While moms of some girls in Readington, N.J. are furious over a newly instituted ban on strapless dresses at an upcoming eighth-grade dance, moms of boys there are probably reading about it in the paper and learning that there is a dance at all. The truth, according to my sons, is while girls primp, paint, and push-up into strapless dresses to attract boys, the effort is usually more intimidating and counter-productive than a turn on.
My son Avery, 14 and in grade 8, read the Readington story online and responded, “Seriously? We really don’t care unless what they’re wearing is embarrassing. If they’re like not wearing very much, like skimpy stuff, we’d probably try and ignore them. It’s just too weird and uncomfortable.”
It never ceases to amaze me how much effort, money, and sanity I wasted all those pre-teen years as I followed the teachings of my mom, a New York fashion designer. Mom, I love you, but you had it all wrong. I can say this with some authority as the mother of four boys ages 9, 14, 17, and 19. Every day I get an education on how the entire female population is led astray in the name of fashionista commerce.
Yes, sure, boys notice girls who are blingy, stringy, and scantily clad, and may find them “distracting” in the classroom or on a dance floor, but the notion that those things will lead to a date is off-base at the middle school and even early high school levels. It’s a strange and often conflicting set of behaviors boys exhibit where girls are concerned, and that’s why we have to parent both sexes through the mutable laws of attraction.
My sons have always shrugged-off feminine wiles as “weird.”
However, I will also admit my eldest, now 19, fell prey to the body image problem via scent sensitivity marketing done by Axe body cologne. We spent a miserable year fighting the manfume clouds. The younger boys ambushed the eldest two years ago and actually tried to hose him down to rid him of the perfumed pestilence. For the record boys, chicks don’t dig that. You can just shower and use deodorant and we’re fine with that. Nobody’s stripping down to a bikini to chase you when you are the PigPen of perfume.
Leaving the nose and moving back to hitting an optic nerve with boys, I could do with far less commentary in my house about the new red-headed Wendy’s pitch girl they have dubbed, “Hot Wendy.” The new pitch girl wears jeans, a T-shirt that’s not too revealing, and an almost imperceptible amount of makeup. She's pretty much, bling-free. “Hot” is in the eye of the beholder, but I find it comforting that they would pick her over a Hooters girl, which has about as many commercials as Wendy’s does in our area. I find it interesting to note that both boys have girlfriends they see as “the most beautiful” girls they know, neither girl is a glam girl. For my sons, appearance didn’t rate as high as having something in common to talk about and feeling comfortable together.
Would they approach even the wholesome, modestly dressed “Hot Wendy” if she walked into the eighth-grade dance? According to my boys and others I know, if a teenage boy finds any girl attractive for any reason he’s more likely to seek shelter in a far corner and try to calm himself via Gameboy therapy for the next two hours than approach her.
Quin, 9, has his own take on it all, “Girls who wear makeup just make me remember that clowns wear makeup.”
That’s where the epiphany came from that helped me understand the whole issue of girls and sexy body images in front of immature K-12 minds. Boys may be keenly interested in seeing pictures or videos of sexy looking girls and make bold comments, but when faced with such a creature, the prospect is both daunting and a bit of a turn-off.
It’s a lot like when a child loves Ronald McDonald on TV, but if taken to meet a live version at the store, the screaming and crying begin 50-feet away and don’t stop until you’re home.
I think that girls who go glam in middle and even high school trigger the scary clown instinct in boys and defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. Thus, my boys have always chosen girls they consider both approachable and comfortably within the realm of natural-looking for the objects of their affection.
Back in Readington, parent Charlotte Nijenhuis railed to the Courier News about the ban at Readington Middle School instituted by principal Sharon Moffat and backed by superintendent Barbara Sargent. According to the Courier News, Ms. Nijenhuis and other parents protested Tuesday night at the school board meeting, asking that the rule be suspended.
Nijenhuis also claimed in her interview with the Courier News that Moffat expressed worry that strapless dresses would “distract boys.” The parent said, “Ms. Moffat’s comment about ‘distraction’ to the boys is particularly offensive because it suggests that boys are not able to control — or ought not to be required to control — their behavior when in the presence of girls wearing strapless dresses. It is neither a woman’s nor a girl’s responsibility to control a man’s or boy’s behavior.”
“Girls are a distraction. Period. End of discussion,” said my Ian, 17, when shown the story on the Readington dress debacle. “It’s just basic chemistry.... If a girl’s there, she’s a distraction by nature to us. She could be in a snowsuit. In fact we’d pay more attention to her in a snowsuit because it’d be cool and unusual and not so alien.”
There you have it, the ugly truth about getting your pretty on to attract a boy. Mother Nature has already given you everything you need by simply making you female. Also, teen boys in a chaotic dance environment filled with girls are pre-distracted, by nature.
