Sunday, May 31, 2009

Snapshot Sunday: Brotherly Love

That's the sight I saw out my window the other day: Boy #2 helping Boy#3 ride his bike. See, it's not all just fighting around here.

That photo, BTW, is also the current Random Bike Photo at BIKE with Jackie, one of the amazing blogs participating in the May Blogathon. If you have any interesting bike photos, go ahead and send them to Jackie. She'd love to post them.

And speaking of the is the last day. You'll still be hearing from my blogathon buddies, though. I made some good friends and connections and plan to continue sharing guest posts with some outstanding writers and thinkers.

Tomorrow there will be a Blogathon Wrap-Up Party on Twitter. Time: 8:30 am Pacific, lasting approximately half an hour. Blogathoners from around the country will be gathering to discuss questions such as, "What new things did you learn about blogging?" and "What blogging tool or resource did you discover?"

If you're at all interested in blogging -- or just want to hear what a great bunch of writers have to say about the topic -- stop in. Look for the #MayBlog2 hashtag.

Unfortunately, I won't be there. I'll be taking Boy #1 to the orthodontist.

Oops -- Turns out, that's #2 with #4. I realized my mistake as soon as I stepped away from the computer. But like I told my sister-in-law: I'm forever getting their real names mixed up too. :)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

New Look?

Ok, you're going to have to give me some input.

According to our latest poll, you're almost 50/50 split on the new look. So tell me: What do you like about it? What don't you like? Any features that would make the blog easier or more accessible for you?

And -- does anyone else see the big black box around the Blogging 'Bout Boys oval? It wasn't there when I first set up the new template, but then it was. I asked the designer, but she said it doesn't show up when she views it on her computer.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hug Your Boys

Boys need two things that we tend to forget about when we focus only on their physical abilities and their higher activity levels: They need more touch and more conversation.

-- Michael Thompson, PhD, author of Raising Cain

How often do you hug your sons? As often as you hug your daughters?

An interesting study from Northern Ireland found that young children (under three) are hugged more often than older children. Older boys are the least likely to be hugged; 17% of the parents of boys ages 12-15 admitted they never hugged or cuddled those boys. Dads, by a 2 to 1 margin, were far more likely to hug or cuddle their 12-15 year-old daughters than sons.

Which is sad, especially when you consider this: Oxytocin, a hormone that enhances bonding, is released in the first 20 seconds of a hug -- for females. Boys need to be touched two to three times as much as girls to attain the same level of oxytocin.

Young boys, Thompson says, will ask for a hug when they need it. (Which is why I've been getting such wonderful, wonderful hugs from Boy #4 lately.) But older boys look to their parents for cues. If his parents seem at all uncomfortable about hugging and physical closeness, the growing boy soon stops asking and gets his physical contact through aggression instead.

I know I have to remind myself to hug my older boys, much more than with the younger ones, who squeeze love into me every chance they get. But it's so incredbily satisfying. Hugging my 11-year-old these days means feeling a chin on par with my shoulder. Hugging my 8-year-old brings out his dimples; he almost never asks for a hug anymore, but those dimples show me how much he still enjoys my touch. My 6-year-old likes to cuddle with me as he falls asleep, and my three-year-old -- well, his hugs are the light of my day.

So hug your sons, big or small. They may be old enough to wrap you in their arms, but that's OK. They still need your touch.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest Blogger: Sarah Webb on Testosterone

We have another blogathon guest blogger today! Sarah Webb is a scientist-turned-writer who has written about subjects including stem cells, the Mars rovers, and her own inability to do a handstand. (She's also the one who pointed me to the dancing cockatoo.) Her work has appeared in Discover, Science News, Scientific, and a variety of other publications.

Ball and stick model of molecule: Structure produced by Ben Mills via Wikipedia

What happens when a former chemist visits a blog ‘bout boys? Her thoughts naturally turn to testosterone. As a woman, I also felt compelled to consult the man in my household on interesting testosterone tidbits. My husband, a fellow science geek, knows all sorts of wacky facts about both the brain and behavior. So here’s a mashup on that hormone that shapes maleness.

Testosterone is built on a stepladder of 3 hexagons and one pentagon like other steroid molecules. The female hormone, estrogen, also has this same basic shape, but also with some changes in the first hexagon on the left.

The Y chromosome instructs a developing male to produce testes. Those testes begin to crank out testosterone. The “default setting” for a developing fetus is to become female, but the waves of testosterone send a chemical signal—“you are male.”

(By the way, women have testosterone, too, made in other parts of the body, including the ovaries. They just have a lot less of it coursing through their veins. Men, boys, you also have estrogen-like hormones, which leads me to. . . .)

Testosterone shapes brain development. Male brains are usually bigger in humans but also have fewer connections binding the two sides together, a structure called the corpus callosum. But a brain doesn’t become male just by marinating in extra testosterone. Actually, the opposite—the testosterone is actually converted to an estrogen-like molecule, first. So the male sex hormone becomes a female hormone in order to etch maleness on the brain.

Isn’t biochemistry kooky sometimes? That puzzle is part of what makes it challenging, fun and truly fascinating.

Want to know more? Check out Sarah's blog at Webb of Science. (Oh yeah -- you'll find me over there today as well. )

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

10 Things I Like

Boys #2 and 3 got into it today. Again.

Boy #2 looked across the lunch table and told #3, "I hate you."

Inside, I was screaming. We've been through this before. They -- all four of them -- know that saying they "hate" someone is completely unacceptable. We've told them, over and over again, that it's OK to be mad, it's Ok to feel angry, and it's even OK to not like someone, but it's not OK to hate someone -- especially when that someone is your brother.

