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Parenting (64 posts)
Ever since I read the brilliant poet David Whyte's description of our "need to overhear the tiny but very consequential things we say that reveal ourselves to ourselves," I've been trying to listen more closely to what comes out of my mouth. But doing this is more difficult than it seems, due the chatter going on in life and in my own head. In his essay, Whyte describes a woman who sings her thoughts to herself in order to recognize the feeling and meaning behind them. I actually tried this once, to the horror of my kids, who were also in the car with me.
Now I'm beginning to think I need to buy a cockatoo. Yesterday, Australian Geographic revealed to the world that wild cockatoos were learning the art of conversation—including curse words—from trained cockatoos who had escaped their cages or had been set free. In the article, the site included this clip:
It's hard to hear, but listen to what the bird is saying: "What are you doing?" (in a frustrated, annoyed, on-the-edge mom tone), followed by "Look at that!" (in a wondrous tone, as if he'd just seen his baby stand up and walk for the first time), followed by "Uh-oh. Uh-oh," over and over (in the classic child's I-just-broke-the-family-champagne-flutes tone). Clearly, this is a family pet.
I tried to imagine what such a cockatoo might repeat after spending time with my family—or even me. Would it say in an exhausted voice, "I have so much work!"? Or, crossly, "Be quiet! It's 4 am!"? Or would it say, "God I love you so much," or even "Thank you"? Two out of the three things the bird learned above were negative. Would my ratio be the same? Or worse?
A snippet of repeated dialogue does not define the emotional character of a person's entire existence, but it is still a window into the kind and quality of messages we give each other. I not only want to start talking as if a cockatoo were about to speak my words back to me, but I also want to fill my life with all of the other sounds I would wish such an bird would imitate: laughter, doorbells rung by neighbors, violin notes from my son, the fizz of ice cream when it hits the soda in a root beer float.
This is not a completely idealistic thought. The same Australian Geographic article describes certain lyrebirds that still make the noises their mother birds and grandmother birds and great-grandmother birds learned while in captivity: the chopping of axes and the clicking of old shutter-box cameras.
David Whyte's 10 questions that have no right to go away
Are you listening to your life?
I often like to think that I'm different kind of learner. I didn't do particularly well on the SATs before college or the GREs afterward, or even my driver's license test. My children, too, I found, suffered from the same plight. They didn't score well on our city's Gifted and Talented exams, despite my flashcards and enforced workbook sessions. Could it be, I wondered—loudly, repeatedly, insistently, to anyone that would listen—that none of us were wired for important, multiple choice questions? Was it all about how and not what we learned?
Imagine my chagrin at the findings presented recently on NPR's Morning Edition, which suggested that none of us learn particularly differently and that teachers shouldn't alter their teaching styles. Talking to Doug Roher, a psychologist at the University of South Florida, the radio show reported that when it came to learning styles, Roher found no scientific evidence about different kinds of students. "We have not found evidence from a randomized control trial supporting any of these," he said, "and until such evidence exists, we don't recommend that they be used" in the classroom.
But what impressed me most was the opposite idea, presented by Dan Willingham of the University of Virginia who suggested it might be more useful to figure out similarities in how our brains learn, rather than differences. For example, "Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention," he told NPR.
For me this opened a whole new window of opportunity. My kids and I will now spend 15 minutes learning to advance ourselves in terms of math (them) or bill-paying on line (me), then 15 minutes learning hand-eye-coordination sling-shotting parrots into cargo boxes for points on Angry Birds, then spend 15 minutes picking up Legos (okay, that's not learning, but I like not slipping on a lethally slippery plastic cubes on the way to the bathroom) until, by god, we are all geniuses—or maybe just normal people, trying to pick up what they can, as best they can.
What would it take to change your life for the better? It may be less than you think—we’ve got mini-makeovers to help you upgrade everything from your workout to your weekend. #18: Three readers share the traditions that help them savor time with family.
"It's so easy to crowd the calendar with activities, but last year we decided not to enroll our son in anything on weekends. Instead, we have Explorers Day—we take turns picking a destination. We bike or drive with grandparents, which feels leisurely because we're not racing back for other things on the schedule." —Anne Medved, 33, Boston
"Deciding which movie to watch as a group used to take forever. Now my sisters and I play a game we call 3-2-1. One of us picks three movies to watch, the next narrows it down to two options, and the last person makes the final choice. It's a fun bonding game—and now no more bickering if the movie is lousy." —Jamie Spitz, 24, New York City
Tell us: What's your favorite way to create quality time with your family?
30 days of makeovers
Family fun in under 2 hours
Weekend trips that don't cost a fortune
We all believe in change at Oprah.com. But when you're in jail, that change is all the more difficult—if not, in many cases, impossible (one study found that 52 percent of all offenders in America end up re-incarcerated). This summer, as the Today show originally reported in this moving, altogether inspiring interview, an organization called Hope House reconnects kids with their incarcerated fathers by offering both parties a chance to catch up at an in-prison summer camp, complete with sing-alongs and art projects.
Much of the news coverage focused on the kids and how they become more open and loving to their dads after the weeklong experience. But listen to what counselor Rachel Foley says about the fathers toward the end of this clip.
Just to recap, Foley describes how putting a child in front of his dad transforms "the man from the nothing the prison makes him believe he is to the father he knows he is."
Which serves a great reminder to all of us. Sure, not all of us are in prison. Sure, there may be big differences between our lives. But the goal is the same: getting to that split second of visible change where we become who we want to be.
Men! What are they thinking? We can't always answer that, but we'll be posting our favorite glimpses into their world in this space every Thursday.
