Monday, June 29, 2009

Guns: Yay

We seem to be a pretty pro-toy gun bunch: over 60% of the respondents to my poll said they let their boys play with toy guns unrestricted. Of course, I have a healthy hunch that even "unrestricted" comes with some common sense guidelines. I mean, I answered "unrestricted," but if I see one of my boys whacking the other over the head with a toy gun -- well, that's another story!

(Can you tell that's happened here before?)

That said, I completely respect other parents' rules and wishes. If another family comes over to play and they are not comfortable with toy guns, I'll ask the boys to put them away.

For me, that's what it's all about: respect. Respecting our boys' desires to experiment with power and toy weapons. Respecting the weapons. And respecting each other. If we teach our sons to respect themselves and one another, I don't think we'll have to worry too much about real violence down the road.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bird Boy

And in interesting boy news today, we have this story of a fifteen-year-old boy who was trying to raise 53 baby birds in his room.

His mother called animal control and the boy was ticketed for animal cruelty. I'm not sure what to think of the whole thing -- or how I'd react if I found over 50 birds in my son's room -- but I'm not sure it qualifies as animal cruelty either.

What do you think? What do you think the boy was trying to do? And how would you have reacted if you were his mother or father?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fighting with Boys

I do not want to live my life in constant conflict with my kids. In fact, that's why I try to use more peaceful parenting techniques, why I try to be responsive to their needs and why I encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings with me.

And yet....sometimes it just happens.

Take this morning, for instance. Boy #2 was not happy. I'd signed him up for 4-H day camp and he did NOT want to go (as he told me in no uncertain terms).

To be fair, I knew that he wouldn't want to sign up for day camp. I know that he's felt that way for the last two years he's gone. I also know that he had an absolutely fabulous time every time he's attended, as evidenced by the huge smile and non-stop chatter on the way home.

So I signed him up anyway, in part because I knew he'd have fun and in part because I had work and appointments today and needed a safe, stimulating place for him.

As far as he was concerned, though, I was the meanest mommy in the world. I know it didn't help that he was tired today, after a series of four late nights. Ideally, he would have been well-rested before being confronted with a situation he finds challenging, to say the least. But real life isn't ideal.

He's probably at camp now, having a great time. I, meanwhile, still feel icky about the whole situation.

How do you feel when you fight with your boys? What do you fight about? How do you handle it when your boys' needs conflict with your own?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: The Legend of Vinny Whiskers

I love finding a great read-aloud book.

The Legend of Vinny Whiskers tells the tale of Boomerang Lookout, a young prairie dog with a legendary name. Imagine being named Harry Potter -- after Harry #1 had done his thing.

Like Harry, Boomerang's name carries certain expectations. Lookouts are the sentinels of the Ward, the praire dogs' home, and for generations, the Lookout Manuever has been their signature move. Boomer, however, is unable to master the Manuever.

Making matters worse is the fact that the original Boomerang Lookout disappeared ages ago, one of the infamous "Lost Six," a group of prairie dogs who left the Ward and never returned.

But Boomer is a prairie dog of great curiousity -- and destiny. From the back of the book:

When young Boomer decides to venture beyond the Ward, he learned the true story of his namesake. The original Boomerang Lookout was the first King of the Tubes, an underground city populated by a band of small animals called the Alignment of the Wee. Years earlier, when control of the Tubes was passed to the rat Vinny Whiskers, the Wee were betrayed. Vinny opened the Tubes to the rats from the sewers, and the Wee were expelled. Ever since, the Wee have search for a way to win back their home. When a young prairie dog emerges with a legendary name, a showdown between the Alignment of the Wee and the Rat Nation seems inevitable.

Aimed at tweens, I'd say this book captures its market perfectly: My eleven- year-old commandeered the book the moment it arrived and was up til 1 am reading. He simply couldn't put it down. Now, I'm reading it aloud to my eight- and six-year-olds (with the eleven-year-old often listening in) and they're entranced. The good news is that I am too. I'm as eager to settle in and read as they are!

The Legend of Vinny Whiskers , by Gregory Kemp, reminds me a bit of another rat adventure, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. If you're looking for a summer read, check it out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gun Safety, Not Gun Control

I know -- I sound like a representative of the NRA.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth; I actually think some gun control is a good thing. But we're not talking politics here; we're talking boys. And when it comes to gun play, I think our best bet is to seize the teachable moment.

Without being all preachy -- because, as William Pollack, PhD, author of Real Boys says, "the last thing you want to do is shame your child" -- explain what guns are. Explain what they are for --and what they are not.

And then, whether you want to or not, discuss gun safety. My biggest fear, when I see my 3-year-old pick up a plastic gun and "shoot" his brothers, is that he would do the same exact thing if he found a real gun. Sadly enough, it's a distinct possibility.

A 2001 study published in Pediatrics was called, "Seeing is Believing: What Do Boys Do When They Find a Real Gun?" The investigators paired up boys, ages eight to twelve, and placed them in a room with two water pistols and an actual .380 caliber handgun. The weapons were all concealed in separate drawers. Using a one-way mirror, the investigators had a first-hand glimpse of how boys would behave when they found a real gun. (It's worth noting here that EXTENSIVE safety controls were in place.)

