Tag Archives: parenting

Santa fraud

I’ve been kind of surprised by the number of anti-Santa parents I’ve met of late. Or those who will only tell the tale pragmatically, as in, “Santa lived once and was generous and gave gifts to all the children, and now we do the same thing in that spirit.”

More than a few people I’ve spoken with were traumatized by the means that, as children, they were disillusioned of Santa Claus. Being teased out of the fantasy on the playground or school bus made them feel that their parents had lied to them, that they were duped by the world. (My husband is one of those people.)

“I can’t lie to my child, no way,” one mom told me recently.

Personally, I never fully stopped believing in Santa Claus. I can’t swear to him, either, but I met plenty of Santa haters (especially older kids who seemed to take joy in dispelling the story) that gleefully tried to humiliate my faith, and it left no bruises on me.

I think believing in the impossible, or the improbable, is especially good for a science-enamored kid like mine. It’s one thing for him to learn to suspend disbelief at the movie theater, another thing entirely to do that with his own life. I don’t know where the world’s scientific developments would be without the capacity to imagine, desire, fear or believe in things that seem just too crazy to be real.

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Declan, hearts, preschool

Mountains of pink Play-Doh and heart-shaped cookie cutters filled an entire table in the classroom. It was Valentine’s Day.

Eyes bright, Declan went straight to the mound, tore off a small clump and rolled it into a ballish shape. He took his creation to a neighboring table, which was strewn with blocks. After carefully placing five or six of them on end like a miniature skyline, he gingerly set the pink tadpole on the tallest one. Then he went back to the other table, grabbed another clump, rolled it in his palm and set it on top of the next block. He did the same thing to another, then the next one, until his city was adequately crowned with squashy spheres of pink goop.

One of the teachers, who had been helping a student rinse purple paint off of her forearms and hands, did a slight double take when she saw what Declan was doing. She smiled.

“What are you making?” She asked him.

“Planets!” He told her. She smiled again and leaned in to examine his creation more carefully.

Where I half-expected admonishment that Play-Doh and blocks had to be kept separate, instead I found curiosity about, and respect for, Declan’s mind.

The operative word in the classroom seemed to be “yes.” And when it wasn’t, there were conversations about choices and consequences, not lectures. Kids simultaneously experimented in a sandbox, rode an indoor swing, sprinkled glitter onto heart-shaped construction paper. One girl toured the room in a princess costume. Moments later, she paraded through as a fuzzy brown bear. Declan made his way through the classroom and joined in as many things as he could find to do.

“That was a nice day for Declan,” he told me after we left.

A couple of people with older children told us that they had yet to match the consistently positive educational experience they found in this place. It’s not convenient to our home, but the simple lovingness toward children that I witnessed there told me that it will be worth the drive.

I was so relieved to find out today that there will be room for him in the fall.

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The dawn of compassion

“Hold Mars,” Declan told me, pressing a plastic ball into my hands.

“Now tell it you won’t hit it, push it or hurt it,” he said.

“I promise I won’t hit you, push you or hurt you,” I told the red planet replica. “You are my friend, and I will be kind and gentle with you.”

I stood up and handed it back to Declan.

“Do you understand me?” He asked. I nodded.

I may have to rename the dog Mars.

Last night, “Monster House” came on one of the family movie channels. Absentmindedly thinking it was fine for him to watch because it was animated, I left it on.

In the first moments, a scary old man grabs a tricycle away from a little girl, then breaks it and confiscates it. Declan’s face fell and his eyes welled with tears.

“He… he broke it!” He said, turned to me, his bottom lip was quivering.

“I know. That was mean, wasn’t it?” I replied.

“But what if she needs it?” He shook his head, clearly still stung by the cruelty of the scene.

The plot shifted to another character. I convinced Declan that the new boy on the screen was going to help the girl get her bike back, then I distracted him into hugs and storybooks and turned the TV off.

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Our long national anti-bathing nightmare is over!

We’ve endured a bathtub strike for close to a month now. Any bathing of Declan has been done with washcloths, terrycloth puppets and a lot of tears. For some reason, the bathtub, once one of his most cherished places, started to terrify him a few weeks back. I took advice from the Internet, where most of my trusted sources of advice said: “This too shall pass. Honor his fears and sponge bathe him – don’t force it.”

And so I launched a public relations campaign for the bathtub. I bought a Little Einsteins’ Rocket that I made a tub-exclusive toy. For days, he would play with it from the side of the tub. I went back to our old colored water tricks: “Don’t you want a blue Earth/Neptune bath? A red Mars bath? A green Uranus bath?” All to no avail.

