It’s not a PC, a laptop, a tablet or phone; it’s an “ultramobile.” That’s what tech research firm Gartner Group calls what’s replacing desktops. USATODAY says it’s “a fully functional personal computer that is light enough to tote around,” which sounds like a smartphone. You can read more about how it’s different at USATODAY. The point is, we’re just getting a whole lot more mobile now, and parents don’t even need to hear that the evidence of that is mounting. But the latest evidence is that PC sales were down 13.9% for the first quarter of this year, compared to January through March 2012, my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid reported in Forbes.com. Sure, Windows 8 might have “slowed the market,” as IDC told Larry, but neither that nor the tough economy is the real explanation. “It is a reflection of a long-term change in user behavior,” Gartner reported.
We’re turned a corner on several levels. It’s not just that we (regardless of age) want all that a connected computer is capable of with us wherever we are, we want different tools or capabilities on it for different contexts and circumstances, whether it’s reading in bed, conducting a meeting, disputing a bill, shooting a film, leveling up in a game, skyping grandkids, hanging out with friends, or whatever. We like having a world of possibilities at our fingertips. “Screen time” is not only increasingly mobile, it’s highly differentiated now and forever – don’t try to extrapolate anything about your kids from “studies” that generalize about it or suggest it’s just entertainment. It’s a highly individual experience not only from family to family but also from person to person within a family. In fact, it’s situational and contextual for each individual.
Which means that parenting has turned a corner too. As I mentioned in response to educator Will Richardson’s comment in my blog this week, going forward, working through things “out loud” (transparently) with our kids rather than applying predetermined responses may work better. To borrow John Seely Brown’s metaphor), parenting, just like learning, is now more like whitewater kayaking than piloting a steamship. Though a lot of the wisdom, values, etc. we got from our parents is the same, we now need to work more from tacit knowledge we gain/act on as we go rather than from the explicit knowledge of “this is the way we’ve always done it.”
As for the tech trend, it’s by no means defined by “decline.” That’s only for PCs and laptops, Gartner says, but with an overall 9% increase in sales of devices worldwide projected for this year (to 2.4 billion units), USATODAY reports. “Gartner expects mobile phones to continue to dominate … and tablet sales [to] increase sharply. But in the same period, its analysis sees sales in the ultramobile category growing exponentially, from fewer than 10 million in 2012 to more than 23 million this year, and 96 million by 2017.”
Phiona Mutesi, a 17-year-old World Youth Chess champion from Uganda, is traveling in a foreign land — like Norfolk, Va. — with her coach and a mentor this week, appearing at Newsweek’s Women in the World Summit last Friday to play legendary chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. And recently she heard Disney chose Indian director Mira Nair to make a movie about her life. The only thing wearing her down is worry over her mother and siblings’ safety in the slums of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda.
She is a game changer, a lesson to all parents that it’s not about what you can give your child, but that the gift of your presence has a greater, more lasting impact on their lives than material goods.
Phiona is the rarest of all chess phenoms, maybe not for her rating of 1800 — children as young as six have attained master level ratings of 2,000 and up — but she is amazing because, despite coming from a home in Uganda with no running water and electricity, let alone chess resources, she is able to catch up to American child chess masters.
Phiona is succeeding via patience and prayer, and without obsessing over theory, titles, or ratings. “I want to do well for my father. I want to take care of my mother and brothers,” she says in the heavily accented but fluent English she learned alongside the game of chess in a program called Sports Outreach. After some prodding, she adds, “My dream is also to someday become a medical doctor for children.”
The first thing Phiona tells the groups she meets on her tour is, “I lost my father when I was three years old.”
Her father died of AIDS, and her mother quickly became unable to support herself and four children: “My mother could not afford the school fees and the rent monies, so we begin sleeping in the street.”
In the slums of Katwe in Kampala, “street” is a loose term. Katwe is the area garbage dump and its dirt streets are lined with dug-out trenches used as latrines. When it rains, the trash, raw sewage, and mud form a toxic stew that floods shacks and triggers mudslides around the low-lying area, Phiona explained. Her mother and two younger brothers, ages 10 and 14, are in Katwe while Phiona spends a month touring the United States to promote chess with the United States Chess Federation (USCF) and Sports Outreach, a ministry using sports like soccer and chess to help children in developing countries.
When a child in an elementary school asked, “What inspired you to play chess?” Phiona replied, “I was hungry. I heard that when people went to this program to play chess they get a cup of porridge at the end. So I am thinking only about getting something to eat.”
The program was set up by Sports Outreach and Rodney Suddith, who is the American mentor traveling with Phiona. She also travels with her chess coach Robert Katende, a missionary and refugee of Uganda's civil war who started the chess program in Katwe, offering a bowl of rice porridge to any child who would show up and learn.
"It teaches you how to assess, how to make decisions, obstructive thinking, forecasts, endurance, problem solving, and looking at challenges as an opportunity in all cases – and possibly not giving up," he told Joe Flanagan, a reporter here for WVEC-TV. "The discipline, the patience ... anything to do with life, you can get it in that game."
