We Are Both Right

Getting Ready for Kindergarten

What's on your first day of school checklist? ©Sam LeVan/stock.xchng

Building a nest of toilet paper. Check.

Talking about stranger danger. Check.

The perfect backpack and lunch bag packed with crayons, sharpened pencils and a marble notebook. Check.

Colors, counting to 100, letter sounds. Check, check, and check.

Being convinced of the importance of wearing sneakers instead of “heel shoes” on the playground. Check (finally).

Giving up naps. Well, we’re almost there. Three weeks after her day care teachers started phasing out naps to prepare the children for kindergarten, most of them are making it through dinner before falling asleep for the night. She wasn’t for a while and I was getting really worried. (But that was totally karma coming back to bite me since I used to silently snicker when parents would whine: “How is my baby going to go a whole day without a nap when he starts kindergarten?”)

So, what else is left to do before kindergarten starts? I feel like we have been talking about it forever with our daughter who will have her fifth birthday a few weeks after the big day. That puts her a little on the young side, but I know she is more than ready.

She must also have some sort of mental checklist going. The other day she asked me — in tears no less — how she would ever figure out how to unwrap a sandwich.

Since she shares her brother’s repulsion for grey chicken nuggets, I only assumed that I would be making lunch for her to bring in every day. I just never thought about the puzzle that is aluminum foil. So I promised her we would practice. She stopped crying and has asked for a trial run every day since.

The other big deal is getting ready for the bus ride. She’s been crying about that for the last three years on her brother’s first day of school — because she wanted to get on the school bus with him. Now that it’s her turn to finally go, she’s nervous. Where do I sit? Who will I sit with? What if I don’t know where to get off? But mommy, I’m going to miss you. Cue tears.

Thankfully the school district does a trial run the week before school starts. She will have a bus ride with her class around the parking lot at school. It’s going to be fun, I promise her.

When the day finally arrives, I know she will do just fine. This is the beginning of many years of preparing and learning and growing. She’s ready. And I’m ready. Truthfully, I’m excited.

There’s a chance I won’t even cry as the bus pulls away — not that I won’t have a tissue stashed in my pocket just in case. But I look at this first day of kindergarten as a milestone in my life as a mother. My child is ready to fluff up those wings and I can’t wait to see her confidently fly through those doors, ready to take this leap.

How close are you to being ready? Is your little one excited about the first day of school? What else have you done to prepare?

Encylopedia Brown: More than a Mystery?

Cuddling up with my seven-year old, lights out and flashlight in hand, we readied ourselves to dive into his first-ever detective mystery novel. He was excited about the flashlight. I was excited about passing on the joy of reading books filled with adventure and intrigue.

The book I selected to deliver on such high expectations was Encyclopedia Brown. Earlier in the day, my husband and I had picked this book while browsing the shelves at the local B&N. He spotted the Encyclopedia Brown series and recalled liking them as a child. I remembered Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fondly. I had never heard of this series or character.

This being my first exposure to Encyclopedia Brown, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Luckily, it became apparent after the initial well-constructed and neatly wrapped-up chapter that facts are presented, clues are given, and the reader is left to use their own deductive reasoning skills to sort out the mystery. Helpful answers are provided at the end of the chapter to help the novice detective along.

Beginning with chapter 2, my son and I were ready to do some sleuthing of our own. We could solve these mysteries with a bit of research.  Who won the battle of Waterloo?  No problem.  Then, I glanced over at my son and realized he hadn’t a clue as to how to find the answers.

An image of my childhood collection of Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on the top shelf of my closet, quietly awaiting the next social studies report sprung immediately to mind.  What to do? We have no such printed reference materials in our household today. We have the internet. We have…WIKIPEDIA!

The rest of our reading time was spent discussing technology and its impact on information. I explained to my son that today information is stored, shared and updated constantly on the world wide web. It is no longer the static, outdated facts on a printed page that I had as a child.

Coincidentally, I recently read an announcement that Encyclopedia Britannica will stop printing books. Turns out that the 2010, 32-volume set will be the last of its kind as the company focuses on digital.  They are betting that consumers will see the value and pay for vetted, expert information vs. Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

So as new technology forces the old to adapt and compete, will Encyclopedia Brown be  renamed Wikipedia Brown? Which will resonate more with my son? What an unexpected twist to our evening. Thank you, Encyclopedia Brown!

tracey

Moms, Time to Have “The Talk” With Your Daughters — About Math

How do your kids feel about math? While both my kids do very well  in math at school, my son will tell you he loves it, while my daughter says that only does she not like it, she’s not good at it to boot. As it turns out, her lack of enthusiasm for the subject could totally be my fault.