Sixteen of twenty-one groups of boys who found the real gun handled it. In ten of the groups, one or more of the boys pulled the trigger.

It's a sobering study, one that clearly points the need to responsible gun ownership. If you have a gun, make sure it is properly locked up at all times; if having boys has taught me anything, it's that they can find anything they're not supposed to find. (And nothing they're supposed to. Are shoes really THAT hard to find?)

Ask about guns and gun security as well. If your son is going to be playing at a friend's house, you need to know whether or not there are guns in the home -- and I'm not talking plastic guns; I'm talking real guns that can really hurt. If the friends are gun owners (and you'd be surprised how many people are), ask about how the guns are secured. If you're not happy with the answer -- or just don't feel good about your son playing in a home where there are guns -- invite the friend over to your house instead.

Most importantly, review over and over and over again what to do if your son finds a gun. Ask him what he'd do if he found a gun other than the colorful plastic ones he sees laying around the neighborhood. If the answer is, "give it to an adult," -- WRONG! Stress that he should never -- ever -- touch an unknown gun. Tell him that he should immediately call an adult and let the adult handle the situation.

Each year, over 1000 children are killed by guns. Don't let your son be one of them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gun Play and Boys: Yay or Nay?

After I wrote about the contents of our toyroom, another boy mama wrote in with a question:

OMG! My son just (to my horror!) discovered ... guns! It's a total fixation since we were visiting another pal of mine with an older boy. I'm hoping it passes. I'm a big fan of gun control ... even the toys ones. Any advice for steering a 3 yr old away from the firearms?

She reminds me of me eight short (or is that long?) years ago.

Our oldest son was three, and up to that point, we'd sheltered him from toy guns. I grew up in a no-toy-gun household, even though I had four brothers; our squirt guns were animals or empty syrup bottles, never miniature guns. My husband was a former Marine (and an excellent shot), but I saw no need for my son to PLAY with something meant to cause death and destruction.

Then we moved into our house. The house came with excellent neighbors, but with the neighbors came toy guns. My son loved them -- the neighbors AND the guns.)

What was I to do? If I banned toy guns all together, my son would be left out of most neighborhood games. (Did I mention the high boy population in my neighborhood?) And even if I banned them, the damage was done: he'd seen the guns and he wanted one.

My husband -- a former boy himself -- advised me to not make it a big deal. Make it big deal, he said, and you'll only make things worse.

So I nervously watched while my innocent child played guns. I drafted an essay about his fascination with guns, and breathed a sigh of relief a few days later when I wrapped it up: After days of intense interest, the plastic gun lay forgotten next to the toy box while my son once again watched Elmo.

If only I was to be so lucky.

That same son is now 11, and his favorite channel on TV is the Military Channel. Guns are no longer his weapon of choice; he'd much rather wield a light saber when saving the world. He does, however, have a BB gun and pellet gun and enjoys shooting targets in the garage.

So no -- I don't have any advice for steering a three-year-old away from guns. I do have some reassuring words, though. A fascination with guns does not mean your son is going to turn into a crazed homicidal maniac. It doesn't mean that your son is someday going to shoot up his school. It doesn't even mean he'll become a hunter.

Lest you think I'm making this up, the research backs me up on this one:

  • Gun play helps boys learn the difference between real violence and fantasy violence. So says a study published in the American Journal of Play. Boys, as we've discussed before, are biologically prone to aggression. Pretend gun play gives them a chance to experiment with aggression and power without actually hurting anyone. It also gives them the chance to play the hero.

  • Playing with guns helps boys develop a sense of their masculinity. I know -- I'm doubtful about this one too. But the author of the same study suggests that "boys' play with guns is in, part, an important test or proof of their masculinity."

  • Gun play helps boys process real violence. Nancy Carlsson-Paige, co-author of, Who's Calling the Shots?: How to Respond Effectively to Children's Fascination with War Play and War Toys, says,"If parents 'ban' gun play, they run the risk of cutting off a valuable vehicle children need for processing the violence [because] kids use their play to make meaning of what they have expereienced in life, and in this case, of the violence they have seen." (Which can include everything from cartoons to TV shows, video games and books.)

What do you think? Do you think playing with guns inspires violence? What's the gun control policy at your house?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Snapshot Sunday: In Honor of all the Dads

This pic, to me, is what Dads are all about. You can't really see my husband -- he's more of a background-guy here than anything else -- but that smile and that fish? All because of him.

Dads often toil in the background, doing the life equivalent of setting up the line, finding the perfect fishing spot and waiting (before helping to set the hook), but without them, our sons wouldn't catch nearly as many fish.

Hats off to the Dads. Thanks for all you do.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Three Things I've Learned in Two Days

1. Sunscreen really does need to be applied often. The older three boys and I spent yesterday at America's largest waterpark. Having suffered many sunburns as a child and fully aware of the risks of the sun, I'm usually pretty good about protecting the boys' skin. After all, they're light-skinned, light-haired, blue-eyed cuties; if ever there was a likely-to-burn model, it's my boys. So even though it was cloudy when we arrived, we slathered on waterproof SPF 50.

