Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bad News Boys

One thing you learn when you write a blog about boys: a lots of the news about boys is negative.

Think about the stories you've heard in the news lately. When was the last time you heard something positive about a boy? (Short of the every-so-often Eagle Scout announcement.) Most of the stories are about boys failing, boys murdering, boys drowning, boys beating.

The news out of Milwaukee this month includes boys beating an elderly man, dancing atop cars and vandalizing a car dealership. In each case, at least one of the boys claimed his motive was boredom.

Clearly, we need to find productive things for our boys to do. And clearly, boredom does not excuse bad behavior.

Our boys need us -- parents, families and communities -- to set health and safety limits. But our boys also need us to show them the positive path. What are some positive way boys can channel their energy? Some positive ways they can channel their innate sense of competition? Some positive ways they can seize and exercise power?

We also need to talk about the positive things our boys are doing. Beyond the fact that headlines for bad behavior may actually encourage more bad behavior, positive news stories can inspire other boys. Just imagine: what if our boys grew up surrounded by a million positive messages? What if they heard about all the ways other boys are helping their communities? What if your son heard the story of one other boy, and that story touched something inside him? Your son might never be the same again -- and this case, that would be a good thing.

Think about it: What messages are surrounding your sons? How can you help counter the constant flow of bad news boys?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Paper Airplane Preview

Paper airplanes are almost the perfect boy toy. They're cheap, entertaining, portable and endlessly amusing.

This weekend, I'll be presenting the "Let's Fly Paper Airplanes" session at the Wisconsin Parents Association conference. The idea grew out of last year's conference experience. Son #1 and Son #2 were deeply involved in a chess and checkers session; Sons #3 and 4 were completely and totally bored.

To keep them entertained, I folded my schedule for the day into a paper airplane. They were hooked! So were the other young children in the room. Before the session ended, I had folded over 20 paper airplanes and the air was littered with formerly flat paper.

I realized I'd stumbled onto something and proposed the session, which is turning out to be hugely popular. Over 80 people have already signed up for a session intially scheduled for 40; another adult has been enlisted to facilitate a second session.

Can't make it to the conference? Check out these links and begin an exploration of flight right at home: -- This site has 10 different designs and explicit, animated instructions of how to fold each. -- Your kids will love the intro to this site -- I guarantee it! The added bonus is lots of interesting info about paper airplane design, history and aerodynamics from the current Guinness World Record holder for the longest time aloft.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Back in the World of Boys

Let's just say that life at home is nothing like life in NYC.

My first clue came yesterday morning, when I woke up to a bedroom that can best be described as "cluttered."

Then I descended downstairs to find one boy taking apart a remote-controlled car (yes, another one) and another anxiously waiting for me to write the words to his latest science fiction story.

In that moment, the chaos and clutter of my life here was worth far more than the luxury and ease of my New York existence. My daily life may be unpredictable and overwhelming, but here I have the priviege of watching boys blossom.

I have no idea where this interest in deconstructing vehicles will take Boy #3. Maybe he'll become a mechanic, or an inventor. Maybe he'll lose interest next week. In the meantime, I see a little boy developing confidence in his own capabilites, a boy who is learning to use a screwdriver with skill, who's developing fine motor control while learning his left from his right.

Boy #2, meanwhile, is coming into his own. For years, he's preferred to play with small action figures and plastic toys over looking at books. He loves TV and has spent hours watching cartoons of all kinds. He's a fan of Harry Potter, Iron Man, Star Wars and the X-Men. And now, for the first time, I can see where it's all been leading: my eight-year-old son wrote his first science-fiction story while I was in New York.

Actually, he drew the pictures and crafted the story in his head; I transcribed the words for him on my first day back. That was two days ago. He now has three more stories.

My life in New York was neat, orderly and predictable. My life here, uh, is not. The world of boys is messy, experimental and full of surprises.

And that's perfectly OK with me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

And the Winner Is....

mom2anutball! Check out her blog, Noodles and Nuggets, here.

Mom2anutball wins a hardcover copy of Michale Gurian's latest book, The Purpose of Boys. Stay tuned for my review, to be posted later this week. (Yes, I know I said that once before, but what can I say? I was in NYC, people!)

Thanks to all who entered. I hope you enjoyed visiting my blog, and I hope you'll return again soon.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poll Result: Are Boys or Girls More At Risk?

Ok, so we're a biased community.

52% of voters (vs. 31%) say that boys are more at-risk than girls, which makes perfect sense when you consider that a) the readers here tend to be parents of boys and b) readers here tend to be extremely concerned about boys' welfare.

The scary thing is that the statistics back up our concerns. Consider:
  • Teenage boys are 5 times more likely than girls to commit suicide
  • Boys are 200% more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities
  • Boys are turning away from higher education at an alarming rate. Today, they're 24% LESS likely to enter or graduate from college than in 1970.
  • 71% of all juvenilles arrested are boys
  • Boys are much more likely to use (and abuse) alcohol and drugs

That's the grim part of the picture. But I'm here to tell you that raising a boy doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. Our sons are wonderful human beings, full of possibility. The world may have a long way to go in understanding, recognizing and accepting male behavior (it IS normal for a 5-yr-old boy to be more interested in playing outside than learning to read, just as it's normal for a 5-yr-old boy to spend hours paging through books), but the good news is that we as parents can learn to enjoy our sons RIGHT NOW.

We don't have to wait for society to fully understand the differences between boys' brains and girls' brains and how that affects education. We don't need to completely unravel the association between testosterone, risk taking, aggression and violence. All we need is a willingness to strive for joy.