* SNL's Andy Samberg explains how he came to be Chief Shark Officer for Discovery's Shark Week. (YouTube)
* Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune, a documentary on the '60s folksinger who had "a stance, six strings, and an insistent voice," explores Ochs' contribution to both music and politics. Whether you're looking for the story of someone who fought passionately for his beliefs or you just want a killer classic soundtrack, the film came out on DVD last week. (PhilOchstheMovie.com)
* How adorable is this dad doing his daughter's hair? (Cute Girls Hairstyles)
* After speaking at the Save Our Schools rally, Matt Damon proves he's a real-life action hero in his defense of teachers. Warning: there's some NSFW language in the video. (The Stranger)
* Speaking of teachers, Dave Eggers has written a lovely remembrance of Jay Criche, the man who encouraged him to become a writer: "He was curious, so we were curious. He was hungry for learning, so we were hungry, too. He made us want to impress him with the contents of our brains. He taught us how to think and why." (Salon)
Daughter's perspective: I'm all grown up—down to the age spot on my forehead—and still, I act like a child around my mother.
Mom's perspective: She's all grown up—and still, she doesn't understand what I tried to do as a parent and (gulp) a person.
How can the two of you get around all the murk and misunderstandings of the past and start a new relationship? This week, one woman gives it a shot with her own personal to-change list called: 12 Things I'm Too Stubborn To Tell My Mother.
I am the crazy lady in pumps racing down the street after work to get home to my kids...only to burst through the door to find them splayed out on on the floor watching Toy Story 3 for the tenth time. The problem: how to have the kind of traditional school-is-out family summer fun--say, a trip to the beach or a monopoly marathon--when you don't have the full day to spend together?
Our solution: Make your fun happen a little faster with some quirky, original, 2-hour projects like....Making A Planetarium Out of a Pringles Can.
Click here to find out how the delightful deed is done, plus discover 41 other unexpected family activities, many involving: watermelons, tarps, grandparents, pajamas, whipped cream, clouds, and mailboxes. Not to mention laughter.
Where were you at 22? Crashing in Mom and Dad's basement, hiding from an ego-piercing job market? Slinging lattes at the local espresso shop--an activity complicated by various piercings and projectile hair "experiments?" Racing off to work as an administrative assistant, hoping that somebody would notice your stellar labeling skills in the file cabinet and promote you to "MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THIS MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION?" (Okay, that one was me...and by the way, neither the job title, nor the accompanying gold sticker I so feverishly imagined, panned out.)
This weekend on NPR, I heard this story about Katie Davis and felt compelled to go hug my own kids--over and over--until they made me stop. Davis, at age 22, gave up her own dreams of being a nurse in order to remain in Africa, where she had been volunteering, and raise 13 orphaned or otherwise needy girls. Her plan is to one day adopt them.
"I think that's definitely something that I was made for," said Davis. "God just designed me that way because he already knew that this is what the plan was for my life--even though I didn't."
Her first child was an HIV positive 9-year-old who was injured when a mud hut collapsed. She asked if she could live with Davis--and Davis, then age 19, said yes. Thus began her new life, as a mother and full-time resident of Uganda where she and the girls live, complete with an oversized minivan.
In her spare time, Davis also runs a nonprofit called Amazima Ministries, a job supports the family of 14. There she oversees educating 400 other children, setting up community health programs and feeding more than a thousand children five days a week.
My first task tomorrow is to promote her to "MOST WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING" and send her a gold-star sticker--and a donation--that officially affirms the title.
Note: This article has been changed as of July 12, 2011.
This week, Leigh Newman opens up about the war going on in her refrigerator. On one side: her husband and the healthy, affordable ball of mozzarella. On the other side: her, the kids and a bag of processed, overpriced yet inexplicably delectable cheese sticks, which "may or may not be made of actual cheese (depending on the brand), and this last point is moot because they do not taste like cheese. They taste like dairy Styrofoam."
What, you might ask, does all this have to do with making new friends? (And by friends we do not mean the ladies in your book group or the mothers of your children's friends or your neighbors or co-workers of your spouse. We mean grown-up, intelligent, just-for-you women who might just chat with you "about books and art and really mature things like slow cookers.")
Find out where the intersection of cheap snacks and new intimates lies (including a perplexing confession of adultery)
I was thinking of giving my husband the day off for Father's Day. He could laze in bed reading, and I would take care of the kids. But maybe I should let him take care of the kids...and I'll go catch a movie instead.
As we found out this morning on LifeInc.Today.com, women aren't the only ones struggling to find a balance between spending time with their family and advancing their careers. A study by the Boston College Center for Work & Family called The New Dad surveyed nearly 1,000 fathers, most of whom had wives who also worked. The men reported that they spent an average of 2.65 hours interacting with their children, and, when asked if they would like to spend more time with their children during the week, "77 percent of the fathers reported that they would."
Most importantly, 65 percent of the papas believed that care for the kids should be split 50-50 between both parents (though 65 percent of them admitted that the mamas actually gave more care).
I'm beginning to think the whole country should move Father's Day from Sunday to Monday, close all the post offices and businesses, and let dads stay at home to pick up the children from school, buy them an ice cream and, screaming in terror, chase after the kids as they pedal like speed-drunk bicycling maniacs toward the intersection, only to stop at the curb and ask innocently, "Pop? Why are you so upset?"
So let's stop showering Dad with cards and gifts. Let's make Father's Day about being a father—from carpooling to making spaghetti for supper to laughing over who exactly floated the bath toys in the toilet bowl (true story).