We've talked, over and over, about how it can be hard to get along sometimes, how the ones we live with are often the ones who annoy us the most. We've expressed sympathy. We've laid down the law. We've worked to create connections. And yet -- there was #2, saying he hated #3.

I took a deep breath. "Go get a piece of paper and a pencil and sit down." #2 grumbled, but complied.

I took the pencil from him and wrote "10 Things I Like About 3" on top. (OK, I didn't really write "3." I used his name.) #2 isn't a completely independent reader, but he knew what I wrote.

"Aaaaaaaaaawww, 10? Can't you make it 5?"

Nope. Ten.

So he sat. And he thought. His first "like" -- "I like it when #3 is gone!" -- was not quite what I was looking for. His second try -- "He gives me money" -- was closer. By number 8, he'd gotten around to, "Sometimes he's sort of funny."

The whole exercise made me think. It's easy for me to tell you the things I don't like about my kids. It's easy for me to tell you the myriad ways they're frustrating me. But do I really take time to think about all the things I like about my boys?

So I present 10 Things I Like About My Boys:
  1. They challenge my thinking
  2. They inspire me to be a better person
  3. They teach me things (Thanks to my boys, I now know the difference between a crappie and a bluegill)
  4. They give me a great excuse to go to the museum. And the zoo. The park too.
  5. They've introduced me to the wonder of bugs. And dinosaurs.
  6. They connect me to my Dad in a way nothing else has.
  7. They love me -- and tell me so frequently.
  8. They're not afraid to try new things
  9. They're kind and helpful (for the most part)
  10. They're convenient. I never have to comb their hair and they can pee anywhere.

What about you? What do you like about your boys?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Political Purity Over Protection of Children?

Thirteen-year-old Daniel Hauser has returned home.

Hauser is the (homeschooled) Minnesota boy who last week disappeared with his mother, Colleen, in an effort to avoid court-ordered chemotherapy. The case has obviously sparked a lot of debate. It touches on medical ethics, parental authority and the rights of individuals to make choices out-of-step with the mainstream.

The fact that Daniel is homeschooled adds another layer to the debate. Mike the Mad Biologist posted an interesting response to my post, Full Consent. Check it out:

"My experience has been that homeschooling parents are mostly (a large majority) very much opposed to any kind of scrutiny from the outside whatsoever. The Hauser case is an example of why some is needed: Homeschooling in and of itself is not intended as a means of hiding what we would all agree to be extreme behavior (on the part of parents) but it is very easily used as such.

"It is really up to the homeschooling community to do something about this, but by and large the homeschooling community won't, because, I believe, most individuals in this community prefer their own political purity over the protection of children in their community overall, and do not care, and perhaps even relish, if they are viewed as intractable in this matter by the rest of society. "

I want you to read this and think about it. Really think about it. If you're a homeschooler, your knee-jerk reaction is probably to, well, call the guy an uninformed jerk. But his words are important because he's expressing a common concern. Whether you agree with him or not, his words reflect of the views of a significant portion of the public.

I've thought about Mike's words all morning, the one thought that keeps circling through my brain is this: his underlying assumption is that "someone else" -- the larger society, perhaps -- knows better than parents what is or is not appropriate for their children.

In my opinion (and in my case) I resist greater scrutiny of our homeschooling and family life because I don't believe that society knows better than I what I or my children need. I resist greater scrutiny because I don't even agree with the larger society about what is or is not important. Do I think it's important for my kids to learn to read? Yes. At age 6? No.

Do I relish my own political purity (or, you might say, my individual freedom) over the protection of children in the homeschooling community? No. But do I think that greater oversight of homeschooling and homeschooling families will mean greater protection for our children? No. In fact, I think that greater oversight would cause more damage to more families and children.

What do you think of Mike's comments? Why?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why Boys Love Candy

My boys love candy. They love Halloween, with loaded down plastic pumpkins. They love softball games, with concession stands full of treats and mad money jingling in their pockets. And they love parades, with the promise of candy littering the streets. (Yes, my children shoved Wal-Mart bags into their pockets before heading down the Memorial Day parade today, "just in case.")

Boy #3, in fact, can't wait for tomorrow to get here because he plan to call the Oriental Trading company and order 145 pieces of Warheads, an extremely sour candy.

Given that I have a sweet tooth myself, I can't entirely condemn their love of all things sweet (or sour). I've also made a conscious decision to let go, to not regulate their intake of cookies and cake and ice cream, because I believe that forbidding a food or artificially limiting it makes it more attractive. (For more, see Sandra Dodd's writings.)

Now a new study finds a biological basis to my sons' predilection for sweets. A study of 9000 children revealed that boys need 10 percent more sweetness and 20 percent more sourness than girls do to register "sweet" or "sour."

Interesting. We parents often comment about boys being "more" -- more active, more noisy, more intense. But consider the biology:
  • Boys' hearing is less acute than girls' from day one
  • Boys eyes are targeted to register movement, not subtle differences in color
  • Boys have more dopamine in their bloodstream, which can increase impulsive behavior
  • And now -- boys' taste buds are less refined than girls'

Is it any wonder our boys need More? Or even that their need for More sometimes, um, bugs their mothers just a tiny little bit? Boys NEED more noise, more taste and more action just to register the same sensations we might have felt, oh, 65 decibels ago.

It's a constant balancing act for me -- balancing my sons' need for stimulation with my need for peace and quiet. But at least now, I understand their need for More.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Life Offline

Over on Digital Mom, writer Melissa Sais muses about screen time.

We've been told over and over how bad sitting in front of the TV is for our boys. And the common wisdom is that video games are addictive, mind-numbing entertainment of questionable value. Never mind that -- like everything else -- both TV and video games have some positives as well.