It’s a win-win situation. Girls can wear what they feel comfortable in with the understanding that a boy running from you doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t find you attractive. Boys — whoo-hoo, pay attention — boys can let us all take a breather from the uncommon scents of cologne. Hopefully moms and administrators can all go out for a burger and a laugh after the dance.
In Norfolk, Va., Wednesdays are Chess Day and kids come to play in a room where the blinds are closed, not to keep the glare of the Spring sunshine off the chessboards, but to help kids concentrate on the carnage taking place on the 64-squares of the board rather than in their lives. There are kids growing up afraid to sit by an uncovered window because they fear a bullet or a person could come through it to hurt them. That’s the life strategy session we need to have as the definition of “at-risk child” narrows to the most literal terms in modern society today.
“Why are the blinds closed?” I wondered aloud three years ago, the first time I walked into the big art room where we run free learn-and-play chess sessions open to all as part of the Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) in the new Lamberts Point Community Center. This is a gorgeous center right next to a major state university and planted between city’s “old neighborhood” and university area community. Kids who come to the center are mainly from the “old neighborhood” which has many single-parent homes subsisting below the poverty line.
These kids kept closing the blinds no matter how many times the staff opened them. We all figured it was because the sun was strong and the room got hot.
However, one cloudy day I walked over to open the blinds and a boy, age 6, threw a chess piece at me yelling, “Don’t! Somebody could shoot you!”
There are days and even moments that can completely change the way you see the world forever after. When that chess piece (a rook) missed me and hit the thick glass window with a loud “thwack” kids either scattered or crouched under the chess tables because they believed that the loud, unexpected sound and the open blinds meant an attack.
Today, three years later, the chess room is packed and ever since the Norfolk Sheriff’s Department agreed to have its officers come and learn chess from grade-schoolers and be mentors, nobody’s afraid anymore. We are the neighborhood safe harbor for people ages 4 to senior citizen.
In the wake of the Boston bombings and multiple shoot-outs with suspects in normally quiet suburban communities, I can’t help but think about kids in cities nationwide coping with ongoing violence-related risk daily.
Kids have plenty of challenges just growing up in the modern world, but one age-old issue we see regularly in our chess program is kids coping daily with the fallout from a close relative involved in criminal activity.
The glue that I use to hold these kids together and stick them back into society is mentoring and a board game. Our mentors are an eclectic group because I tend to seek out mentors to fit the special needs of each child with whom we work. We recruit police to play chess with little girls who are afraid and think nobody can protect them. College students pair with kids who think going to college is impossible.
The inspiration to do that kind of pairing came four years ago when the former superintendant of schools in Norfolk asked if we would try using chess to help some “at-risk” kids at an elementary school. These kids were all failing in school and not doing much better in life.
One boy still stands out in my mind because he was bent on following in his older brother’s footsteps all the way into a gang, wreaking havoc in the community via violent acts, and onward to prison.
His older brother, who was actually in jail at that time, was the sun and stars to the younger brother. In the younger brother’s eyes, his incarcerated sibling could do no wrong, even though he never did what we would consider the right things in life.
Socially the younger boy was a train wreck. Among his friends he was the big man on the elementary school campus, bullying and causing upset. To teachers he was a chubby, sullen mute. He never spoke in class, or to any teacher.
I noticed this boy always wore a Giants jersey or cap. One day I was fortunate enough to run into former New York Giant Derek Allen who had just moved to town. A friend introduced us, and I told him about the boy and chess. Turns out Derek loves chess and he came to a session with a player card of himself that showed him in full Giants uniform with the team.
At the end of the session the boy Giant was smiling, laughing and talking a blue streak as the principal walked in and stopped in her tracks in utter shock.
“That’s not the same boy,” she said. “He’s talking. Honestly, we wondered if he could speak.”
I check in on that boy occasionally, and he’s doing well now, in and out of school. He’s not playing chess anymore. It served its purpose for him. He’s also not bullying or talking about guns or how awesome it would be to go to jail, according to classmates who are still among our chess players.
No, nothing feels normal yet.
My fifth-grade son has returned to school today after a week that was supposed to be fun. His April vacation camp offered a holiday from homework, a chance to make candles and cookies and to hang with his buddies. Instead, he never got to finish the last day.
First, came the bombings at the Boston Marathon. He was still in camp on Tuesday, eager to move on – but then came the hunt for who did it. By Friday morning (April 19), one of the bombing suspects had died after a brutal shootout. Five cities in the metropolitan area were in a security lockdown, including Cambridge where we live. A manhunt for the second suspect dragged on for hours in Watertown, about a mile from our house.
At one point on Friday, my son said he wished this had never happened during his lifetime. How I wish that were true. Today, as I watched him silently reading the comics, nibbling at a piece of toast for breakfast, I know this event is far from over.
Yet, I’ve also realized that denying the rollercoaster of feelings unleashed isn’t just absurd; it’s not the way to help my child.