When Mr. Flanagan asked what her favorite thing about chess is, she said, “Planning. I think to do anything in life you need to have a plan. You need to be patient and follow that plan. But planning is my favorite thing.” She didn’t say anything about fame, money, Disney, ratings, getting stuff, or a trip to America, but rather about owning the ability to plan her life.
Phiona is a very natural, honest, painfully soft-spoken young woman and the only coaching she has received is in chess and not public relations sound bites. She does what my kids call “keeping it real.”
A child at the Tidewater Park Elementary School in Norfolk asked her, “Did you always believe in yourself and that you’d get the money to get out someday?” Phiona replied, “I never think about money, only to survive and to do what is right in sight of God.”
“Is it hard being away from your mom while you’re here?” a girl in high school audience asked.
Phiona answered, “It is very hard because when it rains in Katwe people die and I worry my mother will die before I come home.”
The room went utterly quiet as kids in the Title I school in a neighborhood where many students view themselves as impoverished and hard done-by.
For full disclosure, I run a tiny volunteer group called The Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) in Norfolk and volunteer as much time as possible teaching chess to children and parents in my community because I have seen it lift spirits and grades and open a door from poverty to opportunity.
Two weeks ago, Robert McLellan of the USCF, the governing body for chess in America, asked me if I would like to have Phiona visit my community and if I'd volunteer to pull together two days of events for her. Volunteer is the key word — I am not paid by USCF, the school system, or anyone else to do anything involving chess. Chess is my personal ministry and outreach to my community.
We took her to visit three schools, and then the kids in my program performed a living chess game in her honor with the help of the Art Outreach Program at Old Dominion University which provided costumes for our little children to wear.
At lunchtime we also introduced Africa’s “Chess Queen” to A-Mayes-ing Soul Food restaurant in neighboring Chesapeake, Va.
It’s a hole-in-the-wall place below an overpass near the schools we were visiting.
Phiona can’t get her mind around American food. “If chicken has no bones it is not a chicken,” she patiently explained.
When the owner, Sheila Mayes Eason, heard that someone had come into her place from Africa and didn’t know soul food, the place erupted with banging on pots, pans, tables, and the counter with the cry of, “First time! First Tiiiime!”
She then hustled out in her apron, took Phiona under her wing, and explained, “Soul food is food made from your soul. There’s feelin’ in this food. This is something passed down from generations, mother to child. It’s not fancy, but it’ll fill ya body and soul.”
This was the first time I saw Phiona completely let go, deflate, and relax. “I like this. This is the real food. She should come to Uganda and cook there.”
Mayes Eason laughed and replied, “Well alright! I don’t know where it is, but I’d go cook in Uganda.”
When Mayes Eason was informed who Phiona was and where she came from she said, “No water? They got no running water? Well what’s it take to get it done? Let’s go over there.” I do believe that Kampala is in for water and soul food, while Phiona quickly convinced Mayes to start running chess after hours in her establishment.
Phiona is a great chess sales person.
This may be because in order to survive, Phiona’s mom had no choice but to have her children in work beside her from a very young age. “My mother and I sell maize-corn,” Phiona explains.
I wish I could meet Phiona’s mother because this woman is a genius and an unsung hero. She came up with a risky plan to buy corn from a vendor on the day before it becomes inedible. She roasts the corn, and then Phiona and mom sell it. If they fail to sell all the corn, they lose. Phiona has become a very good corn seller.
I know we are celebrating the child and with good reason, but her mother’s tenacity, ingenuity, and courage is why this child is honored by Newsweek and according to a CNN report, Disney has optioned the rights to her story and recently announced a choice of directors to move forward with the film on her life.
Adoption is hard to write about. That may sound odd, considering how many novels involve an adoption premise – from "Bleak House" to Harry Potter and every other heroic orphan in a children’s series. Then there are the boatloads of recent memoirs, many written by adoptive parents going to China, Russia, or fill-in-the-blank.
But books about adoption, be they gung-ho celebrations or harrowing tales of woe, tend to gloss the truth. Not because authors are deliberately self-serving, but because they can’t rein in their own biases. Adoptive parents, birthparents, and adoptees have very different perspectives, which means most personal accounts of adoption only offer one slice of a big and messy pie.
Jennifer Gilmore’s new novel, "The Mothers," is a surprising exception. She doesn’t attempt to encompass every point of view. Yet, with scalpel-like precision, Ms. Gilmore takes apart the standard adoptive-parent narrative.
Despite the title, her 2013 novel is not focused on what birthmothers want, and that’s a good thing. There are no guilty adoptive-mom fantasies of poor women giving up their babies for a better life. Instead, almost-40-year-old narrator Jesse obsesses that the “birthmother, that most fragile bird, might fly away.”
In their quest for a baby in a domestic open adoption, Jesse and her husband Ramon care about “the mother” (and the shadowy birthfather who might nix the adoption) mainly as a means to an end. Jesse admits to herself that she’d just like to throw money at the problem, that she’s sick of writing “Dear Birthmother” letters about how much she loves to bake pies. At one point, she bristles:
“Am I allowed to ask where I fit in here? There is a woman who gives birth and that is not I. And then she is in our lives – Ramon’s and mine, ours, whatever that life will look like – however she chooses to be. I accept that, but … when do I get to be the mother?”
