As a parent I have zero tolerance for realistic threats to my child's safety in school. However, I am not convinced that the criminalization of elementary school children and a new form of student shaming by branding kids over their imaginations is where we truly need to be headed right now. I am not getting rid of the Woody doll from Toy Story because it says, “Reach for the sky” when you pull the string either.
Over the past 19 years I have run a totally toy-gun-free, parentally-guided home where I limited violent video games. However, despite the hair-trigger on the panic button, I am not taking my son Quin, 9, who has Aspergers Syndrome (sadly an alleged part of the profile of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killer) off his favorite video game site that his teachers recommend for high-achievers, called Math Blasters.
Yup, he's making the world safe for math by “blasting” aliens with his killer calculations. However, I am prepping for the day when he points his invisible math laser at another kid and tells them, “I'm going to subtract you!” and ends up suspended for “terroristic threats.”
My concern stems from a string of recent news reports in which children much younger than my son have been suspended and socially branded via schools' zero tolerance gun and weapon policies that are on such a hair-trigger that we are perhaps beginning to do more harm than good by crying wolf and painting kids with the “bad kid” brush when all they really need is a little guidance.
According to The Associated Press, a Pennsylvania kindergartener waiting for the bus told friends she was going to shoot them with a Hello Kitty toy that makes soap bubbles and was suspended for making “terroristic threats.”
Meanwhile, in Maryland, the AP also reported, two 6-year-old boys pretended their fingers were guns “during a playground game of cops and robbers, and a 5-year-old boy at an after-school program made a gun out of Legos” and pointed while making realistic shooting sounds, I'm guessing, “BANG! Rata-tata-tat-ta!”
Let's look at this from a point of view where we aren't freaking out every time someone slams a car door in the school parking lot too hard (thinking it's a gunshot) and remind everyone that Hello Kitty bubble puffers don't kill kids, kids with real guns and an actual history of issues kill kids.
The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December was not perpetrated by a young child who openly used his imagination, mingled, or had friends to holler “BANG!” at. Adam Lanza was age 20, a young man who had palpable issues, and went back to a school he'd once attended to do harm. Also, I haven't seen any reports on Lanza ever pretending to shoot people with his finger, Legos, or a stuffed toy.
On the other hand, I do approve of the incredibly brave fourth-grade boy in Spokane, Wash. who heard two fifth-grade boys conspiring to kill a little girl in the elementary school, realized they had real weapons, and reported that to a teacher, according to The Spokesman-Review.
The boys at Fort Colville Elementary School were arrested after a search revealed one boy had a knife and a handgun in his backpack, The Spokesman-Review reported. “The boys, ages 10 and 11, were expected to be formally charged in juvenile court with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, possession of a firearm and witness-tampering for allegedly bringing a stolen gun and a knife to school and threatening to kill a number of classmates,” also according to The Spokesman-Review.
Stevens County prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said, "These young men conspired to kill. It was interrupted by the bravery of a fourth grader who saw something and said something ... and interrupted a murder."
As the mom of four boys, I have learned that the bubble we try to put our kids in doesn't hold. Despite all my granola-headed, non-violent, zero-tolerance for real world bad stuff parenting policies, my eldest, Zoltan, 19, is in college studying criminal justice and Homeland Security at Virginia Commonwealth University and wants to use guns to protect us – to use all kinds of firearms that he imagines shooting at guys who try to hurt our kids.
My son Ian, 17, is a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Blue Belt (at 15, he was one of the youngest ever awarded) and is pro-gun-ownership because he works closely with military men and women, training them in self-defense so they can go use guns to protect us.
My third son is a cellist at 13 and loves those crazy driving video games, so I suppose at worst I have to worry about vehicular homicide.
Then, two days ago, I found myself pouncing on Quin when I heard him tell the cat, “I'm gonna shoot 'ya using ice beam!” as he pointed a menacing finger at Cat2. She was apparently being a Pokemon character in his mind, and he was in a “battle” in his imagination.
“MOM! I was just doing a battle.” Quin said. “It's a game. It's a finger," he said waggling it at me like Dikembe Mutumbo might at someone trying to take a shot on him in the NBA or in a GEICO TV ad. "It's not the end of the world!”
The question is whether others know that he's playing if he slips-up and does it near the school or a zealous, nervous hall monitor, because then it's not a game anymore.
