Tag Archives: children

The People On The Bus

I never had to ride a bus to school, and that was a blessing.  To this day I’m still a little wary of them.  Rare class trips confirmed that they were the ideal breeding ground for my anxiety; an enclosed space with mysterious and opaque social rules and customs.  Where you sat and with whom was evidently meaningful to other riders.  On those rare trips I knew enough to stay clear of the back of the bus.  Even as a very small person I sensed that no good could come from being so far away from an adult.  As a younger child those seats seemed very high and quite conducive to hiding bad behavior.  Bad behavior has always frightened me.

A story of a bus matron (which we did not have on our class trips) being verbally abused by children does not surprise me.  Children are people.  Some people are lovely some are disgusting and some fall somewhere in-between.  What does seem inconceivable to me however is that this behavior would have continued for any amount of time.  It stands to reason that at least a handful of children on that bus are little versions of me.  They were frightened by the behavior.  The thought of getting on that bus every morning made their stomachs hurt.  They told their parents.  They asked to be driven to school.  They explained that they’re bad kids on the bus.  There is no vow of secrecy or non-disclosure agreement on the bus.  These are not members of organized crime.  They’re just kids that happen to live along the same bus route.  Someone (if not many) told.  Kids tell.

Following that theory (and it is just a theory, devoid of any factual support whatsoever) could it be that the parents did nothing to stop it?  Once we get past our shock, it does sound plausible, no?  Don’t we tend to assume that things are not our business?  Don’t we usually duck and dive under a bush to avoid any form of confrontation (unless it’s from the confines of our car and involves obscene gestures, or through anonymous comments on the web?)  Despite all government pleading, how many times do we really see something and say something?  Do we “suffer” through a broken streetlight, or wonky elevator?  Or do we fill out a maintenance report?  Do we gape, horrified at teenage girls pulling their tops up on the side of the highway?  Or do we explain how those photos they’re taking might someday limit their options in life?

Hopefully we speak up.  Hopefully we’ve been on the planet long enough to understand the dangers of silence.  Hopefully every day we choose to tip the balance away from disgusting and towards lovely.

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Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique


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I Can Do That*

Summer is almost here and soon the children will be set free.  Lockers and cubbyholes will be cleaned out and juice box stained mortarboards discarded.  Those with (state recognized) diplomas will bid a final adieu to attendance, directives issued by bells, homeroom and gym class.  They are skipping into the sun off to great adventures.

But what of those children between juice box and Starbucks?  What does the summer hold for them?  No doubt there is a population spending their summer as free-range children.  They spring forth from the house after a hearty breakfast and are not seen again until their next feeding.  They scamp, scurry, swim, and explore with other children.  There are evenings of lightening bug hunting (and teary mornings when the bugs are discovered on the bottom of the jar, decidedly dead and unilluminated.)  There are lawn sprinklers and ice cream trucks and chalked sidewalks.  Then there’s reality.  Even if there are real live children somewhere, hopefully named; Molly, Stewart, Daisy and Marvin, having this halcyon summer, most children are not.  The majority of children are simply not free-range.

Their summer days, by design, or necessity (of finance or parental mental health) are structured.  There are children who respond very positively to structure of course.  A camp that allocates hours and days to prescribed activities can be heaven for some children.  For them it is comforting to awake thinking; “It’s Tuesday it must be lanyard day.”  For other children, they flourish best in the wild.  (It’s the difference between a cultivated orchid and a wildflower.)  These children need the uncertainty of an unscheduled day to find their footing.   They can be wildly physical children who love nothing more than to whirling dervish their way into an exhausted heap of sweat and dirt at day’s end.  They can also be dreamy, quiet children, whose idea of perfection is a quiet spot and a stack of Nancy Drews.  Hopefully every child gets what he or she really does need to be happy and strong.

Somewhere between names being written in underwear, and swimming goggles being unearthed (why were they in the broken bread machine?) there is an opportunity to shake things up a bit (even if it’s in the car on the way to the mall to get that style of shorts that ‘everyone is wearing and I can’t go to camp without them or I might as well just give up any hope of ever having any friends ever in my whole life, would that make you happy?!’)  There are approximately 8 weeks in a child’s summer (I know, in our addled sentimental grown minds we think of it as sprawling, languid months, but it’s not.)  What if every child learned 8 tasks of adult life this summer?  Before the cries of “isn’t the summer reading list enough chore for my child?” let me assure you that kids think adult stuff is interesting/fun (unless we’ve been moaning and carrying on about it in their presence for years.)