We did not, however, pause to reapply. Let me just say this: SPF 50 does not provide all day protection, especially when you're repeatedly immersed in water.

2. Bravery can be learned from six-year-olds. At age 6, Boy #3 is a little young for a number of the rides at Noah's Ark. But as Boy #3, he was determined to hang with his brothers as much as possible. Sting Ray, though, looked a bit intimidating to him; even though he met the height requirement, he decided to pass. Which was OK with me, because Sting Ray features an almost-straight down drop at the start, and I wasn't crazy about the idea either.

But then my little blue-eyed, pink-cheeked cutie looked up at me and said, "I want to conquer my fear. I don't want to let fear rule my life."


So we climbed the stairs (me lugging the heavy, double inflatable tube with specially-designed head-and-neck protection) and Boy #3, upon seeing the almost-sheer drop, almost backed out. Almost. He was scared, but when I asked if he still wanted to go, he nodded his head yes.

The attendant shoved us off -- and the look on my son's face was one of sheer terror. In his own words: "I almost started crying." But then the ride started leveling off, and the fear was replaced with joy. When the ride stopped, my brave little six-year-old said, "You can't let fear rule your life."

Turns out he gathered his wisdom from the Disney channel.

3. Losing someone you care about hurts. This morning, my best friend's mother died. She's had leukemia for awhile and was recently told that a bone marrow transplant was no longer an option. We knew the end was in sight, but still...

This is a woman I've known, literally, since my birth. She sang to me (lullabies when I slept over at their house), celebrated birthdays with me and mentored my oldest son -- you know, my 11-year-old entrepreneur. When, at the age of six, he decided to sell produce at our local Farmer's Market, she took him under her wing. They spent many Wednesday mornings together while she taught him about gardening and life. Most of all, she welcomed and accepted him. Now she's gone, and we both feel a void in our lives.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Guest Post: The Mysteries of Boys

Please welcome another blogathon blogger, Sarah E. Ludwig. Sarah is the mom to four mostly wonderful kids, 11-year-old fraternal twin girls and a nearly-7-year-old and 5-year-old boys. She works from home as a freelance writer and blogs about the necessity of flexibility in raising kids at Parenting by Trial and Error. Sarah is also a contributor on Larger Families.

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to all things boy-related. Because my experience is so limited, I could be noticing differences between my boys and my girls that are purely personality and not pertaining to gender at all, so please excuse any inaccurate generalizations I may make regarding boys.

I was raised in a family with two sisters, so there are some boy areas that still mystify me, even though my sons are nearly-7 and 5. For instance, why are boys so ridiculously entertained by potty talk? Just mention the word “underwear” or “poop” and it unleashes a series of endless giggles. Bodily functions are also a major source of amusement, often forced and always embellished, sometimes at the dinner table, much to my dismay. My daughters were never prone to behavior like this.

They’re so rough with each other too. I can hardly bear to watch them playing because it involves -- what looks to me like -- painful bodily contact. They wrestle, punch and smack each other, but rarely cry afterwards over what would have had their sisters in tears immediately.

My boys almost always take a bath together and I often listen to them talking and playing. A lot of their conversation has to do with a particular body part, with which the obsession clearly starts early. Discussions about size and shape are punctuated with hysterical laughter. I just shake my head in disbelief.

Perhaps the worst part is the amount of toilet cleaning that comes with having little boys. Unless you want your toilet to look worse than the underside of an outhouse, multiple wipe-downs are necessary on a daily basis.

Another perplexing behavior is the habitual crotch grabbing. Is that just my sons or is this a universal male habit found mainly in young boys?

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” I ask multiple times a day.

“No,” the perpetrator always replies.

“Then don’t do that,” I say, pointing at the offending hand, which immediately drops.

As much as some of the boy stuff they do baffles and drives me crazy though, I love having sons. There’s nothing like my little boys’ kisses and cuddles; nothing like having a little guy tell me he wants to marry me and sincerely meaning it; nothing like seeing how much they want to protect me and knowing how that instinct will most likely grow as they get older.

Now if I could just get them to aim more accurately…

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

You Know You Have Boys When....

....your toyroom contains:
  • 2 ride-on toys (1 Kawasaki four-wheeler and 1 John Deere tractor)
  • 4 tractors
  • 2 barns
  • about a zillion Lincoln Logs
  • 2 hard hats
  • 1 tractor-backhoe
  • 2 front-endloaders
  • 1 bulldozer
  • 4 dump trucks
  • 1 backhoe
  • 1 cement mixer
  • 1 grader
  • 2 plastic guns
  • assorted plastic tools
  • a pirate playset, complete with pirate hat
  • 2 balls (1 foot-, 1 tennis)
  • random Legos
  • 2 four-wheelers
  • 1 plastic brontosaurus (sorry -- Apatosaurus)
  • 2 airplanes
  • 2 flashlights (1 Elmo, 1 tiger)
  • a stuffed Teletubby
  • and Bob the Builder playset (Bob, Wendy, Muck, Scoop, Lofty and Rolly included)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Surviving Summer

Believe it or not, summer is probably the most stressful time of year for me.

The popular image of summer is lazy days and sleeping in, swimming and biking, and lemonade on the front porch. The pace is calm, relaxed. Summer is for being.