And yet, Jesse and Ramon are likable. They’re flawed in the ways many good parents are. What I admire most about this novel is its truthfulness about their inner lives.
In broad strokes, my husband and I experienced much of what these two have already soldiered through by the beginning of "The Mothers": miscarriage, hormone shots, failed IVF treatments, fraught discussions about what kind of adoption to pursue. In our case, we opted for international adoption, partly – as Gilmore makes clear – because that was easier a decade ago.
Regardless, Jesse and Ramon’s travails are familiar to me. But that’s not why I like "The Mothers." In fact, I was prepared to not like it, and I don’t love the “docu-novel” (from the Kirkus review) aspect of Part 1. Close to a hundred pages, more than a third of the book, is spent on the couple traveling to and sitting through a weekend adoption training session in North Carolina.
They’re New Yorkers, an American Jew and an Italian-Spaniard, and they have a predictably crappy time. They (and readers) are thrown a lot of information about open adoption and why private domestic adoptions no longer amount to a finger snap. There’s brooding about the past, too – Jesse’s recovery from cancer years before, meeting Ramon in Italy, his curse-spouting mother. But I wasn’t hooked until they go home to Brooklyn again, with their beloved elderly dog.
Because it’s a novel – not another memoir by an adoptive parent, thank God – and it’s a very good novel despite the leisurely setup. As Jesse frets about calling local social services for their home study, and Ramon tells her “[i]t will get done,” she snaps, “By magical fairies? We need to get on it.” The last paragraphs of Part 1 convey much more about what they’re feeling than they know themselves:
I looked at my watch. ‘Look at the time,’ I said to Ramon.
Neither of us moved. In the hallway the scream of our downstairs neighbor’s child shot through the house. A car alarm went off on our street.
I lay down on the couch next to my husband, my elbows sharp on my knees. ‘It’s so much later than I thought,’ I said, and just like that, the afternoon light slipped out of the living room, and the gray of winter crept in."
Gilmore is a gifted novelist (her "Something Red" was a New York Times Notable Book in 2010), but the success of this highly personal fictional world is not just a matter of good dialogue and a knack for details.
Other recent novels with adoption themes by well-known authors have foundered. Lorrie Moore’s 2009 A Gate at the Stairs, for example, skewers its adoptive mom in a way that would be refreshing if readers actually got a peek at her thoughts. However, that mother is viewed satirically through the eyes of a college-age nanny, with all sorts of darkness but no clarifying light.
What Gilmore achieves is a tight focus on this couple’s relationship, and their competing wishes and selfish acts. It’s not a matter of whether this is “true to life”; it’s that I believe in these characters. Gilmore is brave enough to allow Jesse to be angry, neurotic, cynical, and an astute observer of her own desires:
“If everything about being a mother is a memory—the memory of your own childhood evoked by the sounds and smells and touches of your child and the air and substance that surround her—then working hard to become a mother is about the imagination, an unknown future."
That’s how a novelist thinks of the world. It’s about the stories we all tell and the fantasies we weave, based on uncertain memories and wishes for what we never had. But in "The Mothers," I especially welcome this perspective. It’s a tonic for simplistic notions about why adoptive parents do what they do.
Gilmore wrote this novel while going through her own “long adoption process” with her husband. In the press materials that accompanied my review copy, she’s asked in a Q&A why she wrote a novel instead of a memoir. Her response:
“I felt I could see this couple more clearly – and perhaps be harder on them – if they were fictionalized. The issues that adoption brought up for me [were] better suited, in my experience, to the novel.”
Yes. I can think of very few adoptive-parent memoirs in which the narrator admits to Jesse’s cavalcade of self-doubts and delusions. I’m not sure it’s possible in a book-length memoir about adoption, given the pressure to shape real-life complexity into a narrative arc that ends happily.
"The Mothers" suffers from some of the same limitations, too. Jesse’s (and Gilmore’s) musings about what it means to be “the mother” in contemporary society are heavy handed. Still, I enjoyed Jesse’s weary take on the gaggles of oblivious stroller-rollers, happily chattering about breastfeeding and yogurt pops.
It’s the obliviousness of middle-class biological families that can feel so hurtful if you’re on the outside. At one picnic viewed through Jesse’s eyes, the hordes of young parents with babies and toddlers and mammoth barbecue grills seems like an alien Stepford world. Her friend Helen, with an infant “grunting at her nipple,” has the gall to tell Jesse that holding babies helps women get pregnant. Then:
“Helen popped Ryan off her breast, which for some reason didn’t make him howl, and she held him out to me. I had no choice but to take him, cradling him in the crook of my arm, as I looked out at the party."
If only Gilmore had taken this a step farther. Jesse and Ramon recognize their outcast status, and are by turns wry and raging and sorrowful. But Jesse also seems willing to march right back into Stepford as soon as she gets her child.
Gilmore hints that the one mom with an Ethiopian adoptee at that picnic isn’t part of the crowd and likely never will be. But for Jesse, getting there is all that matters. It’s as if the gates of heaven will open, her doubts will be expunged by the white glare, and she will then become an oblivious mother angel like all the rest.