I don’t know for sure how he’ll experience being back in school, but I suspect it will be comforting on many levels. He’ll be with his friends and familiar adult faces; the school building will be full of noise, blessed chatter, a press of people. It will be a relief after the empty streets and ominous silence outside on Friday.
The most counterintuitive comfort, though, will come from talking about where he was and what he felt and what his silly mom did and what we saw on TV. Rather than forgetting what happened, I believe he needs to keep talking and feeling.
I’m grateful that the assistant head of my son’s school agrees. Here’s a brief excerpt from the detailed e-mail message she sent us on Saturday: “We are advising all parents and guardians to have conversations with your children prior to their returning to school Monday. While we often make efforts to shield our younger students from tragic news of this nature, the proximity, breadth and depth of the impact on our communities makes the response to this week necessarily more open.”
By the same token, the generic advice offered last week about how to handle children in a crisis – stay calm, reassure them, let them talk if they want to talk – frustrated me. Much of it was sensible and rational, especially for younger kids. Advice by psychiatrists and social workers was widely distributed by local news organizations and schools (including my son’s). But much of it assumed that parents could put a lid on their own emotional responses – or that doing so in front of children is a good idea.
I don’t think so, not with a tween. Parents aren’t therapists. My boy needed his fear and outrage and confusion validated, but not by dispassionate observers promising safety they weren’t sure of. My job was to stay with him, to love him – to throw my body in front him as a shield if need be – but not to hide everything I was feeling.
Certainly my husband and I did our best to reassure our son. We tried to follow his cues, turning off the TV when he wanted it off, then turning it back on when he asked for that. Regardless, we’ve had some bad moments, especially after visiting the marathon memorial in downtown Boston this weekend. Still, I don’t think false promises or explanations help a child like my son, who is ever attuned to when we’re faking it.
Many families have trod this difficult path before, trying to protect their children from Newtown, 9/11, Columbine – the sad list goes on. It helps to know that families have recovered from other national traumas, even if the disturbing memories linger.
It helps me, anyway, and I assume it helps other adults charged with the care and well being of children. My son’s teachers, for instance, may lead him and his peers in this direction when they discuss all that’s happened.
Yet, for a child, such intellectual knowledge doesn’t mesh with the combination of terror and guilty excitement kicked off by a manhunt in your town. At 11 years old, my son resents our meddling concern even as he still longs for protection.
Going back to school today will restore many soothing routines. But I also hope he learns that it’s possible to live our lives freely even if we sometimes feel afraid. I hope my son discovers that the chaos inside can spark a lifetime of questions that matter.
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.
Dear Season Ticket Holders:
This may sound like a baseball story, but it’s really about standards-based education — like all those checklists and Adequate Yearly Progress and state testing results your child’s school is sending home this year. It being baseball season, I have an analogy for you.
School should be more like baseball — and it will be. As I observed during my former public school administrative life, which included working on standards-based instruction and progress reports, it occurred to me that baseball is a pretty concise analogy for the way many schools are learning to talk about student achievement.
There are baseball games when even the best hitters and fielders in the major leagues do not meet the standards for “Acceptable Yearly Progress”— and yet they win the game. In fact, a championship batter can “not meet the standards” two out of three at-bats, and then hit a walk-off grand-slam to clinch a game or playoff series and be considered a hero. There is no such thing as “partially meets,” “meets,” or “exceeds” the standards for a home run. It’s either in or out of the ballpark. It doesn’t follow mode or mean! Such a grand slam performance wins accolades on the sports pages and ecstatic sound bites by the color commentators, to say nothing of multi-year gazillion dollar salaries!
Like any good metaphor, it helps me cut through a lot of the mystifying jargon by describing one thing in terms of another. Standards-based learning and reporting actually has a lot in common with the way statistics and lore are recorded in baseball, a balance between the data that tracks individual performance over time, the highlights of particular games and seasons, and allowance for the ecstatic moments and unpredictable breakthroughs that statistics belie. Some statistics can be parsed and examined; some can’t until they are aggregated in a grade — like winning a game, or a pennant, or series, or a hall of fame career. But we can use our stats to be students of the game, and, most importantly, our game. We just need an agreed-upon language to talk about what’s happening on the field: RBIs, hits, home runs, errors, stolen bases, ERAs, etc. There’s a lot to keep your eye on, besides that fly ball getting lost in the sun.
If you think about it, baseball and school share the same interplay of individual and team achievement. Students all play field positions and take their ups at the plate — working on multiple skills that will contribute to solo stats and, maybe, induction into the School Hall of Fame at some point in their careers. But they are also contributing to the achievement of the team. Sure, we all want to break various solo season records. But more than anything, we want to win the pennant race. The thing about school is, we are each playing in a different, exclusive race — a league of our own. We each must play our own game; our own position. We use our stats to determine how it’s going, relative to our own past performance, and to set goals for the next game.
