Mommies and Mummies

Duncan and Amelia attended a summer camp on ancient history run by our local school district.  They brought many, many projects home.  Each day they came out of the school so overloaded with projects that they could hardly walk to the car.

One day Amelia came out with rubber cemented eyebrows because she tried on her mask just a bit too early.  Did you know that rubber cement stings like crazy?  Neither did I.

Below I have posted a picture of the very scariest thing that Amelia brought home:

Hotdog Mummy in salt filled coffinThis is a mummified hot dog in a salt-filled coffin made out of paper.  Yes, it is.

When Amelia brought it out to the van, it was not a mummified hot dog.  It was fresh.  Temperatures were nearing 100, and I had just spent the previous hour cleaning and vacuuming the car.  She was heedless of my pleas to abandon said hot dog and coffin on the playground.

Finally, I acceded to the inevitable.  Who was I to stand in the way of curiosity and education?  So we made our way home with hot dog and coffin.  Most of the salt came with us.  This lovely exhibit has now graced my kitchen for the past two weeks.

Are we there yet?

American Healthcare

It is time for every American citizen to tune in to the healthcare debate.  Inform yourself and then seek to inform and persuade others.  The issue is huge and the outcome is unclear.  Millions of our neighbors have no health insurance.  Healthcare costs rise every year and there is no end in sight.  Bankruptcy through medical catastrophe is commonplace.  The rising cost of care means that fewer people get jobs and fewer people with jobs get insurance.

President Obama is right.  We cannot do nothing.  As scary as change is, and as problem-fraught as some of the proposals for change are, we simply cannot stay with the status quo.  We have an obligation to those with whom we share our soil, and if we are wise, even those of us who now have good insurance realize that our own security hangs in the balance.

Unfortunately, fixing our broken system will not be easy.  It certainly isn’t as easy as electing the right person.  It doesn’t matter if that person is Obama or McCain or Max Baucus or Mitt Romney, or fill in any name you like.  Providing healthcare for those who need it is a difficult and complex problem.  Solutions will not be cheap, they will not come without sacrifice, and they will not always be comfortable.

The progress medicine has made in the past fifty years is miraculous.  Consider heart surgery.  Consider the cholesterol-lowering (and very expensive) statin drugs.  But getting heart surgery or getting statins [now] costs a lot more than visiting a doctor’s office and hearing of your (quite limited) treatment options [then].  Medicine costs more than it has ever cost because it can do more than it ever could.  That doesn’t mean that we can afford to pay for everything we know how to do.  That’s the ugly truth.  Every compassionate soul would like to see statins in the pocket of everyone who needs them and a transplanted heart in the chest of everyone who requires one.  But we can’t pay for it all.

Realistically, what we can pay for is excellent preventative and routine care.  We can ensure that  non-emergency care is not handled in the emergency room.  We can ensure that doctors make an excellent (yet not extreme) wage to ensure that we all have access to a good doctor when we need one.  We can pay for medical school for those willing to be general practitioners and for those willing to serve in underserved communities.  We can mandate evidence-based medicine and offer the drugs and other types of care that have proven to be cost effective.

We will have to have a two-tier system.  Universal healthcare will necessarily be basic.  Those with greater resources will have to be allowed to pursue greater care.  We can tax them to help support those who are less fortunate.  We can also tax the wealthy and healthy.  But when President Obama claims that healthcare for all Americans can come without sacrifice to most of us, we need to laugh.  Providing for our neighbors and ourselves will cost us, but we should do it anyway.   Remember, doing nothing guarantees disaster. With so much wrong, we can surely hope for something better.

Good Books, Bad Books

So, in my last post, I asked some questions about monitoring the books our children read.  And then I focused on how a good parent implements her intentions after answering those questions.  In this post, I will go back to the question of what makes a book good or bad.

Good books are those we read for entertainment, edification, and education (but not necessarily all three in the same book). Ideally, my children (and I!) will read many books that are”virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy.”  [Rosalie and I must be on the same wavelength because I had written this before I saw her comment on the previous post].  Many books are not praiseworthy because they are mindless fluff and/or poorly written.  Many other books are not lovely or of good report.

As revealed by Therese and Robin’s comments, there are at least two senses in which a book can be bad: a) it can be objectionable because it is inappropriate, either inappropriate in general [not virtuous, not of good report, not praiseworthy] or inappropriate for a certain age group or particular child or b) it can be of poor quality in the sense that it does not have content worth reading or in the sense that it is poorly written [not lovely, not praiseworthy]. Correspondingly, there are two ways in which books can be good.  a) They can be appropriate in the sense that they are not objectionable (a pathetically weak sense of good, to be sure) or b) they can be well written and have content worth reading [lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy].

