Thursday, December 16, 2010


Part of the reason I homeschool my boys is because I want them to have the time, space and freedom to explore their own passions. Certainly, children can be inspired in school. And certainly children can discover new opportunties and interests in school. But to really delve into a passion takes time. And true freedom to explore your own interests is seldom found in school. (Peer pressure, anyone?)

Three-year-old Jonathan is too young for school. He hasn't learned yet that classical music isn't cool or that boys aren't supposed to be interested in the arts. He has, however, discovered his passion.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Marinette Shooting and the Culture of Fear

The headline last night -- "Armed student reportedly holding high school classroom hostage in Wisconsin" -- took my breath away. I live in Wisconsin. And I still desperately want to believe that things like that don't happen in Wisconsin.

But they do. As you now know, a 15-year-old male student held about two dozen students and a teacher hostage for almost five hours yesterday in Marinette, Wisconsin, a town of about 11,000 on the Wisconsin/Michigan border. The student fired shots in the classroom, but ultimately released all of the hostages. No one was injured, except the gunman, who shot himself when law enforcement officers stormed the classroom. The student died today.

No one was injured...seems like such a false and fake thing to say, doesn't it? The entire town was injured. Every single child in that room will be affected for a long, long time. Parents' hearts stopped last night as they waited to see what would happen. And somewhere in Marinette, a family is dealing with the worst possible grief tonight.

Tonight, his family is simultaneously grieving his death while trying to make sense of his actions -- while the world clamors to know what they knew when. They're dealing with grief and guilt and misunderstanding and hatred. They're wondering if they did enough, if they said something wrong, if somehow they could have prevented the whole fiasco. They'd do anything, I'm sure, to turn the clock back to tomorrow morning.

Most of us would, I think. Most of us would like to turn the clock back to pre-1999, pre-Columbine. Or maybe even pre-1997, pre-Paducah.

My oldest son was born in 1997. He has never known a world where students didn't shoot one another in school. Think about that. School shootings have, in some way, always been a part of my boys' world.

So has terrorism. My oldest son was not quite 3 when the Twin Towers fell; his brother was only 1. We were watching Sesame Street when we heard the news.

And while all of that has seemed far, far away, last night's situation thrust reality in my face. Violence is everywhere. Anger is everywhere. Depression is everywhere.

Fear is everywhere.

Our children are growing up in the culture of fear.

After one of these events, we talk about the human costs, the kids that die and the kids that kill. We talk about gun control and anti-bullying measures and resolve to make things better. But do we talk about the cumulative effects of fear? Do we talk -- at all -- about what it's like for today's kids to grow up in a world where violence may show up on their doorstep at any minute?

I realize that violence is a reality for far too many kids today. I realize that an insecure environment is nothing new for children in many parts of the world and even here in the USA. It's just that no one feels safe anymore. Not even residents of Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin.

On some level, our children have come to expect random, extreme violence as part of life. In their world, it's entirely possible that the grandma in front of them at the airport is concealing a bomb in her brassiere, or that a class will end abruptly in a spray of gunfire.

What does that knowledge do to a developing brain? Will our children suffer from an inability to connect, to trust?

I don't know the answers. But I do know that succumbing to the fear will only make things worse. The only way -- the ONLY way -- out of this mess is to connect, to redevelop human connections.

When my children ask about Marinette, I will answer their questions. I will continue, however, to nurture their belief in the human spirit. I will continually point out all the wonderful and amazing people in this world who are working to make this world a better place. Just last night, I got an email from a neighbor who is organizing a fundraiser for a local couple who was recently diagnosed with cancer. (Yes, couple. Both husband and wife are staring at months of treatment and mounting medical bills.) A small-town fundraiser might not seem like much, but it's an example of people caring, people connecting. It's tangible proof that much good remains here in the world, despite the scary headlines.

I don't want my boys -- or yours -- to get lost in the culture of fear. Let's nurture their connections instead.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The turkey is in the brine, the pies are on the front porch and my sister, thankfully, is bringing the potatoes. My home is not clean; it's presentable. The boys helped me vacuum and dust (the downstairs) and the toys -- well, the toys remain scattered at best.

But tonight, I am giving thanks. Tonight, I received an email from a former writing student who shared an essay she'd recently written. I won't divulge the contents of the essay, because she's currently in the process of submitting it for publication. I will tell you this, though: her essay told the story of help from unlikely places, of how we are never alone as we think.

Her theme resonated with me. My family has been challenged like never before over the last two years, but we have never been alone. Every step along the way, we have been held up and supported by the love of friends and family. Friends, family and even strangers have provided words of comfort and hope; financial, physical and technical support, work referrals, companionship and more.

My 74-year-old father split wood in the heat of summer so that the boys and I would have cheap heat this winter. Tonight, my home is heated not by wood, but by my father's love.

