Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bad Mom?

NYC subway
Originally uploaded by Ioan Sameli
In a recent Op-Ed in the New York Sun entitled "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone," Lenore Skenazy recounted her decision to, well, let her nine-year-old son find his way home by himself in New York City. She doesn't go too far into detail, but getting home involved taking the subway downtown one "sunny Sunday" and then transferring to the 34th Street crosstown bus. She supplied him with a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and some quarters for a pay phone just in case (but no cellphone — she didn't want him to lose it). She didn't spy on him or have someone else shadow him for her. Her son was truly on his own.

Turns out that her son made it home just fine, "ecstatic with independence." Skenazy writes:
Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them.
Needless to say, the general reaction wasn't too friendly — "How could you", "What if," etc. Slate's Emily Bazelon, whose writing I tend to nod my head to, used the episode to wonder about the rise of Parent As Bodyguard and finds herself thinking that much of it has to do with anxiety and guilt felt by working moms making up for their absence through overprotection. There may be something to that, but I think that we might be getting ahead of ourselves.

I have more than a little problem hanging an entire child-rearing philosophy upon a single anecdote, but that said, it's worth wondering where proper parenting leaves off and "helicoptering" begins. After all, I was raised without helmets and cellphones (though I did have a babysitter now and then) and I was free to move about my neighborhood on my own, particularly in the summer.

I also want to agree with Skenazy that New York is remarkably safe, particularly Midtown Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon. Recently when I was on-line to exit the train at Newark, I saw a mother of two struggle to lift her stroller out the narrow door, and in doing she had to leave her older daughter (4, maybe?) standing alone the in the car. Behind the little girl stood a pretty rough-looking teen—black baseball cap with black hoodie pulled over it, oversized pants pulled low, the stereotypical works. Seeing the mom occupied, he gently offered his hand to the little girl, who gently accepted it, and they stepped onto the platform together. He walked her up to her mom, still holding her hand, and then bolted off into the moving crowd. And this was Newark, folks.

In any event, I think the best answer to whether Skenazy was a Bad Mom for turning her son loose on the MTA is: it depends. In her article she points out that "for weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own." So it's not as if Skenazy, a propos of nothing other than faith in natural selection or something, was curious whether her son could survive the ordeal; he asked for it, and she no doubt concluded that he could handle the hurdles that might normally come up—MetroCard doesn't work on the first swipe as opposed to, say, alien invasion or devastating earthquake. The Boy is on the cusp of 5, and he now likes to go to the public restrooms in our building by himself. He doesn't yet feel comfortable, though, taking the elevator to or from our apartment on his own despite knowing the floors and having taken it several times a day since he fell into this world. So I ask but don't make him. Knowing him as I do, he may not feel ready at 9 to be alone on the train. (Q may be ready at 5, if she's not ready now.)

We'll see when the time comes, and that's the point.

My wife and I joke sometimes about being the Bad Parent Story on the Channel 9 News when we, say, let Q and The Boy scale the sandy rocks in the park out back on their way up to the slide. It's hard not to worry about them slipping into an injury, one that could be avoided by simply not letting them do it all. But we let them do it, however reluctantly, because all of us believe they — right now — can.

Happy Birthday, Big Girl

Q officially turns 3 today. I'll no doubt have a little more to say after her official party this weekend. (Theme: music, including a stage where we're going to let the kids make their own music videos. My lovely wife: birthday genius.) For now, though, just a picture of our Big Girl.

To give you a little flavor of the person she's become, recently Q has said:

To mom:
Mom, go help The Boy with math. Don't disturb me. I'm trying to find something suitable for my bears to wear.
The Boy has recently gone back to calling my wife "momma" (pronounced MOMma), which she loves, by the way. To him, Q said:
What's up with the "momma"?
Junior high here we come.

Happy Birthday, Q. Welcome to 3.

Friday, April 18, 2008

spring makes children of us all

My children always remind me that spring does feel just like this.

(Hat tip: e. e. cummings.)

