I needed to sit down and breathe into the type of brown paper bag I will pack lunches in after seeing a new report detailing the current cost of sending a child back to school at the end of this month.
The average cost of back-to-school spending for kindergarten through 12th grade is $688, according to The National Retail Federation, up from $603.63 last year. Average college back-to-school costs this year are expected to be $907, $100 more than families spent last year.
My sons are entering third grade, eight grade, 12th grade, and college this fall. I am doomed!
While waiting in line at the supermarket I heard a woman on the phone seriously asking, “Has an iPad become an essential this year, or should I just go with a smart phone?”
It wasn’t until a lot of “uh-huhs” later that she looked down at the 8-year-old beside her and said, “We’ll go look at iPads for school right after this.”
Given half a chance, I am sure many students would argue in favor of the device, along with a host of fashion-forward “must haves” currently vying with the Olympics for our attention. I suppose I just thought those students would be teens, not tots.
Has back-to-school shopping become the next holiday buying spree for kids? And if so, how do we parent through the avarice of newer, higher-tech, trendy school “needs?”
When I went online to get some more information on how many other parents might be feeling my pain I ran across the Capital One 12th annual back-to-school shopping survey wherein “59 percent of parents say the amount of money they plan to spend on back-to-school shopping this year is impacted by current economic concerns, and 42 percent of parents say their spending will be impacted by school budget cuts.”
Aren't the Capitol One guys always asking, “What’s in your wallet?” The answer is receipts for school supplies and nothing else.
The truth is that many of us are about to make the choice between what your child’s lunch is in and what is in the lunch.
I always scoffed at the whole “how to survive back-to-school” shopping thing, but this year I am really worried. I don’t feel like we will survive it without a whole lot of strategy. So my tribe is about to spend the next few weeks deep in treasure hunt mode. We are going to pull together every pencil, pen, and protractor from days gone by and sharpen and shine them for new use.
Thrift shops will be visited for funky vintage looks. I may have to embrace the hipster trend for the boys this year just to get by on the clothing issues.
The reality is that my schools can’t afford supplies and neither can I. So if you have extras or no kids to buy for and you want to give a parent a break, maybe you can drop by the local schools to pool for those of us in danger of drowning.
Even as a woman who breastfed four babies, I think New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's well-intentioned but hotly contested breastfeeding initiative is going to be a bust for taking the so-called "nanny" state to a place where most moms just wish he'd butt out.
When I had the first of four sons, 18 years ago, after 24-hours of natural childbirth in a New Jersey hospital, my baby and my body did not click. I could not get that kid to latch on even with a La Leche League coach. And when he did I could not fill the order on demand. The child had lungs like an opera singer and could be heard a mile away. Finally, another nurse bustled in and barked, "You just have the wrong kind of nipples. Here's a bottle."
No, there's no such thing as having the wrong kind – that was absurd – but perhaps this is the kind of misinformation that New York public officials are trying to correct. I did eventually breastfeed the baby, as well as the other three, so I'm the most militant of breastfeeding supporters. But it's no moment of celebration for me seeing the roles reversed and women who can't or simply choose not to do what I did feeling like they're being butted by the Bloomberg nanny state.
I want moms to know the wonderful feeling of nursing and the healthy outcomes believed to result from it, but it can be hard to do and it may not be a choice that working moms can make. Although, breastfeeding is cost-effective and great for pulling your body back into shape.
The "Latch On NYC" initiative, which begins in September, will ask mothers of newborns in 27 of 40 hospitals that deliver babies to listen to talks about the virtues of breastfeeding their babies on the "breast is best" principle. The initiative does allow mothers to request of formula if a baby won't or can't latch on – or if she just wants it. So far I think we're inbounds. Hospitals are so in the lecture groove that anyone who has ever been in one is not too thrown by that.
The mayor is trying to get his state out of the bottom of the list of those who breastfeed and off the top of the list of those where hospitals give away formula to new moms.
New York state ranks next to last by the percentage of breast-fed infants who receive supplemental formulas in hospital, at 33 percent, New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told the Associated Press.