If he does that anywhere near the elementary school he will be suspended, branded a potential criminal, maker of “terroristic threats;” and because he has Aspergers Syndrome, he'll likely become the neighborhood pariah for life. Now Mommy's jumping at shadows.
I wonder if it's possible to undo the damage all this child-shaming is doing to innocent children who are, on the whole, likely mimicking what they see on TV and in games.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, an 8-year-old boy from Minnieville Elementary School in Woodbridge, Virg. who was suspended for "threatening to harm self or others," after pointing his finger like a gun after another child pretended to shoot him with a bow and arrow, has had his school disciplinary records wiped clean of the offense. The action carried with it the same category as bringing a real weapon to school.
It's good news that the child's records will not carry the taint, but I fear it will not stop the finger pointing at the child who was “the bad kid” suspended and in disgrace for something many parents feel is age-appropriate, common behavior.
We need to rethink this approach, before one of our kids gets so emotionally wounded that he or she decides to take it out on the place that branded him or her a threat in what could become our nation's worst act of self-fulfilling prophecy.
I love how innately friendly Americans are. Our ability to make a complete stranger feel like a long lost pal is our most well-known trait. Ask a foreigner to describe the average American and the first thing they’ll say is “friendly".
The first American I encountered as I left Scandinavia a few weeks back confirmed this, although he also made me realize how much I’ve changed. As I settled in on the plane, preparing for the 8 1/2-hour flight, the man across the aisle addressed me. Over the din of the airplane engine I wasn’t sure what he said but my immediate reaction was to become defensive: “Don’t worry, my son is really well-behaved on airplanes.”
I hadn’t been in Europe long before I realized that striking up a conversation with a complete stranger is uncommon and typically done when asking someone to get out of your way or to tell your child to, well, stop behaving like a child. That’s why I was surprised when the man continued the conversation, but as soon as I heard his American accent I softened up – and rightly so. It turns out that Dave (for, of course, proper introductions followed) was simply commenting that since my husband, son, and I had four empty seats all to ourselves, perhaps we might get some sleep. How kind of him to say so.
By the time the stewardess was serving dinner I had gotten my groove back. I learned that Dave was from Connecticut where he has a wife and three kids, and that he had been traveling overseas for work. I shared a bit about myself and by the time we were in the immigration line at Dulles Airport, I had talked him into reading a Benjamin Franklin biography.
Our journey home was smooth. As the plane descended and the pilot made his final announcements in Norwegian (before switching to English), I breathed a little sigh of relief that for the next few weeks I would understand all of the words I heard around me.
My first few days home were a blur. Jet lag takes longer to overcome when you have a toddler, so I was awake at odd hours and hungry at all the wrong times. But I didn’t care. My brother-in-law had stocked up on my favorite American comfort foods and, even though on the first night my son woke me up at 3 a.m. for breakfast, I couldn’t have been happier watching him hungrily stuff Eggo Waffles in his mouth.
The next day a quick trip to the grocery store made me realize exactly how much my day-to-day habits have changed. Sitting in a car felt strange and boring. We don’t have a car in Norway, nor do we need one. Oslo, like most European cities, is built so that you can walk or hop on a train to get just about everywhere.
Walking up and down the grocery store aisles I suddenly felt a pang of jealousy of how much is available in the US, while I am sitting up at the North Pole fantasizing about ready-made rice pudding pots and buying pancake mix at a regular grocery store (rather than at an expensive specialty shop in Oslo). The sheer volume and variety was, for the very first time, overwhelming. I spent 10 minutes examining the yogurt shelf only to come home without any because I couldn’t figure out which one I wanted.
A simple exchange at the cash register suddenly felt complicated. In Norway, sales tax is built into the advertised price of an item, allowing you to have exact change ready to hand over. But in the US the measly 6 or 7 percent tax is factored in at the register, which put extra pressure on my already pathetic math skills as I count pennies and nickles, which are inevitably mixed in with various European currencies no matter how hard I try to keep them separate. I keep getting flustered and just hand the cashier a large bill and then end up with more useless change than I started with.
Even the reason why I am determined to use change is European. Coins come in large denominations there which means a palmful of coppers can add up to the price of a meal.