Except for me -- and most parents, I would hazard to guess, from the proliferation of "How to Survive Summer" articles I've seen recently. (I'm featured in one today.) The kids might be out of school, but for parents, life goes on. And here, summer life invovles a whole lot more "stuff" than winter, spring and fall.

Because we homeschool, we have a fair amount of control over our schedule during the traditional school year. We don't have to be up at any set time (unless we have an activity planned that day) and we can pick and choose what activities appeal to us, limiting ourselves so we don't feel ovewhelmed.

For some reason, that's easier during the school year, when there's not as many activities offered in our area. Come summer -- and the release of the school kids -- opportunities abound. There's summer sports, summer rec, summer school, summer play, summer camp, etc. The list is practically endless.

So far from being relaxed, summer, for me, is all about getting from Point A to Point B -- and making sure that everyone is fed in between. (Not an easy task on nights like tonight, when I need to leave before 5 and two boys need to be at the ballpark by 5:30)

Starting next week, our summer will look something like this:

Monday - Friday: Summer school 8 am - noon for Boys #1, 2 & 3 (I know, it sounds crazy: the homeschooler sends her kids to school in the summer?? But these are cool classes, like Chess and Harry Potter, that the boys wanted to take). Then Boy #1 stays from 12:30-3 pm for play practice (High School Musical).

Tues. & Thurs.: Sports Sampler, an intro to track, basketball and bowling, for Boys #2 and 3. 1-2 pm for Boy #2, 2-3 pm for Boy #3.

Add in ball games, and lots of them. On a typical week, we have 6 ball games scheduled between Tues. and Thurs.

Sprinkle in a random smattering of 4-H day camp, outings and the County Fair, and my summer is booked.

I know I can change my attitude. I know I can change my mindset from "look at all the things I have to do do" to "look at all the things I get to do." Let me just say this: when I'm feeling tired and overwhelmed, it's a challenge.

What about you? What does your summer look like? Is it crazier than the school year, or more relaxed?

Monday, June 15, 2009

What IS the Small Stuff?

Sandra had a great comment on my post, "Trust." She said exactly what I've been thinking today: I wish there was a crystal ball to tell us what's worthy of concern, and where we can let go.

We've all heard the saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff." But what exactly IS the small stuff?

I was trying to get ready this morning when Boy #2 came in from outside to inform me that Boy #3 didn't have a helmet on while riding his scooter. Shortly after that, Boy #3 came in and said that Boy #2 called him a dork.

Small stuff, or big stuff?

On the one hand, I don't have time to deal with their every little squabble. That's the reality of life with four boys. And even if I DID have time to deal with every little squabble, I don't think I should. Part of childhood -- part of life -- is learning how to deal with situations as they arise.

Plus, I could tell the boys were in tattle-mode. They weren't nearly as concerned with the behavior as they were with seeing whether or not they could get each other in trouble.

But on the other hand, both offenses violate family rules and values. Not wearing a helmet is a safety issue, and while I allow the boys a lot of leeway to play and explore, they know that helmets are an absolute necessity when bike riding, scootering or skateboarding.

And as for calling someone a "dork," well, that goes against our treat-people-with-respect rule. If there's one value I want to instill in my children, it's treating people with respect.

So -- biggie or smallie?

Some things are easy to figure out. If my son comes downstairs with mismatched clothes, it's a smallie. I probably won't even say anything, because I'm just happy he put his clothes on all by himself. If we're going somewhere, I may comment, but if he resists, I'll probably let him wear the mismatched clothers. (Depending on the occasion -- if it was my brother's wedding and there were going to be family pictures afterward, I might insist on helping him choose appropriate clothes.)

If we're at the grocery store and I notice that one son has his shoes on the wrong feet, it's a smallie. Again, I'm just happy he put on his own shoes and I'm confident that sooner or later, he'll learn his left from his right.

If my son wants to eat leftover pizza instead of the casserole I made for dinner -- well, here I get hung up. It's a smallie, right? But what about when he wants to eat the leftover pizza in the morning for breakfast? And then again for lunch? And at that point it's been 24 hours straight with no real veggies (the smattering of tomato sauce on the frozen pepperoni pizza notwithstanding) and a diet that consists of pizza, water and candy? Is it still a smallie?

Parenting is not as easy as it seems.

This morning, I let the offenses slip. I didn't have to time to deal with it and my gut instinct told me that intervening would make things worse, not better. By the time I went outside to load the boys into the van, both incidents were forgotten. (Except by me -- four hours later, I sit here blogging about the whole thing.)

So what do you think? What's a smallie and what's a biggie? When do we need to worry, and when can we let go?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Selling Out

After ripping on McDonald's yesterday, I'm here to admit that I'm a complete hypocrite.

Ethically, I think McDonald's reach into schools is wrong. Ronald McDonald visits, shows and reading programs all introduce very young children to the "wonders" of McDonald's. And I have a problem with that because while my children (occasionally) eat McDonald's, bringing the restaurant into the school makes it that much harder for parents who would prefer to keep their kids Mickey D and fast food-free. Heck, it makes it harder for those of us who wish to limit our McDonald's consumption to sometimes, special treats.

