Saturday, December 31, 2011

Norway Day 2

No one in Norway is stout! Apparently, it is because all 4 million of them go outside. All the time. There is a path that runs along the road from P and T's house to anywhere else and every time we are on the road, there are walkers, runners and cyclists along the path. We went to a little shopping center with a bank on our way out to town today and there were people walking up the hill as we drove to the parking lot. And all adults speak English, thank god, because the only thing I can say reliably in Norsk is thank you. Please is way too hard. I hope it'd be easier if I was living here and learning the language. At least I no longer want to default to the French. Anyway, I changed money at the bank and so now I know how expensive everything is! 300 US$ yielded around 1700 kroner. Lunch today -- and it wasn't a particularly fancy lunch – was 776 kroner.
So, after the bank we continued into Oslo itself, to go to Vigeland Park. It was pretty busy for a cold (-4 C) day. We saw a lot of naked statues, including the "famous angry little naked boy." We saw the monolith of naked bodies at the center of a huge park, and walked around the park for a bit. The playground, Frognersborgen,was mobbed. The Girl, unfortunately, was cold and tired and didn't want to play.
So we went to lunch near Aker Brugge instead. It was an interesting experience to find someone willing to feed our party of 6 along the shoreline. The first place was full. The second place took a giant pass on the kiddies. The third place said Ok, despite having only one waiter and a cook. In all of these places, the waiters and hostesses were Swedish. P says it's because Norwegians usually don't want those jobs. The third place was called Alfred, and was attached to the Nobel Peace Center. Fred means peace in Norsk. I had a delicious bowl of cream of cauliflower soup with chives and bacon and the strongest cup of coffee in my life. The Girl had a chicken and bacon salad, which was excellent as well. Little e had the kids' chicken, but NO potatoes or salad. Big E ate those. My credit card worked here. USAA forgot to tell me in the travel notice that I need some kind of anti-theft chip on the card, so it only works on swipe machines, which not everyone has.
After lunch, we wandered over to check out the gift shop of the museum and the docent at the intro desk of the museum handed The Girl (English) and Big E (Norsk) each a scavenger hunt card and said "the museum is free today." We said "awesome!" and checked it out, since it's normally 80 kroner (about $13) to get in. I learned something about the Nobel peace prize and Alfred Nobel himself in this cool interactive, giant book exhibit. Had no idea that he invented dynamite, and find it somewhat ironic that the man who invented a great instrument of war would also leave his legacy in those striving for peace. This year's prize winners were dubbed "Sheroes" by the institute. I also had no idea that American Quakers, Jane Addams or Woodrow Wilson had previously received the prize. Big E and The Girl completed the hunt and picked out a prize each in the gift shop (button depicting the icons of the 8 different ways to begin peace - The Girl chose th one depicting a tree for recycling and Big E chose the one for depicting a megaphone for speaking up/out). We all went to the bathroom (I keep taking photos of interiors like bathrooms because I think they are so cool) and then left around 4:30. It was pitch black at that time and there was a man singing opera and wearing sweatpants in the public square just outside the center.

We came home after Aker Brugge and had teriyaki salmon with veggies and rice for dinner. Yum, so yum! I probably could have eaten the whole fish myself. P and I had dropped T and the girls at home and gone to the local grocery (Rema 1000) to get some supplies for dinner. P said it’s critical to plan, something that she isn't very good at, because most shops close at 8 on weekdays and all of them are closed on Sundays. In Norway, not only is it a cultural tradition to spend most of one’s time outside (regardless of weather), but it's also tradition that children can have sweets (candy, chocolate) on Saturdays - usually after dinner, but P said her neighbor with boys does it after breakfast because her kids are hooligans on that much sugar. The Boy would be also. And on Fridays after work, it's salty smack time. So we split a bag of "Friday mix," which also goes well with a cold glass of beer or wine. I don't know if I could be that disciplined - especially in a sea of Veruca Salts - but I wonder if I could implement such rules in my own life.

At dinner, I jinxed us by commenting how well the girls were doing together, so at bedtime there was a bit of a quarrel. P read to Little e and Big E and I read some Clementine to The Girl  and put her in bed – T’s excellent IKEA hack of a Hemnes twin bed mounted like a bunk bed - and then Big E asked to sleep with The Girl and they snuggled in together, their quarrel forgotten.

