Tag Archive | kids

A Boy Named Ian

When my daughter was in the 5th grade, I received one of the “dreaded” calls from the office notifying me that she had done something horrific enough to earn a referral to the office. Now normally Sarah’s referrals to the office at this age were “M & M phone calls” which students enjoyed and Sarah normally racked up week after week.   Students would receive these positive referrals for things like going out of their way to help another student or teacher, taking initiative in class, getting caught being polite (holding doors for others, etc.) and the like.

However, on this dark day, she was sitting in the office for a more sinister reason: standing up for herself. I know, right?  How dare she!? Well. You guys know me well. You can imagine my response.  But I’m jumping ahead. Let me tell you what prompted the referral.

In my daughter’s elementary school, the students would leave their main classroom to attend Art (or Music) and then return to the main classroom again. In a state of flux, the class would stand out in the hall in a line for a long period of minutes (who knows why, though I think it was simply to test the students to see just how long they could stand still and whoever thought that was a good idea was a complete idiot).  Well, during this period of flux one day, Sarah and her friend were being harassed by a boy named Ian. Great name. Not so great a boy. He kept knocking their books and folders out of their hands and hitting them each in turn with a pencil. Now I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been cracked on my knuckles and my hands with items and it hurts like hell. Not to mention the annoyance of having to pick up your things one too many times to the amusement of the bully harassing you.

Well, I imagine for my daughter and her friend this little game of Ian’s got old and quick. Now my daughter’s friend, being more soft-spoken than my daughter, didn’t voice her dismay over the treatment. My daughter on the other hand had no qualms about speaking up. And she gave fair warning to Ian to stop or face the consequences. Ian, being brave or stupid, pressed his luck one last time and that was…as they say…all she wrote. My daughter snatched the pencil and stabbed him in the leg with it. Oh, not enough to even break the skin (so poking would be more accurate, but stab is what they put on the referral, so stab it was), but it was enough to startle him and make him cry and therefore embarrass him in front of his friends and the other kids.  And, since this big, strapping boy (much larger than my daughter) was embarrassed, by a girl no less, he told on her.

So. A referral was given, to both of them actually. I was a little surprised to tell you the truth. I figured it would just be Sarah since the boy claimed innocence (which he continued to do in the office) and Sarah readily admitted what she had done. And since our school system makes complete sense, they sent them both together, unsupervised, down the hall to the office which was on the other side of the building. What could go wrong there, right? They made it alive, another surprise.  I was told later, that on the long trek to the office Ian informed my daughter he no longer liked her (lo and behold the real reason for the harassment!), and that she hadn’t hurt him, he only wanted her to get into trouble for it.  To which she informed him, “Yeah, I guess that’s why you were crying then.”  My girl.

My response? Certainly not one the office staff was happy to hear. But it was the same one it has always been and always will be for my children. If someone touches you, you defend yourself. Period.

The ironic thing about it all?  Upon return to the classroom, Sarah was named Student of the Month and received a prize.  My girl.

advice for daughters

What’s in a Name?

Okay, so I just came across yet another parenting article.  No issue in the child-rearing world seems to go untouched…every little thing apparently needs to be hashed out, which really makes me think I should get a gig writing for one these publications, because I could seriously give out some good advice.

But I digress.

The writer of this particular article takes issue with the fact that her kids’ friends call her by her first name.  In fact, her “biggest pet peeve” is any child calling any adult by their first name, which she apparently takes as a sign of grave disrespect.

She gets her point across in a joking manner, but makes her point just the same (which I can truly appreciate). What I found funny though is she doesn’t like the idea of being called Ms. or Mrs. either.  So what exactly is a child supposed to call her?  The author is unsure.  She just knows it shouldn’t be her first name only. A modern quandary indeed.

Personally I never had this problem when my children were very young. I didn’t have a name then, you see. I was simply Jacob’s mom and Sarah’s mom for the longest time.  As in, “Hey Jacob’s Mom, can Jacob come out and play?” Or “Hi Sarah’s Mom, can she go to the park with us today?”

When I eventually earned a name for myself, I requested they call me “Ms. Wendy.”  It was my choice, not theirs. I mean, kids won’t know what to call you unless you tell them, right?  One of my son’s friends (who has been around since forever) still calls me “Jacob’s Mom,” and does so with quite a bit of mutual humor and nostalgia. Would I ever consider him disrespectful?  Heck no!  The boy is a hoot.  Hearing “Hi Jacob’s Mom!” coming from a strapping 24-year-old as he yells across a crowded room without a care in the world is always comical to behold, and interesting to explain.

My view is, if you want to be called Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. insert first or last name here, then simply tell the child that so they know. Don’t leave them to their own devices or their own choices in the matter if you care that much about what you’re called. But don’t expect them to respect you simply because of what you choose to name yourself.  Respect isn’t a “given” based solely on a title.