According to the AP the New York initiative is part of a national effort involving more than 600 hospitals, says Marsha Walker, a registered nurse and executive director of the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, a nonprofit based in Weston, Mass.
Then, however, we get the nanny goat on a much steeper incline and the rocks start to come loose on treacherous ground – when Bloomberg shuts the latch on the cupboards holding the formula. The idea presumably is to reduce temptation for nurses to push formula, but the image is a bad one.
Also, I am not sure how that message will translate to nurses who may then feel it's a chore to have to go through whatever the process becomes in order to sign out the formula. Will mothers who ask for formula be put in a position of feeling like bad moms for asking for the alternative? Having a baby is an intense emotional and physical experience. Giving a hospital the added prison matron image is not going to help a woman's body achieve the relaxed state it requires for the milk to "let-down."
Over 18-years and four sons, I have always had my babies room-in with me so that nurses would not bottle-feed them while I struggled to get them to latch on, because once a baby experiences the ease of the draw and richness of formula it's much harder to get them on task with mama. It's like raising a child on health food and then taking them for that one trip to McDonalds that hooks them on the wrong, er, udder. But that only led to tremendous pressure by hospital staff for me to go to the bottle because they feared the baby would not thrive.
In another New Jersey hospital with our third child, I insisted he room-in so he could nurse, but this hospital did not have a room-in policy and looked with deep suspicion on my insistence that the baby stay with me. The pressure nurses exerted trying to bottle-feed the baby was intense.
When a pediatrician who had not attended the birth noticed the baby's collarbone was broken (a common birth injury that the pediatrician attending the birth had not notated) the nurse who was coming in to try once again to force me to bottle feed called Child Protective Services. My husband called the doctor who delivered our son and barricaded the door with an armchair and sat in it until the OBGYN could get there to tell them the collar bone break was a common birth injury and breastfeeding was not evidence of bad parenting.
So today the pendulum swings. The formula is on lock-down and nurses are encouraged to be militant for the noncommercial cause.
I feel badly for the me 2.0 who may be in a New York City hospital being eyed as a potential formula cat burglar or feeling hovered over by well-meaning authorities who need to know that sometimes the best way to help is to give the information and then just butt out.
This blog was the subject of a Wisconsin Public Radio show on the benefits, history, and cultural significance of chess. Hear the discussion with blogger Lisa Suhay and Susan Polgar, the chess grandmaster and winner of four Women’s World Chess Championships at WPR.
Of all the unusual sports that should be included in the 2012 Olympics, chess actually has a legitimate claim: This year marks the 85th anniversary of chess being an officially recognized body of sport by the International Olympic Committee.
That's right. Chess is a sport, complete with an Olympiad and chess parents.
Any chess parent (me included) will talk your ear off about the benefits of exercising the mind and how curling, the Winter Olympics sport, is just chess on ice. With any sport, you need to have tactics, critical thinking, and quick mental reflexes in play.
The World Chess Olympiad is bigger than the Winter Olympics but smaller than the summer Games in terms of number of nations participating. About 160 nations are expected for the Chess Olympiad set to take place in Istanbul, Turkey, on August 27. The youngest competitor is 10 years old.
The first official Olympiad was held in London in 1927. It was intended for inclusion in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, but was not due to difficulties distinguishing between amateur and professional players. So while chess is an IOC recognized sport, the Olympiads have been held separately for the past several decades. During the Bejing Olympics in 2008, there was a failed attempt to merge the games.
Personally, I think the only real obstacle to chess being part of the the Olympic Games is the ability of network TV to cope with coverage and sponsorship. Bob Costas would be learning how to banter about the Alekhine defense and how there's only one woman on the board and she's the most powerful piece. By the way, I would pay to watch this.
I called my friend Susan Polgar, a five-time Olympic chess champion with 10 medals (five gold, four silver, and one bronze), to ask her if chess parents are as intense as other sports parents. Ms. Polgar won her first world title at age 12 and an Olympic gold in 1988 when she was 19. She won her last gold in 2004 at 35. She is undefeated in Olympic competition.