But Melissa makes an interesting point. Listen:

"I think all digital moms worry about the amount of “screen time” we allow our kids. Is it frying their brains and turning their bodies into mush? I think it can if we don’t pay some attention to pursuits outside the digital realm. And I realize I have to show leadership in pursuing the non-digital options."

She goes on to talk about how she has better luck suggesting and initiating active alternatives, instead of simply saying, "TV off!" But her line about showing leadership in pursuing non-digital options hit me another way too.

It's the old show-don't-tell concept. If I want my kids to spend more time in the natural world, then I need to spend more time in the natural world. Sitting at my computer, playing Pathwords on Facebook while I tell the boys to go outside smacks of hypocrisy.

Yes, sometimes I need my quiet down time; we all do, and none of us should feel guilty about that. But I really need to consider what my actions tell my boys. More often than not lately, my actions have been saying, "Go ahead. Watch TV. I like having some quiet time to myself," and "The digital world is more interesting than real life."

That last one is a harsh realization, but between all the fun I'm having with my blog, the blogathon, Twitter, Facebook and my usual everyday email and work stuff, I'll admit that I've been spending a lot of time online. If I want my kids to spend more time in the non-digital realm, maybe it's time for me to rediscover some non-digital pastimes. Maybe it's time to pull out the watercolors. Time to knit for 15 minutes while supper cooks, rather than hopping online. Time to head out for a walk.

What do you think? How do you show leadership in pursuing non-digital options?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Full Consent

A couple months ago, we talked about the sad case of Alfie Patten, the British 13-year-old who was thought to have fathered a daughter, Maisie, with his 15-year-old girlfriend. More recently, we've talked about Daniel Hauser, the 13-year-old Minnesota boy who's been court-ordered to undergo chemo for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

There have been updates to both stories. Alfie Patten is most definitely not the baby daddy. Fourteen-year-old Tyler Barker is.

And Daniel Hauser, as you may have already heard, is on the run. He and his mother disappeared two days ago and may be in Mexico.

Daniel's story has received a lot of media attention, not the least because it's heart-wreching and extremetly complicated. As a nation, I think, we're very sensitive to government intervention into private lives. (Sorry, Republicans -- Democrat or no, I still think most Americans agree that the government has no business treading into personal matters) And yet...the idea of a boy dying when medical treatment could well forestall such an ending is almost too sad to comtemplate. It stimulates our "somebody, do something!" centers like nothing else.

But as Daniel's story received more attention, additional details about the boy and his family leaked out. Words like "homeschooled." And "illiterate."

Great. Just what we need. The word "homeschool" attached to another extreme case. Because trust me, I've been around the block enough to know exactly what kinds of thought this news inspires. Listen to Greg Laden:

"I really have nothing against homeschooling, but it must be admitted that among the homeschoolers, there is a disproportionate share of crazy people that should not be allowed near children. And, the way homeschooling operates politically, the children of homeschooling families are less likely to be rescued from their abusing parents (when there are abusing parents) than other kids. That is a simple fact, and all the homeschoolers who are not abusing their own children but who maintain that society must simply turn away are part of the problem, not the solution. "

Yes, please -- lump us all together. Make blanket statements that are virtually impossible to prove. (Because really, if I had to argue it, I'm pretty sure I could argue persuasively that there are plenty of non-homeschooling parents who don't belong near their children or any others as well.) Muddy the waters further by debating homeschooling when a child's life is at risk.

And yet, I see the concern. While I'm not at all sure that court-ordering chemo is the right thing to do, I understand that at this point, most Americans are wondering if the boy has enough information to decide if he wants to undergo chemo. They question his understanding of the disease, treatments and available options. They wonder if his parent's beliefs are interfering with his access to information.

Which brings up the issue of consent -- the common thread, if you ask me, between Alife Patten, Tyler Barker and Daniel Hauser. Do these kids fully understand their situations?

Watching the video of young Alfie, it's completely apparent that this kid, well-intentioned though he may be, has no idea how to be a father. Yet that's the kind of thing he (and Travis, and all other young boys comptemplating sex) need to know. If you're going to have sex, you darn well better know what it is and how it works, what the consequences are and how you'll handle them. That's full consent: when you know all possible facts and make an informed decision.

People are concerned about Daniel right now because they're not sure he's given full consent.

I don't know. I don't know what Daniel knows. And I truly don't know whether he's best served by being left alone to die or by being forced into an oncology clinic.

I do know, though, that I consider it my job to inform my sons about the world. We homeschool, but we don't homeschool to limit the flow of information; we homeschool to expose our children to the wide world of ideas. In my opinion, the whole world would be a better place if we stopped sheltering our children from uncomfortable ideas, reality or even beliefs that conflict with our own, and instead listened to them, answered their questions and helped them develop full consent.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Guest Blogger Ron Doyle: Swapping Chromosomes for the Day

In honor of our May Blogathon, today is officially Blog Post Exhange Day. I'm blogging on Blog Salad today, while freelance writer and father-of-girls Ron Doyle is blogging over here. Check it out. I think you'll like it!

Yes, I live in a house full of girls. Truth be told, I'm blissfully outnumbered three to one. Still, there are times when I get treated as the chromosomal anomaly. For example, what began as a tender moment early this morning---my sleepy-eyed two year old daughter in my arms, patting my chest---quickly regressed into a lesson about why I'm different:

"See, Dad has hair on his chest! Does Madeleine have hair on her chest? Noooo. Does Lila have hair on her chest? Noooo. Does Mom have hair on her chest? Noooo.... That's right, Dad is a boy!"