In a strange way I’ve become an observer of American life. When I visit I notice trivial, humdrum things that I took for granted and wonder when they will once again be part of my routine. I find that with each trip home my yearning to move back to America is slowly increasing while my sense for adventure is gradually lessening. (Extra emphasis on the words “slowly” and “gradually.”)
I think my burgeoning desire to be back in the US largely has to do with a need for familiarity. When I moved from England to Norway I went further from America geographically and culturally. Living in a consumerist society where TV ads include commercials for antidepressants and eating fruits and vegetables that have been pumped with so many chemicals that they are three times the size than they’re supposed to be is what I consider “normal." This version of normal is what I have sorely missed and plan to enjoy while I’m on vacation.
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. Saleha Mohsin blogs at Edge of the Arctic.
A new study has just proved something every dog owner knows, be the dog Westminster-worthy, or household Heinz-57 mix breed, “Dogs steal in the dark.” I would add to that, cats steal 'round the clock while twitching their hind ends at you in broad daylight and don't care who knows it.
It seems two issues that we can’t study enough are the misbehaviors of pets and children. While humans dog their kids on Facebook when they’re naughty, there’s now a popular website dedicated to shaming our dogs.
Kidding aside, for only a moment, the study by Juliane Kaminski, University of Portsmouth, UK and Andrea Pitsch and Michael Tomasello, both of The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Leipzig, Germany deals with a series of experiments in which a human, a dog, and some food the dog was told not to touch, were placed in a room in various lighting conditions to see if the dog's obedience would alter.
Every dog had eight trials in each condition: human plus light, human minus light, light minus human and dark minus human. In all cases the food was present.
The conditions, according to the study were as follows: “The dogs had to pass a pre-test to participate in the study. This was conducted to ensure that the dogs understood the commands used by the experimenter. After the experimenter and the dog entered the room the experimenter took a piece of food, showed it to the dog, and walked to the predetermined location. Then the experimenter called the dog’s name to get his attention. While saying ‘Aus’ or ‘Nein’ (German: ‘Do not take it!’) with a strong, low-pitched voice she put the food on the ground at the marked position.
The command was repeated as often as required – until the dog stopped trying to eat the food. Then the experimenter slowly walked backward and sat on the ground at the predetermined location. The trial ended after 60 seconds had elapsed without the dog taking the food. After the 60 seconds had elapsed, the dog was encouraged to take the food with the words ‘Geh ab!’ or ‘Jetzt nimm’s!’ (German for ‘You can take it now!’).”
They lost me right there because my dog, Wag, would just stare interestedly at my pointing finger, get bored and start licking himself inappropriately and then look up in astonishment when I'd say “Aus! Nein! No! Eeeeew!” in a low, firm, grossed-out tone.
Back to the study and dogs that are actually trained and bilingual, because assuming the dogs speak human and German Human was just given. They also, hilariously, assumed that, “It is unlikely that the dogs simply forgot that the human was in the room when she was not illuminated.”
I could not compose myself after reading that line because my collie-poodle “cadoodle” dog greets me like I've just walked in the front door when I leave the room to get a cup of coffee and return. “Hey! You're here! I can't get over it,” is what he seems to say as he recovers from the shock.
So while dogs may indeed be more prone to dark deeds when the lights are off, the next time anybody does a study about food being swiped in the dark where a dog is taking the fall for the crime, I think they should first check the building for cat burglars.
In the interest of science, I called my friend Arthur Bowman of Norfolk State University's biology department and director of Science Everywhere LLC (an educational consulting group) and asked him to read the study and give me his cursory impressions. “Well, the thing about dogs is not really their eyes so much as their sense of smell,” he explained over coffee this morning. “Dogs have about 20-square-inches of surface area for smell receptors, while we humans only have about one-half a square-inch.
Dr. Bowman added, “This was a hard-to-repeat study because what's dark to one person may not be dark to another and may not be dark at all to a dog.
“Also, dogs being trained is a big variable because dogs are all over the place in terms of their conditioning,” he said. For this one biologist it came down to “too many variables.”
That's the whole dog ballgame right there, especially for those who recently watched the Westminster Dog event and saw dogs that are at the top of their game and well-bred failing to follow a simple “Aus” or Nein” on stage.