Zsuzsanna Polgár is a Hungarian-American chess player, who was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary. She lived in New York for 13 years, Texas for five years, and now lives in St. Louis, Mo., where she heads the chess program at Webster University.
Polgar has seen the sport from both athlete and parent perspectives. She is both the mother of chess-playing sons and daughter to parents who raised her and her two sisters to be champions.
“I think there are two types of parents in any sport,” Polgar said. “Those who recognize the child's potential and support the child wholeheartedly, sacrificing for the child's dream. Then there are the parents who try to live out their own unfulfilled dreams, through their children. Both of my parents recognized our potential, and they also sacrificed everything for us to succeed.”
I always thought of chess as an elitist game until I began working with kids in a free inner-city chess program for low-income and at-risk children. The program opened doors to what has been an exclusive sport, making it accessible to all children. I have seen the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Kids gather around and cheer in team events called "bughouse chess."
We need a hundred more Maurice Ashleys (the first African-American grandmaster) and way more female players on the boards. Chess can take kids to all the great destinations where other sports go, plus there are also opportunities for different scholarships.
Chess players and athletes aren't as separate as you may think. In fact, some of the biggest names in sport also have game in chess including NBA past and present stars such as Kobe Bryant, the late Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Danny Ainge, Latrell Sprewell, Steve Smith and Jason Williams. And don’t forget former and current tennis players Boris Becker, Anna Kournikova, John McEnroe, Roger Federer, Jennifer Capriati, and Ivan Lendl. There are also professional sports coaches who support or have supported chess: Rick Carlisle of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, former NBA head coach Flip Saunders, and the late Bill Walsh of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.
Harkening back to chess parents, Queen Elizabeth II is an avid player. Perhaps Her Majesty will demonstrate the power of her position both on and off the board by decreeing that the Olympiads merge in future?
It would certainly put Great Britain and many other nations on the medal stand with greater frequency.
What do you say Madam, shall the games begin?
My 6-year-old son just found his favorite new show, the Discovery channel's “Sons of Guns” (yes, lots of explosions), and regularly draws pictures of guys with guns squaring off, with the sound caption: “Boom!” Even my 2-year-old daughter picked up a neighbor’s silver Colt cap gun the other day and went, “Pow!”
I certainly grew up pacifist, and I hail from a land – Sweden – where toy guns are heavily frowned upon and where even belt-carry of knives by adults is illegal. My wife is the daughter of activist Democrats from northern Virginia for whom a gun in the house is a non-starter, even though we don’t exactly live in Atlanta’s safest neighborhood.
Certainly, there have been attempts in the US, too, to ban or discourage "war-like" toys from getting into children's hands. But trying to keep toy guns out of kids’ hands is like trying to keep candy out of their mouths: impossible. And like most parents – at least the ones I know, including some uber-liberals – I have never really tried.
During a recent Monitor assignment on America’s gun culture – months before the awful shooting at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater that once again touched off a national gun debate – I met Shane Gazda, whose wife audibly gasped when our photographer, Ann Hermes, took pictures of Mr. Gazda at his kitchen table showing off one of his prize handguns, while his 3-year-daughter, Savannah, peered, fascinated, over his shoulder.
For Gazda, a concealed weapons permit owner, it was no big deal. He sees his role as teacher, and, like many other Americans, plans to instruct his children, once they’re older, about gun safety and shooting.
But his wife’s gasp told the story of the visual: Even those who basically support the Second Amendment sometimes cringe inside when they see images of kids and firearms, whether it’s child soldiers, toddlers waving pop guns, or even when their own children grab sticks on the playground and commence all-out war.
That power was certainly conveyed by Ann’s photograph, which struck me as bizarrely Rockwellian. It was also obvious by the conversation we had afterwards, in which we both questioned whether she should submit it to our editors. To be sure, Gazda was doing nothing wrong handling an unloaded gun in his own house. Yet our concern was it would leave him open for criticism, even ridicule.