Big E goes back to school on the 3rd. The article about Finnish education (especially compared to Norway and the U.S.) was timely, although anyone knows how interesting the subject of education is to me and of course I am asking questions. The Norwegian primary schools are similar to U.S. schools. In 1st grade, Big E goes every day from 8 -1 (or similar), and the instructional time is redistributed in the length of the school year - a 6-week summer break, 2 weeks at Christmas, a week in February. There are 27-28 kids in Big E's class with 1 teacher and 1 aide. Big E calls her teacher by her first name. It is very informal. Perhaps because, as P says, so few couples get married. For example, T's sister got married a few years ago to her partner of 25 years.

Big E goes to aftercare, and Little e goes to heavily subsidized daycare (Barnhege) until 5. Barnhege is 400 US$ each month for full time care. Seriously. The taxes are about 30 percent of income. P says Big E comes home and then has homework, which is as exhausting here as ours is in the U.S.

We are going to take the cruise to Copenhagen with Little e on the 2nd and come back on the 4th. The guidebook stresses shopping. Apparently, everyone shops everywhere else except no one shops in Norway because it’s too expensive. I spent 120US$ on 3 pairs of (awesome) Norwegian mitts yesterday, so this is not surprising. I'm not going to Copenhagen to shop however. The plan is to see the Viking museum and the Danish design museum. T says to buy marzipan and look at speakers too.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Adventures in International Travel - Day 1

Up at 1 am local time, so my sleep is still messy. But The Girl made it until 9:30 after a two-hour nap so maybe her sleep will be better.

It's not as dark or cold as I expected. Reminds me a bit of both Pittsburgh and Seattle, although more likely that those places were influenced by Scandinavian design. Went through Swedish customs and The Girl freaked out by crowds and fear of being left behind. We were officially the last through the passport check and we still had 90 minutes for our flight, so she calmed a bit. Got a coffee and muffin in one of the coffee lounges at Arlanda. The benefit to not knowing the currency is that if felt like play money. I want to move in to Arlanda. I had joked with The Girl that there would be a mini IKEA in the airport. There wasn't, but the design aesthetic was everywhere. It got light around 9, when our flight took off.

Everyone on flight from Sweden to Norway spoke in Norge to us; feel like I need a sign round my neck that says "I'm sorry, I do not speak Swedish/Norwegian/Danish." that said, it gives me a thrill that I look enough like I could be from here. Told The Girl  that this is why learning a second language is important; may have convinced her to start Polish school. Norge customs nonexistent, got bags and got on flytoget, which is pronounced nothing like the English and is the express train to Drammen, stopping along city center, Lillestrom, and Sandvika, our destination, along the way.

My friend P and her daughter, Big E, met us at station. Sandvika is site of largest mall in Norway. Funny to me, since P is from Minneapolis-st. Paul. The Girl and Big E instant friends, chattering like magpies to their house. House is big, would be called duplex in US, with one adjoining wall. Simple, clean lines and colors with lots of windows. We met Little E and saw Toff. LIttle E is a stubborn 2.5y and speaks only in Norge. Big E had written us a welcome note, using Norge phonetics and pronunciation, translated to the English "Caroline and The Girl, wwelcome to ass (us)."

I was hungry, so we went to local village - Barens Verk - for lunch and some "stay awake" browsing. P told me that Barens Verk used to be an iron factory (allegedly why Hitler wanted Norway) and most of the buildings have been there for 500+ years so it is a popular spot with tourists , especially in summer. Cute and quaint, with hills and lots of gallery spaces and shops. We went to Hansen Baker, a bakery/cafe for lunch. P says it is a chain. I had ham and cheese with veggies and cappuccino, p had cheese sandwich with veggies and cappuccino, girls had vanilla bolle, chocolate muffin, cinnamon roll. Yum. Walked around shops, over bridge over waterfall. Snow melty but lots of ice. Went into chocolate house - will go back for goodies for boys before we leave, bought locally made Norge mitts for me and The Girl. My credit card didn't work - missing some kind of chip. Should have looked into that more closely before I left.

