We don’t know what we appreciate more: the news coming out of Britain that Prime Minister David Cameron accidentally left his 8-year-old daughter at a pub, or the overwhelmingly sympathetic reaction from parents to this all-too-close-to-home oops.
There was the risk, of course, that the story of Cameron and his wife, Samantha, forgetting elementary school-aged Nancy (each one thought the girl was with the other), would result in a wave of tsk-tsking; a chance to revel again in how some other parents – even the PM and wife! – just don’t add up.
(As in: Sure, I might be looking at my iPhone too much during the day, but at least I haven’t left Baby M in a bar. Yet.)
But no, the news of what some UK publications have dubbed Cameron’s “Home Alone moment,” has unleashed a wave of stories from other parents who have left their kids at malls, at work, outside the grocery store, even at a fishmonger.
“I am worried about how I will explain my purchases to my wife,” Tim Dowling wrote in The Guardian, explaining this last scenario. “I am specifically wondering how to answer the question: ‘Why did you buy two-dozen goose barnacles?’ I can't say, ‘Because I wanted the man to think I knew what they were.’
To my surprise this is not the first question my wife asks me when I show up at the playground. The first question she asks is: ‘Where is the baby?’ For a brief second I have no idea what she's talking about. What baby? Then I drop my barnacles and run, as fast as I can, all the way back to the fish shop.”
We love these stories. Not because we’re advocating leaving the kids at the rest stop, mind you. But because the overwhelmingly non-snarky reaction reflects some of the loving truths of parenthood:
We love our kids. Truly, deeply, passionately, beyond what we ever imagined before we had them. We can also totally goof. Especially when the kids outnumber us. Even if we’re the Prime Minister of Britain. (Who has three.)
And when we mess up without causing much lasting damage – well, it could be a lot worse.
As Katie O’Donovan, from the website Mumsnet, told The Telegraph of London: “Whether you are Prime Minister, a teacher or stay at home mum, being a parent is really busy and can be really chaotic.
“We all have stressful times with our kids when we lose them or forget about them temporarily, it’s one of those things that happen to the best of us.”
As for 8-year-old Nancy: Reports say she was just fine, and was helping out the pub staff when the panicked Camerons returned looking for her.
My husband once said to me that it doesn’t make sense for him to buy me a gift for Mother’s Day. Why? I’m not his mother. I got the message. He’s not my Dad. So on Father’s Day, I don’t buy him anything, either.
I don’t ignore Father’s Day, but follow this philosophy: A gift for Father’s Day should in spirit, at least, come from the child. Together, a Mom and even a very young child can produce something meaningful for a Dad. Call us boring, but my son and I have been giving my husband the same gift for Father’s Day since 2009. Each year, we make a stepping stone using cement mix and primarily my son’s feet.
We started this tradition when Simon was 18 months old. The first time, a pre-teen, who was a mother’s helper, assisted. She held Simon as I pressed his feet into the cement, then I washed off his feet. I put Simon’s name and the year in it and created a butterfly and blue sky with pieces of stained glass.
In 2010, when Simon was 2 1/2, I added a mosaic turtle and sky. This time, though, Simon was old enough to help press in the mosaic pieces. He also could follow instructions to stand in the cement on his own.
Last year, at 3 1/2, Simon took more ownership of the project. He pressed marbles he picked in assorted spots around his footprints in the stone. He helped me stamp his name and the year into the stone. He, with gusto and giggles, likes standing in the cement and counting to 10 as I make sure every one of his toes shows up.
This year, Simon is the main designer. He told me what he wants on the stone besides his feet. I won’t say because I don’t want to give away the surprise. My husband has said he would be happy with this same gift for years to come. It has turned out to be a gift for the family. We look at the stones each year and see how much Simon is growing. Each stone, too, shows his growing independence as I contribute less and less to the design. As his feet grow bigger, only his footprints may be there at some point. And, as he reaches adolescence, he may ask to abandon this tradition in favor of something else.