In the end, the editors ran the picture, and as far as I know caused no discomfort to the Gazda family.
Sure, our concern about the picture had to do with journalism and the Monitor's credo, which is to "injure no man" with our reporting. But as a parent, it was also a personal conundrum, the backdrop a country with as many guns in circulation as there are people – about 300 million. Gun owners can point to the Second Amendment and the country’s rich tradition of giving especially rural kids BB guns at an early age to acclimate them to the weight and feel of a rifle. They also point to the exposure of kids to guns as a parental responsibility: In a world full of guns, we might as well teach kids to appreciate their power and how to handle them safely.
But for those viscerally, philosophically, and politically uncomfortable with guns, it’s not so easy. To be sure, some states, like New York, have outlawed realistic-looking toy guns, mandating that they be brightly colored or have an orange barrel cap. But what is clear is that even a 2-year-old watching her older brother play sniper games begins to correctly recognize that gunpowder and lead can move the world. Since we may never be rid of that fact, and since actual guns will remain verboten in our house, I’ve decided to outsource our son’s firearms education to the Boy Scouts.
His troop is a particularly progressive one from one of Atlanta’s most liberal in-town neighborhoods. Some of the kids have same-sex parents. But when they grow into bigger Scouts, they’ll have opportunities to enter shooting sports programs, taught by certified National Rifle Association instructors.
It may be the first and last time some liberal urban pacifists hire the NRA to teach their kids. I, for one, will go along with it. And my son? He can’t wait.
Every four years we get to see how different parents go for the gold. Not just parents, but Olympic parents whose families are tight-knit and who themselves are self-sacrificing, with tearful post-medal stand hugs and commercials praising them for their dogged efforts to support dreams of gold. This year we even have a mom-to-be, eight months gone, competing.
While I marvel, I also struggle to understand and approve of the parenting extremes we traditionally encounter in women's gymnastics. I want to be impressed, yet feel family values and community are benched in favor of a more sleek and impersonal family unit.
Back in 1976 when Nadia Comaneci made the perfect 10s they no longer offer in the world of women's Olympic gymnastics, I remember being shocked by the revelation that Romanian girls left home and made the team their family at an early age.
Today it's Gabby Douglas' story that reminds me parents of Olympic hopefuls often make choices that both create and break families of all kinds.
Years after watching those perfect 10s go up for Ms. Comaneci, we learned of her emotional breakdowns, eating disorder and diva-gone-bad attitude. These are things that parents struggle to correct, but coaches and strangers trying to fill those roles can sometimes miss.
The question is, have these babies come a long way, or have the foster families – coaches and host families – raising them at critical developmental junctures, just gotten more adept at spinning the media? Do the ends justify the pre-Olympic means?
While Comaneci was the product of a state system, Ms. Douglas is part of a social system that should perhaps be the next reality show right after Dance Moms. There is a wow-factor to the similarity of the tug-of-war between trainers, parents, and little girls raised both to perform and be ruthless in their dedication to the sport, rather than emotional or social ties.
Douglas is well known here in Virginia Beach as a prodigy who, for seven years, was part of the Excalibur gym family. I have never been there and am not a gymnastics mom, but it's all over the papers here these past few months.
Still, visit any highly competitive training facility in sport, child or adult, and it truly is a family complete with all the love and dysfunction of the real thing. There can be infighting, sibling rivalry, there can even be parenting disagreements (between parent and coach or child and coach) that lead to a form of divorce.
Parents can be crazy, particularly during Olympic madness. (Ask even the most low-key coach at a tiny tot tumbling program anywhere in America how enrollment rockets and pushy moms sprout around the mats during this time.)
Douglas left Excalibur a year and a half ago to move to West Des Moines, Iowa – without her single mom and three siblings. According to our local paper The Virginian Pilot, "Natalie Hawkins, Douglas' mother, entrusted the youngest of her four children to Liang Chow, a former Chinese national team member who also coaches 2008 Beijing Games gold-medalist Shawn Johnson."