For the record, it's barely even a wisp of chest hair, and certainly not as manly as this:

Definitely not as manly. In fact, standing shirtless on a beach pretending to talk on a telephone with the cord disconnected is about as manly as you can get. Except, of course, maybe this:

I can't see it, but I guarantee that chest has more hair. And the corded phone? Pure man-ness.

Yes, there are seven X chromosomes and only one Y chromosome in my household. But growing up it was just me and my brother, so as a former boy in a house full of boys, I'm particularly familiar with the whole world of boyhood. I mean, I just posted a picture of a chimp talking on a telephone. I'm definitely a boy.

But, as a father of two girls, I think I get the best of both worlds without that whole philosophical debate over circumcision that scares the bejesus out of me. Because, in all honesty, there's not much of a difference between boys and girls. Yes, there's that whole pink thing and the Mattel vs. Tonka phenomena, but those are just icing on a very similar cupcake. My little female cupcakes eat dirt and play with cars and laugh at pictures of chimps conducting business just as much as any boy---my girls just happen to be coated in pink frosting with glitter and sprinkles. And no matter how many sprinkles may decorate their outsides, I can assure you that they are just as gastronomically revolting as boys. It's true: ladies fart. A lot. No, really, more than you can imagine.

So, if we're so similar, why the gender split? Why do boys wear blue and girls wear pink? I think the entire gender divide, those shuttle buses between Mars and Venus, deodorants "strong enough for a man but made for a woman," Barbies and blowdarts, all of that madness starts with lazy parents.

That's right, I'm lazy. You know why I dress my youngest daughter, only eight months old, in dresses and pink? Here's why:

Boy. Note the face speckled with potting soil.

Girl. Note the sparkly hair clip.

Yep, same kid. That's my daughter Lila.

If I put my daughter in green or yellow or white or any other pastel non-gender specific color designed for babies, I must inevitably endure the standard line of questioning from elderly people at the grocery store: "Aw, well, hello sweetie, are you a boy or a girl?" There are lots of old folks in my neighborhood. I don't have time for that.

Yes, things will get more complicated one day, when my daughters' chests begin to sprout something other than hair. I'll be worrying about tampons and training bras while parents of boys are worrying about pyrotechnics and internet porn.

Which sort of leads me to a point, because I swear I have one.

Despite the fact that we all smell the same in the bathroom, we still live in a world dominated by men who have subjugated women into restrictive roles, reduced wages, and attempted to paint them in a powerless pink. Those minor gender quirks as children mutate into major differences as adults. As a father of two girls, I feel lucky to have an opportunity to help change this situation---because I'm far more likely to teach my daughters how to use a shotgun than sit on our front porch with one.

So, for all of you out there in the interweb who are raising boys and turning to Jennifer Fink's fabulous blog for levity and advice, please remember: dump trucks and bottle rockets aside, you have a great responsibility to teach your sons how to treat the opposite sex, about the characteristics that unite us and make us the same---not the ones that make us different.

Except the chest hair. That's all ours. ;-)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Youngest Son Sets Ambitious Goal and Ends Up with Lollipop

Andrea, Denise and more are right: I'm not a horrible Mom for letting my three-year-old ride his bike to Ben Franklin yesterday. Listen to Andrea:

"We all need to rethink "bad" mommy. You listened to what your child felt ready to do, that is not bad. He fell down, you helped him back up, that is not bad. You chose to leave the offending bike behind and tend to your child, return at a later time to retrieve the bike; again, nothing bad."

It was Andrea, in fact, who suggested an alternate name for yesterday's post (which you see posted up at the top today).

She's right, of course. So many of us, I think, fall into negative thinking when things go less-than-perfectly. So many of us assume that's all up to US: that if we just did everything right, our kids would be polite, happy and intelligent, our careers and marriages would be thriving and our homes, sparkling refuges from the reality of the cold world.

Or maybe that's just me.

Andrea's right: Good Mom doesn't mean "perfect." Good Mom doesn't mean "nothing bad happens to my kids." Good Mom means that we do the best we can with reality as its presented to us.

Good Mom doesn't mean beating yourself up for what you "should have known" (like I did yesterday). Good Mom means accepting and embracing the fact that you're human too.

Of course, entire books have been written about this subject. I think I need to check out Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Guide to Parenting, by Rene Syler. I love this quote:

"In an ideal world, mothers would have time to hand-sew their kids' costumes for the school play, prepare all-organic meals, and volunteer in the classroom at the drop of a hat. In reality, most moms have to settle for plopping their little ones in front of SpongeBob so that they can prepare yet another chicken nugget-based dinner, guiltily convinced they're falling down on the job. "

Yup. That's me.

Another book I need to look up is by fellow writer and boy-mom Jen Singer. Her hilarious book, You're a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren't So Bad Either) might be just what I need.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Horrible Mom Moment

The boys asked today if we could go to Ben Franklin, a variety store/mini-Walmart place about half a mile from our house.

Since I had time and since they asked, I said yes. And since it's such a beautiful day (pushing 70 and sunny!), I said, "Let's ride our bikes."

Three-year-old Boy #4 asked if he could ride his bike too, and after some quick deliberation, I said yes. He's never been beyond our neighbor's house on his own bike, but this kid has some skills. He's been handling the small green two-wheeled bike with training wheels like a pro. So we strapped on helmets and were off.

Boy #4 was thrilled with his new indepedence -- but slow. So I sent Boys #1 & 2 on ahead of us and lingered with #3 and 4.

Understand here: I purposefully plotted out the easiest route to the store. We could have headed directly West, but that takes us up a HUGE hill and then back home down same huge hill. So instead, we headed North, then West. It's a route we've taken many times before with the kids at various levels of experience.