If Simon wants to spend his own money to buy his Dad a gift, that’s fine. But for now, I prefer our approach to spending hundreds of dollars or more on a gift that comes more from me than my son. For the very first Father’s Day gift, I took Simon to a paint-your-pottery place. I held him as the store assistant put paint on his feet and pressed the feet against a pot for a plant. Simon was just five months old. He giggled because the paint tickled his toes. That year, we also gave his Dad a balloon, which Simon quickly adopted as his.
Two of the stepping stones sit by our front step because they need sealant. One of them cracked last year. The third stone – made that first year – is amazingly the hardiest. It sits in front of the herb garden that my husband, with help from Simon, plants each year.
The best way to celebrate a Dad seems obvious to me: Let the child play a role in some way. A 4 year old can’t really go buy Dad a grill or even a tie. Some mothers may eschew crafty gifts. Try cooking something together or don’t try hard at all. The best gift, of course, is often the simplest: Spending the day together.
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. Linda Wertheimer blogs at Jewish Muse.
The final season of the hit reality show "Teen Mom" begins tomorrow. This means viewers who appreciate a good train wreck can watch the full unraveling of star Amber Portwood, who was ordered last week to serve a five-year prison sentence on drug charges.
Ms. Portwood, who would have been able to avoid incarceration if she had completed a rehab program, told Good Morning America that she had been so depressed that she tried to commit suicide, and that she decided going prison would be the best thing she could do for herself. This despite the fact that she (of course, since this is why she’s “famous” in the first place) has a little daughter.
Now we get to watch the whole downward spiral leading to this mental state. Gee, sounds like great entertainment.
I know we’ve written about this before, but does anyone else out there find this a bit uncomfortable? Or just downright sad and depressing?
Last week we wrote about how the horrified glee directed toward the Bad Mommies of reality television seems like a social release valve for the stressed-out, anxious style of American parenting that's so common today.
But today I was wondering whether there could be any other purpose served by these tragic examples, perhaps something more positive.
As it turns out, there may be. According to a survey that came out last month by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the MTV shows in which Portwood has appeared – “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” – have, for the most part, convinced other teens that pregnancy and parenting are really, really hard.
Within the survey, 77 percent of teens said that the shows helped them “better understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenting.” That’s probably a good thing, a reinforcement to the overall decline in US teen pregnancy rates. (Earlier this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a record low birth rate for girls aged 15 to 19, at 34.3 per 1,000. These 2010 figures reflected a 9 percent drop from 2009 among teens 18-19 years old, and a 12 percent drop for 15 to 17-year-olds.)
Of course, the survey’s remaining 23 percent say Portwood et al make “pregnancy and parenthood look easy.” And adults are more skeptical about the shows’ cautionary messaging; 48 percent of adults thought the shows made pregnancy and parenthood look easy. (In fairness, though, there was not an option to say that the show didn’t impact one’s perspective at all.)
For the majority of teens, then, maybe Portwood is encouraging good choices.
OK, a bit of a stretch, but we’ll still take it.
Even with the "Teen Mom" influence, though, (whatever it may be) parents are not off the hook. In that same National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy survey, 38 percent of teens said that parents have the most influence on their decisions about sex, compared to 9 percent who said “the media” had the most influence. The second highest influential group was “friends,” at 22 percent.
Nothing in a recent survey by the national youth sports franchise i9 Sports that asked kids about their youth sports experiences surprised me in the least:
– Eighty-four percent said they have, at some point, either quit or wanted to quit a team.
– More than a third have witnessed a verbal argument between adults at their games.
– A third wished adults didn’t watch their games because the adults put too much pressure on them or make them nervous.
A decade ago, while researching a story on youth sports for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, I watched as a group of middle-aged men literally bid for the services of 12-year-old boys to play on their Little League teams, using points allocated by the local league.
Because points could be hoarded for future seasons, some were holding back waiting to build their dynasties. This “draft” was an annual ritual virtually unknown to the larger community and it took place in a poker game like atmosphere.