A new study from researchers at the University of Delaware’s School of Education and reported in Miller-McCune finds that moms are less likely to talk to their daughters about numbers at a young age, potentially setting them up to have less confidence about them when they reach elementary school.

The research is fascinating, if not troubling. Scientists recorded mothers talking to their children who were between 20 and 27 months old. The moms mentioned numbers twice as much to their sons as their daughters. The number rose to three times as much when the number was attached to a noun — for example, “Here are five raisins.”

Alicia Chang, the lead researcher told Miller-McCune, “By grade school, boys are very confident at math, and girls are saying boys are better at math. The issue isn’t actual performance but perception of competence. We hypothesized that by the time you’re in grade school, you might like math because your mother was more likely to talk to you about it when you were very, very young.”

The researchers don’t think that the omission is conscious, simply parents talking to their children differently. Still, it’s something to be aware of.

What do you think? Does your daughter like math?

Are Kindles Really for Reading?

reading with child

E-readers might be the new thing, but books are still king in my home. What is your child reading from these days? ©Horton Group/stock.xchng

Times change. And so do a mom’s opinions.

While I may have been Mrs. Anti-technology, my-kid-isn’t-touching-a-PS2*-and-especially-not-at-the-dinner-table just a few months ago, my stance has kind of softened since then.

It’s true that my four-year-old daughter is the reason I finally downloaded Angry Birds to my smartphone (to keep her busy during her brother’s basketball games). But she alternates between that and a math app that guides her through addition and subtraction.  And yes, my nine-year-old did get a netbook for Christmas — from his grandparents. But at least now he can check his fantasy football scores without monopolizing my desktop all day Sunday. And Monday. And Thursday. (Wish I had a netbook.)

So I’ll admit, handing them a screen of their own has its perks. There’s also no denying that their generation will have to be e-literate. I consider this an orientation to all of the gizmos that we can’t yet imagine which will be running their lives, making them toast in the morning, and walking their dogs Jetsons-style.

But that’s as far as I’ll go. Some things just have to stay old-school — for now at least. Like books.

What’s up with the Kindle Fire/Nook Color gadget that all the (other) kids had on their holiday wish lists?

A reading tablet, a book disguised as a screen? Sounds pretty crafty to me. Trick the kids into reading. I dig the concept. Except that’s not exactly how it pans out.

From what I gather, the latest generation of e-readers are more like a textbook with a comic book tucked into the center. You know, the ones that kids our age used to hold up in class while trying to look studious. At least that’s the picture that came to mind after I asked one mom on Christmas Day if the new gadget her daughter was toting around was a sneaky way to get her to read more. (Wink-wink. Mom-conspiracy in play.)

“No, not really,” she said, coming clean. “There’s so much other stuff on there — e-mail, apps, whatever — that she’s not purely in it for the books.”

Ahhh. So I see.

A Kindle’s not really for reading, after all.

They fooled us again.

How about you — are you quick to respond to requests for any and all technology with your kids? Or are you kind of holding back like me, staving off the screens with a invisible force field?

*Feel free to edit out my ignorance on the PS product line. I don’t even know if PS2s are handheld. Maybe I should ask Amanda. She’s way more into tech than me.

Taking A Trip Down Memory Lane with the Kids

college homecoming reunion

Heading back to campus (with the kids) was great! ©We Are Both Right

It was just like old times.

Me and Amanda hanging out in the parking lot across the road from our college dorm. Watching the crowd gather for the football game. Glancing through the latest edition of the college newspaper. Planning our next set of stories. Gossiping. Wondering what the guys were scheming up now as they headed toward the tackling dummies. Wiping glitter and asphalt off our children’s knees (now, not then).

If our lives were a sitcom, this was the week of the retrospective episode. Taking it back to where it all began. Homecoming weekend at college.

Like a new show on TV, it would have been all too predictable to start our story, well, at the beginning. So one year into this blog and sooooomany years after we first met at college orientation, Amanda and I are finally getting around to sharing a flashback or two to put it all in perspective.

Let’s just say that homecoming isn’t quite the same as it was when we first stepped foot on our college campus 19 years ago (yikes). Actually it’s so much better.