And yet...I forgot about the hill.

Boy #4 was about halfway down the hill (not as steep as the huge one, but still not exactly a gentle incline) when I realized HE DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO USE THE BRAKES.

He picked up speed and was getting nervous. He called out to me, but all I could do was tell him, "You're doing a good job. Just keep steering."

He managed to avoid the daycare kids -- most of them his own age -- who were drawing chalk figures on the sidewalk. The two daycare ladies, I'm sure, thought I was an incompetent parent.

Boy #4, meanwhile, managed to stay on his bike. I worried a bit about the railroad track at the bottom of the hill, but if he could just hold it straight, I reasoned, he'd be all right. A bit shaken up, maybe, but all right.

Then he began to lose control. His hands started to wiggle and the green bike swerved from side to side.

He's not going to make it, I thought. And sure enough, the next thing I knew, he fell.

Not his-bike-tipped-to-the-side-and-he-fell-to-the-ground, but head-over-heels, tumbling-like-rag-doll, oh-my-god-that's-my-baby fell.

His bike crashed on to the train tracks ahead of him. My baby lay face down on grass and sidewalk. The daycare ladies, I'm sure, were clucking their tongues and shaking their heads.

I ran to him, scooped him up and tried to comfort him as he wailed a horrible, hurt, high-pitched wail. Remarkably, he seemed rather unscathed (well, except for the horrified cry). His upper lip was skinned maybe just a little, but other than that, my little boy, who had no business riding down that hill, was all in one piece.

What was I thinking?????

In hindsight, I can see how having four kids worked against me in this case. We've taken that route so many times with so many kids that it never occurred to me that it might be dangerous. And I've had so many little ones amaze me, over and over, with their physical skill and prowess, that when my three-year-old asked to bike to the store a half mile from our house, I didn't even hesitate.

In hindsight, I grossly over-estimated his skills. I'm all about giving kids a chance to test their limits, but before saying yes, I should have made sure I had a good grasp of his skill level. In hindsight, his biking around the house without incident DOES NOT mean he's ready to bike down a hill!

I parked his bike at a nearby bike rack and loaded Boy #4 in the seat strapped to the back of my bike. (In hindsight, where he should have been all along.) We continued on to Ben Franklin, with Boy #4 crying the whole way. Boy #2, though, is smart. He bought #4 a lollipop. And that was the end of the crying.

I went back later and picked up the bike, and #4 seems no worse for the wear. He's even managed to tell his story to both his dad, the babysitter and the plumber without any obvious trauma. So maybe he'll be OK.

Me? I'm a bit of a wreck. I just keeping thinking about Denise Schipani's new blog, Confessions of a Mean Mommy. Yesterday she wrote about the need to fail your child. I keep wondering if this is what she was talking about.

Somehow, I think it's not.

'Fess up! What's your horrible Mom moment?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Brothers and Boys

Does having brothers prepare you for having boys?

Most of our readers (44%) said yes. Of course, 22% said no and another 22% said they don't have brothers, so it's not exactly an overwhelming conclusion.

I grew up with 4 brothers (and 1 sister). So on the one hand, boys come naturally to me. I grew up surrounded by boys, belching and the occasional brouhaha. If I'd grown up with an army of sisters, perhaps this boy-saturated household of mine would feel completely foreign.

And yet...I was one of those who answered, "I'm not sure." The one way I'm absolutely, positively certain having brothers prepared me for having sons is that my Mom has long recognized boys' need for movement. I can't tell you how many times I heard her tell my brothers, "Just go outside and run around the house!" And you know what? I use that one too.

Beyond that, though, I'm not sure. We grew up in a pretty restrictive household, so my brothers weren't into a lot of typically boy stuff. No guns or gun play allowed. No tree climbing. And extremely limited access to the creek just behind our house.

In many ways, I think my brothers are more beneficial to me NOW. Now that I have 4 boys, my brothers are an invaluable resource. My 4 brothers, all very different people, provide my sons glimpses into various forms of manhood. My 4 brothers, each with different talents and skills and interests, can relate to and teach my boys in a way I never could. And my 4 brothers inevitably end up on the floor wrestling my boys.

I long ago recognized the value in play fighting. For my boys, it's a chance to test their strength against an adult male they know and love. For my brothers, it's a valuable way to connect with their nephews (and a chance for them to reassure themselves that they are still top of the pack!). For me, it's a welcome break. :)

My brothers are also an essential part of my sons' "third family," a term coined by Micheal Gurian that refers to boys' need to be surrounded by a community of caring adults. As important as Mom and Dad are, boys need more than that. As Gurian writes in The Purpose of Boys, "Boys are such exploeres and so filled with energy and imagination...that they need both close-up contact with their nuclear family parents and wide-lens intimacy and experiences guided by a set of other 'family members' who provide significant help."

Does having brothers help me raise sons? You betcha.

What's your experience? How has having brothers (or not) prepared you (or not) for raising boys?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What Would You Do?

A judge in Minnesota just ruled that a 13-year-old boy must undergo chemotherapy.

The boy, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma, and his parents have been refusing chemotherapy on the grounds that it conflicts with their religious beliefs. According to one article, though, the boy did have one chemotherapy treatment and refused additional treatments after suffering untoward side effects.


This case troubles me on so many levels. Should a boy die because he parents refuse treatment? Should a child be forced to endure a medical treatment that is, at best, unpleasant, and, at worst, harmful?

The judge ruled for treatment because "overwhelming evidence" suggests that the boy will live with treatment, but die without it.