These men were already competing with each other, before the season even began. And once the male competitive ego enters the youth sports equation you have a recipe for disaster in which the needs of the children become subservient to the needs of the adults.
Bob Bigelow, a former first round NBA draft pick who played four NBA seasons, has been on a mission for two decades to give the games back to the kids. In speeches around the country he tells his mostly male audiences that their competitive egos mean nothing to the process and if they aren’t smiling at least 90 percent of the time they ought to resign.
Mr. Bigelow decries youth sports systems that seek to stratify young athletes at a very young age in the never-ending search for “talent.”
He wants to abolish all-star teams, travel teams and “elite” teams for kids and he wants adults to understand that all their brilliant coaching is usually well over the heads of the kids.
Developmentally, younger children don’t yet have the mental processing skills that allow them to understand position play in games like soccer and basketball where you have many players and a ball in constant motion. This is why 22 six-year-olds in a soccer game will all congregate near the ball.
And if you don’t understand that, you’re only going to be frustrated, and that’s likely to lead to some unhealthy interactions with the children.
Above all, Bigelow wants the kids to have fun by their definition, not the adults’.
Shortly after my youth sports story appeared in print, I attended a league meeting in the town where I’d watched the “auction” for young players. Routinely, there were always a couple of kids deemed at tryouts not to be Major League material (Majors being the Little League level where most 12 year-olds play).
Those few who didn’t make it were usually crushed that they’d no longer be able to play with their peers and lost interest altogether.
Why not allow all 12-year-olds to play in Majors? I asked.
Incredibly, one long-time coach had an answer: Because, he said, it would dilute “the product” on the field.
When middle-aged men with general manager fantasies talk about the “product” when they’re coaching 12 year-olds you know you have a problem.
The days when kids organized their own games on the sandlot are long gone for the most part. Now adults in thousands of communities across the country spend untold hours organizing games for kids, and insinuating themselves into every aspect of the youth sports experience. Most are well-intentioned to be sure, but if you ask me what’s wrong with youth sports today, the simple answer would be this: adults.
This week, a farm dog in the west African country of Ghana is being praised as a hero hound after saving the life of an abandoned two-week-old baby. Madam Rosemary Azure, a regional director of health in Ghana, told the Ghana News Agency that the dog apparently found the baby under a bridge in the northern part of the country near the regional capital of Bolgatana. Rather than abandon (or eat) the vulnerable tot, the dog curled up next to him for the night, refusing to leave his side.
A search party (looking for the dog) found the duo the next morning. The dog's owner had become worried that the pooch hadn't returned home, and had gotten a group together to look for the pup through through the nearby woods and fields. They spotted the dog under the bridge, and then saw that a baby was nuzzling into its fur.
Authorities say they have taken custody of the child and are investigating how he got under the bridge in the first place.
There have been a few such doggy heroes in Africa.
Perhaps most famous is the Kenyan stray now known as Mkombozi, who was foraging for food in 2005 when she found an abandoned infant girl in a plastic bag. Mkombozi (which means “liberator” in Swahili) carried the baby back to her own litter of puppies – across busy roads, through a barbed wire fence and into one of the impoverished neighborhoods of Nairobi.
The dog became a national hero after residents heard the baby’s cries and found Mkombozi protecting her. People still talk about the Mkombozi. When I was reporting in Kenya earlier this year at least a half dozen people asked whether I had heard of her.
We wonder what honors are in store for the Ghana pup.
As for the baby – he’s apparently doing OK after his night with the pooch. That’s one sure dog person in the making.
Thank you, Mister Rogers.
Thank you still, long after I’ve learned how to tie my shoes, decades since I confirmed that yes, in fact, I would like to be your neighbor.
Because there I was, at the computer early this morning, ready to read through my normal batch of celebrity mom news, reality star bad behavior, body image complaints, political spatting, blah blah blah, and instead I saw this video.
It’s called “Garden of Your Mind,” and it’s a remix of scenes from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood by Symphony of Science’s John Boswel. The haunting (and really quite catching) mash-up is part of an effort by PBS Digital Studios to revitalize some of its old school icons into new age stars.
