Why Math Is Important, Or Look Out For That Tree!

Yes. I am a certain age that requires reading glasses not only to read, but to pluck coarse black evil looking hairs from my chin. Yes it is true that my daily need for calculus may be slightly diminished like a favorite picture collecting dust on your mantle. I don’t remember higher math, but I do remember being one of the nerdier girls who look great pleasure in figuring out a proof, a derivative, remembering all the small pieces hiding the the elegance of a singular   equation.

I think it was the infinite rightness of the answers that drove my patience and let me hover over problems for hours. Yes, I like to write. Yes writing was a perfectly decorated cupcakes while math was checking the basement furnace, cluncky, darker, harder to talk about, harder to share. But I liked them both. For me, one inspired a group of answers from my soul (english) and the other demanded just a difficult discipline of my mind. That there was something soothing in a room where proofs worked, doing something correctly mattered, a right answer was always just slow ardent moments away. Doing math problems was the closest I ever was to being in a sorority, which would have been called the Patient Curious Sorority of Fairly Ugly Footwear, but I loved being in it that way I loved chocolate, sprinkles a sunset and all the other things that make the world seem magic.

So imagine my surprise when I gave birth to a math phobic son. As a mother, as a friend, wife, any close contact, we want to share our love for the mysteries of the world.He was an articulate kid. His first “word” was an order to pull off the road and give him a bottle which he had been patiently waiting during the miles we were driving in a new town trying to get our bearings.

So one day in sixth grade, this same orator of orators, AP bolstered humanities, presented to me a well thought out bullet proof example why long math was a redundant waste of his time. “If I know how to divide the first four times, and add and subtract, what if I make a stupid error at the end? The whole problem is wrong.

I listened. I wish I could tell you I was amazed at the reason and eloquence of his arguments. But my silence wasn’t colored with the rosy sheen of pride, it was a messy sticky loop of spider webs that I couldn’t get off my fingers.

Math not interesting? Math not important? Half of a math problem was good enough? I was silent which they took as success. but….

No.

No.

No.

We were in my van. He had an audience. Two younger brothers looking up through my rear view mirror with the delightful knowledge that I had been bested. Looking at the oldest as if he was superman and now they wouldn’t suffer the mean time soaking elements of math. They were already changing schedules to play more gun games and other video games.

But silence does always not confirm consent.

I drove off the road and stopped the car. Three unblemished foreheads puckered with concern. This was unusual even more me. There wasn’t a sound except the cars rushing past us.
“Well…” said the oldest, only slightly rattled that he had missed something in his perfect argument….

“Well,” I said in my neutral of tones, You just ran into a  tree. Math teaches forced attentiveness. Hidden math problems exist throughout our life. Patience, correctness, little steps matter…. I could go on.

And like anything, it’s not the answer but how you got it. How hard are you working? Can you overcome your fear?

Math is one of the few things even a helicoper mother can’t do, unless she does the homework. We do live in a world that is sometimes unfair (10 digit problems), and difficult,

but if we spend the time and avoid the trees, we get to our goals not only safely but better for our effort.

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Would Scooby Doo Make a Good Parent? Do Kids Need Detectives? Yes and No

Today I am starting this blog with the sincerest hope that you are having a good day.

Wow!  Intentionality is powerful! I started my New Year with the intention of being as sincerely positive as I can.

But that requires making an effort. Happiness is sometimes a turtle walking slowly toward us and sometimes a wave crashing over us so fast we almost miss the emotion. But either way, the problem is that if we wait for the turtle or the wave, happiness may come but not as fast as if we herald it.

So what does this have to do with kids? Everything. It is my observation that as our children become older, we forget to really “watch” them. We are so relieved to not change diapers, wake up at two am, or stop the car because our newly potty trained kid needs to go to the bathroom, again.

Sometimes I feel this exodus from parenting teenagers so strongly that I half expect Moses to appear to help the fleeing parents part a body of water for their faster escape.

And that’s a shame because beginnings of autonomy is not independence, and as much as they resemble adults they are not. Teens still need parents but what happens frequently in this transitional period is that the only communication between kids and their parents is filled with conflict.

Parent laments: “They don’t talk.” “They don’t want to be with us.” “I don’t understand them.”

And it’s true, most adolescents have not learned the life long skill of excellent communication, and most of them have NO ability to facilitate relationships with non teens. And they shouldn’t. Adults are the teachers and parents in their world. So sadly, much of what I observe is that the only communication that happens between teens and their parents is when something needs to be corrected, when a parent is disappointed, when an infraction has happened. We don’t mean it, but we have become people no one would voluntarily talk to.

And that’s where intentions and Scooby come in. Parents HAVE to pay attention to their teens, even though it’s frustrating, many times unrewarding, and confusing. We have to monitor their safety, discuss morality, and hopefully guide them to being their best selves.