Yes, but...Is any decision ever that easy? What it he lives, but suffers side effects that destroy his quality of life? Potential long-term side effects include infertility, heart disease, lung damage and the tiny but very real possibility of developing a second cancer in the future. Should it be up to a judge to make that decision for a boy and his family?

What troubles me most about this case, I think, is that it illustrates how hard it is to die in this country. I'm not saying the boy has a death wish, and I'm not saying that his parents wish to hasten his death. I am, however, saying that years ago, they wouldn't have had a choice.

Today, though, numerous "medical miracles" help keep death at bay. Chemotherapy holds off cancer. Kidney transplants bring new life to ailing bodies. Medication stimulates blood flow.

But I'll let you in on a little secret: we all die sometime anyway. All the treatments, all the options -- sooner or later, the body will go anyway. So what right do we, as a society, have to tell anyone how long to hang on? Who are we to say, "you must undergo this treatment, as unpleasant as it may be, because it will help you live longer?" What's wrong with letting nature take its course?

I understand the complexities involved when the patient in question is a minor. The issue, of course, is whether the minor fully understands what's going on, or whether the child is left to die because of his parents' beliefs.

And yet...something about this just doesn't feel right.

Friday, May 15, 2009

You Know You Have Boys When...

...your three-year-old comes in from outside and says, "Worms in my hood."

You walk over, briefly peruse said hood and reassure him: "Honey, there's no worms in your hood."

But having been a Mom of boys for many years, a niggling feeling causes you to look again.

Still, no worms.

A glance, though, at your six-year-old, who was also outside, convinces you to dig more deeply. And sure enough: there, in the crease of the hood, are three, live, wriggly worms.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Together We Stand

Fellow blogathoner Jackie Dishner has a great post today, Partner with Others. "If you're having a difficult time moving forward," she writes, "sometimes it's helpful to partner with others."

Her words are as true for us as parents of boys as they are for her as a writer with a book to promote. Part of the reason I write this blog is so that we, as parents of boys, can share our insights and ideas, frustrations and fears with each other. Because if there's one thing I've learned about raising boys, it's this: No matter how much we love them, there will be days when we have absolutely no idea what to do next.

That's when we need to reach out. A network of friends and family is great; nothing can replace an actual shoulder to cry on or a grandparent who can swoop in and take the kids off your hands for a few hours.

But I see a lot of value in our virtual communities also. Many of us are trying to raise our kids according to slightly different parenting philosophies than those with which we were raised, and it can be hard to find support at home when no one else seems to understand what we're doing. Sites such as Joyce Fetteroll's Joyfully Rejoicing and Sandra Dodd's posts about Parenting Peacefully can help us find encouragement and link us to other, real-life people who are more than willing to share their real-life experiences.

Parenting and homeschooling blogs are another great source of support. Some of my current favorites are Pack of Hungry Snails, Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers, Horrible Sanity, Parenting by Trial and Error, Digital Mom and Blog Salad. I don't know about you, but I get a lot of support from simply knowing that other people are going through the exact same things I am.

How about you? Where do you find support on- or off-line?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Guest Blogger: Max Elliot Anderson

Max Elliot Anderson writes books for boys and hosts Books for Boys, a blog that’s all about encouraging boys to read. His seven published books include Newspaper Caper, Terror At Wolf Lake, North Woods Poachers, Mountain Cabin Mystery, Big Rig Rustlers, The Secret of Abbott’s Cave, and Legend of the White Wolf.

As a child, I grew up as a reluctant reader. In a family of seven children, I wasn’t especially pushed to read, so I never formed good reading habits. This was ironic because my father has published over 70 books – a number of these written for children.

A few years ago I decided to seriously study books for boys, with an eye to discovering some of the reasons for boys’ lack of interest in reading. I discovered books with large blocks of copy, making it easy for a reluctant reader to lose his place on the page, and books produced on a brown shade of paper with small type.

A reluctant boy reader is not going to be interested in endless sections of detail and description. He wants something happening on every page, fast action, and humor.

Many children’s books were written with girls as the primary audience. The books for boys tended to include dragons, wizards, or the dark side.

So I set out to write the kind of stories I would have liked to read when I was a child. As a result, my books are larger than most, the paper is bright white, and the type is larger. Sentences and paragraphs are short, the books contain a lot of humor, heart-pounding action, adventure and dialog. Most chapters end in a cliffhanger, nearly forcing the reader to start the next chapter.

I also write good stories with moral and ethical elements. Hopefully, at some time in the future, these concepts will be useful as boys grow into men.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Webb of Science

I don't know about you, but my boys love science.

It could be because they have a former nurse for a mother and an engineer for a father -- I guess we both show a natural inclination to the sciences -- but I think it's simply because science is interesting and just plain fun.

Chasing frogs? Science. Fishing? Science. Wondering the weather? Science. Watching salt crystals grow? More science. (And more on this one later. We've had an interesting experiment on our kitchen counter for months.)

One of the wonders of the current May blogathon is that I've discovered some amazing and incredibly fun blogs. Where else would I have found this?

That, my friends, is from Webb of Science, a great blog from scientist-turned-writer Sarah Webb. Check it out! The laughing rats are a hoot!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Baby Barack

Once again, Jacob is the most popular baby boy name.

According to a recent report by the Social Security Administration, the top 10 most popular baby names for 2008 were:
  1. Jacob
  2. Michael
  3. Ethan
  4. Joshua
  5. Daniel
  6. Alexander
  7. Anthony
  8. William
  9. Christopher
  10. Matthew

But the big news is Barack. The name moved an unprecedented amount -- from 12, 535th place in 2007 to 2,409th in 2008.