Such feelings are absolutely realistic. But the narrative becomes smaller here, less wise. Those of us who have already gone down the adoption road know that Jesse’s story is only beginning, whatever the outcome. I’d admire "The Mothers" even more if it weren’t so focused on the adoption process itself – the getting, the wanting, the end point-that-isn’t-the-end.
Waiting for a child, whether biologically your own or through years of paper work, is certainly steeped in fantasy. But for me, the wanting wasn’t everything. I spent time trying to imagine what my child would think of me as he or she grew older and how we’d talk about adoption and what it means to have more than two parents.
A recording of my mental monologue at the time would reveal a river of selfishness and fear – Will he hate me? Will I hate him? Will he leave me forever? – but I felt far less agonized than Jesse about “when do I get to be the mother?” I was more worried about being saddled with the care of another human being for the rest of my life.
In her Q&A, Gilmore rightly emphasizes that adoption “is often about loss”:
“All parties are grieving. Adoption is not for the faint of heart. You will be wrecked. You will go beyond whatever limits you felt possible – financial, emotional, perhaps even ethical. If you stick with it, you will likely get your child, but it will not be an easy road.”
It’s true that adoption isn’t a magical solution for infertility, and private domestic adoption has never been a quick-and-dirty way to score a kid. But Gilmore’s “real life” explanation belies the complexity of her novel. Parenting itself is not for the faint of heart. It pushes us all to our financial, emotional, ethical limits. I’ve been wrecked, but not because I’m an adoptive mom.
The silver lining to adoption, especially of a child who doesn’t look like you, is that you know from the start that he’s not you. He’s his own person. Yet you love him, you care for him, in a way that goes far beyond romantic love and selfish need. For me, that’s the central mystery at the heart of all family stories.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best bloggers out there. Our 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. Martha Nichols blogs at Athena's Head.
Like most attentive parents, Laurent and I have tried to make sure our girls have a variety of toys and games to keep them amused when their homework is finally finished. In reality, we’ve only had to buy the minimum. Grandparents, friends, and other well-wishers have rained upon our home a flood tide of Hello Kitty products, Barbie paraphernalia, and assorted games, the most recent of which is an ingenious cupcake game.
What’s not to love about a cupcake? For whatever reason, Laurent has drawn a line in the sand on that one. Matching the icings and the fillings will have to fall to older sister, Grace.
What’s been interesting, though, is to see what Madeleine most likes to play with. It’s not what you would expect. She has found a way to take the ordinary and transform it into something that can often keep her entertained for weeks on end. We’re not sure if this is pure creativity, or some adaptive mode that she used in the orphanage where personal possessions were at an absolute minimum.
Let me introduce you to “Dong Wu Jie.” Right after Christmas, when both girls were awash with new things to play with, Madeleine took a small piece of pink paper from a scratch pad, drew a scraggly picture of flowers and a tree on it, and announced that this was “Dong Wu Jie.” That piece of paper went everywhere with her, and ended each busy day either on her pillow or in her hand as she fell asleep.
“What could this mean?” we wondered. “Does the phrase have special significance in Chinese?” We went so far as to ask the Chinese teacher at our Sunday language classes, but she just shrugged and gave us a blank stare. Apparently, it meant nothing in particular. Perhaps the true significance of Dong Wu Jie was that it was Madeleine’s own construct.
We all had to keep track of that silly piece of paper, fearing the consequences if it were lost or thrown away. In fact, no one has seen it now for about a month, but there were no ramifications. By then, Madeleine had moved on to something else.
At Christmas, some good friends invited us over for a festive holiday party and gave each of the girls a package of long skinny balloons, such as are used by clowns and mimes to fashion animals. I woke up quite early one Saturday morning not long after, to the sounds of “pif, pif, pif.” I worried that the dog was having a spell in his cage. It turned out that Madeleine was just inflating a dozen or so of the balloons with the little hand pump that looks suspiciously like the “flavor injector” on a Ron Popeil home rotisserie infomercial.
For the next few weeks, dozens of these remained on her bed or in the crack between the bed and the wall. Fully inflated balloons were good, but so were the semi-wizened as well as limp fingers of latex. Eventually, these became Madeleine’s hair accessories, held in with a barrette, much to her older sister’s chagrin.
“But Mama, we go to the same school!” Grace moaned, as they got ready for the school bus.
The newest vogue for playthings was to appropriate the empty DVD case of a favorite movie, and tote that around everywhere. For a while, the DVD of Lindsay Lohan’s career peak, “The Parent Trap,” lay collecting dust in the TV room while the case was squirreled away under Madeleine’s pillow. I don’t know how many times we tried to retrieve it, but to no avail. Then, we happened to watch an early '90’s VCR movie called “Skylark,” starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken, and the rickety box became the prize. The newest addition to the pantheon of beloved empty cases is a Kurt Russell flick about an injured racehorse, called “Dreamer.”
I’m not sure what to make of all this. I could swell with pride and note that my daughter largely rejects American consumerism and favors imaginative toys fashioned from cast-off materials. Or I could boast of her above-average creativity. But in the end, she’s just 8-year-old Madeleine: inventive, inexplicable, and innocent.