Having a canine companion, I was perhaps a bit more drawn to what folks in Portsmouth, UK and Leipsig, Germany name their dogs and so I loved reading the names of the “participant” canines and trying to guess from which location they hailed. Give it a try: Baska, Luna, Alina, Pepe, Amy, Wolf, Richard, Juri, Chico, Rocky, Thyson, Kimi, Lucie, Jazz, Merlin, Loki, Alma, Baghira, Asta, Max, Rudi, Jerry–Lee, Zosi, Jack, Stoffel, Bacardi, Ronja, Mean, Median, and Quartile.
In our house, no matter what the lighting conditions, poor old Wag is continually framed by our two cats Bella and Cat2 for food theft. Yesterday I caught Cat2 as she dragged a plastic bag (with three bagels she'd been trying to gnaw) off the dining room table and over to the spot on the floor where Wag slept.
Searching for the best Valentine's Day e-cards? Here's a preview of what you'll find and it’s very… whimsical.
On e-card site Bluemountain.com, one of the featured interactive cards begins with the following illustration: a little leaf dangling by its stem underneath a tree canopy.
Clicking and tugging the leaf snaps the stem and the leaf glides whimsically through the air toward a picnic table below. In the background is whimsical piano music. On the table, two birds and a squirrel lovingly adorn the fallen leaf with whimsical twigs, wildflowers, and berries. A butterfly lays across the leaf and a click of its wings makes them fold up, only to pop open with a message:
"Wishing you a happy Valentine's Day that’s as special as you are!"
Whimsy. Whimsy. Whimsy. Would you send that to your significant other? Your parent? Your grandparent? No. No you would not.
E-versions of books may be driving brick and mortar bookstores out of business, but e-cards aren’t replacing printed greeting cards, says Kathy Krassner, spokesperson for the Greeting Card Association, which represents more than 200 greeting card publishers.
"We find most people send e-cards to someone they've already sent a real card to or to an acquaintance who you wouldn't have sent a real card to anyway.” Ms. Krassner says. "You won't send your girlfriend or wife an e-card and they'd be annoyed if you did."
Krassner says she expects consumers to purchase 145 million Valentine’s Day cards this year, which is down from 150 million last year. The number is based on estimates from card manufacturers like Hallmark and American Greetings, and Krassner believes it will increase as the numbers get readjusted after the holiday.
In comparison, e-card site 123greetings.com said in a statement that 2.5 million people used their website for Valentine's Day last year.
Americans purchase more approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards each year. Valentine's Day is the second largest card-sending holiday behind Christmas, Krassner says.
Estimates do not include the Valentine's Day cards children purchase and hand out at school or cards that consumers buy online at sites like Cardstore.com and through smart phone applications like Apple's Cards.
Those online industries are growing, too, Krassner says.
But e-cards have attracted enough attention that one of the Big 2 card manufacturers began scooping up the most notable e-greetings websites. American Greetings, the only card manufacturing company larger than Hallmark, owns Egreetings.com, BlueMountain.com, and Cardstore.com.
Hallmark and American Greetings offer e-cards on their main website.
But e-cards do not concern Alan Friedman, president of Great Arrow Graphics, a small screen printed card producer whose cards are delivered via a courier in uniform.
"As a specialty publisher, we have been able to remain viable in our smaller independent accounts — though the numbers of these stores has declined as well," Friedman said. "It's tough out there, but some things are worth the effort to maintain."
As our family photos languish in dusty boxes, on memory cards, and in computers awaiting our attention, one mom in Florida has snapped our attention to the value of how our photo taking focuses love on our kids. Adoptive mom Kelli Higgins did a fun photo shoot with new son, Latrell, 13, as a “newborn” for a belated birth announcement and a whole lot of thinking has developed as a result.
Ms. Higgins, a professional photographer in Crestview, Fla., was already the natural mom of five who discovered as she and her husband finalized the adoption of Latrell and his biological sister Chanya, 7, two years ago that she was expecting another child.
“That was certainly a surprise, but it was just another blessing,” Higgins told the Monitor in a phone interview. “We weren't adopting because we couldn't have babies, it was because I had always known in my heart I would adopt a child.”
Having taken adoption classes to make sure she could do the best job possible, this mom of eight came down to a simple plan, “I was just going to find an older child who was not getting adopted and give them all the love and attention they'd never had.”
Higgins added, “People are so afraid to adopt an older child, especially a boy. They're just children who have been through a bad time. They come to you with nothing. I mean really nothing, no history at all. No pictures of themselves as babies or anything."
