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Young models pose backstage for Stride Rite Children's Group featuring Saucony kids Fall 2013 collection at petitePARADE in New York City, March 10, 2013. (Amy Sussman/AP Images for Stride Rite Children's Group)

Stride Rite: Shoes that peddle gender stereotypes

By Guest blogger / 09.03.13

Last April, I posted about how Stride Rite positions girls as pretty and boys as active.  After seeing their in-store advertisements and reviewing their product descriptions online, I concluded that according to Stride Rite, girls are meant to be looked at, so their play shoes are a route to prettiness, while boys are meant to be active, so their play shoes are made for play.

Last week, while doing some back-to-school shopping with her young daughters, Margot Magowan of Reel Girl encountered similar advertising at her local Stride Rite store in San Francisco. She was deeply disappointed in how the brand perpetuated the idea that girls are dramatically different from boys–sparkling princesses versus powerful fighters. And she linked back to my post from last year to offer context, showing that Stride Rite’s hyper-gendered marketing is business as usual for the brand.

Her blog post about it struck quite the chord: The Daily Mail, the Huffington Post, and Jezebel all picked up the story, quoting Margot and myself on the topic. Margot also was interviewed by Fox and Friends.

As Margot put it on Fox and Friends: “Feet are not that different. Boys and girls, especially four-year-olds, have basically the same shoes and basically the same feet.” So why such a strong and stereotypical gender segregation?

The Daily Mail connected Stride Rite’s marketing to broader trends; for example, they cited research by Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, whose research suggests that gender segregating and stereotyping of toys is becoming worse with time–so much so that “the world of toys looks a lot more like 1952 than 2012.”

[The Christian Science Monitor editor's note: For it's part, Stride Rite responded to these concerns with the following statement, which focuses on their footwear but not their marketing strategies.

"Stride Rite Children’s Group develops footwear that is specifically designed to meet the needs of growing children while offering a broad assortment of products in a range of styles that are of interest for both girls and boys. We strongly believe that all kids should be active and we provide shoes that enable and encourage kids to play and use their imaginations. Our commitment to quality, style and “kid rite” innovation is at the forefront of our minds as we strive to provide options to all parents and children."]

Meanwhile, Jezebel offered a characteristically entertaining approach to the subject, writing:

This just in: being a child and taking steps to propel you from one area to another is a gendered act. Boys walk; girls sparkle and twirl and make princess wishes. Boys also crouch and pretend to shoot webs out of their hands, because that sort of thing is fun when you are a boy. (The only time that girls crouch is when they are picking up face-up pennies in their never ending quest to make a lot of wishes.)

On the other hand, the Huffington Post coverage offered a fairly straightforward summary of our blog posts, but the comment thread was often infuriating:

  • Some commenters were defensive, arguing that there’s nothing wrong with being a girly-girl who likes princess products. This is true, but the argument misses the point: The problem is when girls are ONLY offered girly-girl/princess items. There are so many ways to be a girl, and marketing like Stride Rite’s reduces girls to ONE form of girlishness only.
  • Other commenters defended corporations like Stride Rite and blamed parents for the gender stereotyping of childhood, claiming it is the parents’ job to raise their children properly. This, too, is true, but also misses the point: even the most devoted parents are hard-pressed to fight back against the billion-dollar marketing machine that is so invested in separating the boys from the girls. (After all, fostering a separation between the sexes is a great way to sell twice as many products.)

Inspired by that comment thread, Lori Day of the Huffington Post wrote a terrific piece about the media’s shameless peddling of gender stereotypes to children. She explains:

"A lot of adults are laughing all the way to the bank as our kids pass under the bus. The strategy is simple: convince kids of both genders that they are very different from each other and that they need completely different products with different colors and different labels, and they will naturally only want what they’ve been told is “for” them and what has been spoon fed to them since birth. Parents will then dole out double the money buying separate products for their sons and daughters, ensuring that the retailers and marketers double their profits and double down on the stereotyped messaging. And why wouldn’t they? It’s brilliant. It’s lucrative. It’s also a breathtaking act of psychological vandalism against our children. Media shapes perception, and perception becomes reality."