That means being open to joy, which necessarily means opening your mind. It means getting rid of any preconceived notions you have about what a boy "should" be like and looking at the boy (or boys) in front of you. It means appreciating their quirks and learning what makes them tick. It means helping them to find their joy, even as you learn to find yours.

I won't lie: raising boys is work. But it's also incredibly fun.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Becoming a Man

I saw Mary Poppins in a whole new light last night.

If you ask me, Mary Poppins is the most relevant musical playing Broadway. Consider this: Mr. Banks, the father in the story and a banker by trade, denies a loan applicant who tells him that his final product is "money," instead choosing to fund a man with plans to build a factory and provide employment. When the first applicant takes his business elsewhere -- and makes the competing bank a load of money -- Mr. Banks is devastated.

But when the applicant's scheme falls apart, the other bank loses everything. Turns out, you DO need an end product other than "money."

But politics and economics aside, I was intrigued by the story, because as much as we think we know the story of Mary Poppins, in many ways, it's the story of a man becoming a man.

I never paid much attention to George Banks before, the father of the children who reside at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. He's a mean, out-of-touch parent who can't be bothered by small children. His job, as he sees it, is to provide for them and their job is to leave him alone.

But last night I learned that Mr. Banks lacked nurturing as a child. He was raised by a cold, strict nanny who discouraged his love of astronomy, an interest he eventually tossed aside as useless and childish.

Of course, as Mary Poppins works her magic, Mr. Banks learns that people come before money. He learns how to give his children the affection they crave. And he rediscovers his love of astronomy.

Funny -- Banks' journey to full manhood looks a lot like the journey outlined by author Michael Gurian in The Purpose of Boys.

Boys, Gurian says, go through seven developmental stages on their way to becoming healthy men. One of those stages, Stage Five, is the Discovery of Personal Power. Occurring in adolescence, it's a time when your son taps into himself and find his true loves and talents.

George Banks missed this stage. His true love and talent -- astronomy -- was dismissed as a waste of time. He began to go astray.

Gurian writes:

"Our sons cannot fully develop their own sense of purpose if we don't help them find the masters and mentors of late adolescence who will encourage their newfound and honed power and guide their "magic," their "gifts," their "temperaments" toward service and work in society."

For many years, George Banks was lost, and his family paid the price. Only at the end of the show, after George rediscovers his lost interest does he finally progress to Stage Seven: Devotion to Family and Community.

I don't know about you, but I never thought much about helping my sons become strong men. I'm so caught up on the minutiae of the day ("Sit down!" "Stop harrassing your brother!" "No, you CAN'T stand on the piano!") that I sometimes forget the bigger picture.

But Gurian -- and George Banks -- have showed me that helping your son to manhood is no small task. It might be, in fact, the most important thing you'll ever do.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Show Them the World

I'm in New York City today -- sans kids -- so my thoughts today are a bit of a whirlwind. In just the few hours I've been here (my plane touched down 6 hours ago), I've experienced more new sights, sounds and people than I do in a month back home.

I've watched street vendors kneeling, shoes off, on prayer rugs facing Mecca. I've strolled through the diamond district. I saw a mobile movie set, stood in line for over an hour in Times Square (I scored a half-price ticket to Mary Poppins!) and heard more languages than I could identify.

Yes, I live in a small town. Yes, my town of not-quite 5000 lacks in diversity. But wherever you're from, there are new worlds to explore, often a lot closer than you think.

The boys aren't with me this trip, so I can only imagine what they'd think. I'm guessing this wouldn't be their favorite place in the world; my boys are more at home in nature than in urban settings. But I know they'd soak it all in. Without me saying a word, they'd see and learn and recognize one big lesson: Not everyone lives like us.

They know that, of course, but it's a powerful lesson to reinforce. The more you expose your sons to other places, people and ways of doing things, the more they'll realize that the world is full of possibilities. There is no one right way to be, one right way to live. Anything is possible, and it's up to them to envision and then obtain the future that's right for them.

Our job, as parents, is to show them the world and support them as they create the future.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Guest Blog: Guiding Gifted Boys

Our guest blogger this week is Lisa Rivero, author of CREATIVE HOME SCHOOLING (Great Potential Press, 2002), the very first homeschool book I ever read. I also heard Lisa speak at my very first homeschool conference; her presentation on gifted children helped me to understand both myself and my son.

Lisa is also the author of THE HOMESCHOOLING OPTION (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and is currently working on a book about homeschooling teenagers. She lives with her husband and son in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For more information and contact information, visit

Who is the gifted boy? Is he Bill Haverchuck from Freaks and Geeks? Malcolm in the middle? The socially awkward computer geek wearing thick glasses? The absentminded daydreamer tripping on untied shoelaces? The little professor whose shirt is always tucked in? The “well-rounded” overachiever who excels in three sports while keeping a straight A average and a steady girlfriend?

I know gifted boys who fit all of the above descriptions and more. One of the biggest challenges of raising or teaching a gifted boy is that he is not always who or what we expect. In fact, because of their intensity, sensitivity and complexity, I would argue that there are more differences in the population of gifted boys than in the general population of boys. Whatever their personality, they are always “more so”: more physically active or more introspectively sedate, more widely curious or more intensely focused, more resolutely stoic or more artistically expressive.