It's something I can't fathom doing. I would like to think I would move to Iowa and pick corn for a living before letting my teen move in with a host family and entrust them with their body, mind, and education. Of course life is always easy from the cheap seats and her daughter is an Olympian. My finances would never allow such a move and then I would be uprooting three other kids in favor of one hopeful, so again, I should lob Nerf balls and not stones here.
As the mom of four sons of course you never want to judge, lest you find yourself in a similar situation in the next pin of the wheels of fate. Yet the tendency to judge other parents is pretty powerful when something that hard core comes down the pike.
Gabby is 16, so doing the math I still wince. It makes me almost feel absurd for getting misty over my 18-year-old leaving for college in two weeks.
Yet you can't argue with the Olympic results. So maybe I'm the bad parent for not sending my sons away to better schools.
"I wanted to make my Olympic dreams a reality, so I told my Mom, 'I need a better coach, and I need a better coach now,' " Douglas told Time magazine. I'm sure she's a lovely child, I adore her smile and am rooting for her and shouting at my TV set like anyone else, but all I could think of was Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and what happened to her. It made me ask, "Who's the parent?"
However, all the reports today talk about how this Olympian has blossomed in Iowa, living rent-free with a host family that homeschools her. Her mother, by all accounts, is thrilled with the result as she and her other three children cheer on the family member they have seldom seen in close to two years.
Perhaps the stability and not just the coaching is what this child really needed coming from a home where her mother, who according the Virginian-Pilot divorced the same man twice and has struggled on disability to provide for her needs.
So everybody wins? Probably not the local trainers at Excalibur and all those like them who will forever be the Silver Medalists of the training games. They were the foster family that gave an Olympian her foundation, but ended up at odds and written out of the will. No Olympian Day card for them. While I see the logic, I also see that loyalty isn’t much of an issue in the life lesson department sometimes, when the gleam of precious medals becomes blinding as Olympic year approach.
I realize that I do not have what it takes to be any kind of Olympic parent. My hat is off to you all. Yet I wave my hat and smile for the parents who chose the path that kept them walking right beside their child. The path where everyone is under the same roof or at least in the same state at the end of the day.
I believe that there is a deeper strength we must train into a child, a tempering that forges their ability to win in life and still be on the medal stand. The kind of Olympic mom who is up at 5 a.m. making toast and hugging her child and whispering, "You can do this," in her ear before the event. I would not be able to give that responsibility to a stranger because those are the golden moments all parents treasure – win or lose.
Summer is often a time for family vacation and making the rounds to relatives you may not get to visit often. As you know, your teens are a lot of fun to be around. Not yet adults, they are at an age when they have their eyes wide open. Their refreshing attitude can bring you back to when you were their age.
In fact, it is so infectious that on occasion it can result in the adults in the family vying to be the one relative that the teen loves most. After all, who doesn’t want to be the “cool” aunt or uncle? It is how the relatives go about earning this affection that is surprising, which can be especially evident at summer gatherings.
In my family it was my Great Uncle Mike, also known as the "Candy Uncle.” You knew that Mike always had his pockets filled with candy, so he was always voted the most popular uncle amongst us kids. I can't say we were as excited to visit sweet Great Aunt Rho. As the years went on it was clear she as slowly losing her faculties.
On occasion, I hear situations where the battle to be the favorite relative goes a little too far. There’s Grandpa Kent who upon hearing that his grandson’s other grandparents gave his grandson a hefty check, went out and bought the young man a car. Perhaps he should have checked with the the parents first. There’s Aunt Trudy who buys her niece all the top designer clothes ignoring the pleas of the teen’s parents who are trying to teach her to work for such items, which they believe are unnecessary and frivolous. These are both a far cry from the Candy Uncle.
So, how do you address this? Any sort of calm and gentle confrontation can sometimes end up in a prickly situation. Indignation and anger are not uncommon reactions either. Nonetheless, this is about what you believe is best for your teen.
Sometimes a two step approach is best:
1. Talk to your teen. Explain why you are not OK with these tokens of affection. We know, it is not so easy to ask your teen to turn down a car or that new designer handbag.
