Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Celebrating Women

By the end of Presidents’ Day weekend, or should I say weekend with no end, given the overlapping schedules my two kids had that amounted to more time off from school than we got for Thanksgiving, I had two thoughts.

First, thank you Honda for mixing up the traditional television commercial for a Presidents’ Day car sale. We may lament the commercialization of any holiday but this ad at least, anticipated our cynicism and surprised us.

And, thank you C-Span for announcing an entire year of programs honoring the president’s wives, running Mondays at 9pm.

It was this television homage to first ladies that made me realize that we can celebrate a holiday by whatever means we want in an effort to make it more inclusive.

I do not wish to diminish the significance of Abraham Lincoln or George Washington or any other president or person after whom a holiday is named. But at some point a mom is going to wonder: when do we celebrate a woman around here?

There is August 26, of course, which thanks to Bella Abzug, is Women’s Equality Day. But the organization Equal Visibility Everywhere (EVE) points out that there is not a single national holiday named after a woman here in the United States. When it comes to the visibility of women’s contributions their data sheet points out:

 --Number of statues of women in National Statuary Hall: 9 out of 100 (9%).

 --Number of stamps honoring women issued by the U.S. Postal Service from 2000 to 2009: 43 out of 206 (21%).

--Number of women depicted on U.S. paper currency: zero.

As for celebrations and parades, EVE produced an Amelia Earhart balloon in 2010 that was, they said, “ the first parade balloon ever to depict an actual historical woman.”

So, when we look at the names of streets, schools, parks, and national holidays, we may find that if they are named after a person, it is most likely that they honor a man.

I’m not asking for another day off of school. But I’d like to spend a few more days answering the question “who was (insert woman’s name here)”.

PS- A friend recently sent me a link to a PBS program broadcasting tonight (2/26) called MAKERS: Women Who Make America, which airs on PBS at 8pm.

This week on The Educated Mom, I ask a Math teacher to explain my daughter's homework to me....

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nights (And Days) of the Round Table

It was only after three out of four chairs had cracks down their centers that I suggested to my husband that we get a new kitchen table.

The table we had was from his grandmother, given to us when she moved west several years ago. We had driven it down from Connecticut in a U-Haul, carried it through a parking lot and up a flight of steps into our apartment.

Now it sat, a little worse for wear, in our kitchen, surrounded by a rotating mix of chairs, most, as I mentioned, dangerously close to bottoming out.

We decided to move the table to our basement where it would support art projects and not need seats. I don’t know if I’ve grown weaker over the years or if carrying it down steps is just harder than shoving it up some, but I stopped midway through the process and found a screwdriver for my husband.

 “Please,” I begged, “disassemble it.”

So, the old, but not antique, table went down in bits and the kitchen sat empty ready for something new. A few days later, men with dollies and actual furniture pads brought a pretty brown and white table and four chairs into the kitchen.

 All of these chairs work, I thought to myself. No longer would we need to test our parental selflessness—which of us should sit in the most broken of the chairs? The kids weigh less, after all, they probably won’t crash through them, but we, on the other hand…. 

No. Those thoughts were gone. And something else was different. The table was round, or with the wings, oval, but still a much different in shape and size than the rectangular one it replaced.

It was cozy, I discovered, sitting a few inches from my four year old. I could hear her crunch her Honey Nut Cheerio’s. When I cut veggies at the counter, my seven-year- old seemed closer to me while she did her homework. The girls talked more during dinner, better able to inspect and then argue over who had the larger slice of pizza.

The round table was, literally, bringing us closer together.

I’ve read more than once that round tables that are a size too small make for better dinner parties and a dinner party is not what I’d call meals with my kids. But the gist of the idea has held true for us: the physical proximity sparks a kind of connection. Things feel, even at 6am, a bit more festive.

The puppy tries to chew the legs of the chairs, and my four year old recently spilled apple juice down the crevices of the table’s wooden planks, christening it with sticky sweetness. I've given up on enforcing my rule for “no coloring” at the table but coloring on the table is still a no-no.

If I’d had known that having a round table would be such a boon, I’d have broken those chairs a long time ago.

This week on The Educated Mom, we look back on some summers that helped us grow up. Add your story, too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Parent Cliques: Not So Sweet

Maybe it’s because Valentine’s Day is approaching that the talk now turns to relationships. It was last week that I read a post from Great Schools on Parent Cliques. It moved many readers and they followed it up with a recent post offering advice on how to deal with the problem.

As parents, we've probably all felt the cool shoulder in a school environment from time to time. A common comparison is that the situation reminds people of “high school” or “junior high” all over again. In some ways, maybe it does. And the initial Great Schools article portrayed two very real consequences of these adult cliques.