Stopped to buy firework for NYE on way back. I took a nap, The Girl played with E and e, The Girl fell asleep on front of The Princess Bride. Make your own pizza for dinner. P and T anniversary so I put kids to bed and crashed out myself. Light at 2-3, dark at 5.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Teachers and Students

All over Chicago, bloggers, message boarders, reporters and post-school playgrounds are abuzz with news of waiver votes happening at schools scattered throughout the city. For my family, the extended school day is nothing new.

What is new is that CPS paying for it. Or, more accurately, the teachers at our school voted to give up their stipend and take the flat 2 percent payout + $150,000 in discretionary funds of the Pioneer Program in exchange for teaching school for an additional 45 minutes (to our already extended day) each day. Starting Monday, The Boy and The Girl will attend school from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., giving them an extra 5 minutes for lunch and 40 total minutes added to the music, art, technology and physical education that they already receive, giving them a full 60 minutes to explore these subjects. They'll retain the daily 90-minute literacy and math blocks that make up the core of their instructional day. 

There is much debate over the extended day and public education in general these days in public forums and private living rooms and everywhere in between. Unfortunately, in education policy--as in parenting--we may only see the effects of our immediate actions 10 or 20 years down the line. But, I am fairly confident that a 7.5-hour day, structured in the above manner, will afford my children the kind of education I think that they--and their peers--need to become productive members of society in 16+ years. I believe that this new longer day will look nothing like the CPS-as-babysitter model feared by many.

And more importantly, the teachers at my children's school believe that this longer day is beneficial to the children. So much so that 83 percent of them voted to take a significant pay cut. In light of this, I am disappointed to learn that the 2011 Blue Ribbon Commission recommended that teachers pursue children-of-teacher admission to their schools as a benefit through CPS' Human Capital division (page 4). Won't someone please think about the teachers?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Fathers and School

Last May, Grandma Texas came to visit during a school week. She came with me on a Thursday afternoon to pick up The Boy, The Girl and The Tot (Who Isn't) from school and her observation about life at the kids' urban elementary school struck me as odd: she was surprised to see so many fathers at school. She thought that this was perhaps a Chicago thing, but more recent news makes me think it's yet another sign of school success.

Perhaps it's because The Dad has worked from home since we moved to Chicago 9 years ago, or the acquaintance of a fair number of police officers and fire fighters (both male and female) and nurses, but a sizable population of involved fathers has never struck me as odd. And fathers at our school are involved. And more to the point, their involvement is visible and tangible, regardless of individual race, educational level, marital status, address, generation, age or socioeconomic status, fathers are very involved at our school. They drop off their kids, pick up their kids, attend parent-education events, lead fundraising, chaperone field trips, direct traffic, volunteer in class, read books, coach extracurricular sports and bring special activities (like the Pilot Light Chefs) to our school.

I've always taken this for granted, but it's actually anomalous in Chicago today. Per new CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard, such involvement is so rare in some neighborhoods as to be bizarre. In some areas of the city, in fact, according to Brizard, census data show that there are some neighborhoods where there are no males between the ages of 18 and 35 living there. They are all either incarcerated or dead, he said.

Although my father was not intimately involved in my early elementary years in the early 80s, I feel fortunate that I cannot really imagine a world bereft of dads.  And I thank goodness that my kids--and their classmates--do not have to either.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Big Blue Box

On Monday morning, our power went out. A City of Chicago tree crashed into a ComEd power line, taking two power boxes and power for 90.9 percent of the houses on our block along with it. ComEd and the City sounded worse than my children during a squabble ("It's not my fault. You fix it." "No, you fix it first." "No, you." "NO, YOU."), leaving us without power for a dreadful 36 hours.*

What was a mama to do? Go to IKEA, of course!

I love IKEA. Certainly not as much as these folks, and probably not as much as the friend who once sent weekly countdown emails for the opening of the Emeryville IKEA, but my love for IKEA has been fierce and unwavering since my French host family took me to "Chez IKEA" in Paris when I was 17. I love Chicago because it's got O'Hare and a direct line to anywhere in the world, but I also love it because it's got two IKEA stores within a 40-minute drive.