Encourage your teen to spend time with the relative. This will help them feel special.
2. Talk to the relative. Explain why you can not allow your teen to accept these gifts. Emphasize your appreciation for their thoughtfulness and generosity. Suggest that the best gift is simply spending time with the teen.
Finally, we leave the best story for last. Grandma Jill showed up at her granddaughter’s house with a horse trailer with a beautiful Palomino. Great, right? Wrong. The family lived in a city and the father had just been laid off. The grandmother suggested that they put the horse in their backyard. They lived on a 1/4-acre plot with neighbors on both sides. You can’t make this stuff up, can you?
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. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.
And I thought I was cool for running a mile or two when I was eight months pregnant. (I called it the “ruddle,” a mix between a run and a waddle.) Next week, the very pregnant Malaysian shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi is going to compete in the Olympics, representing her country in the 10-meter rifle event.
And then she’ll hurry up and get on a plane home because her doctors don’t want her flying after 35 weeks.
I am in love.
It is no easy feat to be an athlete and a pregnant woman at the same time. With all that stuff going on in the bod, adding extra physical stress is hard. Even for the immortals.
Marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe, for instance, said that training during her first trimester was the hardest physical task she had ever confronted. This kept me from feeling pathetic for months. (Of course, the Radcliffe continued to run 14 miles a day while pregnant and then won the 2007 New York City Marathon months after giving birth, but she is a different species.)
But it’s not just the physical toll. When you’re pregnant and trying to exercise, you get a lot of flak. People on the street scowl at you. Acquaintances tell you you’re being selfish and are hurting your baby. Older relatives bite their tongues.
All of this despite study after study that shows that exercise helps, rather than hurts, both mom and little runner – or shooter – to be.
When I was pregnant I participated in a study at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center that monitored what happened to babies when their late-in-pregnancy moms exercised. They put us on a treadmill, had us exercise at various intensities, monitored mom and fetus, and then immediately performed ultrasounds to see what was going on with baby. Later they collected health information about our infants.
The researchers wanted to evaluate two categories of pregnant women: those who were already regular exercisers and those who were fairly sedentary. They wanted to test the oft-repeated (although, it turns out, based upon very little evidence) theory that “moderate” exercise during pregnancy was OK for those of us who are already active, but that pregnancy is not the right time to start an exercise program.
The study is not yet complete, but so far the doctors involved have found that women can exercise much more vigorously than previous thought, and that exercise doesn’t have any negative impact for those women who hadn’t worked out previously. There are also a slew of apparent benefits to both baby and mom when mama is active.
Even running active, or Olympic active.
Ms. Taibi qualified for the Olympics just days after she found out she was pregnant. She says that she has already received a lot of criticism, but has mostly shrugged it off.
“Most people said I was crazy and selfish because they think I am jeopardizing my baby’s health,” she told reporters. “My husband said grab it as this is a rare chances which may not come again. Also, I am the mother. I know what I can do. I am a stubborn person.”
I’ll be cheering from here.
Every so often, it’s good to let yourself drift, to just follow the current and see where it takes you; to leave an hour, a morning, a day unplanned; to enter open space and time and invite its effects. The artist Paul Klee spoke of drawing as “taking a line out for a walk.” We can see his art as exploration, inquiry, following a random thought, or drifting — and look what comes of it: something fresh and new.
This is what summer is for.
It’s not always easy to do. I used to call time and space “boredom” when I was a kid, as in “Mom, I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” Now I long for the chance to say, “There’s nothing to do (i.e. nothing I have to do) … thank goodness.” Boredom has gotten such a bad rap. Kids are so conditioned to think that they must always be doing something, going somewhere, entertained, active. But a little boredom can be a terrific vessel for a good drift, following a line of thoughts and just seeing what pictures appear.
It helps to have a raft in your summer — literally or figuratively. There were countless days when my boyhood gang, bored with the possibilities at home, gathered around Hurley's pond to throw planks together for epic raft voyages along its great grey-green greasy banks. Kids of a certain age have an instinctual urge to mess around on things that float, with mud, and with sticks. Combine the three and you have an empire of imaginary possibilities. We could be Ulysses, Captain Hook, or Viking swashbucklers. Who needs Playstation when you have a raft and a stick?