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

Nanny Randy Hambley, right, hands Trey Powell his daughter, Kylan, as her twin sister, Ashton, sits in his lap in their home in Seattle. 'I was in an adoption pool for a year and half, didn't get any calls and got bummed about the whole experience,' Powell said. 'I just wanted to be a dad. Time was not on my side, and I didn't have the luxury of waiting for an ideal mate,' Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Adoption competency training: A new goal for mental health professionals

By Contributing blogger / 09.03.13

Adoption can heal lives and create happy families. But adoption also brings with it a host of potential challenges. Cross-racial adoptions can prompt complicated discussions of identity. Prior maltreatment of adoptees (by birth or foster parents) can create a host of behavioral and/or emotional problems. And building a truly blended family can be a truly Herculean task.

Mental health professionals who treat patients for issues surrounding adoption need specialized training and certification, argues a new report.

"It's something a lot of people want, and a lot of people are looking for, and they simply can't find it,"  says Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute. "Unfortunately people sometimes find mental health professionals who mean well, but their lack of knowledge leads them to do more harm than good - and that's a problem."

"I've had a psychiatrist tell me: 'Well, I know adoption issues because I've treated three or four adoptees over the past few years,'" says Pertman. "Well, I sure hope they were typical; I sure hope you can extrapolate from what you learned from them for everybody!"

The Donald Adoption Institute's report, "A Need to Know: Enhancing Adoption Competence Among Mental Health Professionals" is aimed squarely at those in the profession. Pertman explains that while there are a number of programs aimed at teaching mental health care professionals about counseling adoptees and adoptive families, there is a need to get psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers talking about the need to study up on the issue.

"We understand what's needed, we're starting to build it, but until we build sufficient demand, it won't do the good that it should," says Pertman. "I'm hoping professionals will take this to heart and blog about it, put it on their pages, and start talking about - because nothing's going to happen if that doesn't."

"A Need to Know" lays out many of opportunities (such as distance education) and challenges confronting advocates of adoption competency training. Pertman views the problem as profound enough that, he argues, it should move beyond continuing education into the core of education for health care professionals, so that as they begin their careers they start with an awareness of the unique challenges. Changing attitudes about adoption and how it's discussed, he argues, are a golden opportunity to change the way mental health care professionals are trained.

"I trace a lot of this [lack of adoption training] to the secrecy and stigma that was attached to adoption for generations," says Pertman. "You don't teach teachers or mental health professionals about things you don't want to talk about. Now we're getting to a place where we're talking about it, and that's really good."

Many kids see tablets and other mobile devices as not just toys and tools, but also as a setting to flex their creative muscles. Here, two elementary school children share an electronic tablet on the first day of class in the new school year in Nice, September 3, 2013. (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

Pint-sized designer Jefferson Johnson develops 'Treehouse Wars' app

By Contributing blogger / 09.03.13

Presidentially named Jefferson Johnson of Fairfax County, Va.. is only ten-years old, but his age didn't stop him from contributing a notable new little wrinkle to the fabric of modern digital life. At the age of nine, Johnson helped to create "Treehouse Wars," a spin on the extremely popular (and legitimately addicting) "Plants Vs. Zombies" game.

There's a popular perception that games and apps are the enemies of learning – they sap concentration, demand constant attention, offer worthless rewards, and generally displace more worthy endeavors for children, such as reading books, playing outside, and just about anything else that involves interfacing with the real world (or "meatspace," at it's sometimes called by those waist-deep in the Internet.)

There is, no doubt, truth to that. But like most tools and stories, games and apps are fully doubled edged - distractions, sure, but also potential vectors for education and potential models that children can play with and build in a manner similar to their parents and grandparents using Tinker Toys or Erector® Sets.