I go there when it's cold outside (indeed, it was The Boy's first outing in February 2003). I go there when it's hot outside (as I told a family friend earlier this week, it's cheaper than a trip to the movies). I go to put the kids in Smaland. I go for inspiration, for lunch, to kill time, or because I just haven't been there in awhile

* I know there were households worse off than we were. I'm just sayin' 

Sunday, July 03, 2011

BRC Redux

The Dad, the kids and I rolled back into town after our first ever family road trip on Monday night around 11 p.m. Less than 24 hours later, I was back in the auditorium of Lane Tech, listening to the same CPS administrator review this year's proposed changes to SE/magnet enrollment policy (see page 6). Unlike at last year's presentation, which was sketchily announced and scarcely attended, yet expertly presented, the crowd this year was huge. Public comment extended beyond the allotted 2-hour window. (CPS is learning that the best way to contact parents is not to stick a print ad next to the obits in the Trib.)

Like last year, I spoke to the Blue Ribbon Commission. Unlike last year, the moderator responded to comments and questions from the crowd. My comments were not news--either to the audience, which included the Raise Your Hand Coalition steering committee and a few teachers and fellow parents from the kids' school, or to the CPS powers-that-be: we need more high school options, we need to increase the size of the pie all-around. This sentiment was oft-repeated by those who gave testimony at the hearing.

Another common theme among commenters was how unfair CPS's 2009 SE enrollment policies are to their junior high children. The prevailing sentiment was that their ("our") northside children are more deserving of a spot at Northside Prep, Walter Payton, or Jones because they  scored 20 points (or 50 points or even 100 points) higher than a kid who has to bus in from the west or south sides. You'll soon be able to read the transcript online, so you'll be able to verify that a man said, "the smarter kids are going to become disenfranchised" by CPS' current SE enrollment policy/system. Really? I'd like to see some research on that. Because I know there is a whole lot on how black, Hispanic, Asian, and poor children become disenfranchised by a dearth of opportunity. More on this issue at another time.

And the other major theme at Tuesday's hearing was the issue of enrolling the children of school staff at magnet schools. I had read about the policy-change proposal drafted by the Friends of Mayer group several weeks ago on NPN, but it wasn’t until I attended the hearing that I realized the import of such a change. The proposal asks that CPS/Blue Ribbon Commission replace principal discretion at magnet schools with a new, transparent policy that would allow teachers, principals and staff to enroll their children at the school where their parent(s) work.

I was directly and positively affected by the Board of Education’s 2009 decision to keep families together by giving siblings priority in the magnet enrollment process. Keeping siblings together in their schooling minimizes family stress and maximizes educational outcomes for students. Likewise, keeping school employees’ children with them in the school communities they serve is critical for the continued success of great CPS elementary schools.

As I listened to parent after parent and teacher after teacher speak in support of keeping families together, it struck me that our school community and our children will bear an incredible loss if our extremely dedicated teachers, administrators or staff were forced to measure their time between their children and their students.  Can you imagine our school without the excellent teachers who have been with the school since its inception and, I believe, are an integral part of its success? I do not want to do so.

You can show your support for fabulous teachers, administrators and school staff everywhere within CPS by submitting public comment in favor of allowing teachers, administrators and staff to enroll their children in the magnet schools where their parent(s) work by submitting public comment here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Progress Reports

Today marks the last Monday of attendance* in the Chicago Public Schools' 2010-2011 academic year. The Boy and The Girl will receive their final progress report during their one-hour of attendance on Friday. The Tot Who Isn't will receive his on Wednesday. And, apparently, individual Chicago Public Schools will receive a progress report before September as well.

At least that's what Jean-Claude Brizard, Chicago Public Schools' newest chief, said this afternoon when a group of parents and I met with him.

Haven't we done this before? Will Mr. Brizard reveal new data that wasn't previously available on the CPS website? Sure, navigating the CPS website is/was difficult, as Mr. Brizard pointed out in his remarks to us today. But while reporting the data is important, it's significantly less important (at least to our audience) than improving the number of high-quality educational seats available across the board. After all, nearly everyone in the room could share a story--whether personal, familial or anecdotal--of parental frustration in navigating the application process or gaining admission to a school of their choice.