Meanwhile, for two weeks running, the video 95 Worlds and Counting has been his obsession. He wants to watch “Holes” — the name he gave it because he loves the animation of the descent into the holes on Neptune’s moon of Triton — as many times and as often as we will let him. “It would be very interesting to go down in the holes, if you dare,” he says, in tandem with the scientist being interviewed. Then there’s something or other about supersonic sounds and landing in a pool of liquid nitrogen.

So naturally, I recently decided that the bath water should become liquid nitrogen, which I make with blue bath tablets and bubbles. On Wednesday night, after the great recliner debacle, I pulled out virtually every toy that could be a bath toy. I drew volcanoes and a supermassive black hole (by request) on the wall with bath crayons. I yelled “let’s be scientists!” and called everything from filling cups of water to watching washcloths submerge “experiments.” I asked him if he dared to go down into the holes of Triton into the pool of liquid nitrogen. I managed to get his socks and overshirt off without any shrieks of horror. (We still must wear the rotating Nemo underneath at all times.) In all of my imaginings of motherhood, I definitely never could have pictured this.

His dad came in.

“We are scientists dad!” Declan shouted. Then Dan was able to get him into the tub (under the condition that the diaper and Nemo shirt stayed on). Then there was the experiment where they filled the diaper with bath water and took it off so we could all marvel at its bizarre absorbency. And then Nemo came off – and we had our boy back in the bath.

Last night, Declan requested a bath again. A yellow-red-brown-green Io bath (he settled for yellow, then orange-red). I started the routine again, and Dan managed to get him in the water again.

Of course, the problem we now have is that once he’s in, he doesn’t want to get out.

Life soundtrack: We Are Scientists, “The Method”: Launch

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Child helps journalist

Here is a story that I wrote for Columbus Alive this week.

Declan helped.

Not because he is a particularly good editor or writer at two and a half, but because he makes me think about the nature of the universe as well as its incomprehensible size — things that can come in handy when you’re writing about art. In this case, keeping up with his interest in spatial dimensions and string theory directly applied to the wonderful work and artist that I wrote about.

I consider some of the abstract concepts in galleries, community centers and museums on a fairly regular basis. In print, I try to make them less intimidating to people, to help them see the joy, intrigue and adventure inherent in considering the questions that art can raise. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

Growing up, I always considered science, especially physics, to be too large and logical for the likes of someone like me. But Declan has helped me see the joy, intrigue and adventure inherent in considering the questions that astrophysics can raise and how, much in the way that you don’t have to be a critic to appreciate art, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the cosmos.

Life soundtrack: The Posies, “I Am the Cosmos”: Launch

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Scientific declarations at 29 months

“That’s a googoo years from now. That’s a long time.” (Attempting to quote Neil deGrasse Tyson.)

That’s Brian Greene. That’s my brudder (brother) beyond the elegant universe.”

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Don’ts and dos of running a “family” festival

We decided to brave the city-sponsored “Family Fun Fest” on the waterfront over the weekend. We ran into a couple of people we knew who were leaving as we arrived and asked them how they had liked the event. Their response? “It’s kind of… a mess.”

And it was. I wonder why events supposedly designed for families with children are so often unoriginal, even a bit unfriendly towards the audience they seek? When corporations decide to sponsor these events and have an on-site presence, is their goal to actually offer a fun experience for kids, or simply to dole out logo-covered junk? If it isn’t the former, it should be. Your frisbee may or may not give me a lot of joy, but providing an authentically fun memory for me and my child will. You may not think so, but the experience is more important than stuff. And if you give me a bad one, I’m really really going to remember that.

Here is my free advice:

Rule #1
DON’T hold these events without providing a space or fun activity specifically for children under the age of five. Things that they are supposed to sit still and watch don’t count, because people under five, who are often members of families, are generally incapable of sitting still for very long. If you can’t do this, advertise that the event is for kids of a higher age.

DO come up with something specifically designed to engage the youngest people. It’s not hard. Throw down a big mat inside of some gates with some colorful pillows and balls. Get some bigger kids to volunteer to play with the little ones, because no one loves big kids as much as little ones do.

P.S. While you’re at it, make sure you also provide a space for nursing moms and babies. A tent with a few changing tables and rocking chairs will do. This isn’t progressive, it’s just logical and babies, it should be noted, are also often members of families.

Rule #2
DON’T give kids pre-drawn pictures to color. Or at least not only pre-drawn pictures to color.

DO try and inspire them to come up with some ideas on their own. Instead of giving something you think is “fun” laid out in factory form, give them a blank page and ask them to draw something they think is fun. Then praise their brilliance and ingenuity. A big open patch of road where kids could draw whatever they wanted with sidewalk chalk was one of the best things at the festival.