What always strikes me about this list is how many parents inadvertently choose a popular name for their child. I grew up as Jenny -- 1 of 5 Jennies in my high school class -- so my babynaming goal was the avoid the year's most popular names. Instead, I wanted solid, "normal" names for my boys; nothing too out there, but nothing too common either.

I failed miserably. Boy #2 is Tyler, the male equivalent of Jenny if ever there was one. Unbeknownst to us, Tyler was #10 the year he was born.

Boy #1 is Nathan -- #34 the year he was born. Boy #4 is Samuel -- #25 for his year. And Adam, Boy #3's name, was #58 the year he was born.

That's right: we never managed a name out of the Top 100. Or out of the Top 60, for that matter.

How 'bout you? Where do your boys names rank on the popularity list?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Interested in Gender Differences?

Check out the Boys and Girls at Risk Conference: The Emerging Science of Gender Differences in Madison, WI this June 16-17.

Conference workshops include:
  • What Happened to My Son?
  • Me Tarzan. The Story of the Y Chromosome.
  • Gender-based Differences in the Use, Abuse and Effects of Information Technology

and many, many more.

I'm thinking of going. Anyone want to go with me?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Video Games Make You Smarter!

Yes, that was a shameless plea for your attention.

According to our latest poll, a majority of readers believe that video games are primarily a negative influence on our sons. They are not alone. Video games have become a tremendously prevalent part of our society, and as parents, I think it's only natural to be concerned --and perhaps a bit suspicious -- of something that sucks up so much of our sons' time.

Besides, a slew of studies have suggested that our concerns are warranted. The latest research proclaims that 1 in 10 children are addicted to video games. Video games have been associated with everything from obesity to violent behavior. And let's face it: it's easy to denigrate anything that distracts your son from his chores and homework.

But the facts are not quite so conclusive. Like anything, video games have positive and negative effects. Here, a round-up of some of the positives:

  • Video games improve problem solving and physical dexterity. According to the American Psychological Association, video games can improve cognitive and perceptual skills and foster scientific thinking. Also, one intriguing study found that laparoscopic surgeons who played video games were 27 percent faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37 percent fewer errors compared to those who did not play video games.
  • Video games may enhance eyesight. Israeli researchers found that teens who played violent video games (think Call to Duty 2) showed a 43% improvement, on average, in their ability to discern between very close shades of gray. Now, they are studying whether video game play may someday replace eye surgery for certain patients.
  • Video games may make your sons better citizens. Far from playing alone, most kids play video games with other kids in the room and interact with others both through their game play and in real life. Also, certain games, such as Sim City, give kids a first-person taste of government.
  • Video games expand worldview and enhance learning. Think about all the historic titles out there: Battlefield 1942. Gettysburg. Civilization. Then think about all the simulation titles: Roller Coaster Tycoon. John Deere American Farmer. It's impossible to play games like these and not learn anything.

For more on video games, check out my Interview with a Video Game Designer, Parts 1 and 2.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Provider Appreciation Day

Yeah, I'd never heard of it either.

But the National Association for the Education of Young Children helped me out with a story this week, so today I got a press release reminding me that tomorrow, the Friday before Mother's Day, is Provider Appreciation Day, a day set aside to honor the daycare providers, babysitters, early childhood teachers and others who care for our young boys.

That's a cause I can get behind, because I've long said it's a travesty that we pay the people who care for our children and elderly less than almost everyone else. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2006, child care workers made about $17,630 a year, significantly less than the average salary of all Americans at $32,390.

Yet the work they do is of utmost importance. We've all heard of the critical importance of the birth to 3 window. We all know that early childhood experiences shape a child's ability to bond, to learn and to succeed in the world. But far too often, we choose childcare based on cost and convenience, rather than insisting on high quality. (To be fair, quality childcare can be hard to find.)

So tomorrow, say thank you to the dedicated childcare providers who are helping raise our sons. (For a list of creative ideas, click here.) Also take the time to share what you're learning about boys and their behavior and learning styles. While almost all childcare providers can tell you that boys and girls are different, few have formal training in gender differences and few truly know what boys need to succeed and thrive.

Your boys -- and their childcare providers -- will thank you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sick Day Survival

It's a sick day at our house. Boy #3 is on the couch with a raging fever and sore throat, Boy #2 has a hacking cough and runny nose, Boy #4 has a runny nose and incessant need for Mom, and Mom, well, Mom has serious sinus issues.

Activities for the day: Cancelled. We were supposed to see a play, attend storytime, tumble at gymnastics and whack balls at baseball practice.

There are hundreds of articles filled with sick day solutions. (For some good ideas, click here and here.) But we didn't make clever crafts or read aloud for hours on end. Sick days, at my house, are an exercise in survival.

Want some real-world, sick day survival techniques? Try these:
  • Doze on couch every chance you get. That means closing your eyes when you cuddle with the sick child. Trust me: he'll never know the difference.
  • Make Malt-o-Meal for breakfast. Watch it slowly congeal as no one eats it.
  • Make smoothies. Blend yogurt, milk, fruit, ice cubes and vanilla in a blender. Voila! All important fluids, and hearty enough to count as a meal.
  • Let the dishes go. My counter currently has remains from both breakfast and lunch.
  • Watch a lot of TV. My theory? One day (or three or four or ten) of constant TV in a year will not kill their brains.

How 'bout you? What do you do to survive sick days?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Question for You

What kinds of things are you curious about regarding your boys? Do you have questions regarding their health and safety? Development? Education? Emotional well-being?

Since I'm going to be posting a lot this month, I'd like to know what topics interest you.