I feel fortunate (OK, I feel like I won the lottery) that The Girl, The Boy and The Tot Who Isn't attend a school that is a school of choice for much of the northwest side. The Boy is going into 3rd grade, so now I'm looking at high schools. I'm pleased to see the Northside High School Initiative and the increased interest in and support of Lakeview High, but that doesn't do much for kids out here in the boondocks of the northwest side. They deserve a great high school option as well, I told Mr. Brizard. Another parent echoed this sentiment, sharing that the handful of well-known great high schools (Northside Prep, Jones, Whitney Young, Walter Payton) don't provide enough seats to enroll all of the kids like ours, who will likely come out of their current school well-prepared and excited for a vigorous, challenging high school education. Mr. Brizard pointed out that there are other great high schools outside of this list, but they are less known because of the lack of data on them.

Such things are possible. But as a research-oriented parent, I am a bit skeptical.

Mr. Brizard pointed out that within CPS, there are essentially two school systems. Some people, he noted, have choices. Some do not. Call me what you will, but it's important enough to me to burn time with the CEO of the CPS to advocate for increased high school opportunities (or choices) for our elementary school's current population. While I'd argue that our group, as parents of children in a highly sought-after magnet school, was not really in the "non-choice" group, I can get behind an initiative that brings more information (and more transparency, and more accountability, per Mr. Brizard) to a wider swath of the city's population. Provided that the information itself has real meaning. (What does it mean that School A's academic performance was above/below the citywide average for last year? Is the number of teachers who choose to stay at a school more important than the number of teachers who are retained?).

It's not surprising that Mr. Brizard didn't yet have concrete plans for how he'd accomplish an increase in educational choices. I mean, he's only been in the job for less than a month. While he did tout his 25 years of experience as a school administrator and high school teacher, he does have a monster of a job in front of him: improving educational opportunities for all, on a shoestring budget, and in the face of parental non-involvement, poverty and other obstacles to success. I'm curious to see how he'll implement plans to introduce "new school operators," to CPS and how those operators, such as Expeditionary Learning, will improve educational outcomes.

Only time will tell. I'll be watching.

* For regular schedule track schools

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Vintage Schmintage

A few weeks ago, The Girl and I attended The Vintage Bazaar's pop-up in a Pilsen warehouse space. I had been following BackGarage with interest since it was posted a few years ago on Reddit Chicago. I really wanted to like the pop-up, but I found it "meh." My most interesting purchase was 6 vintage buttons from a 70s deadstock vendor. (My only other purchase was a vegan s'mores brownie from Bleeding Heart Bakery.)  Otherwise, the pop-up was a nice stroll through the visual reminders of my early years, but really, the early 1970s were pretty horrible design-wise: I'll leave the avocado green, mustard yellow and basic brown dishware sets to someone far removed from the era -- like the hipsterish couples who were waiting for the bus to take them back to Uki Village.

I think that for me, part of the thrill of vintage is the thrill of the hunt. And while some vendors at the pop-up had some gorgeous mid-century modern pieces, a lot of them just had a lot of junk. Old chairs covered in layers of peeling paint, Samsonite leatherette suitcases, an old Mason jar full of marbles, stained linen pillowcases and other pieces of crap. It was not unlike digging through the bins at the Salvation Army or an estate sale at an Indiana farmhouse. The difference being that the S.A. is cheaper and the Indiana farmhouse offers the opportunity to use my imagination about what that
 family might have hung on their handmade hat tree (which now, for a mere $5, graces my entryway).

There were a handful of tastefully and sparsely displayed booths featuring mid-century modern furnishings.  It's a look that is appealing to me--living in a 1400 SF Chicago foursquare has deepened the appeal of mid-century modern with its box-on-legs look and hide-the-electronics functionality. But, for all the appeal of artfully displayed 1960s glassware, I prefer my decorating touches to come in the form of Wii remotes and contemporary Matchbox cars. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tortured Artists

Enjoy the cooler weather with art, music, food and beer in one of Chicago’s most beautiful neighborhoods at the Arts Alive! Festival this Saturday, June 11th from 3-10 p.m. Located on the grounds and surrounding streets of Disney II Magnet school in Old Irving Park, Arts Alive is a celebration of art in all its forms. 

