PARENTING CLASSES SHOULD BE MANDATORY – by ELLIN CURLEY

To get a driver’s license, you have to take a course and pass two tests, one written and one practical. To be a teacher, you need a master’s degree and years of specialized training, academic and on-the-job. To do the hardest, most important job on the planet — parenting — there are no requirements. None. Zip. No required preparation of any kind. No training. No test. You’re on your own. The first time I ever held a baby, I was six months pregnant with my first child.

I spent this past weekend with family in a house with a young mom, Jennifer, her eight-year-old daughter Jayda, and her two-year-old son Jase. I saw firsthand the tremendous advantage of training for parenthood. Jennifer had been a grade school teacher, trained in early childhood behavior and education. She is now a principal in an elementary school.

She was the best parent I’ve ever seen. She had mad skills!

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Jennifer had clearly studied child development and the best ways to handle young kids. She stayed mellow whatever was going on, so she was able to use her knowledge. In nearly three days, I never saw her lose her temper — or even her cool.

She was amazingly consistent with both children. Consistency is critical and was something I could never achieve. Every time Jase did something he wasn’t supposed to, like throwing something, he got a matter of fact, short time out. No drama, no anger. When told he needed a time out, he said “Yes, Mama” and went quietly.

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Jennifer knew how to distract and redirect a hyper-active and sometimes antsy toddler. Jase never reached the point of meltdown and neither did anyone else. He went down for naps and to bed without fuss because Mom was gentle but firm. She made it clear that there was no negotiation possible.

She also managed to spend time with Jayda. She got the two kids to interact peacefully. There was no sibling rivalry or fights for Mom’s attention. Peace reigned for more than 48 straight hours with only a few short bouts of toddler tears. In defense of all other mothers reading this, this child was an angel with a wonderful, happy disposition. He also had other relatives around to help entertain him.

But I could see in Jennifer’s actions textbook child-rearing techniques I’d read about. I believe those techniques and knowledge let Jennifer feel confident and in control. This, in turn, allowed her to stay calm and handle situations rationally and intelligently. She spread the calm to her kids. It was awesome. Humbling to watch.

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I was a good parent but I had an ideal in my head to which I was never able to attain. Jennifer embodied that ideal. I’m sure she has the innate temperament to be a wonderful mother. But I’m also sure she was helped by the practical tools her training gave her. They made it possible for her to reach the goal of most parents: to be the best parent we can be.

We can all use all the help we can get!

BEFORE THE STREETLIGHTS COME ON

When I was growing up … and even when my son was growing up in the 1970s, kids went out to play. Alone. Unsupervised. Unstructured. Disorganized with not a single adult to keep an eye on us. We built “forts” and “clubhouses” out of crates and old boxes and anything we could find that mom wouldn’t miss. We played stickball with old, pink Spalding balls that were often long bast bouncing or even being “round.” You didn’t go and buy a “stickball set.” You found an old broomstick and someone had a ball, or what used to be a ball, or you all chipped in and bought one in the local (!) toy store.

Remember toy stores? Not “Toys R’ Us.” Local shops where you could buy a ball or a bat or a Ginny doll for anything from a few cents to a few dollars and take it home to play. The shopkeepers were always grumpy old guys (probably a lot younger than we are now), but they had a gleam in their eye. If you don’t like kids, you don’t run a toy store.

We ran around a lot. Tag was one of the basics. Even dogs play tag. “Catch me if you can,” you shouted and off you went. If you got tagged, you were O-U-T. But if you could run fast enough, you could grab whatever was “home” and one shouted “Home free all!” and everyone was back in the game.

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There was Hide and Seek, another classic. Someone hid, everyone hunted. You had to be careful. If you hid too well, your friends might get bored looking for you and go do something else. But no one’s mother came to complain that you were being bullied. This was stuff you dealt with because there will always be bullies. Unless you were in real danger, it was better (then and now) to cope on your own. Much better than waiting for rescue. In the real world, rescue is rare, but bullying is not.

Jump rope. There was always an old piece of laundry line somewhere. They actually call it skipping rope in other parts of the country. In the cities, the Black girls played a variation called “double Dutch” using two ropes. We all knew how to do the double Dutch ropes turning, but none of us ever mastered the technique of actually jumping. More like an intricate dance — and I also wasn’t ever much of a dancer.

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Klutz that I was and am, I was barely competent on a single line, much less two. I remain in awe of how incredibly graceful, athletic, and coördinated those girls were … and are. There was a feature about them on the news a couple of weeks ago and I am no less awestruck now than I was more than 60 years ago.

Along with jumping rope came chanting. All those weird little ditties we sang as we jumped. They mostly were alphabetic and involved names and places.

“I call my girlfriend … in …” when we were playing in a group. You could gauge your popularity by when and who “called you in” to jump in tandem. Looking back, I think the problem was not unpopularity, but being a washout as an athlete. I was a slow runner, an indifferent jumper, and a terrified tree climber. On the other hand, when it came to derring-do, I was a champ. I could organize games of pretend –pirates and cowboys and outlaws and cat burglars. We burgled, but we never stole. We weren’t thieves, just little girls trying to prove we could do it.