Later on, when I read about Huck Finn, I learned that a raft is a moment on the Big River when the bravest adventure occurs: a true connection with another human being. For instance, Jim comes alive to Huck as a person, not just a slave, when they share the raft. A raft can be a collection of planks on the Mississippi, a moment of inspiration, or a yielding to a current that brings you 'round the bend to a new view of a person, place or thing. One shouldn’t gloss over the perils and cruelties encountered on Huck’s trip down river. But we can safely say that it’s good to have had a raft, to have drifted, been a swashbuckler, made brave connections.
From our vantage point here on the middle of summer, I like to listen to Huck’s own words. Dip your toes with me in the current and eddies of his syntax, as Huck throws us an idyllic line:
“You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft. . . Two or three days and nights went by; I reckon I might say they swum by, they slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely. Here is the way we put in the time. It was a monstrous big river down there—sometimes a mile and a half wide; we run nights, and laid up and hid day-times; soon as night was most gone, we stopped navigating and tied up—nearly always in the dead water under a towhead; and then cut young cotton-woods and willows and hid the raft with them. Then we set out the lines. Next we slid into the river and had a swim, so as to freshen up and cool off; then we set down on the sandy bottom where the water was about knee deep, and watched the daylight come. Not a sound, anywheres—perfectly still—just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes the bull-frogs a-cluttering, maybe.”
May the bullfrogs a-clutter to you, as you tend your lines, swim, cool off, and listen to the sound of “not a sound, anywheres.” May you find this free and easy feeling, and a respite from navigating, through the end of July and into August.
Happy rafting. See you around the bend, downstream a ways.
A few days before our Yellow Lab-Golden Retriever Albie arrived from Louisiana, I was talking with our friend Chris, an accomplished chef and long time dog owner.
“You need to let the dog know who’s in charge,” Chris said with the authority of someone who’s used to running a busy restaurant kitchen. “There’s got to be an alpha male and that has to be you.”
“So, what you’re saying,” I replied, “is not to make the same mistake with the dog as I made with my kids.”
“Exactly!” he said.
I was only half kidding. It’s not in my nature to try and be the boss, either as a father or, now, as a proud owner and best friend of the world’s sweetest dog. And, all things considered, the kids turned out better than all right.
In the first few weeks of taking care of Albie, we wondered, indeed suspected, that he wasn’t always treated with the love and affection we’ve been showering on him since he arrived. He hasn’t needed a very firm hand. He’s almost absurdly well behaved, greeting each new person with trust, clearly expecting the best in everyone, and offering his paw for a shake. He doesn’t beg for food. He doesn’t tear up the house. He waits to be invited upstairs.
He seems so happy to be with us, it’s almost as if he’s trying hard not to blow it.
Though I was the lone holdout who finally acquiesced, I have fallen hard for Albie. When I think about what it is – what the magical chemistry might be all about – I suspect it has something to do with the fact that in just a year our younger son will be heading off for college.
I miss, as does my wife Judy, those years when the boys were young, when we bathed them, wrapped them in towels, and read them stories – often the same one night after night after night until we heard the words in what little sleep we were able to muster. We miss the days when they were excited whenever we came home (today there just isn’t anything special about Dad walking though the door and I feel lucky just be acknowledged). We miss the days when they wanted to hold our hands and were eager for our approval. One thing about raising kids: The days and the nights often seemed like an eternity. But the years? They rush by in a blur. With Albie it feels a bit like we’re back in those halcyon days of “Goodnight Moon” and “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” though we haven’t tried reading to him just yet.
Most dogs I have known, and Albie seems to fit the mold, are stuck in a perpetual state of need and attachment with their caretakers that kids inevitably outgrow. I doubt Albie will ever tire of having his belly rubbed, the fur behind his ears caressed, or hearing me sweet talk him whenever he approaches with those wanting eyes and what I swear is a smile on his face.