Children can learn dance, song, digital movie production, puppeteering and floral design, or have their faces painted during the festival’s 3-hour children’s tent from 3-6 p.m. The festival also features culinary demonstrations from top Chicago chefs for children and their parents, and delectable Texas BBQ from local favorite Smoque BBQ Plus live music all afternoon and evening with Super Stolie, Funkadesi, d’Go-Beat and American English.

Admission is $10/adult before 6pm; $15/adult after 6pm; Kids under 12 are free.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Great White Moose

I have come to hate The Great White Moose. It's not for the standard "my car is a reflection/extension of my personality" reasons. It'd be far easier to explain my mounting negative feelings toward my minivan if it were merely that The Great White Moose makes me feel like a middle-aged soccer mom instead of the urban hipster with kids that I am. For the record, it doesn't and I'm not. Instead, it's my realization that I am constantly bumping into things with this car.

On any given Monday morning, the streets around school are filled with Siennas, Odysseys, Suburbans, and various other large SUVs and minivans. When I drive past the Mount Olive parking lot on co-op days, it looks much the same. When The Boy was 2 and I first started parking my tiny Volkswagon Passat wagon in that lot among all those minivans, I was heartened to see so many minivans in a large city. But really: minivans are not made for cities with tight parking lots and parallel parking spaces.

Although I still insist that The Boy sit in a booster seat at age 8 and 60 pounds, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel of carseat vision. Does this mean I can give up this monster? It's like driving around a giant, unwieldy couch. Maybe that is redundant.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Clean up, Clean up, Everybody Clean .... Oh, Wait

"It's not fair!" whined The Girl to me last week. I had asked her to put away the toys, clothes, books and art supplies that she and a friend had dragged--and left--out after that day's playdate. Although this plaint is commonly issued from The Girl's lips, as I helped her to put away these things, I realized: she's right.

It's not fair. But how did we get here? When The Boy, The Girl and The Tot were younger, I preferred to pick up the detritus of play myself. In our tiny Chicago foursquare, doing it myself was expeditious. But now that my children are bigger, and their toys are smaller, space efficiency is less important to me. And after three kids, the concept of "a place for everything and everything has its place" is considerably less important to me. But, I'm still working out how -- or whether -- to broach this subject with my friends and my children's friends. The subject has never really come up.

And it's an interesting question for which there is no one answer. Like common sense, the only thing common about it is the diversity of approaches. When I was a child, my parents and most of their friends were firmly in the "clean up before you go home" camp. But their attitude was not universally shared, even by neighbors or friends. To wit: as a child, I remember becoming incensed with a neighbor child who suddenly had to go home every time it came time to clean up. It seemed so patently unfair that I once physically blocked the doors until she agreed to clean up. (She didn't. My mother intervened. She wasn't allowed to come over to my house anymore. In full disclosure, she was two years older than me.) OK, so blocking her from leaving was wrong, but even as an adult, I don't understand why didn't she have to follow the rules?

Admittedly, the rules of engagement are different for my children than they were when I was a child. The only time my mother accompanied me to a playdate was when it was outside the neighborhood. While drop-off playdates are now the norm for The Tot, The Boy and The Girl, the rules for clean-up have not yet been established. Maybe now is the time to start laying the groundwork for play. House rules, if you will.

What do you think? What have you done? Do you have established rules for clean-up and playdates at your house? Do your children follow a certain protocol?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Urbanism and Child Safety

I've never really thought my parenting "style" or outlook was very different than the norms for my age, socioeconomic group or educational background. Sure, I made some parenting decisions that were a bit different than the national norms (cloth diapering, breastfeeding beyond 3 months) and even familial ones (ahem, circumcision). But after nearly two years on NPN, an active paid community of Chicago(land) parents, I've come to the conclusion that my point of view on parenting topics, especially as they relate to child safety, is outside the norm.

My neighbor, an avid reader of the same site, recently congratulated me on my status as "worst mother in America," as judged by our fellow NPN mothers. I leave my children in the (non-running, locked) car for less than 10 minutes while I drop off my dry-cleaning, pick up their sibling from a playdate at a friend's house, and even when I desperately need a caffeine shot at my local Starbucks. My opponents contend that such practices are dangerous. Something could happen to the car while I am gone. "Something"could happen to the car while I am in it.