So one day, when her 12-year-old daughter Alycia suggested recreating a photo shoot just for Latrell, they launched into it with gusto and giggles – never realizing just how vital what they were doing was for her son.
“We really just giggled our way through the whole shoot,” Higgins said. "Chanya has been in lots of my photo shoots, she's all over my pictures so she wasn't really as interested in having a baby picture as he was. But if she ever asks we'll do it for her too.”
When she took the photos of her “not so newborn” son and made them into a belated birth announcement Higgins touched off a viral social media response and opened the discussion on how vital family photos really are to our kids.
“Really, we weren't thinking at all of how the photos were a need we were filling,” she explained. “It wasn't until I posted them online that the comments came in and I realized ... this was more than just giggles and pictures. This was giving him back a childhood he hadn't known.”
While not wanting to reveal any personal details about her adopted son and daughter, Higgins did say, “They were through multiple foster homes. They went through a lot and they both were really clinging, hugging, taking in all they could get of love and contact.”
Higgins said of Chanya: “From the second she was moved in, she just kept repeating 'Mommy.' Mommy was in every sentence because she was never able to say it to anyone in her life before. It was all foster homes and 'Mrs. Something or Mr. Something.' It broke my heart, something kids take for granted, they never had.”
Since the photos went viral online Higgins has been contacted by numerous people involved in their own adoption processes. Some, she said, have even told her they had been planning to adopt a newborn but had changed their minds to adopt an older child instead after reading her story.
“I am always surprised at how afraid people are of adopting an older child, especially a boy,” she said. “I was waiting for him to, like, explode, and have behavioral problems. The problems really disappear as soon as the children realize they're home. When they feel that security then they're just kids who need us. They're just a blessing.”
The bump was once a thing in the road until it became a dance, a place on Barbara Streisand's nose, an Android phone app, and of course, the source of pre-delivery joy and post-baby body image agony for celebrities. Kate Middleton's nose is without a bump, but her middle now has one and the world rejoices because we are fickle folk.
The Duchess of Cambridge's pregnant form was photographed by an Italian magazine while she vacationed on the Caribbean island of Mustique in – or rather protruding from – a bikini. That's so newsworthy it nearly bumped the State of the Union message from the top of the charts today.
I don't even think I am going out on a limb here to predict that days after the royal birth, Italian Vogue and everyone else will be waiting for the photos of the royal with eyes on the prize area which will be expected to be an ironing board flat surface.
It seems we forgot the damage done to Princess Diana by the media paying microscopic attention to her body, hounding her until she was no longer with us. When the media wasn't burning her like an ant under a magnifying glass in the sun, Diana harmed herself with an eating disorder and became a nervous wreck.
So it isn't surprising at all that the royal family has condemned the invasion of Middleton's moment in the Caribbean sun when at last her reported morning sickness has abated. I remember those precious moments when my body had finally taken a break from metamorphosis long enough for me to lie quietly and imagine what my baby would look like and how it would feel to hold in my arms.
Unfortunately, the Duchess is stuck in the role of media target for life, as will be her children and grandchildren.
According to Yahoo News, Woman's Day is set to publish shots of Prince William's wife Kate in their next edition Monday because, according to Woman's Day editor Fiona Connolly, "In this instance they are a beautiful set of photos.”
Aaah I see, beauty and a tender moment stolen are fair game and to be praised more than those photos that make a woman look fat and unattractive post-bump?
It would feel so very good if they would stop making every little bump on a woman's body a news event for good or ill. Has the Duchess done nothing else in her young life or time as a royal that should merit our attention at the top of the news hour?
I looked it up and apparently Middleton is more than just a belly.
Action On Addiction has announced Middleton will visit Hope House in London Feb. 19.
On the organization's website Nick Barton, chief executive of Action on Addiction, said: "Many women who experience substance dependence also have a history of difficult relationships, domestic violence, or other compulsive disorders. Hope House offers women a safe, secure and comfortable place to recover and receive a holistic treatment programme, offering additional support to help them come to terms with their dependency and other problems.” Barton added in a press release, “The Duchess’ support, in throwing a spotlight on addiction and recovery and helping us to break down the stigma associated with this complex condition, is enormously important.”
It is “enormously important,” but I'll wager we will be seeing photos of Middleton there with headlines that aren't about Hope House's cause, but what is causing Middleton to wear a larger dress size. They will continue to focus on her body as it grows and shrinks, or doesn't, no matter where she takes it or what cause she champions.