Beyond the whole name dilemma, which each parent has to figure out for themselves (hopefully before the kids get to college), I did find one thing about the article that was disconcerting, in a sort of a red-faced, wow, okay, that sounds like me, kind of a way.

She did it to be humorous I’m sure (although probably serious too) but the author wrote out a detailed list of the reasons why she will never ever be friends with her children’s friends and therefore, why they can’t be on a first name basis.

The list consists of things that adults – that is to say, peers – wouldn’t or rather, shouldn’t, do, you see. And, I have to admit that I failed her list by half. That’s right. Half. So. No new friendship on the horizon for me. But that’s okay. I’m sure we’ll both survive.

When you think about it though, following Southern custom (calling on my family heritage here), the author would have to call me Ms. Wendy cause I’m older than her. (Okay, so I’m guessing here at her age, but it’s a good guess –her children must be young given the topic of the article and she knows who the hell The Tings Tings are and I suppose LIKES them since she knows the lyrics to their songs – all of which points to her being way younger than me.) BUT since I failed her test, I’d end up having to call her Ms. So and So or whatever it is she decides she wants to be called…this name game, it’s all so very confusing!

click for article

click for article

My Son (or Paul Bunyan Redux)

A carnival gypsy once told me that the love of my life would be tall, dark and handsome.  Somehow she failed to mention he would arrive on the waves of excruciating labor pains.  Now, 23 years later to the day, my son can legally buy alcohol, towers over me, and resembles Paul Bunyan.    He’s out on his own and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Still, whenever we talk, I oftentimes offer unsolicited advice.  No, really, I do.   Other mothers do this too, right?  Right??  Well of course Jake’s response is usually one borne of frustration because, according to him, I’ve not kept up with his birthdays all these years and therefore don’t know just how old he is.  My response is one he will never understand until he has kids of his own – he’s always my baby regardless of how old he may be.  Or how tall.  Or how thick a beard he decides to grow (I mean really, you do own a razor after all Jake!).

And many times during these mutually frustrating conversations, a mental picture of him will pop into my head.  Like when he and I went outside to play in the yard like maniacs during a freak midnight snowstorm when he was 4.  Or when he was a very convincing snowman in a school play at the age of 5.  Or as a 6 year old on a trip to Luray Caverns….which is actually a pretty cute story and one that I go to often in my mental rolodex of memories because it never ceases to make me smile.

We used to make the trek to Luray Caverns every year, sort of a family tradition.  These trips were always a great time.  For those not familiar with the area, near Luray is another set of caverns touted as “The Endless Caverns.”  To me, that sounds sort of horrible. The idea that you could possibly get lost and never find your way out of the dark, stone tunnels, eventually succumbing to starvation with your body going undiscovered for maybe centuries didn’t fill me with a great amount of intrigue.  Sort of like an “always erupting volcano” or “constantly snowing tundra.”  Okay fine, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic….but hey, it could happen.

Well, on this particular trip when we passed one of the billboards emblazoned with “Endless Caverns” Jake asked just what “endless” meant.  Remember, he’s only 6 at the time so he was still trying to figure out the intricacies of the English language which can be tough on anyone.  Being the vocabulary nut I am, I was thrilled to explain to him “Well, Jake, endless means that something doesn’t have an end…. never-ending.”

This is where I have to take a small sidebar and let you know that my husband’s running compliment for me at that time was “hot.”  It could also be interpreted as a running joke.  And having the goofy mentality that my husband did he was always coming up with a “you’re so hot…” comment.   As in “You’re so hot you make lava look cool.”  I know, I know….but what can you do?  I married him anyway.  Not sure what that says about me, all things considering.

So, back to the story….as the meaning of “endless” registered with Jake, he perked up and said, “Oh, so it’s like you. You’re hotless.  Never-ending hot.”   Why yes, Jake.  That’s exactly what it means.

To this day I hold that small, innocent remark in my heart as one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.  Not because it’s true and certainly not because Jake fully understood “hot” as it related to women,  but because it came straight from his beautiful, ever loving six year old heart as meaning something special.  Jake will never understand that when I look at him, I still see that wide-eyed, precocious boy who stole my heart the day he was born.   I don’t think that will ever change.  And quite frankly, I hope it never does.

Although seriously…. a razor wouldn’t hurt now and then.

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jake pier

jake and shaylee

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The Lost Art of Low-Tech Entertainment

When most people think of amusement parks, they think of Disney World (Florida) and Disneyland (California).  They think of rides – roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, bumper cars – and maybe even water parks.