Two weeks ago Greg Pembroke, a dad of two boys in Rochester, NY, posted a series of photos of his sons on a Tumblr titled “Reasons my son is crying” that has since gone viral. Mr. Pembroke found that instant fame is a greater strain than parenting through a toddler meltdown. He tells The Christian Science Monitor he may have also stumbled upon a cure for the toddler meltdown: Take a picture and show it to your child.
“I wasn’t looking for a solution and people offering advice and armchair diagnosis should know I also wasn’t looking for a cure,” Pembroke told me today. “But I accidentally found that just by taking a picture it usually ends the meltdown because the kids love to see themselves and it distract them and the storm ends.”
Pembroke, who writes commercials for Stephens Media Group radio station, and his wife have two boys William, 3, and Charlie, 21-months. And as any parent might do, he began documenting the commonplace meltdowns two weeks ago in pictures which he posted along with witty captions to his Facebook. One caption of a weeping Charlie reads, “He’s crying because I wouldn’t let him drown in this pond,” while another documents the moment he wept “because the milk isn’t juice.”
Pembroke said his friends wanted more photos, but no one wants to be the parent over-sharing on Facebook so Pembroke looked for another venue to post the photos and a friend suggested Tumblr. He thought the move would actually decrease visibility.
“I really wasn’t looking for any of this,” Pembroke said. “It’s just completely bizarre. I want everyone to know they can stop diagnosing the boys now, they’re fine. Charlie’s not autistic, there’s no weird food allergy causing their noses to run. Oh, and no, William’s not dehydrated and that’s not what’s causing him to cry. Wow! They’re just normal kids crying over normal things.”
Pembroke says he can’t wait for the spotlight to turn away from his family because, frankly, he’s feeling a bit fried by the unsolicited advice many have posted on various message boards as a result of the photos of his children which, admittedly, are all crying shots. While he appreciates the fact that he struck America’s funny bone, he would like people to stop backseat parenting his boys.
“They don’t cry all the time or have tantrums like some people think,” Pembroke explained. “They’re 10 second fits of frustration that I just snap a picture of and then they’re back to all smiles.”
Pembroke also said his visit to Good Morning America with the boys (where he was chagrined to be met on camera by an expert billed as The Baby Whisperer) was not about fame, but a free mini vacation. “[GMA] offered to fly us to New York City, and the boys love planes. They offered to put us up in a hotel, and the boys really love hotels. So we went, but that’s IT! No more.”
On a happy note, this dad was inspired by a site that also inspires me in many ways, Humans of New York (HONY), a photo and caption website by Brandon Stanton. Mr. Stanton has walked the streets of New York every day since September 2010, making portraits of strangers with a goal to create a photographic census of the city with 10,000 photos on an interactive online map.
“I was inspired by HONY,” Pembroke explained. “I’ve been on it every day for over a year and it’s just so beautiful. Just taking shots of regular people with a quick witty, or inspiring caption. “
Pembroke said the best thing that came out of his family’s instant fame was the fact that when he reached out to Stanton while in NY for a visit with Good Morning America, Stanton shot a picture of Charlie this week. Yes, the child was crying. The picture, of course, made it onto the Pembroke Tumblr feed.
“The boy (Charlie) was completely normal and laughed far more than he cried, but when he did cry, Dad would quite secretly snap a quick shot,” Stanton wrote in an e-mail this morning. “They were very down-to-earth parents, and definitely not interested in being famous. A small page they made for friends went viral, and now they're ready to get back to normal. All around good people.”
Unfortunately, Stanton isn’t getting the kind of viral traction as Pembroke who, after just a week and 600,000 Tumblr views, is all over the news.
“Please stress that this was all an accident. I was just taking pictures of my kids and ... do people really look for this to happen like this?” Pembroke said. “I wish everyone would shift their focus to HONY and just forget me.”
Media personality Glenn Beck spent the better part of an hour attacking a MSNBC commercial for its suggestion that as a society we are responsible, in a broad way, for parenting our community’s children via providing a top notch public education. However, since a Harvard University study revealed that America has to run to catch up to Latvia, Chile, and Brazil which are all making educational gains at three times the rate of US students, perhaps exploding all over the ad only provides smoke, when what we need are mirrors held up to society.
The complete quote in the MSNBC promo where anchor Melissa Harris-Perry talks about children's education is: “We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we have always had kind of a private notion of children, your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion, of these are our children. So part of it is we have to kind of break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s, then we begin making better investments.”
As someone who volunteers twice weekly to help teach children, who are not my own, to play chess to improve critical thinking and standardized test scores at a community center and a public library without a cent of funding, I have a very different take on this commercial than a this “political shock jock.”
My opinion is tempered by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) and its study revealing that the US ranks 25th out of 49 countries in student test-score gains over a 14-year period.
When Harris states that as Americans, “We have never invested as much in public education as we should have….” I think about that Harvard report and how the US isn’t just chasing the scholastic aptitude of industrialized countries like Latvia, Chile, and Brazil, but choking on the dust of Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania which are all improving at twice the rate, according to the PEPG study.