In short: What Johnson did made news because it's unusual – nine-year-olds don't typically build apps. But think about what he has likely learned throughout the process of putting together "Treehouse Wars":

- How to (realistically) conceive what an app would do and what it would look like

- What the various pieces of a computer game are (graphics, code, user interface, etc.) and how they're created and combined

- How to balance gameplay so that it's challenging enough to enjoy, but is not unwinnable

- How commercial systems like Apple's App Store function – not just as shelves consumers buy things from, but also as repositories for the creative energy of independent creators and companies

- How to use crowdsourced funding (in this case, Kickstarter) to get an otherwise too expensive project off the ground

- And finally the satisfaction of seeing a project through from conception to execution and talking about it with end-users who can enjoy it in its native habitat

That's the executive summary; it's likely that he internalized far more, while stoking a fire to tackle similar projects down the road.

Johnson, of course, had help with his app; his father (entrepreneur Bryan Johnson) pitched in to make it possible and a game-creation website called Game Salad ensured that the Johnsons wouldn't need to reinvent every wheel on the bus.

Not every kid is as fortunate as he is to have such high-powered assistance to complete a project like this. But perhaps, with a bit of support from educators, every kid could – imagine toolkits that kids can use, in the context of hands-on learning, to build their own apps, or games, or programs in a school setting, studying and appreciating every step of the process along the way.

Generally speaking: If you teach to a test, you've taught kids how to take a test - any additional learning is incidental, and often ephemeral. And while there has been increased effort in recent years to create tests that reflect more challenging and relevant knowledge and processes, there'll always be a "square hole, round peg" effect for bright kids who are non-traditional learners.

Throw the plastic and sometimes laser-bright intelligence of young people at a bigger, more engaging task like completing a computer game, and you've created opportunities for new kinds of learning, and new ways for kids to shine under pressure.

Teamwork, market analysis, project management, and the joy of creating a tangible (or virtual-but-tangible) product at the end of a project are not unimportant things; they may be one or two steps removed from traditional academic goals, but the world, after all, isn't a series of written tests.

Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida Monday without the aid of a shark cage. Here, Ms. Nyad hugs trainer Bonnie Stoll as she walks ashore, Sept. 2, 2013. (J. Pat Carter/AP)

Diana Nyad: A lesson in perseverance

By Contributor / 09.03.13

This Labor Day, Americans watched in amazement as author and distance swimmer Diana Nyad completed a historic 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida.

After swimming non-stop for more than 50 hours, Ms. Nyad touched land on the shores of Key West, Fla. and raised her fist in triumphant victory. The visibly fatigued, and considerably swollen swimmer offered these words of wisdom to the world following her harrowing swim. 

“I have three messages. One is, we should never ever give up. Two is, you never are too old to chase your dreams. And three is, it looks like a solitary sport but it's a team."

Those words carry some mighty important lessons for the rest of us that can barely imagine staying up for two days straight let alone spending them swimming through shark- and jellyfish-infested ocean.

Her message to never give up is not any new nugget of wisdom. However, she has lent the old adage some fresh significance, considering that her victorious swim came only after four failed attempts. 

Nyad’s insistence that age should not get in the way of fulfilling dreams has not only inspired countless adults, but has also served show the country’s young people that they hold no monopoly on vitality.

As kids get into the swing of the school year, the excitement of a new wardrobe and the joys of reuniting with friends will undoubtedly give way to frustrations, anxieties, and disappointments from time to time. 

So next time your son throws down his pencil in frustration while working on his math homework, or your daughter declares that she’ll never live down some embarrassment, remind them of Diana Nyad and her perseverance, her willingness to face her fears, and her sheer might. When they feel they are drowning in schoolwork and social drama, let them know that even though life often feels like a solitary sport, you will always be on their team.