Numerous writing students, including the essayist, have shared their hearts and hopes with me. While I was officially their teacher, I learned more from them then they may ever know. I learned the power of voice, of truth, of honesty. My students reminded me that writing is a way to infuse our lives with meaning, to find deeper meaning in the deitrus of our everyday lives.

The women in my life have proved to me, time and again, just how strong women are. From writer-mamas to the recently single, they have taught me the power of persistence.

And my boys -- my boys! -- continue to amaze and inspire me. Daily, they fight and struggle. Daily, they drive me crazy. But just as I'm about to give up hope, they do something incredibly kind, compassionate and thoughtful. The most recent example? My boys are chipping in to buy chickens for a family in a Third World country. Instead of buying presents for one another this holiday season, they've chosen to help a family less fortunate than ours.

Somehow, the message has sunk in. Somehow my boys have absorbed the lesson of these past few years. Somehow, they've realized that the world is a much better place when we help one another.

Tonight, I am thankful for all who have helped me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


As many of you have noticed, I've been absent for a stretch. I'll be honest: my life has been in a state of transition. My divorce was finalized at the end of September and I've been concentrating on rebuilding my life. But my blog, I've realized, is part of my life -- and part of yours too. So I promise you that I'll be back soon. I'll be taking some steps to revamp the blog (this background has GOT to go!), making this a perfect time to solicit your feedback.

What would you like to see more of on Blogging 'Bout Boys? What would you like to see less of? Book reviews, guest posts, video clips? A Q & A section? A Readers-Give-Advice section? Are there any topics you'd like to see addressed?

I want this blog to be an Internet home for parents of boys. I want to share information and ideas to help us raise and educate our sons. So, how can I help you?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Book Review: Tutor in a Book

It's the third week of school. How's it going?
School is a struggle for many boys. But that doesn't mean your sons are doomed to a lifetime of sub-par academic achievement. The key is understanding your son. What makes him tick? How does he learn? What obstacles are blocking his success?

Alexandra Mayzler, founder of Thinking Caps Tutoring, has written a new book to help all students reach their academic potential. Tutor in a Book: Better Grades as Easy as 1-2-3 features interactive quizzes to help you assess your child's learning style and situation, as well as real-life case studies and dozens of practical tips designed to boost your child's organization, time management and study skills.

Recently, I talked to Alexandra about the best ways to help boys learn:

Why do so many boys struggle in school?

I think that boys have a lot of energy, and it takes a lot of willpower for a middle school boy to hold that in while sitting in a chair for a whole lesson. Asking any child to sit quietly for a long period of time is a challenge, but boys, from the beginning are encouraged to be active, so honing focus is an even bigger challenge. Also, in the middle school years, a boy might be more inclined to rebel, so the consequences of rebellion may play out in school work.

Boys often have difficulty with the classic sit-down-and-learn approach that's so common in today's classroom. Are there any techniques that you find particularly useful when tutoring boys?

Make class interactive. Encourage boys to come up to the board and write answers. If there is time, start or finish a class period with an activity involving movement, such as stretching or a partner activity. Try hands-on projects such as diagrams or making boardgames. We also like to have boys do homework in non-traditional spots such as on the floor. As long as they stay organized and keep track of the materials, changing the homework spot can help boys stay focused.

So often, homework turns into a battle. What's your #1 homework tip for parents of boys?

Who knows your boy better than you do? Adapt a homework approach that fits his needs and lifestyle. If he needs to move around a lot during homework time, schedule short, frequent breaks. Communicate your goals and expectations before there’s a problem and hear what your son has to say about his hopes for the school year. By personalizing the study process and keeping communication lines open everyone can have a successful year!

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of Tutor in a Book.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Undergoing Renovation

Yep, things look different around here.

I'd been using a free blog template for almost two years, but the designer no longer has access to those images. So out with the old, in with the new!

The only problem is, I'm not sure what the new will be. Please bear with me as I establish a new look for Blogging 'Bout Boys. Any suggestions?

Monday, September 13, 2010

What Are Your Boys Into?

Ever notice how certain obsessions come and go?

For awhile, Boy #2 was obsessed with dinosaurs. Then he switched to butterflies. (Go figure.) Some days, the Tonka trucks are in style. Other days, they're not.

The latest obsessions at my house are Lincoln logs, sand and water. Let me explain.

The Lincoln logs are just, well, cool. We had some for years, but as you've probably already figured out, you can never have too many Lincoln logs. So when none of my brothers stepped up to claim the Lincoln logs at my parents' house last fall, I brought them home and added them to our stash.

For three days now, my youngest three boys have been creating elaborate constructions out of the notched wooden blocks. Garages seem to be their building-of-choice; miniature cars sit safely in the structures, guarded by the plastic figurines my boys so helpfully place on the roof.

Of course, no boy can stay inside forever, and lately when mine head outside, they head straight for the sandbox. They started digging last week, during a major rain storm. They dug out a pit, next to the sandbox. (WHY do they always have to dig next to the sandbox?) The pit filled with water, as intended. The boys joked that it would be funny to see a fish in the puddle, and Boy #1 happily agreed. He went fishing early the next morning with a friend and not-so-secretly planted three bullheads in the pit.