Also, do you have any book suggestions for a reader who's teaching a class of 4th grade boys who are cognitively at about a 1st grade level? She reads aloud to them, but has a hard time finding books that appeal to the boys.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Applied Knowledge

It's a beautiful day outside today -- sunny and 70 degrees. So when it came time to read this afternoon, I decided to apply my new-found knowledge of the male brain.

Instead of making the boys come inside (they'd been happily playing outside at Grandma and Grandpa's), I took the books outside. Instead of insisting that they sit down and listen, I let them listen or not. And I let them do their own thing while we read: Son #1 worked on his fishing tackle, Son #2 continued to construct a home for his frog and Sons #3 and 4 ate a snack.

We read a picture book that way, then paged through a nature book, trying to identify the frog. (It's a green frog, in case you're wondering.)

Then we moved to the sandbox and the last two chapters of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. (Which I highly recommend, BTW). Son #1, who's been reading independently for years, brought over his fishing tackle and continued to work while he listened. #2, 3 and 4 worked in the sandbox, creating roads, digging tunnels and burying themselves. And they listened.

They listened. All four of them. Even #4, who's just three years old. (It helped, I think, that the second-to-last chapter featured bulldozers and tractors.) Trust me when I say that reading inside does not go nearly as well. Inside, I'm lucky if I can get through two pages without interruption. Outside, I read two chapters.

I think there's something to the idea that boys listen and learn better when otherwise engaged!

How about you? Any examples of boy-friendly learning strategies successfully applied at your house?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It's a Blogathon!

Believe it or not, my life is more than just boys.

I'm also a nationally-published freelance writer and an active member of Freelance Success, an online community of professional writers. We're a pretty helpful group, sharing everything from editor tips to how-to's. So when one writer suggested a May Blogathon to increase our blogging skills and drive traffic to our blogs, I signed on.

Here's how it works: each blogger who is part of the Blogathon commits to posting daily for the entire month of May. The blog topics vary -- there's travel, self-employment, writing, parenting and food, among others -- but since the authors are all professional writers, I can personally guarantee a high level of writing at each and every blog.

The complete list of participants is below. I encourage you to stop by and say hi!

Vera Marie Badertscher - Travelers Library - Books and movies that influence travel.
Heather Boerner - Serenity for the Self Employed - Advice for the self-employed among us.
Jane Boursaw - Film Gecko - May Movie Madness and other film-related stuff.
Danielle Buffardi - Horrible Sanity - Random thoughts of a mother and freelance writer.
Sona Charaipotra - Sona Charaipotra on Entertainment and Travel and Food.
Rosie Colombraro - Trust the Universe - There is always a Plan B.
Sue Dickman - Life Divided - Food, gardening, travel, books and more.
Jackie Dishner - BIKE WITH JACKIE - Improve life with BIKE, the spiritual navigation tool.
Kelly Estes - Big Government in Your Wallet - A political blog
Jennifer L.W. Fink - Blogging'Bout Boys - With 4 boys between 11 and 3, this writer knows her subject.
Sydne George - I'll Have What She's Cooking - Good eats.
Debra Gordon- Wine on Tuesdays - About wine and the drinking thereof.
Nancy Hall - Floating Ink - How to fit making art into your every day life.
Elizabeth Humphrey - The Write Elizabeth - Introducing creativity into daily life.
Leah Ingram - Suddenly Frugal - Tips for living well frugally.
JoAnn Jagroop - This Dame Cooks - Recipes from Alaska to the South Pacific.
Lisa Mann - Sonoma on the Cheap - One of a series of "On the Cheap" travel blogs.
Amy Rauch Neilson - Amy on Amy - She launches officially this month.
Jennifer Netherby - Jennifer's Writing Blog - Musings of a freelance writer.
Sarah E. Ludwig - Parenting by Trial and Error - A real parent's blog about parenting.
Kate Reilly - Polka Dot Suitcase - Finding fun in everyday life.
Melissa Sais - Digital Mom - Raising kids in a digital world.
Brette Sember - Martha and Me - One Martha Stewart makeover every day.
Jodi Torpey - Western Gardeners - Jodi's gardening blog.
Sarah Webb - Webb of Science - Where science meets life.
Kathy Summers - Eco Pregnancy and Baby and Health Writing Hints
Joy Manning - What I Weigh Today - A weight loss success blog.
Michelle Rafter - WordCount - A really helpful writer's blog.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thinking in Pictures

Boy brains and girl brains are different.

I've been reading a lot about the bio-neurological differences between the sexes (a great intro can be found here), but seeing them in action in my own home is a whole 'nother thing.

Today I had the privilege of talking to Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys and The Purpose of Boys. And he said one thing -- one tiny little research-based thing -- that completely explained the actions of Boy #2 this week.

One way, Gurian said, to get boys more involved in learning is to use more graphics. If any part can be drawn before it's written, he said -- and the lightbulb went on.

Boy #2 started writing science-fiction this week while I was in New York. More accurately, Boy #2 started DRAWING science-fiction. When I came home, he showed me a notebook full of his drawings, drawings that told a complete story. And after drawing the pictures, he was ready to tell me the words.

Boy brains are more visually-spatially oriented than girl brains. That's not good or bad or right or wrong; that's just biology. But when we keep those differences in mind, we can tailor education and experiences to our children. If I had asked my son to write a story, in words, I would have gotten nothing from him. Writing is still very much a struggle for him, and the pure physicality required to create words on a page would have sapped his energy.

Drawing first allowed him full access to his creativity. Because of the way his brain works, my son was able to find the story through the drawing. He started with an idea and saw it evolve on the page. Odds are, the story he told me was one he found after drawing the pics. He needed to visualize the story before he could tell it.

Think about it: what behaviors have you seen in your son this week that could be explained by biology? How can you use your knowledge of boy brains to help your son develop?