Keeping this “more so” aspect of giftedness in mind is especially helpful when it comes to boys because, as Barbara Kerr writes in her introduction to Smart Boys: Talent, Manhood & the Search for Meaning (Barbara A. Kerr and Sanford J. Cohn, Great Potential Press, 2001), “being gifted puts a special burden on boys, not only to prove their masculinity, but also to develop their gifts. It is just one more expectation to meet….”

It’s not that being gifted is harder for boys than for girls—just that the challenges are different and the expectations are narrower. For example, young boys soon learn that being “more so” in terms of emotional sensitivity is not as acceptable for them as for their female classmates. In fact, I know of one first grade class where three sensitive, gifted boys were kept in during recess to learn how to “take teasing” better—that is, without crying—after they were bullied on the playground. I can’t imagine girls being treated the same way.

We can’t change society’s attitudes, at least not overnight. And we can’t always be there to protect our young sensitive boys from the world’s misguided expectations. What’s a parent to do? First, we can always accept and even celebrate our boys’ complexities and work hard not to give our sons’ messages—overt or otherwise—about what boys should or should not be like. At the same time, we can realize that even the most sensitive boy might enjoy a rough-and-tumble game of tag, and even the most rambunctious boy might fall in love with an art museum, if given the chance. Keeping possibilities open for new experiences, interests and behaviors helps our boys to know that the whole world is open to them, that they needn’t choose what others tell them they should prefer just because they are not girls.

Second, we can seek out adult male mentors who are comfortable with the complexity of their giftedness and personalities, who show passion for their careers and intellectual pursuits, and who offer varied and rich examples of what it means to be creative, smart and intense throughout the lifespan. Our son, now seventeen, has been lucky to have many such mentors: Al, his father, a literature professor who rereads with passion every novel he teaches, every semester, and has done so for the past 27 years; Harley, his grandfather, a retired farmer who at age 79 continues to be curious about every aspect of life and every person he meets; Roy, a piano teacher who is a stay-at-home dad with a law degree and a penchant for philosophy; John and Todd, theater directors and drama teachers who give everything they have to each play they direct and each group of students they work with.

Seeing the “more so” aspect of giftedness in adults can help us to accept it in children. We parents worry that our sons might never learn to make small talk or mingle, that they will forget life’s basic routines while their heads are wrapped around computer code, that they will be seen as too rigid or too scattered, or that they will burn themselves out with their own drive and ambition. As a college teacher of gifted engineering students, I’ve seen that these worries rarely translate into long-term problems—unless the boys themselves see their inherent traits and tendencies as problems. While everyone can benefit from learning skills of organization, communication and balance, being happy and successful—especially for the gifted population—depends more on self-acceptance than trying to be someone else’s idea of normal.

Who is the gifted boy? He’s intense, sensitive and complex in his own way. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Video Game Addiction?

By now you've probably heard the news: A new study says that 1 in 10 kids who play video games show behavioral signs of addiction. And boys, the study says, are more likely to show addictive symptoms than girls.

Getting lost in the hype is the fact that the study was conducted by the National Institute for Media and Family, a group which tends to have a somewhat negative view of video game and media usage. From their website:

"Our children are in trouble. Kids from preschool through high school are laying building blocks for success in school and life. They include self-discipline, the ability to delay gratification, perseverance, imagination, and respect. Study after study shows that poor media habits undermine every single one of these building blocks. Instead of being given the tools and experiences they need to succeed, more and more kids are shaped by a media culture that promotes more, easy, fast, fun, violence and disrespect."

Not exactly objective researchers, if you ask me.

I'm also troubled by the questions they asked children, questions such as:
  • "Have you played video games as a way of escaping from problems or bad feelings?"
  • "Do you sometimes skip household chores in order to spend more time playing video games?"
  • "Do you sometimes skip doing homework in order to spend more time playing video games?"
  • "Have you been spending much more thinking thinking about playing video games, learning about video game playing or planning the next opportunity for play?"

For the record, boys were more likely than girls to answer "yes" to these questions. In fact, 11.9% of the boys and only 2.9% of the girls answered yes to six or more of the questions asked (enough so to be classified as exhibiting "pathological video game use.").

But....What if this is just because video games still tend to skew to the male demographic? Maybe there simply aren't enough games to attract and hold young girls' attention?

And what if part of the reason boys are attracted to video games is because the rest of their environment doesn't respect their "boyness?" Our boys are growing up in a society that tells them to sit down, shut up and learn from books. BOYS ARE NOT DESIGNED THAT WAY! Boys are designed for activity and purpose, and maybe -- just maybe -- they're finding a way to feel like men in video games.

I've been reading The Purpose of Boys, and one of the things Gurian talks about is boys' need to be the hero, to serve a purpose. Are we giving our boys that chance in the world? Or are they finding it in video games? Not many of our boys today need to save their family from intruders or wild beasts; video games, though, give them that opportunity.

Is it so surprising that large numbers of boys choose video games over chores and schoolwork? And maybe even some of the more pathologically-appearing behavior can be reasonable explained: if parents put strict restrictions on a boy's video game usage, isn't he more likely to lie? To obsess about when he'll get to play next? Even to steal?

Is that, then, addiction?

As far as I'm concerned, the most important sentence in the study is this:

"The primary limitation of this study is its correlational nature. It does not provide evidence for the possible causal relations among the variables studied. It is certainly possible that pathological gaming causes poor school performance, and so forth, but it is equally likely that children who have trouble at school seek to play games to experience feelings of mastery, or that attention problems cause both poor school performance and an attraction to games. "

Tell me your opinion. What do you think of this study and the attendant media hype?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Boys vs. Girls

Are boys or girls harder to raise?