Those new boyfriends we had back then. Husbands now. Great cooks to boot. Still doing crazy things that make us laugh and sigh at the same time. And did we mention they are great cooks? We’re talking winning-a-throw-down-with-Bobby Flay-great.

On Saturday, they were proud of themselves for having the culinary skills to wow everyone who walked by — from alumni to giggling co-eds. But there was a little bit of regret hanging in the air (on their part) for not having figured out two decades ago that the secret to life (and girls) is as simple as paella and skirt steak sliders on a grill in the parking lot. Hee hee. Amanda and I were happy to sit back and toast our luck with bottles of beer coolers.

We could see the college kids at their tailgate table which was lined with green and yellow plastic cups, and three layers deep of bottles of alcohol, while we inhaled the scents of saffron and caramelized onions.

Our own kids were entertaining themselves (!) and each other riding scooters and doing their version of preschool in a parking lot, thanks to some paper lunch bags and glitter glue that our friend Christine brought. The older boys went roaming around campus in search of a lawn to play football and came back with a broken umbrella handle, fashioned into a kicking tee (A+ for innovation).  Right before kickoff, a walk over to the free carnival afforded the little ones their first ride on a ferris wheel and the three oldest their first falls off a mechanical bull.

The rest of us were content to sit in between our loaded-to-the-brim minivans, talking about how we still “had” it. And how we didn’t.

Case in point: John went up to one of the student club tables set up outside the football field, where three of the current editors of the school paper were looking for people to join. “We’ll sign up,” he said, pointing to himself, Amanda and me. Maybe it was the kids swarming around our knees that gave us away, but they looked doubtful. Then when he launched into a “back when we were editors, almost 20 years ago…” their eyes glazed over. I bumped John’s elbow and said, “Time to go, we’re looking like old folk.”

But those were the days. Late nights in production at the paper, which coincidentally resulted in six marriages among staff. (Somehow I managed to never be at one of those all-nighters — sorry Amanda — but my 4 p.m. deadline for the features section let me preserve my work-life balance even back then.) Then there were the parties in our dorm — where I first met my husband and supposedly gave Amanda her first wine cooler too many. The walks on the roof. And the 90210 viewing parties in Amanda’s room.

Considering that none of us had actually planned to go to this college, but for reasons including parents reluctant to part with their firstborns and the lure of a full scholarship, we all ended up there. And now looking back, we’re really glad that we did.

Why My Son Will Never Forget His Homework Again

©amab7/stock.xchng

When it comes to my tween son and girls, the phone is my friend -- for now. ©amab7/stock.xchng

My 11-year-old son, C., is mad at me but I don’t care. He made a mistake (twice) and I came up with what I thought was a suitable punishment and now he’s ticked.

I made him call a girl.

(Hee.)

For the second day in a row, C. forgot to bring home his vocabulary words to study. A test was announced for Friday on Wednesday. When he came home Wednesday afternoon and realized he didn’t bring home his Reading/Language Arts notebook, I drove him back up to school so he could retrieve it and review them. When he did the same thing on Thursday, I wasn’t so charitable.

“You’ll have to call one of your friends and get the words and definitions,” I told him. There are two boys in this particular class that he is friendly with. The problem was, we didn’t have either of their numbers. The number I did have was for a girl from his religion class. A girl he’s known since kindergarten. A sweet (pretty), smart girl who I knew would not only have the words at home but would have the entire list of them and their complete definitions (and undoubtedly, written neatly).

Now this is 2011. I could have easily looked up the phone number of either of his two buddies on the Internet, and C.’s task of recovering his studying materials would have been both simple and embarrassment-free. But C. tends to be forgetful and scattered (admittedly like his mother) and we are only six weeks into the new school year. I didn’t want him to ever forget his notebook again. So I opted to send him down the path of most resistance. The path that was going to make him squirm.

Like I said before, hee. That her father answered the phone made it all the better.

The thing is, although this girl is his friend, C.’s at a funny age. He’s definitely a tween in middle school. He knows girls exist in “that” way and I know that some of his peers are already “dating” (he confirmed this for me, plus, I used to watch Degrassi Junior High so I totally know the score. Zit Remedy 4eva!) For now though, he and his group of (all boy) friends have zero interest — or at least less than ten percent interest — in spending any of their free time with someone who doesn’t want to make movies of themselves acting out in funny skits (their obsession of the moment) or play or view a sport of some kind. So for now anyway, we are girl-free.

