princess-themed. Yes, really. It’s called “GoldieBlox and the Parade Float,” and its promotional copy reads as follows:
“In this much-anticipated sequel, Goldie’s friends Ruby and Katinka compete in a princess pageant with the hopes of riding in the town parade. When Katinka loses the crown, Goldie and Ruby team up to build her a parade float as well as other fun rolling, spinning, and whirling designs.”*
I read the book, and here’s a quick summary of the plot. Ruby (the African-American girl) has been preparing for “the biggest event of the school year:” the “Miss Princess Pageant.” Goldie assures her she’s going to win, but their friend Katinka – a pink dolphin – exhibits mean girl behavior and is determined to with the crown. (She butts into the competition, saying rudely, “Step aside, girls. You’re making me yawn. Judges watch ME as I twirl my baton.”)
When Ruby wins the Princess Pageant, Katinka bursts into tears. The girls are kind and want to make her feel better, despite her mean behavior. So, what do they do? I was hoping they’d engage in some other activity together and assure her that princesses and pageantry aren’t very important. But that’s not what happens. Instead, Ruby and Goldie build a float that Katinka can ride on, too. It ends with the whole town cheering “for Katinka and Ruby, the Miss Princess Engineer.”
So, taken together, the GoldieBlox campaign and product leave me scratching my head. Unlike the Mercy Academy ad, which tells girls they are not princesses and offers education as an antidote, GoldieBlox as a brand is speaking out of both sides of their mouth. GoldieBlox claims to be anti-princess. It depicts girls who declare they are not princesses and who want to learn interesting new things, and it offers their toy as a solution; but then it turns around and offers girls a “princess parade” toy to play with.
And while it seems everyone has seen the new GoldieBlox advertisement, almost nobody realizes that the ad itself is for a princess-themed toy! (Every time someone has shared the ad with me, I’ve asked if they knew this; the answer has been a uniform and surprised-sounding “No.”) So GoldieBlox is having it both ways: appealing to parents with anti-princess rhetoric and then, in stores, selling girls on a princess-themed toy.
This is disappointing. I have been rooting for GoldieBlox since their Kickstarter days, and I love their mission to break stereotypes and spark a love of STEM in girls. But by pandering to princess culture, this new offering just isn’t living up to the promise.
So, I have to wonder: Why is this happening?
Here’s my take. While a school like Mercy Academy can sell girls on not being princesses and deliver on their promise to educate them in a princess-free environment, independent brands like GoldieBlox walk an awfully fine line in the marketplace. When they try to provide girls with something different, something STEM-oriented, they wind up swimming in a sea of princess products. They are competing with everything from the girly-girl LEGO Friends line (which also drew heavy criticism upon its release) to Barbies and Disney Princesses. So, to get picked up by major retailers and better appeal to girls shopping in toy stores, GoldieBlox apparently has to take a product meant to be non-conformist – as indicated by the ad campaign – and conform to the dominance of princess culture.
Sigh. If that doesn’t prove that “princess” is the dominant marketing force in girl culture, I don’t know what does.
So, while I support the GoldieBlox mission, I’m concerned. I’m concerned that by using stereotypes to sell girls on STEM, GoldieBlox is unwittingly selling itself short – and, therefore, selling girls short in the process.
For the record, in the aftermath of a twitter conversation with GoldieBlox in which I expressed my concerns, the company has revised their description to conclude as follows: "When Katinka loses the crown, Ruby and Goldie build something great together, teaching their friends that creativity and friendship are more important than any pageant." Here's a link to the original version via the Internet Archive.]
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rebecca Hains blogs at rebeccahains.wordpress.com.
Rarely is it a joyful experience to have a giant fungus among us but in one Pennsylvania town a giant mushroom will drop on the populace to ring in 2014, reminding us that traditions don’t have to be old – they just have to be memorable.
“I’d hate to see the toad that comes next,” was my 10-year-old son’s reaction to hearing that a 700-pound, stainless steel toadstool will be lowered from a crane Dec. 31 as residents of Kennett Square, Pa. count down to the New Year.
The town's giant mushroom sculpture will be more than 7 feet wide and 8 feet tall, a nod to the town’s share of the national mushroom market. The area’s farms account for about half of US mushroom production, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
In other New Year news, the town of Perry, Ga. is going to drop a buzzard in honor of the annual buzzard migration there.
“New York City may host the Apple Drop ... and Georgia’s own Atlanta will host the pride of the Peach State’s Peach Drop,” Faircloth told the Macon Telegraph. “However, here in Perry, we were thinking of something more original.”
Pennsylvania really has the drop on other states when it comes to New Year’s Eve countdowns: Lebanon, Pa. drops bologna, Bethlehem lowers an 85-pound statue of a Marshmallow Peep, Easton drops a 10-foot-tall lighted crayon because the city is home to Crayola Inc.