According to our most recent poll, it's practically a draw. Six readers said that boys are harder to raise than girls, while seven said, no, boys are not more difficult to raise.

The question of which sex is harder to raise has been debated for centuries. Millennia, probably.

Frankly, it's a question I'm not qualified to answer. With four boys, I have absolutely, positively no experience raising girls.

The answer, of course, is more complex than "boys" or "girls." The answer depends on the personality and preferences of the parent and the personality and age of the child. If you're a highly verbal, very emotional mother, you may find raising a talkative, emotional daughter a natural fit, while you'd be lost with a physically-oriented boy of few words. Or you might find yourself locked in a battle of wills with a daughter who is all too much like you and crave the peace of a silent, brooding son.

According to my completely unscientific Internet research, though, boys are indeed easier to raise. For an extremetly unscientific but very humorous look at the matter, click here.

Of course, if you prefer real facts, you might be interested in these articles at Parents and CNN. In general, boys are aggressive, physical, less prone to communication and more difficult to discipline. They also have a harder time in school.

Odds are, you already knew that. ;)

So what's been your experience? Are boys or girls harder to raise?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Official Contest Announcement!

Here's your chance to win a copy of Michael Gurian's new book, The Purpose of Boys. I announced the contest yesterday, at the bottom of my post, but in case you missed it, here are the details:

1) The contest will run through midnight next Sat. April 25.

2) To enter, leave a comment. One comment = one entry. If you comment on more than one post, you can earn additional entries. (So if you commented yesterday, that's one entry. A comment today is another, one next Tuesday is another, etc.)

3) If you'd like an additional entry, mention this contest on your blog, include a link back here, and send me a note so I can visit your blog. I love getting to know other bloggers!

4) Contest is open to residents of the United States and Canada.

5) I'll draw the winning entry on Sun. April 26 and announce the winner here on Mon. April 27.

Any questions? Drop me a line!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Queers and Fags

The title got your attention, right? According to an essay published in today's New York Times, "queer" and "fag" are some of the most harmful epithets boys hurl at one another.

In the words one of teenage boy: “To call someone gay or fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying that you’re nothing.”

The implicit homophobia is one thing. (If hearing those words make a straight boy feel like "nothing," imagine how you'd feel if you were a gay teenager hearing those words.) But this issue is bigger than homophobia; this name-calling touches on the very definition of masculinity.

Despite all our so-called advances in recent years, boys and men are still expected to conform to the Boy Code. Doing well in school and showing emotions are STILL considered female traits, and if a boy should exhibit either (or both) of these characteristics, he's ridiculed by other boys.

The essay asks, "It’s weird, isn’t it, that in an age in which the definition of acceptable girlhood has expanded, so that desirable femininity now encompasses school success and athleticism, the bounds of boyhood have remained so tightly constrained? "

Some commentators have speculated that this narrow, decades-old definition of masulinity is a reaction to our current world. The idea is that men and boys, denied their usual roles of protector and provider, are reverting to almost stereotypical behavior. (A recent Newsweek article about out-of-work men touched on this phenonmenon.)

The NYT essay quotes C.J. Pascoe, author of “Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School.” Her comments are most interesting:

“These kids experience a loss of masculine privilege on a day-to-day level. While they didn’t necessarily ever experience the concrete privilege their fathers and grandfathers experienced, they have the sense that to be a man means something and is incredibly important. These boys don’t know how to be that something. Their pathway to masculinity is unclear. To not be a man is to not be fully human and that’s terrifying.”

That's exactly what Michael Gurian, author of the just-published book, The Purpose of Boys, is saying: With the old-guard gone, too many of our boys have no idea what it means to be man.

Enter now to win a copy of The Purpose of Boys! Here's how: Leave a comment. That's it. One comment = one entry. If you'd like another chance, mention the contest of your blog, include a link back here and I'll pop your name in the hat one more time. The winner will be drawn on Sun. April 26.

Contest open to all residents of the United States and Canada. Also, I'm the featured blogger at Family Life today. Check it out!

Thursday, April 16, 2009


"The opposite of war isn't peace; it's creation."
-- La Vie Boheme, from the musical Rent

Yesterday my husband ran over a remote for a remote-controlled car. The case was cracked open just enough that the boys could see the chip inside -- and they were inspired.

"I think I could build an RC car with that," Son #2 told me.

(Apparently, they overestimate my husband's electrical abilities by just a little.)

Today, the remote was gone, but Son #3 correctly surmised that without a remote, the car is just a car. He asked if we could take it apart.

We've taken things apart before and had a ball. Last fall, we had a collection of broken things we dissected: an old popcorn popper, a hand-held vaccuum and a vaporizer. We'd been reading about motors, so it was fascinating for the boys to discover the mini-motors inside. And of course, they relish the chance to smash apart just about anything.

In the current issue of Home Education Magazine, Nancy Walters has a great article called "Nurturing Destructive Tendencies." Walters did a similar activity with her homeschool group, unloading a bunch of broken appliances and setting the kids loose with screwdrivers and other tools.

But while boys enjoy destruction for destruction's sake (c'mon -- it IS kind of cool to see how things fly apart when you whack them with a hammer!), the true learning I saw this morning involved CREATION.

Sons #2 and 3 hunched over the pile of parts, eyes alert, looking for anything they might use to make something else. Son #3 was rescuing the seats and wheels, to use to craft another car. Son #2 ran off and got the motor he'd saved from the vaporizer.