It's this kind of focus that has placed many of the women in Hope House in London and its counterparts around the globe.
I hope we can bear that all in mind so we can stop making mountains out of mole hills and see past it all to what's really important in the life of a royal - their ability to focus the lens of society on those who need and deserve our attention.
The question “Which do you like better; dogs or cats?” rivals the age-old debate among siblings of which child you allegedly prefer, for igniting family feuds. In our multipet home this week the Westminster Dog Show, the cat as the new Monopoly game piece, and felines prowling the runway at NY Fashion week have the fur flying as my sons come to me to weigh in on which I love more.
Knowing how deeply personal our feelings for animals run, I don’t take sides. I just point out all the positives each one brings to the party. I grew up with cats and dogs, loving them both despite childhood allergies.
As an adult, it took five years of marriage before we replaced what my in-laws once ruefully termed “The Grand-dog” with a baby boy. Everything I now feel for my four sons I once felt for our first dog. My husband named her “Chaos” with the reasoning, “She follows you wherever you go.” Too true.
People often relate to their animal companions as tokens of themselves on life’s game board: extensions of themselves and even reflections of their own personal nature, child substitutes, and furry best friends. That’s a lot to lay at the paws of any animal, but somehow cats and dogs manage the stress.
That’s probably why I like the notion of celebrating Valentine’s Day for Animals, a notion conjured by Boston psychic Matt Fraser as part of a fundraiser for Forever Paws, a no-kill animal shelter in Fall River, Mass. His ultimate goal is to make Valentine’s Day for Pets annual and national on Feb. 15,and forever after.
“People treasure their animals. It’s like having another child,” says Mr. Fraser, who himself has a cat, a Siberian husky, and a ferret. “Valentine’s Day is all about sharing and giving love, and so it seemed natural to extend that love to the following day and share it with animals in our lives.”
Meanwhile, at our house, boys, our two cats Bella and Holla, and a massive dog (Wag the Cadoodle – accidental mix of collie and standard poodle) are in a constant battle for supremacy. The animals trade-off between which boy they prefer to curl-up with, or plague.
Animal alliances, who’s bonding with which pet, and who’s favorite animal is top dog change in our house faster than a game of Risk.
The balance of power had come to rest until last week when the Hasbro toy company, makers of the board game Monopoly, asked the public to choose which game token would replace one of the original eight tokens. Choices included: robot, diamond ring, cat, helicopter, or guitar. Cat won hands-down while the piece that got the most votes to keep on the board was the Scottie dog. So now the game just developed a whole new dimension for fighting like cats and dogs by pitting cat and dog fans against each other.
“Cat?” one outraged teenage son yelped at the news. “Seriously? Robot! It should have been the robot not a stupid cat!” This because the cat had chosen his blanket as a litter box substitute when he insisted on having Holla in his room overnight, but forgot to leave the door open for the call of nature issue to be properly resolved. Of course as soon as he draws the chore of walking the dog, the cat will be back on top.
Then came the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City and the question of should it be allowed to trump the TV time of the boys who prefer the cats. The Associated Press reports a total of 2,721 dogs from 187 breeds and varieties competed in the event. Cadoodle wasn’t one of them.
Today, our furnace quit working again so the dog is popular as a loving and snuggly space heater. Even the cats agree. Early this morning we found them both curled up with Wag for warmth. My youngest of course could not resist making the point to his brother, “See? Cats are smarter!”
It never ends.
The Tooth Fairy and Tinkerbell must be having a field day yesterday at the Grammy Awards as Singer Faith Hill donned Tinsel Town teeth, re-binding teeth that had seen braces in childhood to maintain a perfect smile, while actress Helen Mirren at 67, risked her image on pink pixie-cut hair at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
As a parent it makes you realize beauty is more a fairytale we tell our children and ourselves at every age.
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It seems to me that Ms. Hill and Ms. Mirren are successfully living different roles of the same tale: princess and fairy godmother. I have loved watching Mirren glide effortlessly through a storied life from striking beauty to what People magazine celebrates as, “The first-ever Dame Commander of the British Empire to sport a pastel pink pixie.”