(Relevant Note: Early on I proposed that The Boy be named 'Estlin', as in Edward Estlin Cummings. Needless to say — and not to offend anyone out there — in hindsight my lovely wife was right on the money in quickly shooting that one down.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Outside is here

The magnolias have begun to make spectacles of themselves. I carry my jacket to the train home. On the way I pocket a few petals for Q and The Boy. The Boy will say they smell like fuschia.

In the city, it's before the concrete has soaked up weeks of heat, and the air is cool, full of pleasant possibilities. Getting closer, our building and the parks around it have been perfumed by the ocean. Inside, The Boy tells me that he's played in the park all day in short sleeves, and Q just smiles and literally bounces around our little house. They're all chatter as I urge them into socks and shoes so that we can make the most of what's left of the day. They want to slide, so we slide. I lose track of how many times. Q scurries back up for another run, telling the world, "I'm faster than an airplane!" Above us all, a jet etches the blue and does seem slower than she. The Boy goes down feet first, then on his stomach, then like he's sleeping, then slicked and sped by a spread of sand. My lovely wife happens upon us on her way home and receives hugs from us all. When the light finally gives out, we go inside for baths and bed. This is what we've been waiting for for what seems like forever.

Outside is here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Why not have a look around while you're here?

First of all, many thanks to Nadine for kindly mentioning our little corner of the Interweb in a sweet post. She blogs expertly over at Hello world it's me, and, if you haven't done so already, you should spend some time knocking around her site. (Note: Better to not be drinking anything when you start reading, though — she'll make you laugh hard enough for stuff to come out of your nose.)

If you've landed here from Nadine's page (or from anywhere else), feel free to look around. The "editors choice" list over there on the left might be a good place to start, or you can get some quick background on the four of us and our preemie concerns (and whatnot) through two posts from a while back — namely, "Bed Arrest: Day 1" and "Bed Arrest: End of Week 2."

Okay, so that's probably enough shameless self-promotion.

(Did I mention that comments are always welcome?)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Such a simple idea

Though I've been a fan of McSweeney's for some time now, I haven't been that big of a fan of Dave Eggers, the prime mover behind it. He often comes across, it seems to me, as too clever by half, and even as working pretty hard to appear effortlessly so.

My mind has been changed completely. This morning, given an extra hour on the train due to mechanical difficulties, I finally got around to watching Dave Eggers's TED talk video. Okay, so 'TED' stands for "Technology, Entertainment, Design" (obligatory link to their site), and it's basically an organization that gathers luminaries from all sorts of industries to talk about their research, their ideas, and their practices. Eggers was invited to speak and to receive his TED prize at their annual conference because he developed a model for providing neighborhood-based, one-on-one language and writing tutoring for public school kids. As he describes rather endearingly in the video below, his idea is a rather simple one: Lots of writers and publishing professionals have flexible work schedules; many public school kids don't get much one-on-one attention from their teachers. Eggers decided to dedicate the front on his publishing office to tutoring space, and editors and writers leave their books and magazines on their desks in favor of helping individual students work on their own after school. Once Eggers's group discovered how to do what they wanted to do, the "publishing center" simply called 826 Valencia took off, and they now have more than 1400 volunteers that tutor both inside and outside of public schools in San Francisco (while selling pirate supplies). They've also triggered similar initiatives across the US.

It's such a great idea, and it's impossible not to find Eggers's passion infectious. I encourage you to watch the whole video sometime (about 20 minutes or so), and maybe think about how you could perhaps get involved in something similar. Sometime soon, we'll have to dedicate an afternoon to the Super Hero Supply Company in Brooklyn.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

This is no joke

Whether you've been pranked or not today (my wife and I almost got out clean today, until my brother-in-law called), you might enjoy a great episode of WNYC's radio show Radiolab.  Entitled, "War of the Worlds," hosts Jad Abrumad and Robert Krulwich look into why and how so many people were fooled by Orson Welles radio play of the famous H. G. Wells novel.  (A little background on Welles's stunt and its effects can be gotten here.)

No one tells a story through sound like the folks at Radiolab, and besides being entertained for a good hour, you'll also pick up some useful tips for making April fools of your friends and family next year.

Happy fooling!