That said....the McDonald's reading records that my sons received at daycare earlier this week are working wonders. Boy #3, age 6, has started learning how to read and is really getting it.

Boy #2, age 8, who has previously shown very little interest in reading, has decided to get with the program also. Last night, after his bath and all by himself, he came downstairs and plowed through 10 easy readers. Then he came up to show me what he'd done. I'm not sure what's motivating him more: the fact that his little brother is learning to read or the McDonald's Happy Meal. Either way, I'll take it.

So yes -- I am selling out my convictions. While I'm morally opposed to McDonald's interference in education, I will show up at McDonald's tomorrow with two readers and two certificates good for two Happy Meals.

And you know what? If daycare gives me more certificates, I might even do it again.

Quick note: Got a kid who loves construction? If you do, be sure to swing by Gina Chen's Family Life blog. (She featured my blog back in April.) Enter her contest and you could win 4 construction books.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Guest Post: How Do You Conquer Fear?

Today's blogger, Amy Rauch Neilson, is another writer I met during the May blogathon. Although we'd never met before, we're connected on a genetic level: Amy and I are both carriers of genetic mutations known as the "breast cancer genes."

On a happier note, we're also both moms of boys. Today, Amy blogs about an universal concern.

In some ways, women in the new Millenium have the best of both worlds – the option to choose both motherhood and a career. And for that, I am very grateful to the women who came before me, who fought for the opportunities that have woven themselves so beautifully into our modern lives.

Or have they?

I’m the mother of a three-year-old boy, Theodore. We call him Theo for short. Theodore is not only named after my late father – one amazing man – but the name means “gift of God.” It was perfect in both regards for our new little one.

When Theo was six months old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor’s initial diagnosis was Stage 3 – with five years or less to live. My husband and I lived in complete terror for six very long weeks, believing that the diagnosis was correct – until, thank God, further testing showed that I was not a Stage 3, but a Stage 1 – with a 99 percent chance of full recovery. But even with that sunny prognosis, I find myself battling with fear and separation anxiety when it comes to my son. So, this is my question:

How do you conquer fear?

I know that even if I hadn’t faced a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment such a short time after Theo’s birth, that there would still be anxiety. Perhaps not with such intensity. But I know myself. It would still be there.

I want to be two places at once. I love what I do – I’m a freelance writer and editor. I also blog on the topic of genetic breast cancer ( And, I’m putting the finishing touches on a memoir – A Matter of Life or Breasts – the story of the four generations of women in my family who have been identified as carriers of the BRCA 1 (Breast Cancer) gene.

And even if I didn’t love what I do – I’d still need to do it, as my financial contribution to our household isn’t optional at this point.

But, the other part of me wants to be with Theo – all the time. My cousin – the mother of three and an incredibly wise woman – says if I do that, I’ll smother him. And I know she’s right. So, I don’t. But it doesn’t stop me from wanting to.

I’m an incredibly lucky woman. The type of work I do not only allows me to keep a less-than-full-time schedule, but it gives me lots of flexibility. So, in my busiest months, Theo is away from me three full days a week – but we have one-on-one time every Tuesday and Thursday, plus as a family on the weekends.

That’s a lot of “together” time. Yet, I sometimes still wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Will studies published a decade from now determine that the true-blue stay-at-home mom is best when it comes to raising children? Would it be better for him if I was home with him all the time? Or is a little time apart good for both of us? In the moments when I’m filled with the greatest uncertainty, I hear Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s voice echoing in my head – telling her millions of listeners that, hands down, mothers should stay home with their children ‘til their first day of Kindergarten.

My shrink recently offered me this advice: “You can’t live in his skin,” she said. “You’ve got to let him have his own life experiences.”

I know that to be true. And I think that it will get easier as he gets older and I see him as needing me less. At least, I think that will be the case – I won’t truly know ‘til I get there.

But in the meantime, I’m at this crossroads. And though I try to deal with fear and separation anxiety in a rational, reasonable way, it’s not easy.

Are there any other mothers out there who feel this constant tug – this strong desire to be two places at once, who wish they were two people instead of just one? If so, how do you deal with it? And what’s your take on working vs. being a stay-at-home Mom?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


"Boy development is trustworthy."
-- Michael Thompson, author of It's a Boy

How often do we worry about our sons?

When they're babies, we worry that they're not eating enough, that they're growing too fast or that they're slow to walk. We worry when their female cousins babble months ahead of them and try not to obesses when the neighbor's daughter is drawing detailed scenes by age 2 -- and our sons are still eating the crayons.

We worry when their hands, utensils, toast, playdoh, cars and stuffed animals become guns. Scenes of Columbine flash through our head and we pray, please, don't let our sons grow up to be murders.

We worry when our sons bring home notes telling us they can't sit still in class, and we worry when they bring home straight As. We worry about their friends -- and their lack of friends. We tell them to find something to do, and then worry when they do it.

We worry about their impulsivenss, aggressiveness, shyness, intelligence and physical prowess.

In short, we spend a lot of unnecessary time worrying about our sons, because as Thompson says, BOY DEVELOPMENT IS TRUSTWORTHY.