The study’s authors, Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University, Paul E. Peterson of Harvard, and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich, examined fourth- and eighth-grade test score gains in math, reading, and science from 1995-2009 in 49 countries.
I realized that by watching the MSNBC commercial enough times to get the transcription right (four), anyone who just glossed over it picking out key words could take it amiss, but only if they were looking for trouble. Whenever I was ready to have a meltdown over something someone said that offended me, my maternal grandmother would say, “If you go looking for trouble you’re sure to find it everywhere you look.”
Maybe the word “collective” is too retro for some hosts who can only see it in the narrow contexts of the Cold War or a George Orwellian 1984 kind of scenario?
I prefer to see the word used in a more positive and respectful tone toward our nation in sentences like, “Let’s use our collective wisdom to solve America’s problems.”
To me that commercial says the American people as parents have always been proud, independent, and perhaps more financially able to provide a top-notch education and home support for their children.
However, the ad also reminds me that we must move with the times and realize that not all of us can now afford to be at home lavishing attention and education on our kids as the economy has shrunk our schedules and budgets.
As parents work multiple jobs, as I do, and teachers struggle to make due with shrinking budgets our society’s earlier choices to place the heavier burden and responsibility on the individual parent is having a negative impact on our society.
America wants to be the best at science, technology, engineering, math (the STEM disciplines), but we fall far short in what we have to offer the global market. I see America losing its edge in business and the global economy because we are stuck in the middle of the achievement gap.
When we look at our kids getting a good education because a major network decided to champion kicking it up a few notches to help our kids be competitive in the job market some day, we aren’t looking at a conspiracy, but a blessing.
Taking a collective approach to education should not be demonized. As Matthew 25:40 in the American King James Version of the Bible said, “And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.”
Perhaps we could also view that in the newer translation which changes the word “to” to “for.”
I like the notion that we are being reminded that in society and for our children, “'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' “
My niece Annie and her boyfriend Jonah came to visit from Portland, Ore., recently. The Saturday before Easter was a beautiful one by Boston standards, the first decent day in what seemed like a millennium, so we took them on a walking tour of the city. It was so beautiful out that thousands upon thousands of pasty white Bostonians, their hands clenched into fists from 170 consecutive days of gripping ice scrapers, emerged from their burrows and thronged into the streets hoping to glimpse their shadows. It’s sad, really, to see people celebrating a day that in most of the country would be considered a day to hunker down and sit by the fire: breezy with temps in the low 50s. But that’s life in Beantown.
In any event, we took Albie, our rescue dog, with us. But what I failed to consider was that this was likely the first time he had ever been in a city. He came to us from rural Louisiana and since then he’s led a mostly suburban life, with some time spent in the hills of western Massachusetts.
We parked in an underground garage and when Albie emerged from the car he was totally spooked. Indoor garages are filled with sounds I barely noticed before: squealing tires, huge exhaust fans to ventilate the place, car doors slamming. I coaxed Albie toward the staircase but he refused, utterly refused, to enter the concrete stairwell. So I tried to walk him up the car ramp to the street but again he made a stand and decided to plunk himself down right in the middle of the driveway leading to the exit. While occupied trying to cajole Albie up the ramp I failed to notice a car had entered the garage just to my left and the lift gate was up at the very moment I managed to shift myself under it. When the gate came down on my head I was a little stunned but unhurt. Realizing the need for extreme measures, I picked up my 85-pound dog in both arms and carried him up the ramp to the street.
There were so many people and new sights and sounds and other stimuli – city stuff – that Albie didn’t seem to know where to look or lurch next. He seemed puzzled trying to navigate through all the people, and his attention was constantly being hijacked by one sound or another: fire engines, workers tossing debris into trucks, a guy playing an instrument that looked as if it were designed by Dr. Seuss.
We walked through the Public Garden and over Beacon Hill to Quincy Market where huge crowds drew circles around the street performers. And before I knew it Albie was becoming one of the attractions himself. A young Japanese tourist posed with him while her boyfriend took pictures. A woman from Argentina wanted to share her ice cream with him. Every child under three feet tall just wanted to touch him. One little girl who looked utterly entranced didn’t even flinch when Albie gently reared up, rested both paws on her shoulders and nearly touched his nose to hers. He just doesn’t convey even an ounce of menace.
If you’re shy and need a way to open conversations with strangers, trust me, get an adorable dog and you’ll make more new friends in a day than Justin Bieber giving away free concert tickets.
Milford, Del. resident Margaret Smith, 89, didn’t reach that ripe old age by avoiding the risk of helping others. However, after making national headlines for being locked in the trunk of her own car for two days in the bitter cold by two teenage girls she assisted, suffering as her tormentors took a high-speed joyride and later robbed her, Smith’s family insists she alter her ways for her own safety.
“My sister will not be allowed to drive a car, or anything, anymore,” said Christina Carroll, 79, firmly announced in a phone interview regarding her older sister Margaret. “This is not happening again.” Spoken like anyone who has ever had a ferocious scare put into them by the unconscionable actions of a stranger.
Ms. Carroll, and five of her six living siblings, there were 13 in all, have morphed into helicopter parents to their elder sister out of love and fear for her safety. She added, “We need our sister safe. We need this to never happen again.”