David Beckham has teamed up with Chef Gordon Ramsey to launch a pie and mash restaurant chain. Here David Beckham greets media and youth in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands, July 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

David Beckham teams up with foul-mouthed chef Gordon Ramsay

By Correspondent / 09.03.13

When soccer legend David Beckham, often called the “ultimate role model for kids,” decided to back a string of pie and mash cafes he made the distasteful choice of setting a bad example for young fans by teaming with a foul-mouthed bully chef Gordon RamsayPie and mash is an East London classic that originated with dock workers and consists of a meat pie, mashed potatoes and eel sauce.

As parents we love Mr. Beckham, Mr. Ramsay, however, is a parent’s worst nightmare for his constant swearing, brutal berating of those he works with on various TV shows, and generally bad attitude.

I marvel that a man who has done so much good by saving failing restaurants via the show Kitchen Nightmares, can be so widely reviled. Today I marvel again that Beckham is so drawn to this sort of person.

According to the Irish Independent, “The ex-footballer is said to be plotting a worldwide pie and mash takeover with foul-mouthed Gordon.”

In 2010 Beckham and Ramsay registered the name PM - which stands for Pie & Mash - under their joint initials DBGR with the Intellectual Property Office, according to the London Sun.

At last, my husband and I have found common parenting ground. Hubby and I are always on different frequencies, he’s the drill sergeant and I’m the persuader.  

This issue is likely to unite the kids as well and all it took was a soccer icon putting on a Ramsay uniform.

A month ago when my husband, who works for a newspaper in Virginia was scanning the news feed and ran across a video of Ramsay exhibiting his usual swear fare he brought it to my attention.

“The kids are never to watch this man,” he said in his no-nonsense-this-is-final voice. “Who behaves like this? What kind of person would allow this man to behave this way?”

The answers is that raw mean sells faster than school supplies in August.

I told my husband we already had the No Ramsey Rule after they boys and I caught an episode that became too maddening to watch for two of my teens because, as Avery, 14, pointed out at the time, “There are just too many bleeps to make sense of what he’s saying to anyone.”

Therefore the reaction to Beckham partnering with none other than Ramsay was predictable at our house.

Quin, 9, aptly put it, “This is not Metroman joining forces with Megamind, it’s like Dr. Who being BFFs with a Dalek. It’s just wrong.”

The Beckham-Ramsey restaurants are said to be a “global” pursuit, according to The Irish Independent. I can promise you that we will not be dining there because mean leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Nobody can bend us on this one, not even Beckham.

Singer Robin Thicke performs "Blurred Lines" during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards in New York, August 25, 2013. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Robin Thicke: Unteaching misogyny: How to talk to boys about Robin Thicke

By Guest blogger / 08.30.13

If you have ears, you have heard Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines.” If you have had any amount of spare time in the past few days and have access to the Internet, you have heard about Mr. Thicke’s performance at the VMAs with Miley Cyrus. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations! You must have looked past the headlines on CNN’s main page in order to read about “secondary” news like Egypt or Syria.

If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter with any kind of regularity over the past few days, you’ve probably heard countless friends or followers sounding off on any number of objectionable things about the performance. Undoubtedly, 99 percent of things written about it throw around words like “obscene,” “offensive," and the like.

There have been a number of different parenting websites or blog posts who have come up with good ways to talk to your daughter about Miley. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about parents talking to their daughters about sexuality. But is no one going to hold anyone else on stage or behind the scenes accountable for that performance? Are we really going to have another one-sided conversation where we only talk to the girls about their sexuality while we completely ignore the boys in the room about their standards of behavior too?

There are next to no commentaries, articles, or blog posts that talk about how Robin Thicke was on stage with a woman young enough to be his daughter while thrusting his pelvis and repeating the line, “I know you want it,” while T.I. nonchalantly raps about much more graphic stuff. As Shelli Latham astutely points out:

Girls’ sexuality is so much the focus of our ire. Women who have sex are dirty. Men who have sex are men. Girls who dress to be ogled are hoes. Men who ogle are just doing what comes naturally. This is the kind of reinforced behavior that makes it perfectly acceptable to legislate a woman’s access to birth control and reproductive health care without engaging in balanced conversations about covering Viagra and vasectomies. Our girls cannot win in this environment, not when they are tots in tiaras, not in their teens, or when they are coming into adulthood.