The late Fred Rogers, PBS says, was an obvious starting point. His Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 to 2001, was one of the station’s most iconic shows.
"When we discovered video mash-up artist John D. Boswell, aka melodysheep, on YouTube, we immediately wanted to work together," says the description on the video on PBS Digital Studios' YouTube channel. "Turns out that he is a huge 'Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood' fan, and was thrilled at the chance to pay tribute to one of our heroes. Both PBS and the Fred Rogers Company hope you like John’s celebration of Fred Rogers’ message."
That message, if you don’t remember, is beautiful. It is about learning, and openness toward the world, and the belief that other people, even when they’re different – especially when they’re different – have much to teach us.
In many ways, the PBS video, which has started to go viral, feels like a manifesto. (A gentle, kind, Mr. Rogers-style manifesto.) It seems like a plea not just for a different sort of childhood, but for a different society; a message from the spirit of Mr. Rogers that we need to step back from what often feels like angry, divided and overly commercialized culture and refocus on creativity and human connection and loving your neighbors.
And on thinking.
“Did you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind?” Rogers asks, autotuned, over a funky beat. “You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.”
He goes on.
“It’s good to be curious, about many things. you can think about things and make believe and all you have to do is think – and they grow.”
Thinking, curiosity, make believe. What wonderful things to ponder this morning.
Check out the video, and have a snappy day.
Dear Free-Range Kids: My two-year old daughter face-planted while running on a sidewalk yesterday late afternoon. Now she’s got a scrape on her forehead and a “Groucho Marx”-looking mustache/skinned upper lip. We checked that her teeth and nose were fine, and she stopped crying before we got home.
Look: She fell while running. It’s no worse than having a skinned knee, just in a bit more obvious place. We put ice and Neosporin on it, and she was back to herself by dinner time. Since when do we rush off to the ER for every scrape, bruise, and cut? It’s no wonder that medical insurance is skyrocketing if we rush off frantically to the hospital every time a child falls down. And, why react with a gasp and “Oh my gosh!” to seeing a child with a scrape and a scab on her face? It’s teaching her that something terrible happened to her, when it was really just a fall.
Seems to me we are instilling a culture of fear by reacting with such grandiosity to such a normal accident. Beyond that, I can’t tell you how many moms have told me that “because she’s a girl, you really should put [insert numerous product names] on it to minimize the scarring.” I just don’t think that I am (literally) scarring my child by keeping my reaction to a sane minimum. – Jen.
Dear Jen: I’ve wondered myself why I’m at the pediatrician’s office so much more than my mom was with me.
I think it’s all part of ”worst-first” thinking. We are encouraged to consider how every incident or sniffle COULD turn into the worst possible thing, and how terrible would we feel if we hadn’t addressed it with all guns blazing. ”Wait and see” has become “Wait and see how you feel when your child doesn’t recover and it’s all your fault!”
No wonder it’s so hard to resist the impulse to make a big fuss, or at the very least, spend a lot of time and money. – L.
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. Lenore Skenazy blogs at Free-Range Kids.
So, I’ve been thinking about one of our news items from earlier this week, and just can’t shake the feeling that the glass slipper doesn’t quite fit.
Once the new regulations are in effect, food and beverage products will have to meet nutritional guidelines for serving size, calories, and fat and sugar content. Which means no more cartoon characters peddling sugary cereal or mass-processed cookies in the middle of Saturday morning kids programming.
This is, clearly, an important step. Not just because Disney is getting rid of junk-food marketing, but because of the implicit acknowledgement within its move that that the way companies advertise to children does impact their health.
(Mrs. Obama made reference to this herself at the press conference, saying that “for years, people told us that no matter what we did to get our kids to eat well and exercise, we would never solve our childhood obesity crisis until companies changed the way that they sell food to our children.”)
But there’s another big part of Disney’s new program that is getting a lot less attention – and to me feels a wee bit disturbing.