That he was annoyed and that he did well on the test confirms to me that my “punishment” was a good one. For now. I suspect in three years my scheming will involve me trying to get him to put the phone down (and losing that girl’s number).

After-School Jobs Are Worth More Than A Paycheck

Hopefully my kids will have it all together on the school front, so they can get a taste of what's to come when they head out into the working world. © Kriss Szkurlatowski /stock.xchng

Any day now, I should be ready to retire. Because if you count the years since I first started working at age 13 — as a library clerk (who wins the prize for nerdiest job ever?) — I’m just about there. Come to think of it, there were a few babysitting gigs before that, so maybe I’m closer than I realize. But the point is, I’ve been working for, well, forever.

Could that be the reason why I’ve been feeling burned out lately? Makes sense.

But do I wish that I had waited to enter the working world until I was an adult? No. The truth is that I probably wouldn’t be as marketable as I am today if it weren’t for these first jobs. Not to say that scooping ice cream and mopping floors at the pool club snack shack set me up for the career path I’m on now, but that’s where I learned everything I know about manual labor, looking busy, customer service and not being above any job — all things that have come up time and time again in my working life (oh, and at home too.)

So when I’m thinking ahead to whether or not my children should have after-school jobs while they are in high school, the answer is as definitive as punching a time clock. As long as there are no other issues to contend with (failing grades, living in the middle of a cornfield with no employers within 100 miles, etc.) my children will be pounding the pavement just as soon as we can call them teens.

I won’t expect them to log long hours or work throughout the entire school year. But I do want them to get a taste of what it is to find and hold a job way before they become entitled new graduates with zero working experience thinking they are owed $80,000 in their first job out of college.

Maybe they will learn how to answer a phone, deal with difficult people (other than their parents), and get through the tedium/delirium of checking car passes at a security booth a few hundred yards from a beautiful shoreline packed with lucky stiffs who have a day off. Because character building activities like these are the only way to define the random jobs available to kids.

Whatever it is that they do, even if they don’t realize it at the time, will be teaching them what it takes to earn their keep (not to mention why they better shore up on those basic skills in order to get the job that affords a few weeks vacation every year so that they too can take a paid day off to sit at the beach).

If they’re lucky, my employable children will actually bring home a paycheck in the process, which they would ever so carefully spend on things that warrant the time they put into earning them. (Are those $125 jeans worth it when you have to pour two weeks pay into them?)

Even if they weren’t pulling in minimum wage or anything at all, it would still be a good job in my book. My son already has a plan for his community service requirement in high school, and somehow I don’t think coaching the youth sports he loves now will be quite as painful as unclogging a frozen ice cream dispenser five minutes before closing — paid as it may be. That’s a good lesson to learn too.

Besides, if my children never have the experience of waiting tables, polishing the high school basketball court, hosing down floors in a pet store or filing charts, they won’t have those great stories we all love to tell about our first jobs. Like the time when their mom had to break up a fight between old ladies in the library, going for the same periodical…

Amanda says she’s not letting her children work while they’re in school. I respect her choice, but now who are my kids supposed to barter ice cream sundaes for deli sandwiches with?

It’s Not Their Place in a 9 to 5 World

©shho/stock.xchng

When my kids are in high school, their job will be to hit the books, nothing more. ©shho/stock.xchng

Remember high school? I do. I remember it being an awful lot of work. Every year I took a full course load, not to mention the after-school activities I participated in. From junior year on, I also worked at a local restaurant. I worked as a waitress mostly, but did other things too.

Until I turned 17, I worked no more than four hours a day, 20 hours a week and no later than 10 p.m. Once I turned 17, right before my senior year, the rules changed quite a bit. I could work longer shifts and more of them. Vacations from school didn’t mean vacations from work and Friday and Saturday nights were filled — not with dates or outings with my friends but with order slips and cash register receipts.

It was a good job (I stayed at it until I graduated from college) and I made a lot of money. Money that helped me purchase my first car and pay for college and the prom and buy whatever it was I needed. I learned responsibility and gained some independence. For the most part, working as a teen was a great experience for me.

Still, when it comes time for my kids to work, I’m not sure I’ll be so fast in signing their working papers. My son is only 11 now, so maybe I’ll feel differently in a few years, but I think I’d rather him focus on school while he’s in high school — his studies, his extra-curricular activities and his (sigh) social life. I may change my mind once I have to start footing his sure-to-be-expensive teen-years bills, but I think that our kids have to grow up so fast as it is, why not give them a little more time to just be young.