The motor didn't work while in the vaporizer; years of mineral build up prevented it from turning freely. Once we had it apart, though, we discovered that it still worked.

So today, Son #2 rummaged through the pile of plastic parts, combined pieces from the RC car with the vaporizer motor and experimented with lift and flight. He managed to attach a blade to the top of the motor that, he said, was almost powerful enough to lift it into the air.

This was the child who spent yesterday moping around the house, moaning that "there's nothing to do." Today, with a pile of junk in front of him, his eyes were glowing with curiosity and connection.

The car, BTW, was one that Son #3 received as a Christmas present. Not even six months ago.

I suppose I could have yelled at him. I suppose I could have chastised him for being careless with his toys. But here's the thing: it was his toy, given as a gift. What he decides to do with it from there (aside for hurting others or destroying their possessions) is really up to him.

Besides, the fun we had with it today was worth way more than the original $12 pricetag.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Q and A with a Comic Book Writer

Wisconsin-native Rich Koslowski has worked as a comic book and graphic novel writer and illustrator since 1996. He's best known for his series The 3 Geeks and the two graphic novels Three Fingers and The King. He has been nominated and won many of the comic book industry's most coveted awards including the Eisner, Harvey and Ignatz awards. You can view Rich's works at his website

What was your first comic book?

I actually remember this because it was such a unique and tragic day in my life! My dad had a butcher shoppe inside of a PDQ grocery store and they had a magazine rack that also carried comics. We'd go to the store quite a bit to shop, of course, and visit my dad. While there I first discovered comics.

I was attracted to this wonderfully dynamic cover of this massive green monster fighting an equally massive orange rock-skinned monster inside of a boxing ring! I was mesmerized. Completely lost in the pages and simply HAD to have this thing (Coincidentally it was "The Thing and The Hulk" fighting it out on the cover). So I urgently begged my mother to buy it for me, which she did. This was before a trip to the dentist.

I sat reading my new magical object when I was called in for my exam. I left the comic there with my mom. After a cavity (or 2) was discovered, I was gassed, drilled and then woozily released back to my mother's waiting arms with her empathetic promise of some ice cream (after the filling set of course).

We left and I was too out of it to remember to grab my comic! By the time I remembered we were long gone and my mom said what any mom would, "Oh Richie, it was just a 35¢ comic book. You can get another one the next time we go to the store."
Of course that comic wasn't there any more the next time we went back. Sigh. But there were others!

The rest, as they say, was history.

Fast forward 25+ years and I come across an old ad in an old issue of Marvel Premiere and there it was! The cover ad for that first comic! All the memories flooded back. And now I had the issue title so I could seek it out at the next comic convention I would attend. And I did. MARVEL SUPER-STARS #1. Paid $7.00 for it. It now proudly adorns the top shelf in my comic room.

When and how did you get really interested in comics?

That was it. Saw. Loved! Instant romance. I believe I was 6 or 7 years old. And then I started to draw these wonderful characters. I wanted to BE these wonderful characters. So I was drawing them and dressing up like them and working out all day every day to be like them. It was the most wonderful, magical time growing up.

Did you always like art and drawing?

Yes, from very little on. And I can distinctly remember having "that moment" in the fourth grade when I realized that I was going to be a comic book artist when I grew up. Not "I want to be" but "I'm GOING to be!"

I was a very, very active kid and was outside running around all the time but when I was inside I had a pencil in my hand, and my face two inches above a piece of paper with my tongue sticking out deep in concentration.

Were you a good student in school? Did you like reading/writing/art assignments in school?

I was good if I liked the subject. If not I was bored and uninterested. I always scored very high on the aptitude tests but was the classic underachiever--much to my teachers and parents chagrin.

It depended on the teachers, too. If I connected with a teacher then I excelled. And yes, I always loved art, of course, but as I developed as an all-around "creative type" I discovered that I also loved to write. I can remember really busting out around freshman year in high school and by the time I was a senior I was acing English.

In college I had a professor who encouraged me to pursue a career as a writer but I was still more focused on the art side of it all. Now I tend to prefer the writing aspect more than the art aspect when I do my books.

I was also very good in Math and science. Phy Ed too. It was a good outlet for the massive amounts of energy I had.

How did you get into the comic book industry?

In a weird way actually. I always wanted to get into comics but it's a very difficult business to get your foot in the door. Very competitive.

I was working at an animation company in Franksville, WI where we did a lot of TV commercials (remember Stubby Heiser?) and some storyboarding for some big companies out in Hollywood. One of those companies was doing the SONIC THE HEDGEHOG cartoon and we did the storyboarding. DIC was the company. Anyway, they liked the way we did the art on Sonic and asked ARCHIE COMICS to hire us to do the comics. I didn't even know Sonic had a comic!

The next thing you know, me and my boss, Art Mawhinney, were doing the pencils and inks on Sonic. And that comic was hugely popular.

After that I decided to self-publish my own series about comic book collectors called THE 3 GEEKS. It was an instant hit and a critical success. This all stared for me back in 1996.

What advice would you have for other boys who may want to get into the industry?

You have to have perserverence! And thick skin. And, of course, the talent.

But there are a lot of artists out there with "talent" who just can't seem to make it. They either lack confidence or the necessary work ethic. You have to meet the deadlines or you're dead. No matter how talented you are if you don't perform it's over.

Perserverence is a must! You're, most likely, going to be rejected more than accepted by potential publishers. Believe me. You have to be able to tough out the criticism, work on getting better--constantly honing your skills--and keep submitting your samples to the publishers.