As a matter of fact, I think today it’s pretty difficult to find any amusement park that doesn’t have high-speed rides or virtual reality booths as an integral part of its attractions.  What they offer to kids is speed and high-tech fun…an adrenaline rush…and that’s it. I don’t think many of them actually stimulate a kid’s creative thought processes…not like The Enchanted Forest did.

What is The Enchanted Forest, you ask? (If you need to ask, you clearly haven’t seen the John Waters film Cry-Baby, starring Johnny Depp!)

The Enchanted Forest was a nursery-themed amusement park located in Howard County, Maryland. A blast from my past. It opened in 1955 – a month after Disneyland opened – and delighted children and adults for 34 years, until it closed in 1989. It was re-opened briefly in 1994, in another location, but closed again for good in 1995. It’s finally got a new life now on a farm, in 2015….well…kind of.  The Gingerbread Man who refused to be dessert, a somewhat fierce dragon, Snow White and her dwarf buddies, Old Mother Hubbard, Alice in Wonderland along with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, The Crooked Man with his equally crooked house, and just about all of the other various icons of the park have been moved and restored once again, this time just for nostalgia’s sake I believe. Only a few structures were lost to age and vandalism, worn beyond repair: Cinderella’s Castle and the Gingerbread House of Hansel and Gretel fame. Not too bad I suppose, all things considered.

What was great about The Enchanted Forest – what was unique about it – was that it was just a low-key park, based around characters from books and fairy tales. Yeah, that’s right. Books. *Gasp!* Oh no!

Oh, there were a few rides – but they weren’t truly mechanical rides, not like what you’d see at Six Flags or Wild World or even Dutch Wonderland. There was a tea-cup ride along with a tugboat and swan ride in a pond – those were pretty much the exciting draws as far as rides were concerned – and believe it or not, they were.  “Exciting draws,” I mean.  People loved the place. Kids and adults alike. People came from miles around to visit.

I certainly loved it, even though I have to admit the start of my fear of water came from The Enchanted Forest. There was a “wild safari” jeep-pulled trolley ride that was supposed to simulate the jungle with elephants, gorillas, a hippo (all fake of course)…well, it also had an alligator lurking just below the surface of a deep marshy water area, and that alligator used to scare me to death. It certainly wasn’t high-end on the animatronics scale or anything like that – but, still…whew! Captain Hook’s tick-tocking crocodile had nothing on this one!  However, to give credit where credit is due, it was really my seeing the movie Jaws at an impressionable age that really sealed the deal on that little phobia.

I tell you what though, before I posted this entry, I found a video on YouTube that someone had posted of their home movies of The Enchanted Forest from a trip in 1975 and it even had a clip from the “safari” ride – I showed that video to my daughter and she agreed with me, that alligator is freakin’ scary! Of course, she may have just been eagerly going along me ’cause she’s sweet like that, but I’m serious.  That thing is scary.  It is.

But I digress.

Here, let me share with you a few paragraphs from a site dedicated to the history on The Enchanted Forest.

Howard Adler, a local designer … [built] imaginative creations of papier-mache, cement and fiberglass [that] would give the Enchanted Forest its whimsical, enduring appeal.

The sturdy brick house of the Three Little Pigs, for example, was decorated with a wolf skin rug on the floor… The house of the Three Bears not only had three bowls of porridge and three beds, it also had three chimneys a pipe-shaped chimney for Papa Bear, a purse-shaped chimney for Mama and a bottle-shaped chimney for Baby Bear.

The eight-acre Enchanted Forest, with figures and storybook settings nestled among woods, a stream and a small pond, was deliberately low-key compared with Disneyland in California….

“There are no mechanical rides in the park,” [owner] Howard E. Harrison Jr. told the Baltimore News-Post in an article that ran on the Enchanted Forest’s opening day, Aug. 15, 1955. “Instead, we hope that the children will enjoy the make-believe figures that are before their eyes. I say children, but actually, we think that many grown-ups will enjoy seeing the famous old figures that they knew when they were children.”

Do kids these days even read the old fairy tales? I think they get started with their smart phones and tablets at an extremely young age, not to mention watching TV, and all they ever see are the glossy characters of Disney, or shows like Spongebob Squarepants and things of that ilk. Stories are spoon fed to them these days through high-tech graphics and cartoons and on-screen games rather than through the pages of a book, and when they go anywhere, they expect their entertainment to be spoon fed to them as well. It’s a fast paced world, especially for kids, with no time for imagination.

Whereas, with The Enchanted Forest, all they had going for them was their knowledge from nursery rhymes and fairy tales and their imaginations. Lots and lots of imagination.

I remember The Enchanted Forest with so much fondness, not the least of which because my mother used to take my brother and I there and we’d spend the day – so those are good times I remember with my mother, as well as all the things we would see and do.  For anyone who wants to see pictures (not mine), there is a gallery here.