Which is a long way to say that we have to have the intention of catching them at some good stuff in between the yuck. I’m not talking about achievements, I’m talking about a moment when they smiled instead of putting their bothersome brother in the microwave. A turtle moment, something that could be missed because it’s expected, and didn’t need correction.

Surprise yourself. Pay attention and quietly tell your kids that you’re proud that they did their homework last night, or that you are really relieved that they drive to school safely everyday.

You’ll be surprised. You both will. And this isn’t just something we can do for our children, we can do it for each other. Being nice is as much environmental as it is genetic. It just requires choice.

Thank you for reading my blog, I am touched that you take important minutes out of your day to share my thoughts and hopes for our children. I think you are amazing.

Courage? What Does That Look Like For A Parent

Over the holidays we watched Lord of the Rings. The movie itself is beyond the scope of my blog, but it did get me thinking about courage.After all, if a Hobbit can save the Middle Earth, can we courageous enough to be parents?

I would have answered this question so differently when my children were newborns. Back when my baby was the cutest thing on earth, the most clever child to pick up a Cheerio, when I cooed and swooned over their every smile, even though some of them were invariably due to gas or pooping, I would have had such a different answer than I do now. I’m not sure I had any inkling how much courage parenting took, and I’m not even talking about the real heroes who raise children with disabilities and sicknesses, I’m talking about the average Joe.

Which kind of brings me back to the point. I was kind of thinking that the most courageous thing I could do as a parent would be to prepare my child to be extraordinarily loved, but to know that he/she would probably turn out average. Average. The word seems to be an anathema in todays world of “select teams,” and honors classes. But if we are really honest with ourselves, aren’t we all mostly average. Sure we have quirky things that distinguish us, but at the end of the day, don’t we all mostly just want to be loved and have someone to love? Are all those shiny trophies and medals really as important as being nice, honest and ernest?

I don’t think so. But it takes tremendous courage to judge your kid, not on his outcome, but his effort, compassion, interest.

Can you imagine a world where getting an A was less important than being a good person? How many more things could we notice if we weren’t hoping for A’s and staring roles in plays? If kids felt supported for being their best self do you think there’d be as many school shootings?

I don’t think we are all equal. Average is not equal. We all excel somewhere but I have to say, at the end of the day, if we honestly summed and averaged our components, we would probably fall closer to our neighbor than further away.

But it takes tremendous courage to walk that line. To support your child and to want them to work hard, but to care more about the process of what they are doing, how they choose it, what they feel about it, than it does to put up an A paper on the refrigerator.

I’m sick of refrigerators. They’re cold and those papers always blow away anyway. I’m not always courageous, I fall into the seduction of success as readily as the next person, but I’m trying. I put those magnets in the drawer and started looking at what my kids are doing instead of how well they were doing it and these are some of the things I found.

They are good. They are nice. They make mistakes. They correct them if they can. They are funny. They have interesting opinions. And none of this means they will go to Harvard. But it doesn’t matter, because I am allowing them to just be people, their own average self, and all the while I will love them extraordinarily.

Trash? Who Needs That?

Maybe it’s because I still can’t get to my door with the aftermath of the holiday mess, but all this clutter has inspired me to reflect on how much TRASH we expose our kids to, either passively or actively.

I am not a saint. I’m not even practicing medicine anymore. But I do know somethings. I know that between the newspapers, news, TV shows (majority) and sorry, but Facebook and much of social media, we have maybe turned our children into hoarders of trash.

Think about it. Kids are drawn to gross, vapid, sarcastic. I don’t know why. Maybe seeing a dead carnivore and not freaking out helped them to survive all those years ago. Maybe there is something subliminally pleasing in taping keyboards or pressing your thumbs against buttons. I don’t know why it’s true, but I know that the grosser it is the more likely my kids (okay, I have boys, but if we substitute gross for sexually explicit and call that trash, then girls are right up there too) love trash in all forms. And then there’s the overwhelming insatiability of keeping up with all their “Friends,” which is something they can do literally 24/7.

Novel by James Joyce sitting next to an iPad with Netflicks? No contest. Computer sitting anywhere in the house? No contest. Computer games where some characters do unmentionable things? If my teenagers were sheep they would flock to a myriad of entertainment that I’m pretty sure most “adults” would consider trash, vacuous, fluff, time wasting, you pick the result is the same.

What’s a parent to do?

Be aware and at least discuss what your kids are watching. We have become so jaded and we are almost numb. Breasts, fornication between minors, fortification between minors who are in other relationships, killing, drugs, lying, bullying? I can’t imagine a product/show or entity that is targeted to teenagers that doesn’t rely on these products.

I know that some parents believe that their precious toothless toddler who they have been speaking a second language to since they were in utero don’t believe these things will interest their children, and maybe they will be a home that doesn’t have TV, and edits choice for their children, but I’m not one of those.