Traditional fairy tales offer women a limited number of roles: pre-princess (before braces, makeup and godmother), perfect princess (fairy and non-fairy variety), chubby jolly comic relief (any age), fairy godmother (witty, comes with silver, pink, or blue hair) and crone.
Crone is the one we continue to run from even throughout adulthood because she’s always evil. Crone is wrinkled, with straggly gray hair, age spots, and of course, really bad teeth. If we look into the magic mirror and see her, it’s time for potions, wires, and other dark magics.
I can’t blame Hill for joining the ranks of other celebs who chose adult dental correction, a group that includes but is not limited to: Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage (who wore braces on his lower teeth at 39) and even Danny Glover who got braces two months shy of his 60th birthday. Vanity thy name is human, not woman. Don’t think for a moment boys aren’t paying attention to the fact that the prince is handsome, vain, buff, and the light sparkles off his teeth, while the alternative is the scrawny, uncoordinated stable boy who never gets the girl.
Who can blame anyone for wanting the winning role, particularly those whose lives are all about role-playing?
I had braces as a child. My mother, Parsons School of Design graduate and former Macy’s private label designer knew that beauty is highly prized and she wanted me to be a prize-winner. It didn’t work of course because no amount of bracing could overcome the genetics of Eastern Europe with Poland and Germany in the mix and living with a Grandma and Great Grandmother in the house who could cook a mean perogi and kielbasa dinner.
I often look back and wonder what straightening my teeth really did for me as a person. The answer is, not much. However, they made my mom feel like she was being a good mom because society told her good mothers give their child every advantage; and for girls in the late 1960s that meant straight teeth.
Growing up around models with a mom who regularly starved, straightened, curled, bleached, dyed, and otherwise perfected and made-up her appearance daily, I still make the effort, despite knowing I am the plucky comic relief and not the princess stereotype.
Some mischievous little part of me wants to send Mom a picture of Mirren and see if I can’t tempt her into turning her already pixie-cut hair pink. At 82, still a size 6 at 5’2” with snow-white hair, I know she would rock it.
Personally, I was really happy when the new princess type, Miranda, emerged from the movie "Brave." Her hair’s a wreck, she ruins her gowns, detests fashion, and is a wicked good archer. Of course she does get her mother turned into a bear, but it turns into a great lesson in seeing other points of view. Still, if I were a little girl, I would probably still come away wishing I had Miranda’s china doll face, perfect nose, straight white teeth and tiny waist. I’m a gonner.
As I get closer to 50 I run harder, diet more vigorously, and try to color-away the gray in my hair while fretting over the white of my teeth. It’s exhausting. So much energy lavished on a fairytale curse we bestow thinking it’s a gift.
Still, I try to tell my mother the best gifts she gave me were when we planted tulips together in the yard, burned pancakes on a Sunday and when she made a window seat in my bedroom as a retreat where I could sit with an apple and my favorite book. She still feels she failed me because I look in a mirror and don’t see any magic there.
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Still, I know a happy ending is when our children know we love them, crooked teeth, chubby legs, messy hair, and all.
Winter storm Nemo threatens to bury the Northeast in two feet of snow this weekend, initiating the obligatory pre-blizzard blitz on the grocery store as families scramble to stock up on cases of toilet paper, gallons of milk, and snacking provisions before schools close on Friday. The storm is likely to shut down much of New England, however for families, being snowed in does not have to mean the family has to be trapped inside.
It may seem like a distant memory for many New Englanders, but walking in a winter wonderland is what the Northeast is all about. So this weekend, as the snow piles up, bundle up the family, head outside and have a snowball fight, build a snowman, or just take a walk and enjoy the hush that freshly fallen snow brings. The kids may grumble at first, but in the end, you will all be surprised at how much fun they have. Beyond that, recent studies suggest they will learn a lot too.
In December, researchers from the University of Utah offered up a study that says spending time in nature and away from electronic tethers to the civilized world actually boosts people's ability to solve problems creatively.
The study's psychologists took adults backpacking into the Utah canyons for four days without their electronics. At the end of the trip, the participants actually scored higher on tests designed to measure their creative problem solving skills than they did before starting their hike. While this study focused on adults, there is good reason to believe that quality time outside could provide a similar benefit to children.