To do so we need coaches, managers, umpires, even a commissioner! These wise and experienced people work on the fundamental skills and conditioning during practice, strategize about pitching rotation and batting order, and manage our responses during each “game.” But it’s up to each one of us as students to adapt to the shifting standards and conditions in any given game. We choose our positions and practice in a way that supports our aspiration. This builds our resiliency as individual, and team, players.
The sports writers manage the lore of the season; the statisticians collect the data; the fans show up to root, root, root for the home team. When the progress and scouting reports come out at the all-star break or end of the season, we learn something about how well we’ve pitched in clutch situations, or how consistent we bat against left-handed or knuckleball pitchers. We collect formative evidence of our abilities that we can use from game to game in honing our performance. But our final grade, our summative performance, the one our fans cherish and which is the true measure of our school-of-baseball abilities, may be that walk-off homer…or, alas, the rare Bill Buckner moment. (Yup, I’m a Red Sox fan.)
Thankfully, school, like baseball, glides along as much on lore as cold, hard statistics. That’s where the heart is. “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” as Yogi Bera would say … or “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” And no matter how dismal a season or term may feel, there’s always next year. The fans (parents) are loyal. The umps and coaches (teachers) are fair and knowledgeable. The owners (school board, directors) are supportive and the home field advantage significant to even the smallest of clubs’ prospects.
The key in both games in this analogy is that successful players learn about themselves from their statistics, and contribute to their team with their performance. Little by little, we learn what kind of player we are. We choose a position and work hard at the specialized skills it takes to excel. Every student and player needs to keep their eye on the ball of self-efficacy — not trying to be a better pitcher than this year’s Cy Young winner, necessarily, but being the best pitcher, catcher, or switch hitter they can be. We are trying to find our own position. Some lucky players will go on to careers as managers and coaches.
The league hasn’t established a policy on a few things, like free agency and the designated hitter. We certainly don’t allow spitting or corked bats. Grease balls are obviously forbidden. Steroids? Forget about it! Perhaps the day will come when school progress reports do read like baseball trading cards! I certainly made a lot of progress from my rookie year to my last season with the Cubs. Baseball players might benefit from a page borrowed from our playbook: a section on their cards recording their progress in citizenship. In the meanwhile, we can use the metaphor to imagine the possibilities and translate the jargon.
Now if only there were a neat analogy between school and baseball salaries…. The owners could save a lot of money, or teachers could make some major league bank.
Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, Penn.
In the '60s Louis Glanzman, now 91, known for his illustrations in the Pippi Longstocking books, painted more than 80 covers for Time magazine. But, now, he and his wife Fran have given up on the publication because of its cover choices which they consider “sad and unfortunate.” While Mr. Glanzman’s covers are in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, current covers are causing an outcry from readers for placing children in provocative, horrific, or sensational settings.
“Lou always looks at those new covers for Time and says, ‘It’s a new world and I’m not part of it,’” said his wife Fran in a phone interview from their home in Medford, N.J. She explained that Mr. Glanzman is very ill and in bed, “The family is very worried about him right now.” Their family includes four adult daughters and 10 grandchildren.
This week Time's choice of photo has sparked controversy with the cover shot of a terrified little boy, one side of his head drenched in blood, as he is whisked from the bombing by a first responder. The headline reads “Tragedy in Boston.” As The Huffington Post aptly pointed out, “people recoil at the sight of children in peril, and some will inevitably wonder why the magazine chose the picture it did.”
My objection is that I think this cover choice works against our national spiritual and emotional recovery by sowing the seeds of fear. Therefore, this cover choice gives the terrorists exactly what they wanted by visually and spiritually impacting us right down to our children.
Mrs. Glanzman spoke about her recent conversations with her spouse on the topic of how news presentation has changed to become more sensational and gory. “At least with Lou’s covers you could always show them to the kids,” Mrs. Glanzman said. “Now, with what’s on there, well … I don’t know.”
While he stopped doing news decades ago and has become known in recent years for his biblically themed illustrations for churches and the book Soul Sisters: Women in Scripture Speak to Women Today, by Edwina Gateley, Time is still one of his first loves.
I know that Time covers are something dear to him because I know Lou.
We did a children’s book together called "Dreamcatchers" that he illustrated. He is a tiny, wisp of a man, with a baldpate and tufty white hair on the sides of his head, eyes sharp and twinkling with mischief and a cigarillo in a short holder always at hand.
We launched that book at The National Arts Club (NAC) in Manhattan and Barnes and Noble in Union Square the night before the 911 attacks hit the city. The NAC was holding an exhibition of his private collection of his Time cover art and other paintings and sketches of JFK. Lou and I had chosen not to keep our extra day in the city because he was very tired and 9/11 is my wedding anniversary and I wanted to be with my hubby.
I remember when the Time cover image of the towers exploding came out the next week that Lou was moved. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he and his wife find the use of children in crisis as cover fodder to be “sad.”
“Lou would be the first to tell you how much things have changed in the way the news is illustrated and covers are done nowadays,” said his wife. “He just shakes his head when he sees what’s going on.”