Issues of misogynistic attitudes and acts of violence toward women aren’t going anywhere until we men make some very intentional decisions about our behavior and about the way we act toward women. There are certain things that Robin Thicke and “Blurred Lines” reinforce in our culture. For instance… Studies have shown that viewing images of objectified women gives men “greater tolerance for sexual harassment and greater rape myth acceptance,” and helps them view women as, “less competent” and “less human." Certainly singing about “blurred lines” will at the very least reinforce a culture that already trivializes the importance of consent.

There’s nothing blurry about Robin Thicke’s role in the VMA debacle. Even though he’s come out and defended his song, going so far as to call it a “feminist movement,” it’s pretty plain to see that’s far from the case.

So what can we do? In order to change the way we view women culturally, we need to change the way we view women individually. We need to cut through the smokescreen of attempts to end domestic violence and misogyny towards women by only talking to our daughters. We need to talk to our sons and our brothers about respecting women and respecting themselves.

It starts in homes. It starts in small conversations that treat all people as worthy and equal. It starts with having the courage to speak out against the wide variety of forces in our society that objectify women.

It starts with understanding that as men, our value does not come from how much power we hold over women. Our value comes from being respected and being loved as we respect and love the people who matter to us.

Be brave enough to tell a different story. Be courageous enough to rise above the lies that our culture tells you about how to treat women. In doing so, you’ll help create a better world for your sons. And for your sons’ sons. And that’s something to which we should all aspire.

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. Eric Clapp blogs at Eric Clapp 3.0.

Colonel Meow has earned his place in the new GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS 2014 book, out on September 12th, for having the longest fur on a cat. The Himalayan-Persian cross-breed, from Los Angeles, USA, has hair that reaches 9 in. (Guinness World Records)

Colonel Meow gets Guinness hairiest cat title, scaring a housekeeping mom

By Correspondent / 08.30.13

The world’s furriest feline, Colonel Meow the Himalayan-Persian mix that is about to rock the Guinness Book of World Records for it’s 9-inch hair is what all parents sees in their mind’s eye when their child asks, “Can we get a kitty? Puuuuuleeeeeeease?”

The child is seeing a tiny living plush toy to cuddle, while the parent is looking into the jaws of housekeeping.

The Himalayan-Persian mix is being entered in the Guinness Book 2014 edition, due out Sept. 12. The 10-pound (4.5-kilogram) cat has his own website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel with more than 2 million views.

The Colonel is owned by Anne Marie Avey and Eric Rosario of Los Angeles, who say it takes both of them to brush the cat's fur three times a week.

Sorry kids, but that paragraph alone is gonna set animal shelters back in adoptions for months to come as parents think about how cute little animals grow into furry responsibilities that kids don’t brush, feed, or care for.

This is a topic I know a little bit about because we have two cats, Bella and CatToo, and Wag the dog, a gynormous cadoodle (Lassie-style collie + full size poodle). Wag’s a massive hairball that walks and sheds. Actually, when it comes to animal companions like Colonel Meow and Wag the dog, “shed” seems too passive a word. What they really do is offgas fur the way the Peanuts character Pigpen traveled in a cloud of perpetual funk.

I fall into maniacal cackling worthy of a Terry Pratchett witch every time another parent says, “Oh, it’s half poodle so it doesn’t shed, right?”

This dog, that began as an adorable little mop of black hair, can now stand on his hind legs and put his paws on my shoulders. That’s like dancing with a salt-and-pepper Wookie that’s had a perm.

This dog sheds tumbleweeds the size of our cats. The cats shed only when I touch them.