That doesn't mean we can stop parenting our sons; it means that, instead of obsessing over every little milestone or characteristic we don't understand, we should look at the bigger picture. It means that it's OK if your five-year-old son is squiggly in school; that's all a part of how boys develop. It means that a fascination with plastic weapons and hours spent playing war are perfectly normal. It means that our job, as parents, is to accept, love and support our sons as they are.

We don't need to mold our son into what they "should" be. We need to trust the innate developmental timetable built into each and every one of them. Boys -- all boys -- have gifts, and they need time, attention and freedom to grow.

Just today, my six-year-old son asked me to help him read. He'd gotten a reading record at daycare (read 10 books and get a Happy Meal!) and was eager to learn. I was still eating breakfast, but he had the books and was raring to go. For 20 precious minutes, we read together -- not because he was 6, not because it was "reading time" and not because someone, somewhere decided that today was the day he should learn to sound out "c - at." We read because he was ready.

My three-year-old, meanwhile, waited with a pen and paper, watching TV. He wanted help "making letters." And so when I'd finished reading, I held his hand and helped him write his name -- then "Grandpa," "Grandma," "Daddy," and "Mom" -- not because he needs to learn how before he goes to school, but because today, he wanted to "make letters."

Try it. Watch your boys, not the clock. You might be surprised by how much fun you have.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bedtime for Boys

As far as regular bedtimes go, most of us fall into the "More or Less" camp.

I'll admit: I wasn't sure what to vote. I'd say we fall somewhere between "More or Less" regular and "No. We have a routine, but..."

We try to have the boys in bed around 8 pm. That's as much for our sanity as their sleep needs. According to WebMD, my 3- and 6-year-olds need 11 to 12 hours of sleep a night; my 8-year-old, 10 to 11 hours. Considering that my 6- and 8-year-olds are usually up by 7, that's about right. The 3-year-old -- well, he's a whole 'nother story. He like to think he doesn't need a nap anymore, but he does. 8 pm to 6 am just isn't enough, and his behavior usually shows it.

But real life often interferes. It's summer, and as I wrote a few days ago, with summer comes softball. Four nights a week, we're at a ball game. And whether it's one of the boys' games (which generally run from 6-8 pm) or one of Dad's games (which could be at either 6:30, 7:30 or 8:30), 8:00 bedtime just ain't happening.

And that's OK. It took me a long, long time to get to this point, but I've finally learned/realized that the time they spend at the ball park (or, say, at Grandma and Grandpa's house, helping with the garden) is essential too.

The kids LOVE going to Daddy's games. Really, it's practically their idea of heaven: treats, playgrounds, minimal supervision and other kids to play with. The homeschool Mom in me heartily approves. Who ever said homeschooled kids lack socialization never saw my boys playing Ghost in the Graveyard with 15 other kids after dark at a ballfield.

I haven't taken a completely unschooling approach to sleep just yet. But I'm getting closer.

Bottom line? You've got to do what works for you.

What's bedtime like at your house?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Guest Blogger: Danielle Buffardi

Please meet another one of the May blogathoners, Danielle Buffardi of Horrible Sanity. (Check it out -- I'm guest blogging over there today.) To learn more about Danielle, visit

I'm a freelance writer, editor and stay at home mom to my three year old son. As I'm sure many of you are fully aware, raising children can be a grueling process. And raising boys, well sometimes it's just down right insanity.

I can't speak from experience on raising girls, considering I only have one son, but I can speak from observing my close friends raise their girls...boys are wired much differently than girls.

Girls are natural born leaders and therefore tend to walk and speak much earlier than boys do. My son will be three this July and he still isn't speaking crystal clear while my friends daughter, who is only two months older than my son, has been babbling concise statements for more than a few months now.

Boys are wired differently, I'm convinced. So naturally, raising them requires different approaches. While no two children are alike in any way, you may have to repeat yourself a few more times than normal when dealing with boys, no biggie.

You will most likely end up attempting to reason with them more often than girls because males tend to "not get it" right away (and women, we know this is true even when boys reach adulthood, some of you are probably married to men who "just don't get it" right away).

But let's not overlook the positives to raising sons. We get to create the next President perhaps, and maybe the next inventor of a new computer operating system (boys are generally better at sciences than girls), and just maybe we get to raise a fine young man if we do it correctly. One who will be a trophy husband and father.

Lets keep our fingers crossed.

We have a huge mountain in front of us trying to raise men, no doubt. That's why I spend a lot of time on Jennifer's blog. She allows room to laugh at your mothering techniques and quirky hangups that your boys may have.

What do you think? Do you think girls are natural born leaders? How do you think boys and girls compare when it comes to learning to talk? Do you find you need to use different discipline techniques for your sons vs. your daughters? And do you think one sex is inherently better at the sciences than the other?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Nature, Nurture, or Both?

Boys with the "warrior gene" are more likely to join gangs and act violently.

That's the result of a new study by researchers at Florida State University. Without getting all technical on you, the gene is a variant of the monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA gene). That gene produces monoamine oxidase A, an enzyme that breaks down brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. (I'm starting to feel a little like Sarah Webb here.)