On Tuesday, Disney introduced what it is calling the “Mickey Check,” which it described as a Mickey Mouse icon “tool” that “calls out nutritious food and menu items sold in stores, online and at restaurant food venues at its U.S. Parks and Resorts.” It may be coming to a store near you, soon, too, appearing on what Disney described as “licensed food products.”
That’s right. Disney is working to brand health. And apples.
Smart business move. Disney is already deep in the produce business, reportedly selling billions of Disney-branded servings of fresh fruit and vegetables. But now it’s moving in on healthy eating overall, equating its brand with “good for you.”
And sure, some parents might find this helpful. “Look, toddler, of course you want the apple slices. Mickey says so!”
But it just seems to me to be ... I don’t know. Problematic? Aren’t little kids bombarded with enough advertising messages? Does healthy eating – such a huge public health issue given childhood obesity rates, and one that goes to the intimate heart of families – need to be connected to the whole host of Disney (or any other company’s) consumer products?
I called up Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, to get his thoughts. (And to see whether I was just stuck in the tower on this one.)
“We think teaching kids to eat based on characters is counter productive,” he said, although he wanted me to make clear that he believed Disney’s overall announcement was positive, in large part because it shows that junk-food marketing has become stigmatized.
Golin said that it's important for children to learn about healthy eating by understanding what’s good for them; not by mindlessly following a brand.
Besides, he said, using beloved cartoon characters to target children is manipulative. Developmentally, he said, children have real love for the characters they know from stories.
“I think it’s wrong to take a child’s love for the character and leverage that love to get them to buy something. Even if it’s a product we think is ‘good.’ If children don’t understand the process of what’s happening to them – if they don’t understand the way their own love is being commodified and leveraged – that’s wrong. It’s manipulative.”
Besides, he said, if eating choices are taught to be brand-based, what’s to keep kids from going after another brand that’s used for less healthy foods?
The Mickey Check is not surprising, of course. As Iger acknowledged earlier this week, Disney’s move might be socially beneficial, but it’s also good business. And for those of us with kids, it means yet another area where we are going to have to worry about marketing.
A 3.5-carat diamond ring and an Australian fiancé sound like a fairytale marriage, but teen pop star Miley Cyrus's engagement raises questions about the idealized dream she's modeling for the average teenager. In other words: Can teen marriages last?
Ms. Cyrus, 19, best known for her role as Disney channel’s “Hannah Montana,” recently got engaged to Liam Hemsworth, who she has dated since she was 16 and he was 19. Hemsworth, 22, is one of the three young stars of “The Hunger Games.”
People Magazine broke the news of the engagement Wednesday morning, which the Associated Press later confirmed. Cyrus told People, “I'm so happy to be engaged and look forward to a life of happiness with Liam.”
However, marriage statistics show that a lifetime of happiness hasn't worked out as well for other teens who marry.
According to a report on first marriages by the National Survey for Family Growth, women and men who get married in their teen years (before 20) have a lower probability of their first marriage reaching its 20th anniversary than those who wait until they are older. The study, released in March, looks at the trends and data in the timing of first marriages and their outcomes based on data from 2006 to 2010. The median age for first marriage in the US is 25.8 for women and 28.3 for men.
Though there are several demographic factors that impact first marriage longevity – education level, cohabitation and timing for babies – the consensus is that those who marry after age 25, statistically speaking, have a higher probability of staying married longer.
Cyrus needs only look to her famous peers to realize that young marriage in Hollywood has some well-known failures that have become public spectacles. A few examples: Britney Spears who married Kevin Federline at 22, Ashlee Simpson who married Pete Wentz at 23, Reese Witherspoon who married Ryan Phillippe at 23, Kate Hudson who married Chris Robinson at 21, and Drew Barrymore who married Jeremy Thomas at 19.
The report says that marriage “is one of the primary events during the transition to adulthood.” Growing up as a famous teen, Cyrus has struggled with public perception about her transition from teen role model to mature (and also rebellious) adult. In a recent interview on Amanda de Cadenet’s Lifetime show “The Conversation,” Cyrus admitted that the media spotlight has influenced her own self-image about how to be successful in Hollywood, evidenced by her increasingly sexualized outfits and open conversations about sex.