We brush Wag multiple times per week and when it’s time to give him a haircut (which I do because it would cost $175 to be done professionally) it takes about four hours per day over a two-day period. A few years ago a friend who weaves actually took a bag of his shorn locks to add into her mix and gave them away as holiday gifts. Made me wish I had the Martha Stewart gene.

The irony is that I was the parent who advocated for each new furry addition because when it came right down to it, I am the mom of four boys and I love seeing them lavish attention, hugs, and cuddles on their furry companions.

I was looking for a path to nurturing for my sons and animals were the answer.

The dog is an exercise buddy, their “son,” while the two female cats are their “little girls” whom they spoil rotten.

My husband has been tough on the boys about responsibilities of walking, feeding, and cleaning up after the animals. Now, as they get older they love to take the dog for a run, he’s a “chick magnet.” They all compete for the status of whose feet the cats choose to weigh down at night.

Quin, 9, told his grandmother in a recent phone conversation, “Mom gave Wag a haircut and we can stuff two pillows with his hair! Maybe we can start saving it and make beds for the cats.”

Maybe when Colonel Meow is brushed they can save the fur for knitting into sweaters or stuffing dog beds. A cattage industry is born.

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Back-to-school debate over pay for good grades rears its perennially ugly head. (Tim Brinton)

Back-to-school earn or learn debate: Should parents pay for good grades?

By Guest blogger / 08.30.13

Back-to-school time has resurrected a time-honored debate and, for me, an old wound.

Your Money-Back-To-School Math For Parents: What’s An A Worth?” read a recent Reuters column about motivating children to work hard in school (or at least get good grades), incentivizing practice for their violinlessons (or at least fake the time), or making it attractive to spend less time on their digital devices (or at least imitate reading a book instead). It's a seasonal roundup of views on parenting techniques to motivate accomplishment in the young. There are myriad rewards systems out there – to leverage better grades, room cleaning, or better behavior – that are similar to frequent flyer miles for travels.

But there’s one voice missing.

I was deprived of an appropriately coercive upbringing by my parents’ refusal to imitate these other parents. Why couldn’t Mom and Dad have bribed me with a modicum of filthy lucre, a few new electronic appliances, or that gold 10-speed bike I craved, as my friends’ parents did? Life would have been so much easier – and lucrative – with this simple cause-effect relationship between school achievement or manners and money.

What were my parents thinking? There is a work ethic implicit in giving dollars for As or television privileges for good report cards. What is so wrong about connecting the dots between obeying the rules and having treats? Is it not a form of bonus pay or working on commission?

Oh, the burden of growing up with intrinsic motivation held aloft as virtue – before such a concept found modest traction in the education culture at large. But no – we had to be raised on Socratic values, on the conundrum of a question like, “If something isn’t worth doing, is it worth doing well?” Take algebra, in my case: No! And yet ... my answer cost me a second year in Algebra I. I showed them, all right!

If an "A" in English happens in 10th grade, and no one gets a little moolah for it, is it really worth it?

A wholesome hierarchy of thinking skills, personal honor, reflection and self-knowledge were my parents’ weapons of choice. The lessons embedded in literature, philosophy, and history were apparently priceless. Even Miss Burt’s 9th grade Shakespeare class was building character and a worldly set of values beyond the reach of the parent-child marketplace.

Add to that a culture in our home of reading for pleasure, even inspiration. Quotes galore suggesting that school in general had something to do with the pursuit of wisdom were left lying around indiscriminately in the view of the children. There were even poems suggesting that learning how to think was a reward and an end in itself. Mom and Dad cruelly impressed on us that we kids should work merely for the reward of insight and joy, for the assured pay-off of knowledge for knowledge sake. They actually felt that learning was about self-improvement. They smote us with the love of learning.