After reading your thoughtful comments on my previous post, I was surprised to find that I may be the biggest censorship advocate in the group.  As I said before, where books are concerned, I think it is better to err on the side of restricting too little rather than too much.  However,  I disagree with Zina’s comment that “there’s probably nothing *too* bad within the spectrum of what Amelia’s likely to read.”  I think there’s quite a bit of bad stuff out there (yikes, look at the covers of the magazines at the grocery store), in the sense that there are a lot of books that would be inappropriate for Amelia to read ever, and even more that are inappropriate for her to read right now.

I was inspired to write my first post about censorship after finishing the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  I had never read it before and found it as I was searching through reviews looking  for books that would be good for Amelia.  Let me be clear, I really liked A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Although it isn’t always “lovely” in the most literal sense (because the heroine’s life is difficult as are the lives of those she is closest to), it was praiseworthy.  I would give it a good report!  However, I do not want Amelia to read it.  Not yet.  And especially if we don’t read it together.  I do hope that she will read it in a couple of years.  Tree falls in my “inappropriate at this age” category.  Amelia is ten years old.  The heroine of Tree has to face some adult issues fairly early in her life.  Amelia doesn’t.  She has time enough.

I am interested in whether any of you have read Tree and would take issue with me.  I wonder whether my stand is silly (in a sense it’s not a big deal because Amelia isn’t begging to read it, but the issue of what it is okay for her to read comes up again and again).  Like Zina, I was also a precocious reader.  My mother did a good job of teaching me which books to seek out and which to avoid, but still–I read some books that I would no doubt judge as inappropriate for Amelia.  As Zina mentioned, it is difficult to identify or label the specific harm.  Also, children are naturally curious.  (Advanced readers are perhaps even more curious than most children.  That’s part of why they read).  The forbidden is even more interesting . . . I know all that.  And I am continually surprised at the subject matters my young children are introduced to through my addiction to National Public Radio.  Is sheltering the young even possible in our world?  Does what they read matter?  Especially in mild (inappropriate at this age) cases like Tree?

I know that arguments can be made in both directions.  Like so much of parenting for me, the worry will continue regardless of which path I choose.  It will just change it’s object:  What if she’s too sheltered?  What if she’s unprepared?  What if I cause her to rebel?  What if she grows up too fast?  What if she becomes cynical before ever being both mature and happy?

Two specific categories of books that I worry about for Amelia are books centered around romance and books with sexual content.  Given the state of our culture, I think even fairly young children need to know a lot of facts, and Amelia knows how women get babies. However, despite my commitment to knowledge for my children on this subject, I do not think novels are a good way for children to gain the information they need. First, although I believe Amelia should know the facts now, I hope the part of her life where these facts are hers is a decade distant.  This isn’t information she needs to review frequently.  Second, the books I am concerned about seldom portray the reality I would hope for for my daughter: long term married loving monogamous commitment.  Since that reality is seldom portrayed, I am not eager for her to spend any significant time familiarizing herself with alternate competing possibilities.

I believe light romance can have its place.  I am not about to ban Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.  There are good reasons why romance is an attractive genre for both girls and women.  Light romance can be fun and entertaining.  In addition it is often a wonderful vehicle for excellent (and educational) historical fiction.  That said, Amelia is ten.  I think much of the romance reading should wait.  Books that focus too much on young love—kissing and dating in the high school and college set—are harmful, not so much because they are outright objectionable, but because it’s just not time yet.  Amelia won’t be allowed to date for six more years and I hope that it will be at least a decade before she marries.  I want her to walk towards those years, not run.  The next few years will bring the pull of urges that will tempt her to believe that her life should revolve solely around attracting romantic attention, that her worth is her value as someone’s lover.  I don’t need books to introduce her to these feelings or to the world of romantic relationships before she feels its tug herself.

What do you think?  Do you take issue with my characterization of good and bad books?  Do you agree or disagree that knowledge of some things can come too early?

My Daughter’s Censor

We are told to be our brothers’ keepers. More obvious than this is that we should be our childrens’ keepers.  One part of this is monitoring their media consumption, and this isn’t limited to newer media like the internet or the video game.  My censorship questions are about books (although they have applicability across media platforms).

My Questions:

1a.  What is a good book and what is a bad one?

b. How strongly should we steer our children towards good books?  How strongly should we discourage (or even forbid) them from reading bad ones?

2. Assuming that clarity is reached on both a & b above, how does a good parent implement her intentions?

Amelia apparently believes that L.L.F. evidences her taste in books

Amelia apparently believes that L.L.F. evidences her taste in books

About the second question:  On Amazon, I was reading a review of a book that many customers disliked because it is aimed at children yet contains anti-religious, especially anti-Christian themes.  One reviewer said that she thought that the criticisms of the book were ridiculous because parents should pre-read every book their child reads and should therefore already know for themselves whether the book in question is or is not appropriate for their children.  That comment made me laugh.  It is simply not possible for me to preread everything that Amelia reads.  There is too much.  Clearly some of us have weightier burdens than others where censorship is concerned.  Some of our children read a lot more than others.

