Op/Ed: Children’s Music

August 31, 2015

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I’m writing this post on my phone, at a 5 & under children’s playplace. Don’t pity me too much. I’m the only parent hanging in the nice little seating area. I have my Dunkin. I have my shoes off. I’m not crawling through tunnels to rescue a screamer who’s too scared to go down the slide (anymore). It’s kind of nice, except for one small issue:

MY EARS ARE BLEEDING.

The ceiling speakers are loudly playing a list that alternates between Laurie Berkner, The Wiggles, and Kidz Bop. I don’t hate Laurie. I will after our two hours here. But the rest of it is pretty much creating a “Kill. Me. Now.” situation over here on the Uninvolved Mommy benches. And that’s just unnecessary. 

Disclaimer: I am an elementary music teacher. I’m not going to pretend that 12 years of this (awesome) job automatically makes me an expert in children’s music. Parenthood will do that for  you just fine, anyway. It does, however, make me opinionated about the subject. There is experience, research, and Master classes talking here. And they’re opinionated too.#sorrynotsorry

Parents, teachers, child-centered businesses, I beseech you: Play actual music for your children. Please.

Kidz Bop is only good for elementary school pep rallies when you want to seem cool enough to play music the kids will recognize, but not lose your job from parental complaints. There’s nothing wrong with pop – I love it. But I think it’s better to play the actual artist whenever you can. If you can’t, there’s a good chance the song isn’t a fabulous pick for kids anyway, even edited with words that rhyme with the objectionable stuff and vocals by (what sounds like) freaky castrati.

Laurie Berkner does some nice stuff; a few covers of folk songs and mostly songs about kid stuff. I like her acoustic approach and she’s a decent vocal model for children (they can match her voice and sing along). But it all sounds pretty much the same and I can’t take more than 15 minutes without wanting to go all Pete Townsend on her guitar. 

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And screw the Wiggles. Just screw ’em. I’ve been here for an hour and if one of those mates showed up to give a free concert it would take all my self control not to kick him Down Under. 

Please: Play decent recordings of folks songs. Put on “classical” (instrumental) music. There is a ton out there (See below) that is lively and engaging, the perfect sound track to imaginative play. Mix that up with pop songs that *gasp* YOU like, as long as you think they’re ok for your kids to hear.

Here’s a great CD set for this instrumental music that’s got some oomph:

Music for Creative Movement“, GIA public (click the title to find the CD on sale).

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Play music that was written for the sake of Music, not to give children something kiddie friendly to listen to. There is already so much music out there for them.

That said, I’m sure there’s some newer ones out there, but here are my favorite “children’s” albums with as little ear bleeding as possible:

“Here Come the ABCs” by They Might Be Giants

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Any of Sandra Boynton’s full book albums

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“Snack Time” by the Barenaked Ladies

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I realize this list is pretty dated. My kids are 8 and 5, and their mommy has Spotify. (We don’t buy full kids albums anymore.)

What are some of your favorites? Have you banned any albums from your home or car?

Have you ever fantasized about dropping a certain Australian singing group to the playroom floor?

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A Question for the Kids

August 27, 2015

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I am a teacher and a parent. The reason I don’t hate either of those jobs yet is because, to me, kids are awesome.  I like to ask them random questions. This time, I had my laptop out. I’ll have to make a habit of that. The question today:

“What would you do if all the adults disappeared?”

M: Wait. Everybody? She is dumbfounded.

E: Wait, does that mean my friend _____? She thinks her 10 year old friend is an adult.

Me: No. Besides eating all the candy in the world, after that, what would you guys do?

M: We would eat a lot more candy, and play video games. So would her father.

E: Do everything. (Spins on seat.)

M: Let’s just say I’d do whatever I wanted.

E: We would erase all our stuff on that. (Pointing to chore chart.)

M: I would invite a bunch of friends over and have a party. Lots of food. And go in the pool. All night. So would I.

Me: What would you do about food?

M: We would eat it? (Ba-dum-tsss.) Oh, I mean, we would go to the store.

Me: How would you get to the store, would you walk?

M: We could drive! I know how to drive!! Well no… but I could figure it out. Wait. Who’s gonna be running the store?

Me: I don’t know… who do you think?

M: Teenagers.

Me. Ok….

E: I want to drive the car!

Me: What would you do about your clothing?

E: We would wear it.

Me: You’re hilarious.

M: We would make our own?

Me: You know how to make your own clothes?

M: We would wash them. I know how to do the laundry! Note to self, in that case, she’s gonna start doing her own.

E: I want to be like Rarity. My Little Pony reference. She makes dresses.

M: Wait – so like, ALL the adults in the world disappeared? It would be only kids on the road! And no policemen… we could speed. That would be fun. Another note to self: Maybe time to limit MarioKart tournaments at home?  …nah.