There is a life skill lesson appropriate for any age.  Pre-schoolers love the chance to fold laundry or sort light from dark.  Six-to-twelve year-olds can be involved in every aspect of getting food into the house and onto the table.  If there’s a family car, the younger can learn about keeping it clean, and the older can learn about keeping it going.  Thirteen-to-eighteen year-olds can learn just about anything; how bills get paid, how insurance works, how local politics impact the family, what parents really do for a living.  This last life lesson should not be confused with ‘take a child to work day’ that in many workplaces has been turned into “work as amusement park” day.

Understanding more about how the world works and what being adult really means helps a child make informed decisions as they grow.  Learning to do something (i.e., balance a checkbook, make a potato salad, change the oil) is exactly how self-esteem is built.  Swimming medals and ‘color war’ certificates make a child happy.  But knowing you can do something that is a necessary part of being an adult makes the world more exciting and less daunting for a child.

A Chorus Line (1975) – Edward Kleban & Marvin Hamlisch


Posted by on June 8, 2012 in Childhood


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A Not So Happy Meal

True story.  Two preschoolers walk into a restaurant and make a beeline for two gentlemen finishing their dinner.  The smaller of the foursome proceed in pawing and crawling on the larger.  The men have an unmistakably startled look upon their faces.  Their eyes dart frantically as their minds seem to race.  After a few moments a sleepwalking nanny appears, and in her wake a texting mother and a bombastic grandmother.  The nanny and matriarchs continue to ignore the children and the two men make haste through their coffee and check.  No doubt these women have sexual predator lists bookmarked on their handhelds, and Amber alerts on their Twitter feed.  But I digress.  The men fled and the disengaged family proceeded (not without much chaos, fuss, and noise) to their table.

This would be a good place to point out some key “setting” elements of the tale.  This occurred in a seafood restaurant.  Not the red plastic baskets filled with deep-fried seafood morsels type of seafood restaurant either.  Candlelight, white tablecloths, extensive champagne list, raw bar, kind of seafood restaurant.  Also of note is the time.  It was past 8:00 P.M.

Not surprisingly the behavior of the children, and the obliviousness of the adults, did not change in a sitting position.  The girl child brayed (continuously) and the boy child climbed on the table.  The behavior worsened as the time crept steadily past their bedtime.  The restaurant management did nothing.  Considering there is no child’s menu, perhaps the profit margin was simply too enticing

Any good story, especially one that hovers near horror, should have a moral.  What we learn here is that 1) 8:00 PM is not the adult hour any longer and 2) cost and formality are no longer a litmus for anything.  I am hesitant to move my dining time to a more adult hour, (say midnight?) knowing full well what obstacle courses I will encounter.  The later it gets, the drunker the diners get.  Stop into any restaurant around 11:00 or 12:00 and the volume will blow you back out the door.  Want to regain your composure in the ladies’ room?  Good luck elbowing past the women administering, what I can only imagine are homeopathic remedies, to each other.  Of course there is a gift-with-purchase entertainment quality to late night dining.  With a dining companion who’s game, an entire evening can be made of playing “who in this room is being compensated for their time?” or “how many people can we spot who have only moved their food around and have not lifted the fork.”  But by midnight, I’m usually too hungry or tired to be much good at the games.

May I suggest something wildly radical?  What if the nanny in this story took the children home to feed them and put them to bed.  How about if adults recognized that their actions affect others and being a parent by definition is a whole lot of sacrifice.  And since we’re on the subject, how about business owners, theatre managers and the like stop hiding in the broom closet.  What on earth is so scary about stating; “This is an adult establishment” or “If your children become disruptive we will ask you to leave.”  I can’t imagine restaurant owners, who are only as good as their restaurant’s reputation, really relish their lovely establishment resembling a chuck-e-cheese.  No business owner wants to hear the complaints of customers either.  Could it be that (gasp) no one is complaining?  If the music is too loud, do you not complain?  If the air conditioning too arctic, do you not complain?  If two free-range preschoolers are crawling on you, do you not complain and point out that you were going to order a couple of glasses of cognac, but now you’d just like the check?  Maybe we are all complicit.  Maybe we need to (baby) step it up just a bit and Occupy Adulthood.