Don't misunderstand me: I am not a risk-taker by nature, and I am utterly horrified by violence or abuse to a child (or anyone). I've been fortunate not to have experienced it firsthand, and that may guide my perspective. But I refuse to live in fear and I don't want to make my children unnecessarily anxious either. I have not yet read Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear; I understand that his point is that you should trust the sense of fear or uneasiness you get about some people or situations. I totally understand that, and think it makes sense. But I refuse to look for it, especially in situations where it may not be there.

Recently, two separate NPN posts asked about related issues: how long can you take your opposite-sex child with you into the restroom in a public place, such as Target? And how long can you take your opposite-sex child with you into the locker room at the pool? Note that the questions were worded in this way, which suggests that this behavior (taking opposite-sex child with you) is desired, versus the way I would have asked them: At what age is it OK to allow your opposite-sex child to use the restroom in a public place and/or use the opposite-sex change room?

The prevailing view on NPN was that it's OK until your boy is age 9. Nine? Are they kidding? That's the same age that Lenore Skenazy's son was when she left him at a Manhattan Bloomingdale's with $20 and a subway map.

The Boy is 8. He's been peeing at the local Target since he was 6. And I've been saying the same thing every time he goes in: don't talk to anyone, don't let anyone touch you and scream like hell if someone tries to touch you. No one ever has.

While stories like this one are frightening, I wish more parents would take it for what it is: fear-mongering. Yes, it happened and yes it was horrible, but it's also exceedingly rare (or statistically insignificant) for children to be molested by strangers (in a bathroom or otherwise). The data does not support the idea that something was likely to happen to The Boy today when we found ourselves at the end of an L ride in the Thompson Center with full bladders and a cross-town appointment in 10 minutes. While using the restroom in the basement of the Thompson Center has never been my top restroom destination, you get what you get sometimes. Our experience bore out the stats: no problems.

What do you think? How tight should we keep the reins on our children? Is the risk of harm greater for city kids? Does it depend on where in the city?

Saturday, April 09, 2011


Well, that was fun while it lasted. By choice, I'll be back on the SAHM circuit on Monday. It sounds clich├ęd, but this really is the right thing for our family. Between childcare costs and taxes, I was taking home 8 cents on the dollar. Yes, you read that right.

I have mixed feelings about it. As I said last year, working full-time in a rigid job is a killer.  Everything from going to school functions to cooking to doing laundry is a hassle. But the flip side is the intellectual flat-line that often accompanies spending 14 hours a day in the company of 3 children who all want your attention, right now. When I told my co-workers that I was leaving to return to the SAHM life, most expressed envy. As The Dad said, there is such romanticism about staying at home. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Boy recently completed a more in-depth, take-home project for school: the lifecycle of the crocodile. The Internets was not so helpful, so we headed to the library. Mama had to work over the break, and The Dad wasn't thinking about crocodiles or libraries. Throw in a major holiday and CPL's abbreviated schedule and our only hope for book help was a library in the suburbs. 

We chose the Highland Park library. One of my friends works there, and I had been there previously for a story hour with her, so I knew my way around the place, making it a good choice. Plus, it was open on Sunday.  I called my friend to get the scoop, and headed up there.

The Boy and I made it a Mama-The Boy playdate of sorts. We drove up to downtown Highland Park and spent 10 minutes looking for parking. Then we had lunch at Potbelly. Except for the Potbelly, I felt like I was in a John Hughes movie. Queue up the Simple Minds. 

The library and the children's librarian who helped us were both very nice. Although the public library system is open to all, regardless of residency or tax status, I felt a bit weird about being there. Probably because we didn't have Highland Park library cards (and in fact owe a mint in overdue fines on our CPL cards) and weren't checking out books. Instead, we settled down on one of the smaller tables in the children's reference section, took out a notebook and a few pencils and got to work. 

The Boy read out interesting facts while I took the notes (in printing!). It was quiet in the library for about half an hour. Then a little boy came in with his father and his father's friends, who proceeded to have a loud conversation while the boy tried to get his father's attention. They left about 5 minutes later, thank goodness. Another little girl came in with her mother, who got a phone call not 30 seconds later. Fortunately, it did not bother The Boy, who was busy discerning new facts about crocodiles from those that he knew already.