According to the New York Times, Smith had stopped at the Chicken Man Convenience Store in Milford for a butter pecan ice cream cone when two teenage girls approached her and asked for a ride across town. The girls allegedly grabbed her keys, stuffed the octogenarian in the trunk, and took off on a joyride with Smith in the trunk. She was released two days later, but only after the girls robbed her.
Smith told ABC News that while she’d hesitated when asked by the girls for a ride, her good nature won over in the end and she decided, “to do a good deed.”
When Ms. Carroll put Mrs. Smith on the phone this morning she talked about how she feels about the prohibition of her driving, curtailing of her long-held freedoms and being pressured to stop living alone. All of this change, she and her sister both say, comes as a direct result of the actions of the girls she thought she was helping.
“Well, I’m not jumpin’-happy about it I can tell you that,” Mrs. Smith said. “I’m in the land of the living and that’s a good thing. Now, I suppose you could say I am having some adjustments in my life that are going to take some time to adjust to.”
According to Mrs. Smith, “There are seven of us siblings living and they all are very strong on the idea that I need to do what they want now.”
Mrs. Smith isn’t the only one getting such calls. When I first started looking for her to interview it turned out the name Margaret Smith’s pretty common in her area. Upon reaching the first of half a dozen women of the same name this morning, the lady replied, “Oh that’s a different Margaret Smith, but my family’s all been calling me ever since that story came out. They are lecturing me on safety, telling me not to make the same mistake! If you find her tell her I’m so glad she’s safe and to stay careful.”
Mrs. Smith has no children of her own, but has always made it her policy to help the young people she knows “to get by when they need it.”
The change, she says, is, “I’m going to have to think a lot harder about who I help. Helping someone you know is one thing but someone you don’t… well, that’s changing for me.”
“It hasn’t changed me wanting to be a good Samaritan, but it makes you think,” she explained. “It shook my faith in people, but it didn’t break it. I still believe in helping people.”
I asked her if she had any words for the two girls who changed her life so dramatically, and whose actions resulted in curtailing many of her personal freedoms.
“Well, I suppose I would have to ask them to think,” she said. “How would you like to put yourself in my place? I wonder, would they do that to someone if they tried to think like that. I don’t suppose they would though, think like that. I don’t suppose they ever put themselves in someone else’s position.”
Mrs. Smith is adamant that this experience and the fallout with her siblings has not changed her mind about helping young people. “People deserve our help and we ought to give it,” she said. “But you need to think before you help someone. You need to look them in the eye and know something about them. Help someone you know.”
Mrs. Smith teaches us a valuable lesson by reminding us that it’s OK to say no when we don’t feel 100 percent safe about those asking for the assist. There is no shame in choosing safety so that we may live to help another day.
When Princeton alum Susan Patton penned a letter to her alma mater's female students urging them to find a husband in college, she cancelled our appointment with the Love Doctor and scheduled one instead with the Inclination PhD. Aside from leaving many people feeling frustrated, she did get me to remind my sons that higher education isn’t a place to shop for a mate and love can’t be distilled into a formula of marriage-mind + Megamind = Pi in the sky happy ending.
“For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you,” Ms. Patton, the divorced mother of two sons, wrote in a letter specifically aimed at Princeton’s female students. “Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate.”
Trying my best to find something in her letter that will not make me want to fling crockery, I can say I like that Patton is empowering young women to value their intellect over their body image. It’s also good to tell a child of either sex to place value on intellectual connection above more transient, physical attractions.
After that I have to shake my head and walk away because Patton didn’t just twang the love and marriage chords, she set up an elitist paradigm that is at war with everything we believe about love and marriage.
It strikes down Disney princess and geekette alike.
The Disney version has a girl of humble but pretty origins marrying the man who owns the university, while the geekette script has the captain of the football team falling for the nerdy, unfashionable, smart girl. Both of these are Kizmet-based with nary a mention of anyone’s Mensa status.
In her letter, Patton references attending an event and how the “girls” of Princeton at the event took on “glazed looks” while they listened to academic issues discussed but changed dramatically into attentiveness when dishing about how to find the right mate. While this immediately explodes the perception of what an intellectual Princetonian woman might do, I am willing to roll with it.
To get intellectual on this issue I can say that college (at least undergraduate level) the statistics show marriage is happening post-graduation no matter where you meet your mate. According to the Census bureau in a 2013 online posting,the median age at first marriage in 2012 was 28.6 years for men and 26.6 years for women.
Before the princesses and geekettes become collateral damage, however, Patton’s letter lays waste to the love lives and apparently future happiness of any non-Ivy Leaguer while simultaneously bashing them as “unworthy.”
I don’t like the elitist side of the letter at all. My eldest son currently attends a state school because Ivy League isn’t affordable. However, having met many young women from Virginia Commonwealth University I can say the gene pool there is quite wealthy in intellectual young women and men. Anyone would be wise not to exclude them from the romantic running unless the plan is to breed a Princeton Tigers-only populace.
I’ll look on the bright side and hope that maybe Patton meant her letter to apply to any “intellectual” at any university.