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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Childhood


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The Boobie Tube

More than half of American babies watch television for about two hours a day.  One third of babies have televisions in their bedrooms.  Babies.  Those under two years of age.  What little I know of human development, I’m guessing they are not using the remote.  This suggests that an adult is turning on the television for the baby.  I have so many questions I hardly know where to start.

I think I understand the concept of putting a baby down in front of a television.  It has to do with giving the adult a reprieve, yes?  May I suggest a moratorium on the demonization of the playpen.  You remember the playpen?  It is a box filled with toys, books, and cuddly things that kept tykes safe.  It was how we controlled their environment, versus gating and locking our environment.  Babies could happily entertain themselves while floors got cleaned or adults took showers.  Now, if my presumption is accurate, that television is being used in lieu of a playpen, I have to ask; what show is being watched?  Does it matter?  Is it just the sound that is pacifying the babe?  If so, how about music and a busybox?  Forget the quality of television for a moment.  Can anything be gained, developmentally, from staring at a screen?  (That is not a rhetorical question.)

The nursery television leaves me a bit more confused.  What in the world is going on there?  Is the baby being left alone with the television on?  To what end?

Before you think I am anti-media or (gasp) anti-television, let me assure you I am most certainly not.  At 14, I ecstatically received a hulking 35 inch wood-framed black and white television set.  Painted yellow.  That only got channel 7, which was fine as this was during ABC’s heyday.  For my 16th birthday my wishes were granted with my very own portable television, which received all seven channels!  I brought it with me to college.  I love t.v.  It’s one of my best friends.

What I don’t love is blanket social inequities.  According to the Kaiser Foundation, in families with incomes under $30,000, 64% of children younger than 8 had televisions in their rooms.  In families with incomes above $75,000. the number drops to 20%.  I doubt 100% of the blame shouldn’t be placed upon the importing of cheap electronic goods.  It certainly doesn’t help that a television is no longer a luxury item.  But perhaps something larger is at play.  Even back when televisions were far too dear for the middle-class, Muffy and Biff were not squired away in their nursery watching television.

While I shy from being an alarmist, I truly suspect that there is something a tad sinister in play.  “Progress” has brought us inexpensive food-like substitutes, flavored “drink” and access to electronic noise.  There is a school of thought that maintains that the plethora of liquor stores, cigarette ads and cheap goods in low-income neighborhoods is part of a scheme to quell the underclass.  Television is a very effective pacifier.

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Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Childhood, Media/Marketing


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In Richness and In Poorness

I overheard a woman talking about the financial hardship she and her live-in boyfriend were experiencing.  She (verbally) underlined their budget restrictions by declaring that they couldn’t afford an engagement ring.  While I enjoy the quaintness of the recent practice of engagements and accompanying diamond jewelry, I don’t understand how or why it became mandatory.  It’s as confusing (to me) as people spending scads of money on a wedding that may or may not actually resonate for the couple (or be even remotely connected to the celebration and solemnity of marriage.)

I am trying to resist the conclusion that both engagement rings (and consequential public cooing) and queen-for-a-day weddings are all part of the same religious devotion to past Strawberry Shortcake, Cinderella, Hello Kitty birthday parties.  But I have to wonder, when I eavesdrop as I do, what IS the real reason one would put one’s life on hold for a fantasy?  I have also overheard (man, I’ve got to stop doing that!) couples with children, claim the expense of a wedding for explaining why they are all living together without benefit of marriage.  Does this mean that the couple (I’m being gender generous here) is really still harboring some sort of white foamy wedding fantasy?  Move on toots, that ship has sailed.  If you’re old enough to have children, you are old enough to let go of the pillowcase on the head fantasy.  Grown-up real life doesn’t involve still having a chance of making the varsity team/homecoming queen either.  Having financial goals is laudable.  However, it is rather unseemly to plan for one’s debutante ball when you have children to support.

But to that young woman concerned for the financial prospects of her and her boyfriend, I would say this: Good for you for acknowledging that not all acquisitions are within your reach right now.  If you and your young man want to marry and build a life together, I urge you to do so.  Have the wedding you can afford.  Pledge your love and commitment to each other before your family and friends.  Promise to love each other in good times and bad and consider yourself fortunate to have the opportunity to do so.  I wish you all the happiness in the world.

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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Marriage/Wedding


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