How warped. “This is America,” I wanted to say. “Here too in Capitalist Arcadia, an 'A' in English or social studies class, at the local rate of exchange (1960s), should be worth $10.” It did not work on them, and it did not even work on me, so insidious were the parental arguments. I had been brainwashed into thinking that academic work had a worthiness for its own sake. I had internalized their appeals to my sense of honor, disguised as my own thoughts.

“I think, therefore I am.” Mom! Please! Where’s your wallet?

“Song of the Open Road,” by Walt Whitman, for a Christmas present? Dad! You’re killin’ me here!

“To thine own self be true!” Get thee behind me, Mom. Show me the money!

All three of us kids were English majors in college. You’re welcome! Now pay up!

So how did I earn the money to buy that 10-speed bicycle back in 7th grade? I worked for it – mowed lawns. No short cuts or cheating. School was about learning; mowing was about earning. Never did the twain meet, unfortunately.

Yup, Mom and Dad really failed me by not using cash and tawdry gifts as motivational tools. But I suppose it has made me the man I am today. And the parent I have tried to be for my kids. I am afraid I have passed on the suffering to the next generation. What a twisted fate.

“What fools these mortals be.” Doh! There I go again.

Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, PA where children are rewarded with a sense of satisfaction in their multiple intelligences.

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Carillon sheet music for "America the Beautiful" sits on a sill in the bell tower of historic Arlington Street Church in Boston, April 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

A Labor Day prayer for brotherhood, in America the Beautiful

By Correspondent / 08.29.13

At church, on Labor Day weekend, things often end with a patriotic hymn such as "America the Beautiful". It's a simple prayer but a great moment, as the purposeful expansiveness of the song matches the hopefulness and promise of fall. With the church doors flung open and worshippers pouring out, people at the shops and outdoor cafes nearby take note, and the swell seems to embrace everyone, churchgoer or not.

“America, America, God shed His grace on thee..."

A 2007 Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape survey found that about 60 percent of adults say they pray at least once every day. On Labor Day, the prayer in recent history has often come under memorable circumstances – the horrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for example, the memory of 9/11 on its first anniversary, the issues and people in upcoming national elections. Sometimes the prayer is an appreciation of momentous gifts of the summer past, sometimes a recognition of mercies as simple a new rain on a dry lawn. Labor Day being the de facto start of a new year in many circles, there's the prayer that the new teacher will be nice, the new business will be profitable, the new city will be friendly.

The American Psychological Association in 2007 reported that half of people pray about health issues. And a 2008 Brandeis University report says that three-quarters of people pray for friends and family members as well as themselves. But America the Beautiful – a perennial contender to unseat "The Star-Spangled Banner" as national anthem – seems to call for prayer for the nation as a whole.  

This year, with unemployment in August at 8.6 percent according to Gallup, one such prayer is that many more people have work before many more Labor Days go by. And the perennial prayer for peace is redoubled this year, with the explosiveness in the Middle East. 

But "America the Beautiful" prays for "brotherhood" as the crown atop all the other goods in the land. People don't necessarily report praying for brotherhood, but this year, perhaps they should.

It feels like there's not a whole lot of "we" in America lately. The “we” has become woman or LGBT or black or Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, advocate for green or coal or the documented or undocumented, and in advocating rights of the slivers we seem to have forgotten about everyone else.

The public sector and ravenous media fan the flames, but work-a-day Americans often seem to struggle in the opposite direction, daily stretching kindness across a divide that is not of their making. They realize that a person's greatest struggles are not necessarily obvious or even visible, that a common, indeed sacred, sense of humanity sees each person as a fellow traveler: I don't need to be like you to respect you; you don't need to be like me to respect me. I'll hold that door for you. I'll pick up the thing you dropped. I'll chat a bit in the checkout line just to be sure you know that I am a person, not your worst stereotype. People love this. They want this.

This mindset even makes headlines from time to time, most startlingly in the person of Antoinette Tuff, who looked at terror and saw a person in would-be gunman Brandon Hill whom she talked out of shooting up her Georgia school earlier this month. "It's going to be all right, sweetie," she told Hill, "… We all go through something in life."