Rule #3
DON’T put any giveaway items out in public view that you do not actually intend to give away. This should be your rule at every event, but when children are the ones you are marketing to, the penalties for breaking this rule double.

DO try and make sure that the people who work at your booth like children and parents, and put them on in shifts, so that they aren’t worn out and disgusted by everyone as it gets later in the day.

Note: When we visited tent for the Columbus Crew – a soccer franchise that isn’t exactly burning up the ticket lines – the woman in it actually pulled a bunch of small soccer balls off of the table when Dan approached, saying “sorry, we’re putting these away, we have to save them for other events.” I’m only grateful that my two-year-old and I were far enough from the table that he didn’t quite clue into the fact that he was being denied a cheap promotional ball, especially since balls, spheres or globes are the most important things on earth. A toddler meltdown was narrowly averted by our parenting reflexes and the fact that he had a healthy nap that day. Bad form, Crew!

Rule #4
DON’T insist on having those infernal bouncy contraptions at every single event where kids may show up. If your goal is for a family to have fun together, this doesn’t cut it. It’s just a dangerous, temporary babysitter. But if you have to have it…

DO make sure that who ever runs the thing does so in shifts with big kids and little kids, or make sure that there are two of them – one for big kids and one for small ones, because small ones can get seriously knocked around just being in the proximity of a fourth-grade jumper. At least put the thing somewhere far enough away from the center of the event that it’s not there, torturing the children of parents who don’t want to either pay $1 for every three minutes of jumping or to watch their child narrowly avert death with every 11-year-old you allow in there with them.

Really, it would be better just to hire more strolling performers. Musicians, clowns, whatever. Seriously!

Rule #5
DON’T think of a family festival the same way you would think about a county fair or an amusement park.

DO try and be creative and considerate of your audience. Parents are dying for more events where the objective isn’t just a bald-faced sales pitch for stores and services. If you’re a corporation, consult educators about the activities and gear you provide.

What would you add?

Life soundtrack: Sly and the Family Stone, Anthology, “Family Affair”
Sly and the Family Stone - Anthology - Family Affair

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Oh My Stars! Or, an ordinary woman tries to comprehend the size of the universe

I know an awful lot more about space today than I did a year ago. I suspected I had something to do with my son’s intense interest in the cosmos because I did watch an awful lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns on the DVR during the first three or four months of his life, when the better part of our days were spent nursing and napping. But I couldn’t have named the Galilean moons of Jupiter. Or told you the names of any galaxies beyond the Milky Way.

These days, if I don’t clue in to words like quasar and understand that there are far more elaborate whirlpools than the ones that we see when the bathtub drains, I miss out on a lot of things that Declan is thinking about.

I grew up with the original Star Trek. Reruns, mind you. I remember exploring strange new worlds and civilizations on my back patio in New Jersey with my mom, brother and some friends. A small curtain was our transporter, and I was always Uhuru because she was the only female character. (I had high hopes for Lieutenant Tracy, but she was offered up for slaughter as quickly as she appeared on the show.)

Somewhere between my new cosmic awareness and a few Voyager and Deep Space Nine reruns in the past year, it finally dawned on me that I have been watching in relative ignorance. I either nodded off in 6th grade science or I just haven’t paid enough attention to space news over the years. At minimum, I glazed over during technical dialogue in Star Trek too often. I was never really conscious of the fact that the whole thing takes place in our Milky Way galaxy alone, and most of it in just one quadrant of our galaxy. Of course, that is not a small area. Our sun is, after all, one of 100 billion stars in the Milky Way. If we actually do make it to a significant number of other solar systems within those 25 billion-ish stars by the 23rd or 24th centuries, we will have made some kick-ass technological leaps.

Somehow, in my childhood brain, I never really differentiated between “galaxy” and “universe” and that stuck with me through adulthood. I never contemplated the massive stretches of void between this galaxy and another. I never really thought about other galaxies, because Earth alone has generally been plenty big enough for me to try and fathom. But beyond the 100 billion neighborhood stars in our neighborhood, the Hubble telescope tells us that there are at least 100 billion other galaxies. And presumably, many of those galaxies have their own 100 billion stars, at least.

Now they have found a HUGE hole in the universe that is nearly one billion light-years across. This means, I am told, that it’s about the size of 10,000 of our Milky Way galaxies laid end-to-end. These figures are so mind-boggling to me, the theory that we are all really just Sims begin to make sense.

I find something comforting in these new, daily reminders and revelations that I’m smaller, and more insignificant than I ever imagined. For a few moments, it can turn ordinary concerns – like the 20 percent increase in my health care premium that I just got word of in the mail on Saturday – to stardust.

Life soundtrack: The Ventures, Gold, “Telstar”
The Ventures - Gold - Telstar

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