My favorite parts were these little houses you could go into – they were like life-sized dioramas – showing scenes from various nursery rhymes and fairy tales like Snow White, the Gingerbread Man, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel. My mom’s personal favorite was the teacup ride.

gingerbread house

teacup ride

safari ride

The Enchanted Forest was great because everything was truly interactive – and by that I mean you walked, ran, played, climbed…there was no waiting in line for an hour for a two-minute ride or sitting in a chair  oblivious to the world around them while playing with a virtual reality system. Kid’s today are “inter” – while we were truly “active”!

I lament the “lost art” of low-tech entertainment. We simply don’t have these kinds of places any more – places where kids have to use their own imaginations to conjure up fun instead of having it, as I said before, basically spoon fed to them.

Yeah, it’s great that we’ve progressed the way we have with technology. Don’t get me wrong – I think a lot of good has come from technology.  It has encouraged tremendous vision and has given us so much (speaking on strictly an entertainment level: 3-D movies, virtual reality games, amazing interactive rides, 3-D printers, etc.), but our children have lost so much in return — the ability to play or enjoy things just by using their own imaginations.

Not to mention the wholesomeness of nursery-rhyme stories (okay, well, once you clean up the original Grimm stories) and books like Alice in Wonderland, instead of the glitzy, overly grown-up, in-your-face, kids’ characters that are pushed on young children today. I know, I know, it’s not surprising that I go back to books.  But come on, anything that’s oriented around books cannot be a bad thing.

Books and imagination.  It’s a combo we need to nurture more in kids today.

Us vs Them

Browsing through Huffington Post a little while ago I ran across an interesting article written by a wife and mother with an interesting stance on the two roles she has assumed in her family life. The title of the article “Why My Husband Will Always Come Before My Kids” spelled it out pretty clearly.

Oh, I have to read this, I thought. Being a mother myself and having spent over half of my life in the position of “wife,” I was aching to see where this article went. Predictably, it did not disappoint and left me quite shocked by the end. Long story short (if you can’t open up the link above and read it for yourself), husband is numero uno in her life. Kids: second-tier citizens. Let me pull some key quotes that help illustrate this provocative stance even better:

“I love my kids and would do anything for them. But I love my husband more.” This seems quite contradictory to me. Let’s go ahead and play this out. Say a burglar creeps into the house one night. The heist goes south and the burglar puts her in a Sophie’s Choice situation. He (or she…burglars can certainly be women — I’m all pro-gender equality over here) holds both her husband and her kids at gunpoint and tells her to choose who lives and who dies. Based on the quote above, she would pick her husband. She would save him rather than go with her human instinct to do what she could to make sure her genes made it to future generations. The goal of life is to proliferate. From a purely scientific standpoint her stance sounds vaguely anti-Darwinian.

“If we can only afford to take one vacation a year, we take it alone…” I’m all about having a “date night” with your significant other. A romantic night at an Italian restaurant drinking wine with your beloved and remembering that life doesn’t have to be about the kids 110% percent of the time can be great for maintaining sanity. But squirreling away a little vacation nest egg for months or even years just to leave your kids on the porch while you jet away to the Florida Keys, Catalina, or wherever, for a week of indulgence is pushing it.

The author wants her behavior to be an example to her kids of a healthy relationship between caretakers so that they know how to “form bonds when they get older,” but what about the bonds being formed when they’re still young? When I was growing up, family vacations were an integral bonding moment for us and they’ve given me some of the best memories of my life. Those trips certainly make for some of the best stories ever told around my parents’ holiday dinner table.

As a parent myself, I can’t imagine not sharing such moments with my kids. If I had a chance to take a one of a kind trip, I’d want to share that experience with my children. But then again, I’m not drawing a line in the sand like the author of the article seems to be doing.

As one commenter to the article put it: “I don’t think it’s an either or situation.” To this I agree. The entire article has a generalized air of confusion about it (in my mind) because I don’t understand why a competition or some sort of a familial hierarchy has to exist.

To me, it doesn’t have to be so black and white. She’s creating an “us” vs. “them” mentality which seems unnecessary. Everyone – wife, husband, son, daughter – can all live in harmony, on the same plane of love without relegating certain individuals to the lower classes. Sure compromise will need to be exercised on a daily basis, but that’s a part of the entire process.

I agree with her that marriage is work and you must do what you can to keep it alive, romantic, and intimate. I think this is what the author was trying to get at but it came out in a much more cold way than intended. At least I truly hope this is what her message was supposed to be.

If she doesn’t understand that once you have children they become priorities, then she is not the type of mother I would want raising any children. Love your partner, yes. Take measures to keep that flame alive, sure. But don’t place them on a pedestal without reason. Narcissism has no place in a family.