Cyrus and Hemsworth met in 2009 while filming their movie “The Last Song,” based on the Nicholas Sparks novel. The movie made its cable television premiere on Sunday as part of a Nicholas Sparks marathon including “A Walk to Remember” and “The Notebook.”
Sparks’ novels (and their movie adaptations) showcase highly romanticized notions of love and relationships. Sure his characters deal with relationship and personal “problems,” and despite some depressing storylines, he does not portray marriage in a way that conveys the day-to-day realities of what it takes to make it work. But who would go to see that movie anyway?
Marriage and relationships in movies, especially those targeted for teen audiences, do little to teach impressionable teenagers about the maturity of adult relationships. Parents should be aware of the messages their kids receive from teen stars, both in real life and on the screen.
Parents these days enroll their children in lots of enriching summer camps and classes. Lucky kids. And other lucky kids just putter around their homes or yards pretending. "Let's pretend" were the words that commenced most of childhood play for generations. With rich imaginations children created exotic and fantastic worlds in which they were the main players.
Empty packing boxes became all kinds of little shops and vehicles. A line of chairs in the dining room became a bus or train. A bedspread thrown over a sawhorse became our tent on the Amazon. In our own attic was a box of fancy dresses, suits, hats and old jewelry. We became mom and dad or duke and duchess.
I have nothing against the kind of "enriched childhood" many parents are trying to create. I just don't want kids to miss the richness that comes from their own unique imaginations.
When I see the kindergarten children in a school where I'm the psychologist with baskets of dress-ups in their play area, I am grateful. This may be one of the few places where these developing minds get to exercise the capacity to imagine. Too often these days children's imaginations are hijacked by television or by toys that require a specific story line.
As children we often had as much fun making our toys as we did playing with them. When I wanted to play secretary, I spent an entire afternoon making a typewriter from a little black box and circles of paper that I carefully cut out, labeled with appropriate letters and glued on the box. When we wanted a swimming pool we spent a whole day digging a hole, placing a tarp and running water. All for about 30 minutes of splashing. Our mother had suggested the location of the "swimming pool" and a few days later a big lilac bush was planted there. (Guess mom had a little imagination too.)
Children still have these impulses and with a little unstructured time will organize an activity, create and pretend. My daughter was one of those children who absorbed all the tape and cardboard in the house into her creations. One year I gave her a shoebox filled with tape, scissors, cardboard etc. as a Christmas gift. She loved it, managed to use it all up in short order and continued to gather the tape from her parents' secret hiding places.
I became convinced that one of the ways we encourage imagination is by tolerating messes. Sometimes the imagination of my children resulted in chaos in the living room, where every stuffed animal and piece of doll equipment became part of some elaborate setting. I must confess that it was often tempting to just let them watch cartoons because it created less mess. On the other hand the mess created from too much media can be in their heads rather that on the living room floor. Much harder to clean up.
Some children are natural directors in pretend plays. "You be the princess, and you be the horse and you be the dad." My daughter was one of those directors, and to be allowed to play with her and her friends she would tell her little brother, "You be the monster". It's hard to know what impact her training had on him, but there were times when he played that role too well. Fortunately he escaped the type casting and is now the most wonderful grown son a mother could want.
Toys that have multiple uses and, even better, time in the great outdoors can spark the "pretend potential" in children. I hope every child gets to make mud pies at some point in their childhood. Even pretending with them can help. I'm certain that our now grown children became the creative cooks they are because of the hours we spent pretending to be restaurant patrons and ordering wildly exotic dishes.
One of the best friends of imagination is boredom. We have to let kids be bored every now and then and let them find inspiring materials around to create their own fun. In these critical times we need rich imaginations to solve our many problems and equally important to bring joy and laughter into the world. Even if it means more messes in the living room – it's a small price to pay.
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. Susan DeMersseman blogs at Raising kids, gardens and awareness.