First, they can deter individuals from contributing time and energy to the school. Second, feelings of rejection, or acts of exclusion, hurt not only a parent, but also his or her kids and intensifies what is already a tough phase for young people.

I wanted to know what it was like for my husband’s grandmother, a 92-year-old-woman who raised three kids and who, even now, seems to be the epitome of graciousness and enthusiasm. I imagined her being a part of a PTA and including every new parent or lost-looking soul into a discussion, remembering someone's name the next time they met.

It was 1960 the last time she went to a PTA meeting. She’d had her third child several years after the other two, and she said she was a 46-year-old mother sitting in a room of mostly 25-year-olds.

“I never made any friends there,” she said recently.

I asked her daughter, who’d inherited what I think of as an ability to make friends quickly. No parent cliques to contend with either, she said. She was working 80-hour weeks. There were few events parents were expected to attend or plan, and when she did go to her son’s private school in Connecticut, the other parents were in a rush to make the commute home.

Then I asked another woman whom I respect. She is now a grandmother, but spent her younger days as the daughter of an Army General moving from place to place. Did her mother give her any tips for making friends when she was a young mom? Not really, she said. As a freelance writer, she developed her own style:

“Cliques are just too hard for me. I prefer to develop my own friends in organic fashion and I tend to be a gatherer rather than one who shuts things off. When I worked at the ballpark, I had a tight group of friends, but was constantly inviting others to join us for dinner in the press box dining room. I think it bothered some of my closer friends, but I remember what it felt like to be on the outside and I never want to give off that vibe.”

I approached this topic thinking it was not only universal but something parents have been concerned about for generations. I am not so sure. Maybe it’s the nature of the independent women I asked. Maybe the current environment of academic competition, or perfectionism, has spurred stronger and consequently less inclusive alliances among parents that act, or are perceived, as ways to control success.

Even if that were the case, given the opportunities of our current world, the person you may least expect to go on to great things may be sitting in your kid’s classroom. It seems to behoove everyone, and every motive, to be nice to that child's parents.

This week on the Educated Mom I take a look at MOOC's, Massively Open On-line Courses, and how they may or may not fit into the concept of a $300,000 college education.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Wonderful Wizard....

A few months ago we got a movie from Netflix, an animated one my husband picked out for the kids as a sort of treat for the weekend. I pulled out the disc and read the synopsis.

"Oh," I thought, "this will induce nightmares for at least a few years."

I popped the disc back in the sleeve and thought about how to assert my veto-power as if it were somehow not unilateral. A few minutes later I got an email from CommonSense Media.

“Watch Out!” the headline read, “Family Movies That Could Traumatize Your Kids.”

The movie my husband picked was number four on the list. I forwarded the email to him and sealed the red envelope.

But cold weather makes hypocrites of us all, and it was not long ago that I showed my kids The Wizard of Oz. It was not on the list from CommonSense Media, but would it scare them? It still scares me.

I must have been eight years old the night I hauled our black and white television into the hallway upstairs so I could watch The Wizard of Oz and be a bit closer to my parents who were listening to their new Simon and Garfunkel album (Concert in Central Park) downstairs.

“I will watch the scary parts with you,” I told my girls. “And remember, the witch is just an actor. She’s just pretending.” I had almost convinced myself, too.

I had forgotten the beginning was in “sepia black and white” and the other parts in Technicolor. Who knew? This was good stuff. On our fancy TV, Oz looked so real and so fake in a certain beautiful kind of way that I wanted to reach out and touch it.

Even before the flying monkeys, my seven–year-old announced she would not watch the rest. She’d save her scary-movie-watching for Harry Potter.

But my four year old was hooked. She was fascinated with the Wicked Witch of the West. And she now listens to the music around the house. She skips to the tune of “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead.” She colors to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and she tries to remember the lyrics to the variations of “If I Only had a Brain.”

The one mistake I made was letting her watch the Veggie Tales version of The Wonderful Wizard of Ha’s before the real thing. “Where is the field of asparagus?” she still asks.

And there’s another thing that I sometimes regret. We can now stream the movie anytime. It is increasingly difficult to offer surprise, excitement and joy, when the things we love are constantly on demand. Getting to see the movie once a year, even if it was on a grainy television the size of a lunch box, was part of what made it special. And it was also one of the reasons I thought of it as special.

The New York Times recently had a story about the Netflix original series "House of Cards". Thirteen episodes have been released all at once for "binge-viewing." It's taking a lot of will power for me to watch them one night at a time.

This week at The Educated Mom, I ask a teacher, parent and clinical child psychologist to explain how the IQ Test relates to education.