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I don’t see kids playing outdoors these days. Almost never, except as organized groups with one or more adults supervising. Calling the plays with whistles and shouts. Children are not allowed to “go out and play” anymore. Everyone is afraid of something. Bullying, kidnappers, traffic, skinned knees. Unlike we kids who were always covered with scabs from a thousand times falling down on the sidewalk or street. Come home with a bloody knee today and they’ll call an ambulance. Growing up, unless you appeared to have broken something, a bath was the remedy of choice and usually, beneath the dirt, was an unbroken kid.

It makes me wistful, thinking about it. I had a horrible home life, but I could escape by going out to play. “Bye, Ma, I’m going out to play,” and off you went. It was the best part of being a child. Those months between school and school contained what seemed unlimited hours of freedom. That was the most free I would ever be in this life.

Once you were out of the house and too far away to hear your mother calling, you could do whatever you liked. You could be whoever you imagined. There was nothing you had to do, no place you needed to be. Until the streetlights came on.

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You had to be home when the streetlights came on. It was a fundamental law, the bottom line. Do what you will, but be home when the streetlights come on. In those warm summers of childhood, the days flowed in an endless stream.

Darkness fell late. There was  more than enough time.

THE LAP – Judy Dykstra-Brown

Version 2

 

THE LAP

Mothers with children in your lap,
snuggled safely for their nap,
or joggers slowing down their laps
so their sons can fill the gaps
and catch up to take their father’s hands,
consider parents in other lands
as well as children of your own.
Consider what seeds might be sown.

Those who assign Hillary
to whipping post and pillory
bring charges that are spurious
which is especially curious
when the other candidate
who spreads these messages of hate
has led a life luxurious,
exploitative and usurious.

When he claims to be for the masses,
how can we be such senseless asses
to vote for this self-serving fool––
misogynistic, crude and cruel?
How can you listen and not see
how dangerous this man could be?
His fake statistics, groundless rap
spewed from his seat in luxury’s lap?

Please with the election nearing,
consider what you should be fearing.
I hope that every dad and mom
pictures his finger on the bomb.
Do you want this master of derision
making that supreme decision?
This man who overlooks the facts,
and simply rushes out and acts—

could act to end the world for good
and thereby end your parenthood.

Version 2

Source: The Lap |lifelessons – blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

GLASS

When I was in the fifth grade, I had a little problem with schoolwork. Since I was one of those kids that never had problems with schoolwork, an investigative team was formed on my behalf. My mother, my teacher, the principal, and the school librarian were all brought into the huddle to figure out what my problem might be.

My totally dysfunctional family life was never discussed. No one ever discussed any child’s dysfunctional family life. There’s was an unspoken yet unbreakable agreement that whatever horrors occurred at home had nothing to do with school. Besides, whatever was wrong with my home life had never affected my schoolwork in the past, so … why now?

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Eventually, when the brain trust could not come up with an answer, they thought maybe they might ask me a few quick questions.

“Is the work too difficult?” they asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said.

“Is anyone in class bothering you?”

“Not more than usual,” I replied.

Many questions and answers later, someone asked me where in the room I sat.

“In the back,” I said. I liked being alone. “But I can’t see the blackboard.”

It was an “aha” moment which forever changed my life. I needed eyeglasses. I have been wearing eyeglasses ever since. Glass. Glasses. Eyeglasses. Spectacles. The first thing I reach for in the morning — unless the phone is ringing. The last thing I (carefully) put away at night.

Glasses. Glass. The difference between being able to see the edges of things … and a world that appears as an impressionist painting.

DAILY POST | GLASS

BUT THAT WAS LONG AGO

An awful lot of people seem endlessly fascinated by childhood, especially their own childhood. Maybe it was such a wonderful time that they will forever regret leaving it. Maybe it was their best of times. For them, the grown-up world has never been able to compete. Maybe, with the passing years, even if childhood wasn’t all that great, it has achieved a retrospective perfection that was not present during the original experience.

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Regardless, it wasn’t the best of times for me. I was glad to get out of it alive. I have never had any interest in revisiting it. At this point, thanks to the passage of time, much of it is a fuzzy around the edges. The earliest memories are just plain fuzzy all the way from beginning to end.

Everyone had a childhood. I think by the time you’re entitled to pensions and senior services, it’s time to move away from the delights of childhood and find something wonderful in the grown up world.

Childhood. It’s where we all come from, but not where we are going. Most of life is spent in some period of adulthood. I prefer it. I also prefer the adult me!

MIRROR, MIRROR – ELLIN CURLEY

A lot has been written about dieting and body image. What interests me is how we develop our body image in childhood and how this image haunts us through life.

Here’s an innocuous example. I am short. Very short. I am less than 5’1” tall. So it would be reasonable to assume that “short” would be part of my innate body image. But it’s not. I am constantly surprised when I stand next to normal sized people and realize how much bigger they are than I am. I believe this is because I grew early and stopped growing early.