Learning this prompted me to call our city’s PR manager, Lori Crouch and ask about The City of Norfolk’s New Year’s Eve plans, “Are we ever gonna drop a mega mermaid at midnight?”
Our city motto after all is “Life celebrated daily” and our symbol is the mermaid, so this was a perfectly reasonable thing to ask.
To my surprise she paused as if I’d stumbled on a major state secret and she had to weigh the answer.
“Well, actually, we just might,” Ms. Crouch answered. “Festevents has been talking about creating a New Year’s Eve event and there have been discussions about what we would drop. A mermaid is actually a great idea.”
We didn’t discuss if the mermaid would be live (an actress in costume) like the Brasstown possum or one of the 300, larger than life, 8-foot mermaid sculptures that currently decorate our city’s streets.
Personally, New Year’s has never been my holiday because I’m a homebody, alcohol-based partying has never been my thing, and as I get older I tend to hate to let go of each year.
However, as a mom I have found a great deal of value in embracing as many new traditions as possible for my boys to enjoy.
As my kids get older I think more about what traditions of ours they will carry on and I worry that I haven’t celebrated life enough with them.
So in the past few years I have begun to add our own quirky new holiday twists to remember their childhoods by.
I wrote a children’s book for Thanksgiving “Pardon me, it’s ham, not turkey,” about the fact that Virginia and not Plymouth, Ma. was the true site of the nation’s first Thanksgiving and the menu was different.
That year we had ham for Thanksgiving, got the school principal to kiss a piglet named Ginny (for Virginia), met President George W. Bush when he came to Berkeley Plantation to celebrate the true location of the feast, and in the process got head-butted by the then-president.
At the time the Secret Service agent told my son Ian, then age 11, “That’s the Presidential forehead touch and he only does it with people he really likes.”
Uh-huh. Three forehead bonks later Ian asked, “Is this going to be our new tradition? Do we do ham and head butts now?”
Short answer was, “No, but we can tell this story every year at Thanksgiving dinner.”
That’s what holidays are really all about, not the perfect dinner or Rockwell-worthy gathering, but the memorable tales we share about the experiences be they mushroom, moon pie, or mermaid.
As the Knockout Game resurfaces in the news yet again with teens randomly selecting adult victims to punch in the head and render unconscious in an ambush "game," it’s time to engage innercity teens, rather than give in to panic, vilifying them across the board.
Here’s an example of how an incident can be magnified beyond it's real dimensions to stir panic, hate, and terror that is both longlasting and widespread.
The “Knockout King” or “Knockout Game” has been playing out for more than a decade on streets in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Chicago, St. Louis, and now Washington D.C. in small numbers. But videos of the incidents have gone viral on the Internet, creating the illusion these things happen more often than they do.
“There is no evidence supporting this as a huge, viral number of attacks. If the ‘Knockout Game’ really exists and isn’t just a media label that could fit many of the hundreds of thousands of random attacks on strangers,” says Mike Males, senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice located in San Francisco. I’ve heard of incidents of this so-called Knockout Game dating back to 1996. It’s not new.”
“What is important to realize is this tiny ‘Knockout’ pattern is part of a stronger pattern of random violence against strangers in this country,” adds Mr. Males.
Two women were separately assaulted in Washington last week on Nov. 14 and 15. Police are calling both attacks simple assaults and have not indicated that they were realted to the knockout game. [Editor's note: A previous version of this story inaccurately reported the dates of the Washington attacks.]
"He just like threw a hook with his left hand, and just got me right in the face," Ms. Connolly told ABC 7. "And he said 'wa-pow' as he hit me in the face."
Back in December of 2011 the Associated Press reported the game was expanding its territory and that attackers were both male and female teens, some attackers as young as age 12.
“The rules of the game are as simple as they are brutal,” The AP reported. “Unlike typical gang violence or other street crime, the goal is not revenge, nor is it robbery. The victim is chosen at random, often a person unlikely to put up a fight. Many of the victims have been elderly. Most were alone.”
I think it may be time to take a hard look at how we engage, or disengage, teens when this kind of antisocial and violent behavior takes root in our communities.
“Cities with high populations of teens with good community engagement traditionally have much less teen crime,” Males says. “Conversely, cities like St. Louis have been cited as an epicenter for the so-called Knockout Game and that city has a very high youth poverty rate with very poor teen engagement.”
Males says the place to begin our defense against Knockout and other random acts of violence by teens is by starting with “troubled families” and also with teens individually to teach empathy.
By making innercity teens and their families part of the solution rather than casting them as part of the problem, we can empower youth to take pride in their communities and contribute to the safety of their neighborhoods.
Having spent the past six years engaging at-risk youth in their communities via teaching them and their families chess, creating unity in the community with mentors from the police department, the sheriff’s office, and local university mentors I can tell you this is the way to go.