I doubt I’ll ever tire of it either.
If you’re like my family and many around the world, you’ll be glued to the TV at all hours, watching the 2012 Olympic Games from London, which start tomorrow and run for 17 sports-filled days. The Olympic Games have been fascinating us since 776 B.C. in ancient Greece, where they were a one-day event featuring running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, equestrian sports, and a martial art called pankration. Five city-states (think Athens and Sparta) competed for the prize, a crown made of olive leaves.
In addition to watching them, here are six other ways to celebrate and enjoy the Olympics.
Learn something about another country
With 204 countries competing in the 2012 Olympics, from Mauritius to Kiribati, there are plenty of countries and cultures to become acquainted with. Try finding some of the more obscure ones on a map or globe.
I’ve long been fascinated with the flags of other countries, and I bet many others are, too. Make a fun flag handprint wreath, using these wonderful flag printables from Activity Village.
There is also no shortage of interesting food you can make from every corner of the globe. This list of food from around the world will certainly get you started. Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Japanese food always sound good to me and my family, but we can be convinced to branch out even further, especially during the Olympics.
Celebrate London and England
London, which last hosted the Olympics in 1948, is a fun place to honor. Since we’re always up for celebrating with food, this British food glossary will supply you with traditional comestibles, from Bangers and Mash to the Ploughman’s Lunch.
You also can’t go wrong serving tea (or juice) with simple scones. Even though “high tea” seems very fancy today, the first high teas were actually meals of meats and cheeses served with tea to Industrial Revolution-era workers who sat to eat at high tables.
London, of course, is quite rich culturally. I love this fun double-decker bus made from a cardboard box, courtesy of Entertaining Monsters.
England has also provided the world with a lot of wonderful music. If you haven’t introduced your kids to The Beatles yet, now is the time. Start anywhere in the song catalog and work your way around. Lots of kids love Abbey Road, Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Rubber Soul is a can’t-miss classic. The earliest songs are great to dance to and the latest ones are fascinating for older kids. Speaking of dancing, British '80s new wave music is sure to get toes tapping and heads bobbing.
Get inspired to achieve your dreams and be a good sport
Most people can’t help but be inspired by watching Olympic athletes — indeed, that’s a large part of the fascination of the games. Just about every Olympic athlete sacrificed something to get to the top of his or her sport. While all great athletes show tremendous dedication, discipline, and ability, some have overcome more setbacks than others. (See the Monitor's coverage of eight such athletes.)
The Olympics can inspire you to be active and healthy, and also to achieve your dreams. While urging you to do your best in any endeavor, they can also teach good sportsmanship — as they invariably demonstrate that achievement often comes with disappointment. Sometimes, no matter what your training and background, it’s not your day to win. The best athletes know how to lose with grace, too. “The most important thing is .. not to win but to take part,” reads part of the Olympic Creed.
Get active with a Backyard Olympics
So you don’t have a balance beam or a javelin handy? You can still create your own version of the Games with a Backyard Olympics. Ucreate offers lots of ideas for Olympic-inspired games and activities that are fun and easy to pull off. And Fiskars provides more Backyard Olympics game ideas, as well as fun decorations and accessories, such as homemade Olympic torches and flag banners. (See more craft ideas for your Backyard Olympics, below.)
Get active in your community
Rather get active in your community? First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move organization has declared Saturday, July 28 Olympic Fun Day. Follow the link to find lots of ideas for fun Olympic-inspired games and meet-ups with others in your area.
Make Olympic crafts
You didn’t think we were done with Olympic-inspired crafts, did you? In addition to the ones mentioned above, Sunhats and Wellie Boots offers a tutorial for their version of an Olympic torch craft. And the ribbon wands will make anyone feel like a rhythmic gymnast or, at the very least, an enthusiastic celebrant.
You can also make these cute and clever DIY Olympic gold medals using clay, courtesy of Cindy Hopper from Alphamom.
And, for those who want to get in touch with their inner ancient Greek, this is a fun laurel crown and toga project from Creekside Learning.