The "warrior gene" variation produces more momoamine oxidase A, causing increased breakdown of serotonin and dopamine. Interesting, from a chemical perspective, because serotonin and dopamine are two of the brains' "feel good" chemicals. Warriors, it seems, don't exactly have an abdunance of "feel good" chemicals. (Perhaps this also explains why that particular gene variant is linked to smoking and gambling.)

In 2006, a scientist got into trouble for suggesting that the "warrior gene" predisposes the Maori of New Zealand to violence. According to the scientist, Maori men are twice as likely to carry the gene as their European counterparts.

Which may be true, but if there's anything I've learned, it's that genes aren't a guarantee.

I myself carry a gene variant: I have a BRCA2 mutation, which predisposes me to breast and ovarian cancer, just as an MAOA variation supposedly predisposes certain men and boys toward violence.

But if there's one point my genetic counselor made perfectly clear, it's that my BRCA mutation is not a guarantee. Having the mutation increases my risk of cancer, and drastically so. But it's possible to have the mutation and never get cancer.

No one knows exactly why or how that works yet -- and if they did, trust me, I'd do everything I could to make sure I ended up in that population -- but they suspect it's because cancer is multicausal. Having the mutation alone isn't enough; whether or not you develop cancer could depend on a slew of other things, like environmental influences, other health conditions and whether or when you had children.

I suspect the same is true with the "warrior gene." Simply having the gene will not cause you to join a gang or pull the trigger. Having the gene and living in a gang-infested area with no family support? Well, that's something else.

All I'm saying is this: genes are not destiny. No matter what your sons' genes hold, you matter -- and probably a lot more than you think.

Friday, June 5, 2009

'Tis the Season

It's summer -- and with summer comes sports.

For us, the main sport of the summer is baseball. My husband plays in two softball leagues, one son plays B-Ball (a younger equivalent of Little League) and one plays coach-pitch, a learning version where the coaches serve up the pitches and the kids field and run.

Add in some Sports Sampler -- a summer rec program that exposes the kids to track, basketball and bowling -- and a couple gym classes through summer school and you get the picture. Just today, Boy #2 was outside teaching Boy #3 how to pitch.

How do you pick the league and the sport that's right for your child?

Talk to your son. What sports is he interested in? Why? Does he like to run? Soccer might be a good option. Does he prefer individual pursuits? He might enjoy golf.

Then consider why he likes to play. Some boys play to win and can't stand the no-score policy of certain recreation leagues. (Boy #2 is like that. His team last year didn't offically keep score, so he did. In his head. Every game. ) Some boys just want to be around their friends, and that's OK too. Others like the game, but want to play for fun, not for glory.

Then try to find a team or league that matches your son's goals. Boy #2 is much happier this year, playing to win on a team that keeps score. Boy #1, on the other hand, decided not to play ball at all. He likes to play, but doesn't like the pressure of a game situation. He prefers to play pick-up games with neighborhood kids, and that's OK too.

Keep in mind your son's developmental level. That's a lesson we learned the hard way. When Boy #1 was 6-years-old, he was eligible to play on a baseball team in a nearby town. After years of watching Daddy play, he was eager to sign up.

In hindsight, it was a bad decision. That league has six- to ten-year-old boys on the same team, and it's a kid-pitch, not a coach-pitch league, meaning that ten-year-old pitchers (who are just learning to pitch) are pitching at six-year-old hitters (who are just learning to hit). Needless to say, there was not a lot of hitting -- and therefore not a lot of fielding or running. Plus, Boy #1 developed a fear of the ball (have you ever had a ten-year-old pitcher hit you with a wild ball?) that hasn't quite resolved to this day.

After two years of that (yes, two years. We're slow learners.), we learned about the local coach-pitch league. Designed for kids ages six to eight, the league gradually introduces kids to the game. The coaches pitch the ball and keep pitching until the kids hit the ball (after 10 or 12 pitches, a batting tee is brought in, if necessary). That means kids get the thrill of hitting the ball and running bases while the kids in the field get to learn how to catch and throw.

All in all, it seems a much more developmentally appropriate approach to ball. Why not let kids experience some mastery before moving them up to the next level?

When choosing a league, consider family impact as well. There's a boys' softball league about 20 minutes away that Boy #1 would probably love -- but committing to almost an hour worth of driving for each practice is more than I can handle right now.

Finding the right sport -- and the right team or league -- takes some leg work and experimentation, but it's worth it. For more on boys and sports, click here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kid Quotes

My three-year-old had a particularly dirty nose this morning.

"What happened to your nose?" I asked. "How did it get so dirty?"

His answer?

"I had a lot of the bless-yous."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Natural Learning

Today started with no real plan.

Boy #3 had speech this morning and gymnastics and baseball scheduled later this afternoon. (I know -- I think that sounds like a lot of one kid too. But it's the last day of speech and the last day of gymnastics, and the only day of the week when it all falls on the same day.)

It was almost 9:30 am before I realized that Boy #1 was downtown at the Green Market. He has a tendency to sleep late, so when he wasn't up yet, I just assumed he was sleeping. But then when he wasn't downstairs either, it clicked: Wednesday morning. June. He's selling at the Green Market.