When Time covered the assassination of Robert Kennedy in its June 14, 1968, issue, they bypassed using a widely circulated photo of Mr. Kennedy on the floor on the Ambassador Hotel mortally wounded, and instead ran a portrait of the senator illustrated by Lou.
Lou used to tell me about how Time got his covers. They would tell him the topic and he would research it, read their stories thoroughly and then paint the cover art on canvas. For a cover story on John F. Kennedy he was flown to The White House and sat in the Oval Office to sketch the president. Some of those sketches and preliminary cover paintings were on display at our NAC event.
Lou would always paint three versions for each Time cover to give the editor plenty of options. Then a helicopter would fly in from New York to a little local air strip near his home.
He told me how he never knew which they had chosen until he went to the news stand to get a copy. None of the 80 covers he painted were of children nursing at age 6 with a bare-breasted mom mugging for the camera (the illustration of a cover story on attachment parenting published May 21), or of a child in torment, blood, and ruin (the Boston marathon bombing issue released today).
Perhaps if the editors took as much time to think about their cover choices as Lou took to paint his covers they would realize there is something more important than the impact an image has on sales. This week’s image in particular impacted America’s ability to recover from the violence.
You can sell news products with class, objectivity, accuracy, and stunning images that do not stun us into the fetal position through horror. There is a line between poignant and prurient that the visual images of Boston Marathon and other tragedies have crossed.
As parents, grandparents, and consumers we should listen to experts like David Schonfeld, chief pediatrician at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, Philadelphia, a member of the Sandy Hook Commission on School Crises, who said of this trend in reporting: “I don’t understand why they run the same images over and over consecutively, forensically on the news and online. We just don’t need those images in our heads.”
We don’t need those images in our heads, or on our covers. We don’t need to exploit the pain of our children in a way that lines pockets and makes terror mongers smile with satisfaction.
Another tragedy has hit the airwaves and the school hallways. Again the question is raised, “What do I tell my kids?” I addressed this question the best I could — who can ever answer this well? — in my blog, “Look for the Helpers” after Sandy Hook.
This time I want to look at a different angle — one that may hit home a bit more.
When a crisis happens, we naturally express and project our feelings, make assumptions about our children’s experience, and react or respond accordingly. The first question to consider is, “How do you feel in the wake of the Boston marathon bombings?”
Most parents want their children to grow up able to trust most people and trust the world they are growing into — with discernment and good judgment. It seems to be getting harder and harder to trust our world, so how do we teach our children to trust — or should we?
We want our children to reach their potential, to get the most out of their lives, to experience all they can for their fulfillment and satisfaction. We want them to have open doors in front of them to walk through. Most of all, we want them to feel self-confident — the #1 key to successful living. Can they get there if we hold them back because we are afraid?
Questions to ask yourself:
Am I keeping my children closer and closer with every tragedy?
How will my children view their world if their model doesn’t trust it?
What purpose does my fear serve? How safe can I make them when I hold them back?
Am I changing my rules about what is okay for my children to do and experience based on my fear?
How to insure that your children don’t live out your fears:
- Make sure you own your fear and express your concerns to your child as just that—yours.
- Share your fears and worries with a partner or close friend.
- Stick to a few facts when telling your child about tragedy—if your child will inevitably learn about it. Keep media to a bare minimum.
- Watch your child’s behavior to signal how he is dealing with it rather than assuming he will feel afraid.
- If behavior shows increased anxiety, make sure to allow for feelings to be expressed. If behavior is different, but emotions are held, insure as many times of relaxed, downtime as possible. If you are highly anxious, your child will know it and may keep his own anxiety from you. Be sure someone close to him can handle his feelings.
Do you want your children to face the world each day afraid of what could happen or prepared to deal with whatever problem might arise? If you don’t allow independence because of your fear, your children won’t learn how to handle difficult situations.
To raise a problem-solver:
- Engage your child in thinking through how she might handle a problem rather than imposing how you would handle it.
- Encourage you child to speak up for herself, say “no” when she doesn’t want what is being offered or pressured, be aggressive when called for. That means allowing young children to say “no” to you when they don’t like something you have said or done.
- Teach your children how to walk down the street with confidence. Encourage self-defense programs and body language awareness.
- Allow your children to experience situations in which to solve problems.
- When children express distress over happenings in their lives, ask what they might like to do to take action. Ask, “What can you do to change that?” Even if nothing can be done, allow expression of anger or outrage.
- Focus on the good and look for the heroic stories to tell your children. For instance, Bostonians opened their homes for meals, couches and beds for those stranded at the airport. Many ran to the scene to help those hurt.
- Ask, “What do you think you would have done if you had been there?”
We must keep the perspective that tragedies have been happening for as long as the world has been. Plagues and wars, disease and death, violence and evil have always been in the world. And even though the media may tell a different story, tragedies remain infrequent. Let’s not allow those who are determined to hurt and kill to ruin life for all of us.