I believe the world is wonderful, but there is an awful lot of trash. And I believe that one of my roles as a parent is to teach my kids how to find the beauty through the trash. Think about it, if you only read depressing books without any moral goodness, what are you feeding your soul? I believe that our soul’s are hungry for goodness. I believe that teenagers, who have such impressionable souls, need some examples of goodness in their life to validate, support, encourage the good messages we are trying to teach them as young adults. Mix your own media, bring them to plays, musical performances, museums. There is soooooo much out there that they can’t choose because they are unaware it exists! You don’t have to “like” something to benefit from it! Goodness, the world hasn’t gone that far!

This is one of the ways we do it in my house. Since they usually don’t choose stuff that I can relate to, I take advantage of the books they are reading in school to discuss characters, goodness and evil. If there is a political fiasco (and when isn’t there) we try to discuss choices, where it went wrong and I listen to how they feel about it and then share my own opinions. I try to catch them being nice and then I revisit that moment quietly and tell them how proud I am of what they have done. I point out sunsets and pretty trees and even though they roll their eyes, so far no one has covered their ears.

And yes, we make them give us access to their social media sites to monitor that sexting, inappropriate “funny” remarks aren’t posted etc… I must admit we don’t do this frequently, because like Pavlov a random check is more effective than a weekly/daily expected viewing. Kids do not understand the danger of social media. That is a fact and it doesn’t matter what they tell you. Social media is their “friend,” and because of that suseptibility  I think adults need to be aware of what’s going in and out of their house. And yes, we try to keep things with a plug away from the bedrooms so that sleep is uninterrupted and homework can be done.

Yes, our world is full of trash, but each of us can pick up a little of it to uncover the beauty below.

No No? Is That A Good Thing?

This post will not be for everyone. There are parents out there who genuinely believe through their peacefully zen commitment to nonconflict, that they can actually raise their children cooperatively, no tears, no conflict, no…no.

It seems Scrougie to be yammering about this on the day after indulgent Christmas, but the article feel into my hands like St. Nick coming down a fireplace. It was the front article of the Personal Section of the WSJ. Disclaimer…I am more zen than Zena in my beliefs but I am an adamant, arduous believer that some things are wrong, and that children are not equals, not friends, no co parents and that there is merit in the word no.

Before I go on, since the WSJ was nice enough to dignify their first sentence with a reference to research and here I am with only an opinion, let me clarify why NO is so important. It’s not that I’m an egomaniac (I’m pretty timid and humble). It’s not that I enjoy pain, (I chose internal medicine which was essentially bloodless). And it’s not like I am humming with confidence, I don’t even squeak.

No. It’s not any of those things.

My love affair with No is based on this. Disciplining our kids isn’t what’s hard. Discipline has become a mulitmillion dollar industry where Nanny’s and Dr. Phil and the WSJ tell us how to parent children they’ve never met. Technique is not what’s missing.  What’s missing in today’s children is a lack of respect. That’s right. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

When a child respects his parents, understands that they are more knowledgable (at least when they are toddlers, I wouldn’t take up that argument with my teenagers), that parents are in control and set the tone of how things will be, then you could practically make up anything you want and call it discipline and it will work. I once had three very naught boys singing in the middle of a Target because I could not get them to stop being idiots. But the singing righted the field, because they knew their mom was someone who had to be listened to (eventually, singing wasn’t the first thing, but I had to break the cycle of not listening).

So if the WSJ really wanted to be helpful (unless you have gerbils, or rabbits or other pellet producing pets), what it really should be reporting about is HOW parents foster respect. Because you simply CAN NOT discipline a rock unless it respects you.

So here are some of my thoughts, not an expert, but I do have three teenagers that are respectful, kind and even when they are obnoxious, they maintain a certain dignity.

Fostering Respect Between Children And Parents…

1. You need to work at fostering respect 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not when you feel like it, not when your children are good, ALL THE TIME.

Once, my oldest intentionally hurt his middle brother with a tether ball. We were at a resort. In half a second, my husband who witnessed the entire thing, was breathing fire into my son’s mortified face. There was a scene. There was head turning. It was uncomfortable. I didn’t acknowledge I knew any of them. The whole thing took about 15 seconds because the offense was clear and the verbal correction was equally clear. Everyone forgot about it in minutes. Except one person. The guilty one. He learned that he could not get away with being intentionally mean even if we were at a resort. His father loved him and was not going to let him get away with bad behavior anywhere.

2. Respecting your kids often feels like removing duct tape from private areas.

True. Trying to model respect in a meaningful way isn’t for sissies. To earn the respect you want when you are upset with them, requires an occasional or not so occasional painful to hear rant from them about their feelings. And the key here is to listen, not to point out the 1000 ways they are wrong, or misunderstood you or whatever, the key is to hear them out. Nothing says mutual respect like someone who is listened too. What you do with the info up to you, but I can tell you that unless you have a prodigy, it’s pretty easy to keep ahead of them in reasoning skills until they’re  at least 15.