It doesn’t have to be chess. Here in Norfolk, Virginia we are starting a free Lego club at the local Maker Space where people are donating old Lego sets and volunteers are going to help kids from troubled families in the inner city build themselves into the broader community via technology and toys.
The hope is that building together will build community. If the problem is that teens are randomly attacking strangers, then we need to introduce them to their neighbors and make them friends.
Upworthy is featuring one of those rare advertisements that is, by itself, a clear declaration of social change: a brash request, by way of a clever music video, that it's time to start giving girls toys that help them think and treat them like people (rather than stereotypical "princess" prizes to be won and kept by men.)
The video is a promotion of GoldieBlox. GoldieBlox is a company founded by Stanford engineer Debbie Sterling; it's focused on making construction toys for girls, with an eye toward developing future engineers, mathematicians, and scientists.
But the bulk of the video's content is a rejection of the idea that girls' toys need to be little pink nothings, while boys have all the fun building and exploring.
"Princess Machine" is a witty re-appropriation of the jaw-dropping OK Go video for This Too Shall Pass - a mammoth, real-life Rube Goldberg machine that uses a host of objects that fall, climb, roll, soar through the air, and otherwise transform potential energy into kinetic energy. Just running the math on this video would keep an advanced physics student happily occupied for weeks or months, depending on how precise she wanted to be.
But if the visual action is clever, the musical choice – a re-appropriation and rewrite of the classic, misogynistic Beastie Boys anthem "Girls" – is downright brilliant. The original track views girls as objects of conquest who should occupy their time cooking and cleaning; the GoldieBlox re-write puts them in the driver's seat. It's a charming update.
For parents doing some holiday shopping, it's worth noting that while GoldieBlox is a pioneer in its field, there are some other good toys out there serving a similar mission: check out Roominate (the dollhouse with working circuits that you build) or the telescopes that come in teal, for example. Or just buy them construction and science toys for boys, and don't make a big deal out of it. That'll work, too.
When a male lion killed a lioness in a seemingly unprovoked attack at the Dallas Zoo this weekend while families looked on, parents across the nation were faced with the decision of teaching kids about animal instincts or quickly becoming the authors of a brand new fairytale.
Lioness Johari, 5, was placidly sitting beside a male lion when he sank his teeth into her neck, killing her, according to published reports.
The first thing I thought when reading the news account was, “What would I have told my kids if we’d witness that?”
To be perfectly honest, if they were young, I would have channeled Walt Disney in a heartbeat.
I can say this with certainty because that’s how I became a children’s book author nearly 15 years ago when we moved from a sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico to Medford, N.J., and my kids, then pre-K and Kindergarten, began to face harsh realities.
We started with bullies on the school bus, whom I transmographied into apes in a jungle tale being frightened off by a little chameleon who found her courage. Then, we moved on to the 911 attacks, which became the Mouse and the Light fable.
However, today, I decided to test the waters with our nine-year-old to see if he was ready to hear the truth or if I was going to have to go out and rent “The Lion King” tonight and talk about the evil lion character Scar.
After nearly 20 years of parenting I have learned that kids are often more ready than we are to deal with reality. Quin, who is relentlessly logical, might be insulted by a non-scientific explanation.
After reading the story and asking him how he would explain what happened, he presented me with two theories.
Explanation #1: “Well, it could have been that a giant, invisible, alien squid fell on her (the lioness) and he (the lion) was trying to save her from becoming a hybrid, and because it was invisible he accidentally killed the lioness by mistake,” Quin posited.
Explanation #2: “She probably asked him to do it because she was so sad and tired of living in a zoo. It was probably a mercy.”
When asked which of his two stories he would prefer to tell someone who witnessed the event at the zoo, Quin didn’t hesitate, “The first one’s a much better story and it’s not sad. Roll with that.”
Based on this completely unscientific method of inquiry I have decided while Quin is perfectly capable of seeing the science, facts, and ruthless logic of the situation, emotionally, he’s not ready to go there with me.
Invisible alien squid it is. You heard it here first.
The moral to this story is that when parents are stuck for an answer it’s OK to ask the child for a password hint.
If the child is comfortable with cold, hard reality then that’s where you go with it.
On the other tentacle, if the hint is “invisible aliens,” join your child in co-authoring the next big SyFy channel movie – Lionpuss.
Editor's note: For the record, the Dallas zookeepers are puzzled by the lion's behavior. Here's what Dr. Lynn Kramer, the zoo’s vice president of animal operations and welfare, said: "This is a very rare and unfortunate occurrence. In my 35 years as a veterinarian in zoos, I've never seen this happen... I would have to think something caused the males to react that they don’t normally see every day,” he said. “Lions can be aggressive, but they don’t kill each other.”