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. Bonnie Harris blogs at Connective Parenting.
The intention of terrorist attacks is typically to make a political statement and generate fear. And like weeds in the garden of childhood, such attacks may sow feelings of helplessness and despair in our kid's thoughts.
As parents we need to get our kids up, up, and away from scary images and dark thoughts by empowering them to be life’s gardeners, “helpers” who plant and grow back the good thoughts.
“So many people rushed in to help during and after the Boston Marathon bombings. Those people who can help will have a better recovery than someone who is just forensically watching the same images of trauma over and over on the news or Internet,” said Dr. David J. Schonfeld, chief pediatrician at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, Philadelphia, a member of the Sandy Hook Commission on School Crises, during a telephone interview the day after the marathon.
A quote by Fred Roger’s (the former host of Mister Roger's Neighborhood) has become a rallying point following the Boston attack: “When I was a little boy and something bad happened in the news, my mother would tell me to ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping,' she'd say. And I've found that that's true.”
We have seen the stories and images of those who, after the bombs exploded, rushed in where most would fear to tread and brought aid and comfort to victims.
Schonfeld explained that, without realizing it, those who help and bring comfort by expressing condolences, offering a hand to an injured stranger, or bunking a displaced runner are actually doing the best thing anyone can do to help themselves cope with the tragedy.
“If you can’t help someone in Boston, helping someone in your community with your child works too,” Schonfeld said from Washington, where he was with military officials at the Pentagon discussing ways to help support children grieving after the loss of a military parent. “Maybe it’s just writing a letter to someone in Boston to tell them you are thinking of them. Drawing a picture, writing a poem or condolence card.”
“I work with these families on these horrible events and even I don’t know all the number of shots fired at a crime scene,” Schonfeld said. “Nobody needs to know that stuff. We just don’t need those images in our heads.”
“What you really need is to know you have the power to do something, even if it’s something as small as helping pick up trash in a local cleanup or writing about how you feel and sending a letter to someone in Boston.”
Since most of us don’t know the names and addresses of those affected, using the comments section beneath this blog may be a starting place for kids and parents to express condolences, write poems, and give voice to their concerns and hopes. Although, I will warn against profanity, hate and ugly because those are not really in the “healing thought” realm and would be counter-productive to the exercise.
Having a child write something and keeping it private will also work, as will drawing pictures to express sorrow or concern. If your child needs a stronger feeling of empowerment, you could offer to post their drawing, poem, or prose on social media (our Twitter handle is @modparenthood).
The people we will remember for their compassion are also the ones who can recover more fully from the trauma because their own selfless actions helped defend them from shock, horror, and that feeling of helplessness.
According to The Boston Globe, “Marathon volunteer John Gannon drove slowly down Charles Street in his Honda Accord, calling out the window to ask if stranded runners needed a ride or a phone to borrow. He scoured the streets, trying to help out-of-town runners separated from their family and friends, their phones and their wallets. He had taken two carloads to Harvard Square and a third to the Newton Marriott.”
Gannon, a lawyer, told The Globe, “I just couldn’t go home. I felt like I had to do something. We just felt like our mission wasn’t done.”
Our mission is far from done where this incident is concerned. Our mission as parents is not to watch and analyze the news, but to get busy with our kids and show them that they have power. It’s spring, go out and plant a "victory over fear" garden.
Each spring in Norfolk, Va., all the gardens around the city bloom with yellow flowers planted to mark the yellow fever epidemic that once nearly wiped the city off the map.
The state flower of Massachusetts is the delicate white Mayflower (Epigaea regens), on the endangered list since 1925. Well, I think that’s what we all need to plant in our gardens this weekend. Like its state flower, Boston itself is endangered and we need to nurture it, regrow its spirit and strength.
Let’s send a message to those who would bring us to our knees that once there all we will do is dig down deep, plant roots, and grow stronger.
The bullying was so bad that Lanza’s mother, Nancy, thought about suing Sandy Hook Elementary School after her son came home with bruises “all over his body” on multiple occasions, a family member told The News.
RECOMMENDED: Top 5 bullying myths
“Nancy felt fiercely protective of him,” the relative told The News. “She was convinced the school wasn’t doing enough to protect Adam. It made her irate.”
Lanza’s mother went so far as to attend school with him to try and witness his classmates taunting and “assaulting” him.
According to The News:
"The relative said Adam Lanza never seemed emotionally right after his time in Sandy Hook. Nancy Lanza switched him to another school after sixth grade.
'He was a sick boy,' the relative told The News."
The Christian Science Monitor’s Modern Parenthood blog has reported extensively on bullying in school:
Who bullied Lanza at Sandy Hook? The family member did not tell The News, but the Monitor’s top five myths about bullies can help to dispel any rash conclusions about the type of person Lanza’s bully or bullies were.