Having said that, I don’t want my kids spending their time playing video games or surfing the ‘net or doing whatever it is that will be popular five years from now. If they aren’t working they should be studying or playing sports or doing something goal-oriented. Down time is OK, but I do expect them to be productive in some way. I don’t think that will be a problem, they are totally overscheduled right now, I can’t imagine that will change much. And to me, that’s how the younger years should be spent.

Let me be clear, I am not against my kids working entirely. I would welcome any of them to get a summer job or take on some odds and ends, here and there — babysitting, snow shoveling, lawn mowing and the like — just nothing that requires a regular commitment, nothing that might take away from their most important responsibility — being a teenager.

What do you think? Did you work an after-school job? Do your kids? Will your kids?

Suzanne says as soon as her kids are old enough, they will enter the workforce. I know where I’m going when I want a scoop of ice cream!

Teaching About 9/11 in Schools

Some of this year’s incoming 4th graders weren’t even a gleam in their parents’ eyes as the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded (my son included).

And up until now, this first generation of children who didn’t have a lasting, conscious impression of that day might have been too young to even comprehend its impact when the subject has come up since. But as time goes on, the lessons surrounding that day become more teachable and in many ways, even more important to impart.

So how do we explain the significance of 9/11 in the history of our world, our nation, our communities and even within our own families?

Well, I was intrigued to read how the story is unfolding in classrooms around the country. It reassures me to know that resources are being dedicated to developing curriculum and educators are participating in an exchange of lesson plans.

How do you feel about your children learning about 9/11 in school? Have you made it a point to talk about it at home, even with your young ones?

Hey Jamie Oliver — do you need an intern?

Do your kids brown bag it? Or buy school lunches? ©Steve Zazeski /stock.xchng

I’m raising Jamie Oliver’s protégé — which means that on this first-day-of-school eve, we’re less concerned with loading supplies in the backpack or laying out the perfect outfit. We’re back to talking about grey chicken nuggets.

That’s right. Grey chicken nuggets. My soon-to-be-fourth grader’s kryptonite.

And if the new school’s cafeteria doesn’t pass his stringent inspection tomorrow, it will be home-packed lunches every day this year too. (Except I’m not waiting for the official verdict, considering he’s in the same district with the same food service vendor. I was already at the supermarket this afternoon stocking up on sandwich stuff and snacks.)

So for our family, the convenience of writing a check to fill a pre-paid meal account isn’t even an option. Either my husband or I pack a school lunch for L. every morning before work. It’s a part of the daily rush I could honestly do without, but it does make me feel better that he’s eating a healthier meal than the school’s processed mac-n-cheese, tater tots and ketchup that counts as a vegetable.

Oh, except for Wednesdays, which if the same menu holds from last year, is breakfast for lunch day. The pancakes and waffles have been deemed acceptable by my resident gourmet. So now I only have to come up with four creative ways to serve tuna, chicken, ham and peanut butter/banana sandwiches with fruit and a complex carb snack.

Extra work aside, it does strike me as kind of funny that he turned out this way. It’s not even that he’s an especially picky eater. He is just selective. And has a leaning toward finer foods. (I think I know where that comes from.)

Still I’m not the type of mom who calorie counts for her kids, or freaks when they ingest sugar. I do want them to eat healthy and I push that when I can, but I wouldn’t tackle you if you handed my child a fruit snack made of corn syrup. (I might just stow the rest of the pack away in my bag and not return them later).

So the fact that my son is interested in where his food comes from (and just where do grey chicken nuggets come from?) makes me proud. He’s taking charge of his own health — not because I haven’t — but because he understands how it factors into the bigger picture.

And there doesn’t seem to be any degree of peer pressure that is making him sway off course. I’ve asked him at various points during the year how many of his friends bring lunch and how many buy. There’s a different answer every time, but it seems that the majority buy school lunches most of the time.

And I’ve asked him if it bothers him to bring his lunch sack and sit at the table waiting for his friends on line in the cafeteria, or if any of them make fun of him for bringing lunch. His shoulder shrug says it all. He really doesn’t care.

As long as there’s fresh bread and something he can identify inside that aluminum foil, he’s happy.

How about your school-age child? Do you pack lunch, or do they buy lunch at school? Also, are there any superior school menus out there? I’d love to know.

************

School lunches are bought not packed in Amanda’s house.  Which makes me think that I might just have to check out their school menu, if we ever consider moving.