E: What if they weren’t coming back?

Me: That’s what I’m saying. What would you guys do?

M: Miss you. Awwwwww.

E: I would never get to see you!

M: It would pretty cool to get to do whatever you want though.

E: Mommy can we have candy?

So, what would the kids in your life say?

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Happier Family Life, the French Way?

August 20, 2015

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A reflection on Pamela Druckerman’s “Bringing Up Bébé”

Last summer one of my first posts here admired the seemingly hands-off style of 1970’s parenting. Go back and read if you like. Kitty Foreman’s hair shaking is priceless.

Turns out, what I really needed to do was go a little Parisian.

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, came up on my “must read” radar a while ago. But the sample text suddenly resonated with me after a stream of needy children continually interrupted adult conversation while having friends over for dinner one night.
“When American families visit our home, the parents usually spend much of the time refereeing their kids’ spat, helping their toddlers do laps around the kitchen island, or getting down on the floor to build LEGO villages…When French friends visit, however, we grown-ups have coffee and the children play happily by themselves.”

Though we have and know some pretty awesome kids, I identified with those poor American parents, and inpulse-bought the book.

This text is by no means some kind of revolutionary parenting ‘bible’. It’s a narrative of the American author’s marriage, her move to Paris, and her outsider’s view of the stark contrast between French and American parenting strategies. There are many research references to illustrate the preferable outcomes of the former over the latter. In later editions there is an addendum that includes her list of 100 pointers. – Druckerman calls them “keys to french parenting”. I’d call them “mini kid philosophies”.

This book explores a different overall attitude towards children: Boiled down, you can trust that a child can do things. Things like teaching himself to connect sleep his sleep cycles (without the dreaded ‘crying it out’) and genuinely sleeping through the night at 3 months (this is a very standard milestone at 3 months in France.) Or politely greeting all adults – and in doing so, taking on the behavior of a mutually respected person in the social group. Or, imagine this: self-sufficiently playing alone or with other children, without a need for parent intervention or baggies of goldfish crackers. All you tired-eyed parents who are repeatedly interrupted by your child needing stuff while you try to cook or talk to other adults– are you fascinated yet? I was. I spent July trying to get grad class work done, while my children were in pay-attention-t0-me mode during most waking hours. I wish I’d read this little philosophy book before summer. Or, like, 9 years ago.

Intertwined with the concept that a child can fend for him or herself is the ideal of balance. In other words, the mother and father absolutely cannot lose themselves in the care of their children. The sacrifice-for-the-child valor that I’ve seen so many moms tote around like merit badges does not exist in the same way, in French culture. There is no humble-bragging that you survived quitting the job your were educated for so you could stay home, breastfeeding until age two, or functioning on crappy sleep because the co-sleeping child won’t stay out of your bed. These are not accepted truths of parenting in the French model. The happiness and prosperity of the entire family – the marriage of the parents being the core of this – is valued over the needs of the child. It probably sounds ungrateful and selfish to a lot of American mothers…

And I love that! The eating and the independent playing chapters made me want to wind back the clock and do things differently with my kids. However, we’re working on it now. Already this summer we’ve expanded the girls’ vegetable horizons . Hey family: E eats Brussels sprouts now, and there is no crying! Almost every other section had me saying out loud, to nobody, “Yes! What have I been saying!?!” Disclaimer: I’m going to quote Amy Poehler’s peace mantra of “Good for her, not for me”, but, here’s an example: In my family, kids are not welcome in our bed unless it is family hang-out or reading time. That is our bed, our sleeping and couple space, and we like it that way. Grown-ups time is sacred, even if it really is just “Netflix and Chill”.

Major points of “Bringing Up Bebe”’s message:

  • Sleep: Babies are just little, rational people and can be helped along and taught. French babies sleep thought the night 7+ hours around 3 months old. Yes, that is what I said. This is because of a parenting instinct common in France, referred to as “The Pause”. It is not Ferber or any of the crying-it-out methods. That‘s viewed as a little distasteful.
  • Breastfeeding: Nursing is encouraged in France. But, formula is viewed as pretty much a same-same alternative. (A couple American moms reading this just gasped. Meanwhile, I’m over here like, “Thank you God.”) If breastfeeding isn’t mechanically working out, or Mom went back to work (she did this earlier because of quality childcare, see below), or it was interfering with the overall happiness of the family – it stops. Studies linking breastfeeding to improved health and intellectual outcomes have been all but discredited and results attributed to other factors. French mommies know this (more than American moms, for sure) and proceed to feed formula and have bright, healthy kids. Imagine.
  • Eating: From about 4 months old, baby food is not in jars, but is rather a ground-up version of whatever (vegetable-heavy) dinner Mom and Dad are having. Dinner is served in three courses, even at home, with veggies served first – when kids are most hungry. (They have one snack a day. Not one at every activity and in baggies in the car on the way there.) Kids are expected to try everything on their plate, but amounts are not designated and rewards for eating are out of the question. They just try it, and are are trusted to eat what will sustain them. Meals are not a power struggle, but an important and social time. Children are (ideally) included as respected members in a balanced conversation – not the center of attention when they finally try that piece of broccoli or they want to sing a song. Gadgets at restaurant tables are unheard of. (Thank you.)
  • Snack: Snacktime is pretty standard, mid-late afternoon, and includes some junk food – possibly that the child helped bake him or herself. Food is not a reward or a distraction. Hunger is not usually offered as an explanation for cranky behavior. Because other meals are healthier (not chicken nuggets, pizza, burger, repeat), chocolate is seen as a wonderful snacktime item. Kids are sometimes given a bar of chocolate on a baguette – hot dam! Also, denying the existence of sugar is just stupid. (That last part is my own bit.)
  • Social Skills: Children should greet everyone in a social setting, to take their place as a member of the group there (where they must act like it – no coloring on the walls or pulling out every tissue at friends’ houses). From Mommy’s friends to clerks at the store, kids greet other kids and adults, period.
  • Learning: The “earlier is better” philosophy that prevails in America, so that kids can get an edge and defeat the competition – to get into the better preschool or score better on the standardized tests – isn’t nearly as present in France. Probably because preschool is a given and testing isn’t as big a deal. Kids are trusted to “get it” in their own time, many children not beginning to learn to read until age six. Likewise, the constant stream of activities and sports, intended to better the child and give them everything the parent didn’t have, isn’t as accepted either. If a mother who is basically a “mom taxi” is looked down upon as someone who has lost the balance in her life. (Hallelujah. If you’re complaining about your kids’ scheduled activities, why haven’t you de-scheduled some of them?) Having multiple kids in multiple activities is recognized as potentially harming the quality of family life, so it isn’t the standard way. (Can I get a ‘Hell YES’?)
  • Go Play: Children are trusted to be able to entertain themselves and enjoy doing so. Family time exists pretty much daily and it is awesome. But Adult Time is not their time. Likewise, they do no need to hear that every drawing is ‘excellent’ and every dance step ‘the best ever’. All kinds of therapy bills come from this practice.
  • Couple Time: *This one is my favorite* The quality of the relationship between Mom and Dad (or whoever) is the foundation of the family. The needs of the children do not trump the needs of the couple. No, really. There is little to no co-sleeping, because that bed is Mommy and Daddy’s space. “Bedtime” means kids stay in their rooms and eventually go to sleep, though generally they are allowed to play or read until they’re ready to sleep. Mommy and Daddy must have time to be themselves, as a couple, without kids interrupting. “Date night”, is not really a thing, because romance and sex are very highly valued in French culture, and the fact that the couple has couple time out & about and alone is a given. Mommy and Daddy probably don’t share parenting and household responsibilities equally, but there is a division of tasks, and appreciation for the other’s contributions is (hopefully) shown privately, and modeled for the kids.
  • Childcare: The “creche” is state funded and almost every child goes. It is not the dreaded day care situation that stay at home moms detest in America. Workers are skilled, enjoy long-term job security, and are paid well. Even moms who do not work often send their toddlers to the creche, for everybody’s benefit. Mommy gets her groove back – getting to work out and see friends, in addition to having a career and contributing to the household – and baby gets social skills.

Can you tell I like this stuff? Now, I’m fully aware that this model is not solely a “French” thing. Some of these philosophies I’ve had for years, and I know friends who have executed them beautifully all along as well, in one department or another. I also know a lot of moms who would look at aspects of this and wonder why French women bother having kids at all, if they’re just going to put a bottle in their mouths and send them off to someone else’s care?

I guess the impressive aspects of this philosophy for me are balance and trust. In this country there seems to exist an unspoken social norm saying that major sacrifice for your children’s comfort and development is proof that you are a “good” parent – because childhood is fleeting and you have your whole life to talk to your friend on the phone uninterrupted for 20 minutes. I think that’s total crap. We are talking about 18+ years, here. Balance is the goal. Trust makes that happen. This is definitely a goal to work for, in my book. American levels of happiness are reported lower from parents than non-parents, and lower with the birth of each child, despite children supposedly being a major source of lifetime happiness. What’s missing? What can we do differently to feel less harried and stressed?

Maybe try a little Francais.

The book, again, is called Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. (Her website is HERE.)

What do you think of this? Old news (probably but not to a lot of my generation)? Selfish? Wonderful?

Do you disagree with any of these basic points? Do you practice them at home with your own kidlets?

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Boy (and Girls) and Their Toys

August 9, 2015

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My kid: “I am part boy because I like some boy stuff”.