In the age of electronics, kids have access to more information than ever before. They can look up photos, articles, and videos about any topic that interests them. However, this often obsessive pursuit takes away much of the need for creative thinking. Want to build a fort? No problem. Google will readily supply tried and true schematics. Want to tweak the flavor of a recipe? No problem. Extensive recipe sites offer endless variations
These vast stores of information can be extremely valuable. On the other hand, such access reduces the need for creative problem solving. Why try to work out a solution by trial and error when you can just look up the answer?
In the non-virtual world (aka the real world!) kids are likely to face many problems that don't have concrete answers. Navigating the complex social tangles of adolescence while juggling academic and extracurricular responsibilities requires a strong set of creative problem solving skills.
So how does spending time in nature help?
A big part of the equation is likely removing the distractions of smartphones, electronic tablets, and televisions.
But there’s probably more to it than that.
Study authors speculate that the effect may be linked to attention restoration theory, the idea that spending time away from the noisy distractions of everyday life and experiencing nature. Spending time away from the noise of traffic and the bustling pace of everyday life promotes a sense of calm and mindfulness.
Families do not have to completely disconnect themselves from civilization for days at a time to benefit from experiencing nature. Spending an hour strolling along a river’s edge, an afternoon hiking through the woods, or even a few minutes playing tag in a field may help families to connect with each other and the natural world.
Somebody call Disney and tell them to stop looking for Nemo, the whole Northeast just found him and he’s packing some serious winter fun wallop. Sadly, here in Norfolk, Va. we’ve got nothing but gloomy old rain, as usual. No winter storm Nemo for us. Our southern kids dream of what they would do if they got a “real” snow. My solution is to challenge readers to create something awesome and fun out of snow and share the winter wealth with the blizzardly-challenged around the world by tweeting photos of their creations to @modparenthood with the tag #Nemo.
I must admit I was inspired by the Verizon snowman TV spot that always makes my kids look at me like I’m as cool as the mom on the commercial. In the spot two adult brothers share photos of their snow creations back and forth on their phones, one-upping each other until they evolve to snow horses and dragons. However, Mom trumps them both with a two-story, fire belching snowman.
To be perfectly honest, in our family it’s really my husband, Robert, who is the winter wonderman. About 10 years ago when we lived in Medford, N.J. there was a blizzard of epic proportions that left us house-bound for days. My husband morphed into a mad winter genius and architect of pure mayhem. He used all my loaf pans to make building blocks by packing snow into them as brick molds. He not only made forts, but shoveled and tamped the white stuff into a kiddie luge that he slicked with water. It is still know in the family as “Best day ever!”
I, on the other hand, had the bright idea of hitching our dog to a sled and putting the kids (then 7- and 5-years-old) on board for a ride. One squirrel and a harrowing chase later, we decided never to do that again. Don’t try this at home, especially if home is across the street from a lake in Medford. Long story short, that’s how new moms become old moms in a hurry.
So this time my bright ideas are just art smart. I suggest that, when you head out to stock up on things for being snowed-in, get some food coloring, spray bottles, paper cups, brushes, and cheap baking tins of various sizes.
The spray bottles are for filling with water and food coloring to “paint” on the big white canvas that’s coming your way. Although your art can be flat or 3-D.
My son Quin said he’d paint on the outside of the windows with colored water to make stained glass. That seems iffy to me so I was happy to find Crayola’s Crystalizing Window markers at the store last week. The markers work on any window, hot or cold, and from the inside. They go on looking like watery versions of regular markers, but as they dry they look just like Jack Frost turned them into colored ice crystals. In our house, Mr. Frost is a very busy guy this week and all our windows are awesome.
My son Avery, age 13, said he’d leave containers of colored water out over night to freeze, then unmold to make ice robots. I suppose you could do this with ice cube trays and then make tiny colorful ice robots for robot wars, or for snowball target practice.
However, all of my boys tell me the ultimate achievement would be for someone to make a character from the super popular world of Minecraft (a video game) out of snow and or ice.
For more traditional ideas, TLC (formerly known as The Learning Channel) was the best bet with their How Stuff Works list of ideas and materials for making colorful footprint art paths “stomped” in the snow and then sprayed different colors.
All this and other outdoor ideas await at the TLC site.
As aggravating and inconvenient as the wall of white may get, you can always remind your children and yourself that there somewhere there are children starving for snow.
Remember to tweet @modparenthood with photos of your snow day creations, tagged #Nemo. I will be online with you to retweet (@nicechess007)