While Lanza never told his mother about his bullies, Modern Parenthood contributor Amy McKinnon’s son did. She heard all about the teasing and hitting and told her son he should hit back, but he said he wouldn’t. Her essay echoes how powerless a parent can feel when their child is a victim of bullying.
Contributor Deirdre Graves writes in “Bully watch: Raising a cowboy unafraid to wear blue nail polish” about raising a son to be different in a school system where the different ones seem to get bullied the most.
And Modern Parenthood blogger Stephanie Hanes this fall focused on the proliferation of anti-bullying legislation across the country — in 15 years, bullying legislation made its way into law in 49 states.
RECOMMENDED: Top 5 bullying myths
By doubling the price of the GED (General Education Development) test to $120 and reducing access by making the test and preparation course electronic-only come January, those whose only route to higher education and better job options begins with the test as the first step will be knocked off the road to success. In the field of career development a powerful tool for building success has always been a GED, which makes this issue one that will deeply affect families.
This is an issue that affects parents in two ways. In some cases the parent needs a GED in order to provide a better life for their child, while in others a parent may need this option for a child who struggled in school due to social or physical issues and are too far behind to catch up. The GED system picks up the stragglers, but the ticket to ride may not be affordable now.
Currently about 40 states are seeking an alternative to the GED Testing Service’s high school equivalency test “because of concerns that a new version coming out next year is more costly and will no longer be offered in a pencil and paper format,” according to The Christian Science Monitor.
The Associated Press reports the new version will be the first revamp since for-profit Pearson Vue Testing acquired a joint ownership interest in the nonprofit Washington-based GED Testing Service. The cost of the test is doubling to $120, according to the report.
“When you are asking people who don’t have any money to spend twice as much to get a start, how can that be good?” said Warren Stewart of the Norfolk School Board. Stewart also served as the state’s first Dropout Prevention Coordinator in 1989. He is currently retired and is a member of the school board in Norfolk, Va. He was reached for interview by phone at the National Association of School Boards Convention in San Diego.
Stewart added, “How important is the GED to education? It’s huge to people who need a starting point. It always has been and is so now, perhaps more than any other time in history.”
The General Educational Development tests are a group of five subject tests which, when passed, certify that the taker has American or Canadian high school-level academic skills. Passing the GED test gives those who did not complete high school the opportunity to earn their high school equivalency credential.
The test, now available in both paper-and-pencil and online format, is now going exclusively online, which moved Stewart to ask the big question — “Are we making that route to education and success more difficult by limiting the access to the GED test in this way with it only being accessible via computers?”
I received a GED myself and went on to get an associate degree from a community college and a bachelor’s degree in political science from a university. While I was an excellent student, my parents were divorced, and in lieu of child support my mom received part of my father’s Social Security check. When Ronald Reagan took office he passed a bill phasing that practice out. If you wanted to keep the support for a further three years you had to be either age 18 or enrolled in college by May 1st of that year. I was entering my junior year of high school and we needed the money, so I had to drop out, wait six weeks, and take the GED and enter a special intercession created by Brookdale Community College in Lyncroft, N.J., in order to qualify. I did it. In fact I took my GED, SAT, and driver’s test in the same week, and passed them all. I had both a future and a way to fund it as well.
There are a million stories behind those who have taken the first step of that million mile journey from the square on life’s game board marked “GED.”
Stewart harkens back to his favorite GED hero, “Here in Norfolk, Va., we know about a poor boy, a tough boy, from Oceanview area, Sherman Williford, who got his GED while serving in the military and rose to four-star general after he famously took command of Delta Force from 1983 to 1985.”
The GED is critical to creating what our school system here in Virginia calls “successful community contributors.” These contributors are people who have the basic tools with which to build a better life and become an asset to the community.
When I worked as a Career Developer for the State of Virginia for 18 months I met many people who, for whatever reason or hardship, failed to achieve during their high school years. The ability, affordability, and access to a GED make it a powerful tool for building communities.
A community builder and school board member here in Norfolk is Rodney Jordan who is also the head of the Park Place Civic League, an urban area trying to uplift itself via it’s own bootstraps and the GED is one of those bootstraps.
“We will see cases, we have a committee that assesses readmitting a student to school after suspension or in other situation, where a student is 19 and in the ninth grade,” Jordan said. “I look at that kind of situation and my suggestion is to keep them in the school, but on a GED track so they have a better chance of graduation. It’s a workforce development issue just as much as an education issue.”
Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a child or grandchild who will never need to worry about the need for a GED in life.
However, we live and work in communities that can rise higher and be better with more educated citizens who can better provide for their families if they hold a GED. This test is everybody’s baby and we need to keep an eye on it and how it’s being handled.
Sometimes, I hate this world. Or not the world, but its dangers and all that can hurt my son. On April 15, when bombs tore apart the finish line of the Boston Marathon, one of those dangerous tentacles got past me. I could see the green scales tightening around my child’s neck, the joyous light draining from his 11-year-old eyes.