Also, look into self-publishing, like I did. Many, many of the top artists started out as small self-publishers. If you can make a name for yourself at the "indy" level the big publishers will eventually take notice.

What would you say to parents who consider comics "trash" or a "waste of time?"

I'd say they're wrong. Dead wrong. Comics are a fantastic way to get children interested in reading. And there are so many quality comics for kids available. And then, just like I did and millions more comics fans like me, I kept graduating to more sophisticated comics. I matured with the comics.

There are so many sophisticated, brilliant comics that cover so many genres and subjects. It's not just men running around in spandex anymore. And most of the "spandex" comics have elevated their levels of quality too over the years as the fans have become more sophisticated.

Sure, there are some badly written or poorly illustrated comics out there but there are also a lot of bad novels, movies, and TV programs out there too. But to generalize that all comics are bad is just wrong.

Neil Gaiman (popular best-selling comic writer and novelist) put it very well in an interview one time when he said, "Why is it that people respect paintings that hang in a museum and books on the library's shelves, but when you combine the two things--the art and the written word--and create a comic book or graphic novel people turn their noses up at them?"

I'm paraphrasing but that's basically what he said and it's so true. I wish I'd made that analogy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Advanced Playdate Etiquette

Playdate (n.) -- 1. A scheduled opportunity for two or more children to play together
2. A chance to relax and unwind while your child destroys another home
3. An anxiety-provoking event for both host and visitor parents

If you're a modern parent, you already know all about playdates, from the drama that sometimes surrounds them ("No!!!!!!! I don't WANT to share my tractor!") to the tricky ritual of reciprocating playdates.

But this article caught my eye. Written by fellow parenting writer Teri Cettina, the article details playdate etiquette for older kids. And while much of it is common sense respect stuff, some of it is stuff I should probably review with my own boys. Again and again.

I mean, I shouldn't have say "Don't be a snack hound," but when presented with a tray full of goodies, I know that my boys have a tendency to forget that social propriety means taking one or two and then coming back for seconds later.

How 'bout you? What playdate advice do you have to share?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Purpose of Boys

I got a new book today: The Purpose of Boys, by boy-guru Michael Gurian. (Gurian is also the author of The Minds of Boys and The Wonder of Boys.)

I haven't gotten to read much of it yet, but the subtitle -- Helping Our Sons Find Meaning, Significance and Direction in Their Lives -- tells me that this is an important book.

How many men do you know who struggle to find their way and place in the world? Now imagine how our boys feel, looking desperately around them for guidance but seeing a society with very few clearly definited roles and expectations for men and boys.

Too many of our boys don't know where they fit in anymore, and that's our fault.

The bit of the book I've scanned had some interesting questions for discussion, so I asked my sons:
  • What are your favorite books, comics and games?
  • What things do you think you're best at?
  • What activities make you the most happy?
  • How do you want to help people?
  • Whom do you like playing with most these days? Why?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?

The boys loved it! I learned some interesting things (for instance, that physical activities rank high on their things-that-make-me-happy list) but the best part was the looks on their faces. They were simply radiant as they pondered their future and their role in the world.

Try it -- ask your sons some of these questions, and let me know what you've learned.

Stay tuned for more about The Purpose of Boys. I'll be posting a full review late next week and will soon announce a Purpose of Boys contest.

Friday, April 10, 2009

14 Ways to Tell Your Son "I Love You"

1. Take him to your favorite restaurant
Not McDonald’s. Not Burger King. Take him to a real, grown-up sit-down place and share a meal. Trust me: he already knows that this is where you take important people.

2. Let him stay up past his bedtime
And do something together. Stare at the stars. Make fudge. Build a model. Being up with Mom or Dad alone in the dark is a powerful memory.

3. Play Risk with him
Or Monopoly. You know – the kind of game you never have time to play. Just get out the dice and roll.

4. Hug & kiss him
All boys need to be hugged and kissed. Even (or maybe especially) the ones who tell you they don’t.

5. Make his favorite meal
For no apparent reason. He’ll know and appreciate it.

6. Play cars – or dinos or whatever – with him
It’s so hard to find the time to get down on the floor, and so hard to put away your grown-up-sized worries and concerns, but nothing means as much to a boy as playing with him.

7. Don’t complain the next time he comes home muddy
This comes straight from the mouth of my eight-year-old. What more can I say?

8. Watch his favorite movie with him

Pop some popcorn and settle in. His taste in movies probably isn’t exactly the same as yours, but who knows? You might realize you like foreign films.

9. Introduce him to your hobby

Golf, knitting, rock climbing – whatever you do, he knows it’s important to you. Show him the ropes and invite him into your world.

10. Ask him where he’d like to go. Take him.
But feel free to set boundaries. You might be surprised at where he wants to go.

11. Listen to him
Really listen to him the next time he starts talking about his passion. Ask questions. Challenge him. Show genuine interest.

12. Read him your favorite book.

You know, the one you loved when you were a kid. Tell him why you loved it and read out loud, with enthusiasm. He just may see you in a whole new light.

13. Let him help you
Do laundry. Fix the car. You’ll get to spend time together and he’ll learn new skills.

14. Talk calmly, even when he frustrates you
Again -- straight from the mouth of my eight-year-old. Keeping a level head shows your son that you respect and value him as a person.

Help me add to my list! There must be at least 25 ways to tell your son “I love you”….

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Do Boys Start Too Early?

Over on Why Boys Fail, author Richard Whitmire has an intriguing link about England's "pushback" against earlier schooling for boys.