“…and crown thy good with brotherhood…”

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Jay-Z and Beyoncé at the Capitol in Washington for the ceremonial swearing-in of Barack Obama during the 57th presidential inauguration. The couple named their daughter, born Jan. 7, 2012, Blue Ivy, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Win McNamee, Pool, file)

Blue Ivy steals Drake's thunder in case of mistaken identity

By Correspondent / 08.28.13

Single superstar Drake is getting a taste of what it’s like to be a family man by osmosis ever since fans, obsessed with Blue Ivy Carter, daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z, decided Blue was Drake’s mini-doppelganger by comparing their baby pictures. Now Drake has a new album out with cover art of a child who looks like Blue. While he insists she’s is not the inspiration, as the album’s title says, once there was a child in the picture, “Nothing Was The Same.”

Poor Drake has learned that the baby blues of being eclipsed by a Hollywood child are not limited to the baby’s parents. While his new album doesn’t drop until September 24, the singer’s fans were so wrapped up in Blue Ivy that the album is already launched in the wrong direction.

This little girl has given prophetic meaning to Beyonce’s musical roots since she truly is, like her famous mom’s former singing group of the same name, “Destiny’s Child.” Blue is destined to alter the life courses of mega stars just by being born. I have never seen a third party, non-parent go down with the baby ship but Drake sure looks like he needs a life ring right about now because Blue Ivy has swamped him good and proper. 

Most parents experience the transition from “It’s all about me” to it’s all about the baby. However Blue Ivy, who is a public obsession only rivaled by Britain’s new prince, has altered the trajectory of three stars: Beyonce, Jay-Z, and now Drake. 

When people began asking if his cover art was “an homage to Blue Ivy Carter” Drake tried to correct the impression. The poor guy didn’t stand a chance against a baby-fueled rumor and gossip mill.

People, people please, Drake isn’t stalking the “royal” Beyonce baby or courting her mama. He’s a typical, self-absorbed, pre-baby guy whose album cover is all about himself. 

While Beyonce released new pictures of her baby, Drake released his album art early via Instagram so that he could explain the cover art by Kadir Nelson which features a baby facing Drake, both in profile.

The baby is a ringer for Blue Ivy and fans blew up social media to ask why Blue was on the cover. It turns out the art is meant to represent Drake as a child and being in the Ivy League via his friendship with her parents had fans seeing Blue in everything any of them do.

According to published reports Drake says, “When you go to the store and see it, you’ll see the full painting. When it’s positioned on the shelf, whatever store you go to, if they do it as I’ve asked [laughs], you’ll see the fact that it’s a child version of myself staring at myself now. Sometimes when I try and think back on this journey, it’s so hard to pinpoint all of these moments and it gets foggy. Even on past albums when I’ve been trying to tell this story, I’ve got there, but maybe not got there all the way. And what that album art is to me is, like, this is my most clean, concise thoughts from now, and my best recollection of then. That’s really what that cover’s about.”

However, Drake just learned the hard parenting lesson before having any kids of his own, that no matter how famous, special and spotlit we may be, kids can turn us into backdrop in a New York minute.

It happens to average parents all the time as we go from weekend warriors to soccer moms and hockey dads driving minivans and eating leftover PB&J sandwiches instead of calorie counted slimming meals. So there is a bit of fun in seeing the famous, with all their money and perfection, cope with the reality that, “Nothing was the same,” in fact nothing will ever be the same again and now we’re not the one on the rise.

As parents we learn to celebrate their achievements even as we mourn that we are no longer the innocent, pure, “new” people that our kids are at that moment. For Beyonce and Jay-Z that will come easier than for those in their famous circle, Like Drake, who are collateral damage in the war parenthood wages on us all.

If Drake wants to win he needs to stick to the old adage: never work with kids or animals. Even if the kid in question is just your own baby picture.

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