So, in my formative years, I was one of the taller kids in the class. When you lined up by size, I was near the back of the line in first grade next to a girl named Liz who grew to be about 5’8” tall. I barely noticed as the years went by and everyone else continued to grow and I didn’t. It didn’t hit me until one day in sixth grade that I was at the front of the line next to my peanut-sized friend, Cathy.

How did that happen? As a result, I have never thought of myself as small. I am still confused when people comment on how tiny I am.

My mother illustrates the more pernicious effects of childhood perceptions. She was adorable as a child but had a thick, black uni-brow. Insensitive parents and family members referred to her as “the ugly one”. At the age of 13, she blossomed into a true beauty. This is not just an adoring daughter talking. My mother was scheduled to go to Hollywood in the 1940’s for a screen test until she got a severe case of Rheumatic fever that permanently damaged her heart. No matter how many people in her adult life told her how beautiful she was, her image of herself was always as the ugly duckling. She always felt totally inadequate physically.

Photo: thefrontporch.org

Photo: thefrontporch.org

When I was growing up, my insecure mom overemphasized the importance of looks to me. This made me very self-conscious about my appearance. She often told me that she didn’t understand how women who were not thin and beautiful ever got husbands. It’s no wonder that it was only in my 50’s that I felt confident to go out of the house without makeup on – ever! Even to the supermarket. I always wore makeup at home, alone with my husband, until recently with husband number two. It is liberating to be able to finally feel acceptable without cosmetic enhancement.

I believe that the self-image that is imprinted on us early in life stays with us forever. Extended therapy can improve the situation and strengthen the ego. But I think that it’s crucial for parents to make sure that their kids leave home with a positive body image. Too much emphasis is placed on physical appearance early on. So too many children, including me, grow up thinking that being beautiful is synonymous with being accepted, valued and loved.

We all need to feel comfortable in our own skin, whether we’re good looking in a conventional way or not; whether we’re skinny or “big-boned” or whether we are male or female. Neither of my children have serious body issues but I’m not sure if that is because of me or in spite of me. For me, I wish I could “do-over” my childhood and deemphasize the physical. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much of my life as obsessed with looking “good” all the time.

NOTE: Ellin is “in the air” today coming back from Los Angeles. I will be fielding comments in her stead. She says she’s sorry, but they don’t give you WiFi in the air. I can vouch for that. We were in dead space while we were coming back from Arizona. It’s one of many “cost cutting” features that makes air travel so much fun these days.

COLD MEMORY

I grew up in a very old, cold house.

It was first built in the mid 1800s as a four-room bungalow with a crawl space attic. At some point, owners raised the roof and built a small apartment under the eaves. One little bedroom, a miniature living room, tiny kitchen, and a bath. In front, there was a balcony just big enough for a single adult to stand and look down at the countryside.

This would eventually morph into our upstairs bedrooms. Two “kids” rooms so small the drawers were recessed into the walls to make room for beds, plus a slightly bigger space for my parents.

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The lower main floor expanded in all directions. From the original four modest rooms, it became seven. Each room was added to a different side of the house without regard for architecture or logic. It was a classic of “country” design based on utility alone. Eventually, the dining room had no windows and the large “salon” had but one small opening that faced north.

The downstairs was dark as night all the time. And chilly.

Two stairways twisted around each other, but there were eighteen doorways. You could get lost in the twisting hallways of that house. Some hallways ended at a blank wall. Perhaps they had gone somewhere … once upon a time.

My parents loved it. From the day we moved in, they began a series of renovation projects that would never be completed. I can’t remember when it wasn’t being remodeled. I still have a horror of home renovation projects.

One year, a slow-moving contractor left us without a wall in the dining room through a long, freezing New York winter. We wore overcoats from November till April when finally, the walls for the new room were added.

With all this renovating going on, you’d think they’d have put in a modern heating system at some point, but they didn’t. They kept the converted coal burner that probably was original to the house. The radiators were surely antiques, ornate, cast-iron relics from the turn of the century — possibly earlier.

That old furnace was barely able to heat to the first floor. The second story was effectively unheated.

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I was cold in that house most of the time. I developed a love-hate relationship with bathing. I loved being in a tub of hot water. It was the only time I was entirely warm. Getting in or out of the tub was terrible. The bathroom was frigid and I was a tiny, skinny kid. The kind of kid that is always being urged to eat.

Even today, I have trouble convincing myself to get wet in anything but the warmest weather. I have a knee-jerk reaction that getting wet equals chilled-to-the-bone. Until I develop some momentum, it’s a battle.

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It’s odd how old, nearly forgotten memories live on in our bodies. Physical memory is sometimes more powerful that more normal mental images. Some of my physical memories elude my conscious brain completely. I react, but I have only a dim, shadowy memory fragment of why. A lot of things I can’t remember are probably best left on the trash pile of personal history.

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One thing has come back to me.

I had a cold childhood. Cold at night, cold by day. Cold relationships with cold people. It shaped me in all kinds of odd ways that still linger as I trudge forward into my “golden” years.