It's an interesting story, especially as America contemplates universal preschool
and my home state, Wisconsin, considers mandatory five-year-old kindergarten.

Numerous anecdotal reports and scientific studies suggest that three-, four- and five-year-old boys aren't developmentally ready for formal instruction.

Note that phrase: "formal instruction." No one is saying that young boys can't learn. They can, and they should. But learning in a four-walls environment with desks and worksheets is very different from learning in the real world, and boys (especially young boys) thrive on real world learning.

They like -- need -- to get their hands dirty. To experiment for themselves. To create games and chaos. To run around pretending they are knights or Jedi. To wander through a stream, searching for minnows, crayfish and waterbugs. To stare at a wall for hours.

That's the kind of education young boys need, and the kind they are NOT getting in school.

Putting boys in school at ever-younger ages won't solve boys' educational problems. Letting them live in the world -- as the boys they are -- just might.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Boy Code

Four boys into this, and I'd never heard of the Boy Code. Have you?

According to William Pollack, PhD, author of Real Boys, the Boy Code is a set of (usually) non-verbal rules and expectations that continue define boyhood and masulinity in America.

The four major tenets of the Boy Code are:

1. The Sturdy Oak Men and boys should not show weakness. No crying, whimpering or expressions of hurt allowed.

2. Give 'Em Hell Boys are expected to be physically aggressive, highly active risk-takers. Boys also learn early on that some of their bad behavior will be written off as "boys will be boys."

3. The Big Wheel Status and dominance are crucial; working to get to the top of the pack, no matter what the cost, is essential. No shame allowed.

4. No Sissy Stuff Feelings, according the the Code, are the province of women. Especially tender feelings.

I know that the Code is not what most of us are teaching our sons. Most of us are teaching our sons to be empathetic human beings who value relationships with others.

But the Boy Code exists. When our sons go out into the world -- onto the playground, a baseball team, into a club, etc. -- they must deal with other boys and men who judge each other by the Boy Code.

So what do you think? How can we help our sons live fully in a world that still abides by the Boy Code?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"The Talk"

The need for appropriate and comprehensive sex education has been on my mind ever since reading about young Alfie Patten, the 13-yr-old British boy who thought he'd fathered a child with his 15-yr-old girlfriend. And according to my survey, most of you have had "the talk" with your sons.

But don't stop there. Learning about sex and sexuality is a lifelong process, and boys need support and information at every step along the way.

Start talking when your sons are young and keep the conversation going. Easier said than done, I know. We're taught (appropriately) that sex is a very private, personal thing, and so it's much easier to keep our thoughts and opinions to ourselves, rather than speaking frankly with our sons.

Crossing the line from sex being part of our world to possibly being part of their world is a scary thing, but the fact is that sex IS part of their world too. They need to know how their bodies work, what to expect and that sex is more than just a physical act. They need to understand all possible consequences -- emotional, physical, social and spiritual -- in order to make informed decisions.

It's A LOT of responsibility and way too much information to be crammed into one talk. So start talking, now. Just remember that you're talking to boys: Keep your talks short and sweet. Answer questions. Broach the subject while you're doing something together; talking will be easier for both of you if your hands and eyes are on something else.

Respect your sons' temperament and learning preferences as well. Some learn better through books; others, through talks. At the age of 9, my very verbal Son #1 checked out a wonderful book from the library, the American Medical Association's Boy's Guide to Becoming a Teen. He read it, and though he didn't understand a lot of it at the time, it was a wonderful springboard for a talk I will always treasure.

For some other hints -- including 10 bases to cover when talking to boys about sex -- click here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Help Me Keep My Sanity

This is a blog about boys -- about raising them, educating them and learning with them. With four boys of my own, I've learned that:
  1. Boys and girls not *not* interchangeable kids
  2. Boys have specific intellectual and emotional needs
  3. Boy-knowledge is not innate. More often than not, it's hard won!
But that does *not* mean I know all there is to know about boys. Every now and then (OK, often!) I come across a situation that I just do not know how to handle.

So, dear readers, I'm begging you: Help me!

My youngest son, age 3, seems to be giving up his nap. It started with him constantly getting out of bed at naptime and now has progressed to the point where, if he does manage to nap, he's then up for hours at night. My 3-yr-old kept me company til midnight the other night.

This no-nap thing is incredibly new to me. For eleven years, nap time, a.k.a Quiet Time, has been an essential part of our daily routine. We have lunch, read and then have Quiet Time; the younger kids nap, the older kids have some quiet time to read, work on a project, etc., and MOM HAS SOME ALONE TIME. -- to work, to respond to and send emails, and yes, to blog.

Well, my 3-yr-old is way too active, interested, persistent and young to get the idea of Quiet Time. He'll stay in his room for 5 min., tops, before wandering out to see what else is going on. (Which, of course, disrupts Quiet Time for everyone else.)

I never had this problem before. All of my other kids were 5 or 6 before they finally gave up naps, and by that time, they understand the idea of Quiet Time and were willing and able to play quietly by themselves for 30 min. or so.

But what do you do with a highly active 3-yr-old? Parents, please help me -- how do I handle my son's obvious need for exploration and activity with my need for some quiet, alone time during the day?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Real Life with Young Boys

We did some serious rearranging today. Moved Son #4 into Son #3's room, and Son #2 out of said room and into the room that was formerly 4's.

The details are confusing, but the point is this: It was a lot of work.

About an hour into it, I asked Son #3 to please put a soda in the freezer for me. (I like 'em cold!)