After the letter made the lightning round of critics, Patton told The Huffington Post, “The extreme reaction to my letter is astonishing. Honestly, it was intended as little more than honest advice from a Jewish mother. And, yes, this is exactly the advice I would give my daughters.”
While Patton has no daughters, only sons, like me, I am not holding that against her. As a woman who has experienced marriage, divorce and Princeton (not necessarily in that order) she has some experience and possibly regret as a basis for her advice.
My advice to my sons after having read Patton’s opinions is that they should find someone who makes them happy. Fall in love, not with your eyes or ears, but with your nature and hers.
There are so many things in life that look good or bad on paper, and I can tell my sons that love is not something you can bind with ink and paper, or on a computer screen via ones and zeroes.
I have read and re-read the letter all morning and shared it with my spouse of 25 years. We met in college and married three months after my graduation.
We met when I was a college senior and he a recent graduate of the same institution, Monmouth College in New Jersey and instantly disliked each other. On paper, even after 25 years of marriage and four sons we don’t look like we’re possible or likely.
My father-in-law, God rest his soul, was so horrified when he heard we were to be married after knowing each other only three months bellowed, “Hell can be fun for three months!”
What’s the secret to 25 years of door slamming, heart hammering, crazy love?
Neither of us thinks we’re smarter than the other and we deeply appreciate the skill sets we each bring to the table that are non-degree or Mensa measurable.
He can repair anything and turn trash into treasure. He makes old bike wheels into giant pinwheels using colorful Duck Tape to ornament my garden. When he’s over-thinking life and getting angry I make him laugh at something totally absurd.
As the lisping Sid the Sloth tells Manny the mammoth in "Ice Age 2: The Melt Down" about Ellie the girl mammoth who drives him crazy, “She’s tons of fun and you’re no fun at all. She completes you.”
I tell my sons and anyone who’s interested, all it takes to live happily ever after is finding someone who is not your equal, but who helps you complete the sum.
There may indeed be 50 shades of gray, but Target made a mistake as big as a herd of sea cows when it chose to switch the name of a dress color from “Dark Heather Grey” to the more mass-representative “Manatee Gray,” when the dress was sold as a Plus Size. In this case, a major manufacturer played-into social bullying. And while “sorry” is expected, it’s not really going to get this job done for consumers who shouldn’t have to be the common sense police for an entire industry.
If a manufacturer or seller wants our hard-earned dollars in this economy it’s not about what they do for us as much as what they should never do to us as female consumers. They should never be so insensitive as to humiliate us or our kids in public by cluelessly naming things that will make a chubby kid’s life worse with bullies than it already is.
The Examiner reports that Target customer Susan Clemens was browsing through Target.com when she saw a grey, plus-sized garment labeled "Manatee Grey." The same exact dress was on the screen listed with the more appealing name, “Dark Heather Gray.” Clemens called out the retailer on Twitter. Target, admitting it had really missed the bulls-eye on this one, issued a public apology.
My mother, Glen Kristi, of New Jersey, a Parsons School of Design graduate who later taught there, spent decades as a fashion designer in New York City. One of her clients was the plus-size clothing firm Lane Bryant, so this morning the parenting blogger goes back to Mom for wisdom and insight into how this kind of error happens.
“Oh Lord! What were they thinking?” was mom’s reaction when I e-mailed her the photos from the Target website showing the two dresses and color descriptions. “They’re lovely animals, I swam with them once you know, but they’re called ‘Sea Cows!’ "
Once mom was over the shock she explained to me that colors for fabrics and other design trends are not something that the industry takes at all lightly.
“Every year when I was in New York, the Fashion Color Association council met to name all the news colors for the season,” she said. “Then I would go to meetings as a designer to spend hours learning all the names of the new hot colors before I worked on my line.” She added that manufacturers also choose their own color names, outside the council.
Mom added, “I do feel sorry for the people who have to come up with a new name for yellow every season: citron, sunshine, lemon.”
The color “Manatee Gray” had to at least get approved by the manufacturer first, then the marketing people before the raft of people at Target like their buyer, merchandiser, sale staff, and web team. All those eyes on that name and nobody thought, “Wow, that’s a bad idea.”
Mom was quick to point out that “manatee” as a general color name isn’t so bad; it’s the application, “but you never single-out a color for a size and never applied strictly to products worn by large-size women.”
Last Christmas I got the gift of nail polish from a friend in California who gave me one of those get-a-box-every-month-for-a-year gifts via a company I’d never heard of called Julep.com in Seattle, WA. This was funny to my kids because I am so low maintenance I barely remember I have nails let alone polish them. But I was struck by the color names like: Rebel (a super silver for plus-size Rebel Wilson who is in my favorite new film Pitch Perfect).
The Julep website states: “There’s a reason our nail colors are named for women who inspire us – women who are strong and smart and funny and gorgeous and different. Because everything we do as a company is grounded in the power of women emboldening other women to be their most vital, beautiful, confident and happy…and to have a lot of fun along the way. A part of the proceeds from the sale of every Julep Nail Color goes to organizations that empower women.”
No matter what the shade, it’s going to be a lemon with customers if a seller segregates us by our shape, size and their color choices. If you target someone for their weight your new name will be Mud with moms.