This morning, he and my husband and I listened to the news. My son said he was glad we’d told him — even when we showed him the “Marathon terror” banner on the front page of the Boston Globe, complete with graphic photo of a victim, rescue workers, a sidewalk that looked spray-painted red. He’d been furious when we hid the headlines about Newtown after it happened. He’d insisted last December that he wanted to know.
But I’m still wondering if I told him too much about the Boston bombing, if it was wrong for him to find out just as I was finding out, my response unprocessed and far from an ultra-rational “teachable moment.” Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. It is our Garden, the one we walk through every day with a child.
Before we knew, I picked up my son at his vacation camp. No school this week. Patriot’s Day, the Marathon, the streets around us sweetly and strangely empty. We strolled home through our Cambridge neighborhood, carrying the candles he’d made that afternoon. It was brisk and sunny, daffodils and hyacinths bursting free along the curbs.
We stopped at a local market for a snack. By then, as I found out later, the bombs had gone off in downtown Boston. In Copley Square, across from the Boston Public Library, places we’d visited many times. But at the store, nobody told us. My son chattered cheerfully about his candles, as the kind woman at the register asked about them, wanting to know if they could float.
Then back out into the spring day, walking the last blocks toward home, past beds of dying crocuses, more daffodils, and the first tulips. Even before I unlocked our front door, I was savoring the nap I needed.
My son would have his snack (Doritos and orange juice), work on the story he told me he was writing, play his Lego Lord of the Rings game on the Wii. I could close my eyes and disappear, because we were home. For a few moments, I didn’t have to worry.
When I woke from that nap, I learned that wasn’t true. I can’t claim prescience. I didn’t wake up knowing something terrible had occurred. But it’s also true that I was still groggy when my husband arrived home a few minutes later. By then, I was sitting in my downstairs office, about to check my email.
“Don’t you know what happened?” he asked.
“What?” It was shadowy in my office, which faces east, the maple trees in back just starting to bud. I felt a scratching claw inside my chest.
He told me. Raw information. I didn’t understand. I peppered him with questions, wanting details, not wanting details.
“Why are you whispering?” he asked.
Then I shot into the next room, where my son was still sending Legolas the Elf into the fray against a host of Orcs. I told him we had to turn on the TV now.
Several hours after it happened, we watched the bombs explode, over and over, my boy whimpering in my arms. I cried when I heard an 8-year-old had been killed.
My son hugged me then, trying to comfort me. That wasn’t right. We can’t let fear…we can’t. But I couldn’t stop staring at the screen, the replay of the two explosions, aerial views of the library and Trinity Church, the news ticker about dead and wounded in local hospitals, about what President Obama said, about a moment of silence.
“How could anybody do that?” my son asked.
“It was such a beautiful day,” my husband kept saying on the phone.
Memories, memories — what do you do with all the memories, except remember? Exhaustion followed the shock and tears, as I remembered the paranoia after 9/11, how it had sapped our collective spirit.
Just this past weekend, my son and I took a “photo excusion” around the neighborhood, snapping pictures of flowers and sidewalks and storefronts. I captured him huddled over a crocus with his camera for a closeup — and his skinny arms stretched in a dance move up a concrete wall— and our shadows together on an unmarred sidewalk.
Today I told him that we have to live our lives as if we aren’t afraid. I told him it would be okay. I have no way of knowing — and he knows that, too — but I said the words. The fear that whacked me to earth is not his yet, and fear is what defeats joy. The most terrible thing can become beautiful, too, if we focus on resilience, on innocence regained. I didn’t tell him this, thinking that people, grown-up people, need to experience a whole series of banner headlines, of shock and recovery, for such beauty to make sense.
And yet, maybe he — a Vietnamese adoptee, a not-so-little boy who now worries about all the kids in orphanages we saw on our last trip to Vietnam, who wonders in a new way if that could have been him — maybe he does understand. Certainly I should never underestimate what he doesn’t say.
When we finally sat down to dinner Monday evening, he wanted to light one of his candles. A memorial, he said, just as we lit a candle for my mother, who died a few months ago. His candle burned beautifully, glowing pink and blue from within.
“Can I blow it out?” he asked.
“Why?” I said too quickly.
“Because I want to.”
“Because it’s fun,” my husband said. “Then you can light it again. Right?”
My boy looked at me, the mischievous spark back in his eyes. He grinned.
Éomer and Aragorn stood together on the Deeping Wall. They heard the roar of voices and the thudding of rams; and then in a sudden flash of light they beheld the peril of the gates.
“Come!” said Aragorn. “This is the hour when we draw swords together!”
….Charging from the side, they hurled themselves upon the wild men. Andúril rose and fell, gleaming with white fire. A shout went up from the wall and tower: “Andúril! Andúril! goes to war. The Blade that was Broken shines again!”
— from The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien