Bathing Tips from Josh

I was sitting on the couch the other day with Josh, scratching his back.

“You have soft skin.”

“I know.”

“Do I have soft skin?”

(feels my arm.) “No, your skin is very rough.”

“What can I do about it?”

“Do what I do–take a lot of baths. I take, uh, . . . 3 baths a week. But DON’T use shampo0.”

“If I don’t use shampoo, what should I use?”

“Water and toys–that works for me.”

Hmm, that explains the ring around the tub. My theory is that the layer of dirt on him has an SPF rating of 100, which protects him from harmful UV damage. So I guess the motto is “bathe less, live longer.”

Wonder Dog–New York Times

service dog I read an interesting article in today’s Times, titled “Wonder Dog,” about the amazing ways service dogs can affect the lives of their families. The opening anecdote focused on a family in Georgia whose son has behavioral and cognitive issues stemming from prenatal exposure to alcohol. After trying all kinds of interventions, the mom was encouraged to consider a dog who was specifically trained to intervene in her son’s frequent tantrums. Over time, the family has seen the tantrums decrease, and they have also seen some striking developments in their son’s cognitive development.

The article also talks about the training process these dogs go through, which is rigorous and highly specific. They can be trained to perform physical tasks in a home environment–everything from opening doors and turning on light switches to getting items out of the refrigerator and helping someone undress–as well as to recognize physical symptoms, such as impending seizures. Here is a video showing the training process in action.

Lauryn and the dogsAround our house, we don’t have dogs trained for service. At times, one of the 14-yr-old “seniors”–Buddy–forgets that he’s housetrained. But, as this photo attests, we’re a thoroughly integrated family. The dogs let us know when the atmospheric pressure drops and a front is moving in, Digory–the other “old man”–makes frequent rounds of the house to make sure everyone is accounted for, and the beagles . . . well, the beagles make sure that any crumbs get licked up, whether they’re on the floor, on a low table, or in an open pantry closet.

How to Fix Our Math Education –

In the past two weeks, I have been reliving my middle school math nightmares, and it hasn’t even gotten tough, yet.  It all started with helping Joe, the 7th-grader, learn to work with negative numbers.  Correct that, we were learning to work with integers.  Oh, yeah, integers, numbers, and numerals are not necessarily the same thing, even though the little buggers look identical (in the future, I promise not to give my students a hard time over verb forms that seem self-evident to me).

Then, Amy, the 6th grader, needed help with long division.  I have to say I’m on much more solid ground there, but I’m already bracing myself for the mysteries of algebra and quadratic equations.  It was in the midst of these help sessions that I read the New York Times op/ed pice, How to Fix Our Math Education –  In it, the authors decry the rather abstract way we tend to teach math, divorcing it from real-life applications.  They also suggest the rather radical idea that not everyone needs to learn the same math.  It made me wonder if we don’t think of learning math the same way senior fraternity members view hell week: if I had to go through it, so do you.

It wasn’t until I took a math for non-majors course in college that I finally got quadratic equations.  When I did, they suddenly seemed beautiful–I learned to love that elusive X.  Ask me, though, how many times in the last thirty years I’ve actually had to use one in some practical way. 0, zip, nada.  In fact, I probably did encounter situations where I could have solved a real-life quantitative problem by solving for X, but I didn’t recognize it at the time.

So, here I am, back in the world of wandering through abstract concepts with no idea where this trail comes out.  I’ll be leading my kids, using a mish-mash of the New Math of my generation (“but, Dad, I have to show why that’s the correct answer!) and the shortcuts my engineer father tried to teach me (“don’t you see how much easier it is if you just switch all this stuff around?”).

I just hope and pray we get through it with a minimum of weeping and gnashing of teeth–oh, and that the kids don’t cry much, either.

Ninja Josh

Josh's Signature MoveI called Josh in to supper the other night.

He was busy fighting invisible enemies with a three-foot dowel rod.

I called again.

He dropped the dowel rod, charged toward me, and struck  a pose, holding plastic knives.

He then looked me in the eye and said, “that’s my signature move.”

Afterschool Debriefings

The kids began the new school year a week ago, so we are getting settled into a routine of sorts.  We now have two middle-schoolers (6th and 7th) and two in elementary (1st and 2nd), so we have consolidated the number of car lines we wait in (hallelujah to not giving in to road rage trying to beat the tardy bell).

Some of the best debriefing occurs in the car, I find.  When I asked Josh how his day went recently, he replied,


“Have you made any new friends?”

“Yes, I played with [ambiguous name] at recess.”

“Is [ambiguous name] a boy or girl?”

“She’s a girl.  We played chase.”

“So you chased each other around the playground.”

“No, she chased me.  She chased me the whole recess, and she didn’t even get tired.  I guess girls are good at chasing.”

I smiled and said nothing.

Life imitates Art

I recently had to put the seven-year-old into time-out for a minor infraction.  While child #1 was still sitting in one corner of the kitchen, the eleven-year-old also earned a time-out.

As I settled child #2 into a separate corner, child #1 looks over with an expression straight out of a 40s gangster movie and says,

“So, what are you in for?”

How to Land Your Kid in Therapy – The Atlantic

I just started reading the current issue of The Atlantic, the cover of which carries the intriguing title “How the Cult of Self-Esteem is Ruining Our Kids.”  Inside, there’s an article by Lori Gottlieb, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” in which she describes how the parental search for happiness for one’s children actually leads to vaguely unfulfilled, anxious adults.

It gave me a lot of things to think about; at times in the article, I found myself saying, “yeah, I got that part right,” and at other times I thought, “ouch–I can see how I’ve messed that up.”  In essence, she argues that being too present in our kids’ lives (or, rather, being present in the wrong ways) can be just as destructive as being absent.

The article also reminded me of a funny incident involving my late father.  I should preface this by saying that one of Gottlieb’s beefs is that we have culturally tried to remove the possibility of disappointment from our kids lives, in part by removing from them the experience of competition: we tell our kids that they’re all winners, all the time.

So, back to my dad.  When my wife and I were newly married, we were spending a weekend with my sister’s family and my parents at a hotel.  At one point, we were teaching the kids how to play Scrabble (they were in the 6-8 year-old range) by just playing around and making words.  My dad wandered into the room, observed for a few minutes, and then asked, “Who’s winning?”  We replied that we weren’t keeping score.  He paused a moment then said, “Well, what’s the point of that?”  That probably told my wife all she needed to know about my family of origin.

I’m looking forward to reading another article in the issue: “The Trophy Generation,” by James Bennet.  Perhaps after reading it, I’ll have some further thoughts on both his and Gottlieb’s piece.

When Parents Go Bad

I had one of those experiences today that I’m sure every parent encounters at some point.  We were at the pool, and one of my kids (won’t say which one) went too far in annoying some other kids–nothing major but inappropriate nonetheless.  I was in the process of dealing with my kid (bringing him over to apologize, talking through it, etc), when the father of the other children went off on me and my child–completely came unglued.  I thought, “OK, this is bizaare,” but figured at first he just felt he had to assert himself, did so by going overboard, and that would be it.  But this wasn’t typical jerk behavior; it continued to ramp up until I decided to take the kids and leave, not knowing where he was headed.  I should add that the pool staff did their best to handle the situation professionally and were sympathetic.

This was, in my experience, an atypical situation involving someone with clear anger management issues, but it got me thinking in general about what has to be one of the trickier aspects of parenting–the socialization of our kids.  At the point in their lives when we’re sending them to school, or camp, or letting them have more freedom in the neighborhood in general, we remind them to “play nice with others,” and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.  Maybe I’ve got some latent sociologist DNA in me, but I generally like to watch first and see how kids work out their rules for social behavior–the clan managing the clan, so to speak.  Obviously, there are limits to this (I’m not in favor of The Lord of the Flies approach), but I sometimes think kids do a better job at this than parents do, when it comes to dealing with other parents.

I think there are several reasons for this.  Parents sometimes have a hard time not projecting their own childhood traumas onto their kids and are determined to rescue them when they aren’t necessarily asking to be rescued.  But I also think there’s another thing going on: parental pride.  When a kid is mean to our kid, we don’t just see it for what it is and deal with it appropriately, we’re tempted to take it as a personal affront.  If we give in to that temptation, then suddenly you can have a situation where a group of calm seven-year-olds are standing by watching their parents act like defiant three-year-olds.  Anyone who has attended youth sports leagues knows what I’m talking about.

I don’t have a slick answer to conclude with, except to observe that growing up is apparently a lifelong process.