His response?

"Why do I have to do all the work?"

Friday, April 3, 2009

Making Maple Syrup, Part 2

Maple sugar season is about so much more than maple syrup. More, even, than family camraderie.

Tapping maple trees and turning the sap into syrup is an education all of its own. There's science: how and why the trees drip; boiling, evaporation and concentration. There's history: we talk about Native Americans, pioneers and our own ancestors. There's math: how many gallons of sap make a gallon of syrup, the weight of a full tank, how much to charge for a full bottle, etc. And there's literature: Little House on the Prairie, anyone?

And then there are all the unexpected moments. Yesterday, for instance, we saw and heard both a woodpecker and a pair of sandhill cranes. We pryed fungus off a log and saw what it did to the wood beneath.

But more than that, even, is the fact that maple sugar season is an opportunity for our boys to contribute positively to the welfare of our family.

Some time ago, I read about the importance of work to boys. Boys, like their adult counterparts, like to feel useful. They like to challenge their skills and they like to those skills for the benefit of others.

My boys, like most American boys, are expected to help around the house. They pick up toys, put away their dirty dishes, unload the dishwasher and help with vaccuuming and dusting. But that's not the kind of work boys crave. They crave down and dirty physical work.

When we make maple syrup, my older boys get to help cut and haul wood. The younger boys unload wood from the trailer and hand it to their father as he stokes the fire. The older boys help drill holes, and even the young ones can pound in taps.

Together, we assemble and hang the bags, and together, we head out to collect the sap. At 8, 6 and 3, my three younger boys are too heavy to lift the bags of sap, but at 11, my oldest is already able to carry and unload all but the fullest bags.

For a few precious weeks in the Spring, we have the opportunity to work as a family, and my boys -- all four of them -- knew that their work is valued, important and appreciated.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Making Maple Syrup

This, my friends, is the start of maple syrup.

That clear liquid is maple sap, a natural delicacy if ever there was one. Did you know that maple syrup is a good source of maganese and zinc? And that maple trees can be tapped repeatedly, for years and years and years?

My husband grew up tapping trees. On the hill behind his house was a stand of maples, and each spring, he and his father would tap the trees and boil the sap into syrup.

Now my husband taps those same trees with his sons, and we all look forward to maple syrup season as the first real, true sign of Spring.

Around here, we usually tap the trees sometime in March. The exact timing varies from year to year; the weather has to be just right, meaning below-freezing temps at night and above-freezing temperatures during the day.

(Quick science lesson: the sap is stored energy for the tree. As winter ends, the sap, a sugary substance, begins to flow up the tree, feeding the buds and preparing the tree to bloom. The below-freezing night temps cause the sap to drop back down the tree, while the above-freezing daytime temps encourage the sap to rise up the tree.)

We tap the trees with either an electric drill (the faster way) or an old-fashioned hand brace, which is basically a hand-powered drill. You know you've gone far enough when the hole begins to drip. Then we pound in the taps, using a hammer -- and the kids enjoy the sap!

The sap is perfectly clear, cool and sweet. At this stage, it's mostly water, but you can still taste the sugary sweetness!

Generally, we put in about 100 taps a season (not counting the 4 we do in our own city backyard, just for fun). At home, we hang buckets on the trees, but out in the country, we use heavy-duty, covered plastic bags.

Then we wait. How much sap we collect and how quickly it drips is entirely a function of the weather. So far, this has been a good year. Two days ago we collected about 150 gallons of sap, and today we collected at least that much again.

(Quick question: How much syrup will that make? Hint: It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.)

Then it's time to cook the sap down. We cook ours the old-fashioned way, in a large flat pan over a wood fire. It's a lot of work -- trees must be cut down (to fuel the fire) and once the fire is going, it needs to be almost constant attention. Thankfully, my husband's cousin mans the night shift!

As the sap heats, it becomes more concentrated. Sap is mostly water, so when it's heated, the water evaporates, leaving behind the sugar. Eventually the sap becomes dark, thick and oh-so-yummy maple syrup!

Of course, cooking it down a little more will give you maple candy, and THAT'S pretty good too!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools Day

If there ever was a holiday created for boys, this is it. I mean, what boy doesn't like silly, goofy fun -- or an excuse to pull pranks on his brothers?

My boys have been at it all day. Son #1 put hot sauce in Son #3's water glass. Son #2 was going to dump water all over Son #1 as he slept, but Mom caught him as he was tiptoeing up the stairs. Instead, he pulled what I think it the best prank of the day (so far).

He filled an old Mountain Dew bottle with bubble solution and placed it on his brother's dresser, along with a typed note:

"I got you this Mountain Dew so you can stay up and at 'em on April Fools Day. If you're wondering why I put it here, I knew your brothers would get jealous.
Love, Dad
P.S. Hope you don't mind I took a little slug"

So far, I haven't pulled any pranks of my own. But if you're looking for a little inspiration, head over to Family Fun.

My all-time favorite prank, pulled a few years ago, will long be remembered. I got the idea from Quick Cooking Magazine. It was an April Fools Day dinner, featuring meatloaf that was actually decorated to look like a layer cake (mashed potatoes served as the frosting) and taco cups that were really ice cream sundaes in disguise. Oh, and we have special, undrinkable berry sodas as well (think jello in a glass).

Problem is, that's a hard prank to top!

How 'bout you? I'd love to hear about some of the April Fools high-jinks at your home!

P.S. Thanks to Mandie at Life in the Craft Lane. She designed the royal jester you see above!