Response: “I think you are yourself, and you like what you like.”

*****

You attempt to raise a girl who doesn’t need to be told that she can do anything a boy can do, because it would never occur to her that she couldn’t. You buy her blocks and non-caretaker play toys (I have done a crappy job of this, but I will get better), along with the usual girl stuff they receive. My older one in particular has always loved the usual girly stuff just as much, because, again, she likes what she likes. You tell them that there are no “boy” jobs, there are no “girl” toys, and they can play what they want – just as they can choose their own path in life.

And then? You take them to Target.

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Damn it, Target.
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The 8 Year Old, when I showed her this: “Mom. That’s ridiculous. They’re called LEGOS.”

Some good news on this front broke on Saturday: Target is removing gender labeling from their toy and bedding aisles.

This classification system has irked me some, but never inhibited us from wandering into the blue section and picking up some Nintendo figurines. My kids are as Nintendo-Obsessed as their father was, 25 years ago. The big one can beat me in MarioKart. However, the reality that not every boy looks, acts, or plays “like a boy”, and vice versa, simply needs accepted. I appreciate this small step towards empowerment and acceptance. Dear Toys-R-Us, please follow suit.

The acceptance part is probably what scares the more “traditionalist” shoppers:  In this heapin’ helping of crazy, (my opinion, not the title of the article, I swear), the blog BizPac Review seems to think the lack of direction as to where junior can shop indicates that the world as they know it is crumbling. Almost anything with “pac” in the name should induce at least low-level vigilance for, as John Stewart called for this week, “bullshit”. They also decried the White House’s installation of a gender-neutral bathroom. But anyway…

Is this un-labeling a welcome change, unnecessary, or a sign of the unraveling of our society that would “make Ike roll over in his grave”?

What do you think?
Do these store sections mean anything to you and yours, and did they guide you as a child?
Please weigh in.

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Sweet Potato Salad with Broken Glass

August 5, 2015

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The correct name for this recipe is: “Sweet Potato Salad with Carmelized Onions, Watercress, and Guajillo Chile Dressing”. This dish had more oil-everywhere problems than BP. (Too soon?) Ultimately we LOVE this recipe and we’ve already repeated it for friends, since making it the first time. The second time I didn’t even break anything.

Please do not laugh at my lack of knowledge of thermodynamics, or whatever tells you that heat and cold break glass. Who knew?!

I can’t find my pic of the ingredients. The list appeared pretty long for someone who grew up thinking Hamburger Helper was complicated. (Oil, guajillo chiles, garlic, vinegar, red onion, sweet potato, watercress.)

You can buy guajillos at an upscale food market for about $50 per pound. I wish I were kidding. They come in hermetically sealed packages of 6. OR you can buy a big handful of them from the various dried pepper bins at your local tienda (Mexican grocer) for a total of 48 cents. I gave the clerk more than that, because that was ridiculous. Additionally, despite the fact that neither of us spoke each other’s language well, she helpfully explained the heat levels of each pepper to me.

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These.

You put them in heated oil with garlic, and they smell like freakin’ Heaven.

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Caution: The oil is burny and the pepper is burny so either way, you’re gonna get burned.

Tips about oil:

  1. Don’t accidentally use too much oil, like I did.
  2. Don’t get confused about the cookbook wanting the oil to cool.  They mean for you to let it cool in the pan, on the stove top. You are using it for the dressing in a second.
  3. Do not, under any circumstances, decide to speed things up by pouring the  hot oil into a glass and putting that glass in the fridge to cool. (You idiot.)

This will end badly for your pretty glass. Who knew?!

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Clean break, though.

Then you cook a chopped red onion. After that, you discover how a potato peeler works and cube up a million (or 4) sweet potatoes. This will make more than will fit in your largest pan, so you will have to cook them in two separate pans. They will not be uniformly cooked through, but whatever.

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The dressing is made from the sauteed garlic and peppers, blended smoothly with a vinegar – either sherry, balsamic, or, as I used, champagne. #fancy

The recipe called for the cooked, dressing-covered potatoes and onions to be served over a “bed of watercress”. I discovered that this is actually a kind of lettuce! Who knew?!  The recipe said to remove the stems from the watercress. I see from the picture below that I missed one. I thought this combination of foods sounded rather odd, but it was, upon tasting, kind of amazing.

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Otherwise? I would eat this weekly. The dressing would probably make it ok to eat salad for a year.

However, R. I. P. to my blue, coincidentally Mexican margarita glass. You were shattered before your time.

What We Have Learned:

  • Glass breaks when you change its temperature quickly.
  • Entire sections of common sense-type knowledge were taught when I was apparently absent.
  • Learning to “adult” is satisfying and good. And so is this potato salad.
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