3. Manners. Manners are like discipline pixels. They are little micro chances to show that you respect each other. Yes of course you don’t need to thank me for opening this can of beans and heating and putting it on your plate, but I appreciate your thought and it gives me a chance to compliment how nice my child is being. We seem to be a nation that forgot manners and then wants to remember them when something big happens. That’s not how it works. Manners aren’t a mood ring kind of thing. There is no I’m feeling pink so I’ll get back to you on that Thank You. Manners help instill, foster, reinforce discipline.

4. Know your child. Know what they like, their interests, what they are reading, what they are listening to. NOT HOVER…just take interest. Especially with less than verbose teenagers make the effort. Making the effort shows you respect them as interesting individuals. Taking an interest in the PERSON who may need disciplining goes a long way. Your child knows you know them. They know you care. If you care, then discipline isn’t a WSJ thing that needs research, it’s just something between families who want their children to be responsible.

And I would never say NO to that! Happy New Year

There Should Be An Oprah For Teenage Relationships!

How do I even begin this one? Sexuality is so commonplace on TV, the internet, and the newspapers that I’m surprised anyone coughs up the money to for Playboy/Playgirl anymore. Who your son or daughter is sitting next to in HS is probably a lot closer to the centerfold than she/he is to adds for Metamucil in the back of the publication.

And we know our teenagers “parts” work. Some overtime. Who are these shapely, horny, hormone buzzing people and what can we realistically tell them about relationships?

I’m not an expert…not even close…but in my humble opinion here are things that I have said….I hope one or two are helpful to you.

1. Sex is fun. That’s why I don’t expect you to say “NO” when you are naked in a dark room. (Usually lots of coughing and looking a shoelaces here, so usually I pause and wait for their ability to swallow to come back to them. Then I continue. So don’t wait until you’re naked to say No. Sex is fun, but it’s more fun when it means something. When you are in a serious, respectful relationship. Then I remind them about all those nasty sexually transmitted disease stuff. Casual sex can lead to less than casual disease. Say no before you get to the house. You will never regret a no, but yes can lead to a life of sorrow.

2. Relationships should make you better. Make you nicer, more generous, kinder, happier, more of yourself. Use this litmus paper ALL the time, adults us too! If a relationship isn’t making you better, then it is making you worse. Period. No one needs help being worse. We need each other to call us to our best.

Lots of love and hope that this helps at all….hormones are incredibly powerful agents

What My Children Have Taught Me…

I am not done parenting, but I am moving further along on the parenting food chain. Past diapers, past play groups, and past picture books. I now have three boys in high school. These are the some of the things my children have taught me.

1. Parenthood is not ownership.

Sure, we feed them,clothe them and provide them with a safe and hopefully nurturing place to sleep, but we don’t own them. This isn’t as self evident as it sounds. At first they were so dependent on us, how could that not mean that their life’s goal would be to continue making us happy? It isn’t. Even from the beginning, when they woke us from sound sleep, when their diaper exploded over our best outfit, when a public tantrum made you think you would die, even then they were asserting their little spirits and warning us that parenthood is not about pleasure as much it is about the privilege of demonstrating what it is to be a family, what it is to love.

2. Because of number two, they won’t always agree with us.

And sometimes that hurts. But their role was never to please us as much as it was to define who they are. If we are lucky and they are thinking at all, we should celebrate their independence, they will need it to make it in this difficult and confusing world. Our feelings aren’t always that important if you gage it against the nurturing of a totally unique and independent person. Sometimes support and interest is what they need instead of a dogmatic, diatribe on what our thoughts are on a subject. They probably know anyway. Thus all the eye rolling.

3. We can’t fix everything.

That’s just true. This is tricky too. In the beginning we could fix it all. A fussy kid equaled a nap. Crying? How about some food? Not sharing? I’m all over that. But eventually they start to move out of our jurisdiction. They move into the big world that exists outside of your house. They try out for things, they run for school office, they get hurt or sick or disappointed. And there is nothing we can do but support them. Support, not fix. Listen to them, wipe up their tears, give a hug, let them know that we know they will survive. That lesson is golden. I wish I had known that earlier in my mothering career. All of us would have been a lot more relaxed about things.

4. They are spectacular.

They are. If we can stand back and allow them the space to become themselves we will be in awe. They are sweet, and kind, and surprising unique individuals.

5. Love.

I’m not sure there is anything that rivals of the love you feel for a child. Unconditional, unfailing, unrelenting love. It is independent of their actions, independent of their achievements, independent of everything except that they are yours. And that is why on even a bad day, I am happy. Because my heart has been opened in ways that I never could have imagined.