Because prereading everything is impossible for me, I have to employ other strategies. First, I look for lists of recommended books.  The library has a lot of such lists, my friend Rebecca has put her recommended reads for middle grade readers on the internet, as did  Nicholas Kristof  of the New York Times just last week, and of course the famous Nancy Pearl came out with an entire book of her recommendations, Book Crush, a couple of years ago.

But compiling lists of recommendations is insufficient.  I noticed that Nancy Pearl’s ideas of what books are appropriate for young readers is more liberal than mine.  Kristof’s New York Times column received more than 2,400 comments and most of these include book recommendations.  Many of them are wonderful, but some of the books recommended there were pretty clearly in the bad books category, or at least the bad-books-for-Amelia-to-read-now category which amounts to the same thing for my purpose: finding books for Amelia.

One tool I find helpful in vetting others’ book recommendations is Amazon.com Often their customer reviews are able to a) sell me on a book’s quality or b) convince me that a book isn’t appropriate.  Unfortunately, Amazon reviews do not usually establish that a book is appropriate.  Of course, there is no certainty that a book is okay at the next censorship gateway either: when I have the book in hand and read the dustjacket and a chapter or two. Ultimately, I think it is safer to err on the side of censoring too little rather than too much.  I’m not willing to limit Amelia only to the books I’ve found the time to read, so I have to settle for trying to review many (but not all) of her books.  Some of my reviews of her books are cursory; others are more careful.

I believe the most important way in which I prepare my children to continue to explore their world through books is to help them cultivate their own good judgment—to become their own censors.  They will be picking out many of their own books.  I can’t evaluate every bit of every book.  But I can try to teach them that some books are better avoided and some better pursued.  This is a gift my own mother gave me—I just can’t figure out exactly how she did it!  (I asked her and she had nothing concrete to offer).

So, how do you go about being your child’s reading censor?  How do you teach him to self-censor?  (Not in the sense of limiting what he himself says or writes, but perhaps limiting what he reads?)

Look for this post to be continued when I discuss the answers to questions 1a and 1b.

Rose Cane Borer Blues

Laziness in gardening doesn’t pay.

Sawdust on rose bush courtesy of Rose Cane Borer

Actually, it wasn’t laziness, I was just too busy. But where the proper care of roses is concerned, being too busy too garden properly doesn’t pay either.

I patted myself on the back when I deadheaded all my roses promptly this year. [Yes, they recovered beautifully from their harsh early spring pruning and I had many beautiful blooms.] However, it was past dusk when I finished and there was no time to apply glue. Since the rose cane borers like to hang out at my house, glue is important.

In the rush of the next few days, I think I tried to convince myself that rose cane borers were a problem I had had in the past.
Rose cane with hole and sawdust

The evidence now suggests past and present.  So now my canes are even shorter than before and freshly glued.  My plan for next year: An allium forest to surround my rose bushes.  The link is to an article that suggests allium will keep those borers away.  I love allium anyway, so allium companion planting here we come!

Children and Consequences

Taking stock of my day—

I have three children.

1. Child #3 (Kate)’s speech therapist came for a home visit.   I explained that I was pleased that she is saying a few more words and phrases, but frustrated that I have gotten nowhere with “articulation practice,” where I am supposed to help a 2 year old practice the sounds that are difficult for her to make.  (Do you see a problem with this plan?)  I may be a bad person, but I actually felt pleased when said 2 year old first covered her mouth, then turned around and put her bottom in the air after the speech therapist pushed her to make the “k” sound a few too many times.  [It isn't just me!]  Ultimately #3 hid and refused to say goodbye.  Oh yes, speech therapy is going well.

2. I asked child #2 (Duncan) to empty the dishwasher.  He said he was hungry.  I said, “Great!  Because I have a special treat for you right after you get that dishwasher finished!”  It was more than three hours before he got any food because it was more than three hours before he was ready to empty the dishwasher.  I suspect he might have eaten some of the trail mix that was supposed to be the special treat while I wasn’t looking though.

3. I didn’t take child #1 (Amelia) to Shakespeare for Kids although she desperately wanted to go, because she spent the entire day doing her chores and homework.  Shakespeare is supposed to be a reward for doing her chores and homework well and quickly.  We are not there yet.

One huge success today was that we found some large grid paper at Office Depot.  [Amelia explained to me during a review of her homework that the reason I cannot read her numbers is because I am not trying hard enough, but I don't know, I think it might be something else!]   The smaller quad ruled squares were too small for Amelia to fit her numbers in.  I think the large grid paper might represent a significant boon to her future in math.  It is important for your math answers to be readable in settings other than standardized tests!  Unfortunately, Amelia hates the paper. She is no fan of anything that would make her look different from the other kids. I hold out a weak hope that once she sees it’s useful . . .