Boy #1, my natural born entrepreneur, has been selling things at the Green Market ever since he was six. He pays for a spot, carts his produce down there in a wagon and spends his Wednesday mornings learning from the vendors and customers at the Market. Today, he was selling maple syrup and radishes.

So when Boy #3 got home from speech, the rest of us strapped on our helmets and headed downtown.

What started as a simple excursion spiraled into a morning of learning. We visited with friends, caught up on the small town gossip and checked out the plants and produce. We wandered into the health food store and found a new, yummy, organic treat.

We walked into the local appliance store to check out the taxidermied animals on the wall. (Trust me: They know us there. As far as my kids are concerned, that little store is as good as a natural history museum.) We filled out tickets for a raffle drawing (a great chance to practice penmanship, letters, numbers and spelling) and ended up borrowing two movies from the church that runs a lending library (Sunday School Musical and Sugar Creek Gang: The Great Canoe Fish). Then we stopped at the yarn shop, admired the yarns and talked to the owner before heading home.

At home, one boy started popping popcorn (for the movie) while another checked the price of silver on our just-recently-returned-home computer. Next thing I know, he ran into the kitchen, yelling, "Call Uncle Tom!"

Uncle Tom, an accountant, introduced my sons to investing by giving them each a one-ounce silver coin. He then showed them how to track the price on the computer.

My boys have been paying attention. Boy #1, the entrepreneur, has managed to amass a number of silver coins. All of them have been watching the price of silver for months, because Uncle Tom agreed to act as their private broker. At any time, he said, they could sell their silver back to him for market price.

So I called Uncle Tom and placed the Sell order. Then we settled in with our popcorn to watch The Great Canoe Fish.

After the movie, Boy #1 headed to the hardware store to buy some seeds. I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Boys #2 and 3 while #4 played with trucks. Now #1 and #4 are planting beans and carrots in the garden while #2 and #3 play outside.

Not bad for a day of learning -- and we still have gymnastics and baseball to go.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Girls Outperform Boys


A study published today in Business First found that in western New York:
  1. Girls outnumber boys in the ranks of elite students
  2. Girls outscore boys on most standardized exams
  3. Girls outperform boys in most school districts

The results of this study, while sad, don't surprise me. We've talked about the achievement gap between boys and girls before.

But the thing that did surprise me is that in western New York, at least, most of the blame seems to be placed on the boys. One administrator, quoted in the article, said, "Speaking not only as an administrator, but as a father, it seems that girls tend to be a bit more focused."

Not a word in the entire article about how the current education environment is, in many ways, a mismatch for most boys. Our schools expect boys to sit down and be quiet, but boys, by nature, learn best by doing. And if they sit too long, their minds move into a period of rest.

What do you think? What can schools do to close the gender gap? How can schools get boys more involved in learning?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Picking Stones

Yesterday we picked stones.

If you're from around here -- rural southeastern Wisconsin -- you probably know what I mean. If not, well, you're lucky.

Picking stones might sound like a Ms. Frizzle-esque homeschool/learning type field trip, where we all scurry to the rock field for a chance to pick our own rock specimens. And it is. For the first half hour. After that, it's just plain, back-breaking work.

Picking stones, for the uninitiated, is the highly untechnical yet oh-so-essential act of removing stones from a field. Despite the fact that rock picking machines were invented years ago, they're still not very efficient. So to prevent damage to farm machines, rocks much be removed -- by hand -- from the fields.

It's a job I first did as a kid. My dad bought a farm when I was about six, and I'll never forget the fun my brothers and I had the first time we went stone picking. I'd always loved rocks, and the fact that there were all these wonderful specimens, just beneath my feet, was amazing!

Then I realized how big the field was, and how many rocks there were. Amazing quickly became overwhelming, then downright tedious. Although, on the bright side, I credit stone picking (and my summers at the canning factory) for my decision to go to college. After experiencing hard physical labor in the sun, I was sure there had to be a better way to make a living.

Well, yesterday, 30-odd years, one bachelor's degree, two professional careers and four kids later, I picked stones again. (And was quickly thankful that I had, indeed, graduated from college.) My husband raises winter wheat and soybeans on some rented land, and while even he, the consummate farmer, admits that rock picking is horrible, tedious work, it has to be done. It's simply part of what must be done to bring in a good crop.

Which made me think...Rock picking is a lot like mothering. Motherhood involved A LOT of tedious, back breaking, not-exactly glamourous jobs. And some of them -- like changing your newborn's teeny-weeny diapers -- are even cute at first. But after awhile (think three years and about 8000 dirty diapers later), the appeal wears off and it's work. Essential work, but work all the same.

We want the gorgeous, thriving green crop -- happy, well-adjusted, confident children who grow into wonderful, contributing adults. But to get them there, we have to pick some rocks. Sometimes that means saying, "Sit down while you eat!" a million times in the course of one meal; sometimes it means putting your two-year-old in timeout after he throws a tractor at his brother's head. Sometimes it means doing the really hard of work: looking deep inside and changing our own beliefs and behaviors.

Whatever rocks you must pick, I encourage you to hang in there. It's tedious, it's back breaking, but the results are worth it. And hey -- at the very least, I guarantee you'll get stronger.