I may have been the only woman in the neighborhood with fish swimming at the bottom of her garage stairs. I'm pretty sure I'm the only woman in the neighborhood (in the town?) who ate a fish dinner today from her backyard. (Boy #1 fried us up a succulent fish dinner today after adding fish to the pond yesterday).

So the fish are gone -- but the boys' interest in sand and water has not abated. They were out there again this afternoon, re-shaping the pond and creating rivers, streams and dams.

What are your boys into these days?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

And the Winner Is...

Denise Schipani!

Denise, who blogs over at Confessions of a Mean Mommy, is proud mommy to Daniel and James. She's also sick of people assuming that her boys will someday grow up and forget all about her. (Boy-moms, can you relate? I sure can!)

Thanks to all who entered my contest. Only one could win, and this time around, that winner is Denise. An autographed copy of I'm Outnumbered: One Mom's Lessons in the Lively Are of Raising Boys is on its way.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Banish the Bad Guys?

If you have boys at home, you know they're built for battle. Whether you allow gun play or not, whether you own a TV or not, I'll willing to bet that your boys have played some kind of war/cops-robbers/good guy-bad guy game -- probably within the last 24 hours.

But not all adults are comfortable with this kind of play, and that can be a problem for boys in school, in daycare and at home.

A recent MSNBC article, "Bring it: Boys may benefit from aggressive play," analyzed the research on both sides of the story and concluded that there is nothing inherently wrong with boys' battle play. However, many teachers (and some parents) continue to believe that allowing mock battle play will somehow reinforce violent attitudes and behavior.

And, on a practical note, many teachers and parents simply find battle play harder to deal with than, say, pretend house play. In the MSNBC article, researcher Mary Ellin Logue is quoted as saying, "We don't want to condone violence, we don't want to risk it getting out of control..."

I can relate to that concern. As a parent, it can be extraordinarily difficult for me to let the battle play continue, especially when I see the stakes rising or a younger brother getting frustrated. As a parent, I know only all too well that the line between happy play and sobbing child is tissue-paper thin. As a parent, it sometimes seems that would it be much easier -- for me -- to squash the battle play all together than to deal with raised voices, swinging swords and potentially unhappy children. But is that best for my boys?

I think not, and the research agrees with me. Sophisticated play (yes, even play that includes one team holding down the fort while the other tries to break in) helps children learn delayed gratification, consideration for other's perspectives and impulse control. It also encourages imagination and storytelling, two skills that are crucial for later success in writing. And battle play may even help children deal with their inner demons. Some researchers suggest that fighting against "the bad guys" is little boys' way of working through their own less-than-admirable impulses. "These bad guys," Logue is quoted as saying, "give them a way to externalize that part of them that they are trying to conquer."

So before you rush in to break up your sons' battles, take a breath. Watch. Listen. Observe. And when you feel your adrenaline rising, remember these words of Michael Thompson, author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys: "Play, rougher in its themes and rougher physically, is a feature of boyhood in every society on Earth."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Contest Announcement: Book Giveaway!

In case you missed it yesterday, I'm giving away one autographed copy of Laura Lee Grove's new book, I'm Outnumbered: One Mom's Lessons in the Lively Art of Raising Boys. To enter:

•Leave a comment, either telling me one thing you've learned about raising boys or asking a question about boys. I'll answer all questions in future posts.

•Be sure to include your contact info! Please leave an email address, so I can contact you if you're the winner.

•One comment = one entry. (And please, no more than one comment per blog post). To earn additional entries, you can...

•Tweet the contest. Each tweet (up to one per day per entrant) equals one more entry. Please include my Twitter tag (@jlwf) so I know you've tweeted!

•Mention the contest on Facebook. Again, be sure to let me know. (You can find me on Facebook as Jennifer L.W. Fink.)

•Mention the contest in a blog post and include a link back to my blog. I love getting to know other bloggers!

The contest will run through midnight CST next Friday, September 10. The winner will be drawn at random via and will be notified ASAP. Laura will send the book directly to the winner.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Books About Boys: I'm Outnumbered!

Laura Lee Groves gets me. As another mom of four boys, she fully understands the joys and challenges of raising a houseful of mini-men. That's why I'm thrilled to announce the publication of her book, I'm Outnumbered: One Mom's Lessons in the Lively Art of Raising Boys.

Laura is a high school English and drama teacher who writes to bring encouragement and inspiration to moms. She's has written for Moody Magazine, Focus on the Family’s Focus on Your Child, Coral Ridge Ministries and has penned and directed several madrigal dinner plays.

I recently asked Laura a few questions about the art of raising boys:

What's the hardest thing about being a mom of boys?

To me, feeling so outnumbered. I love my boys, but I have often felt rather isolated, as a woman. There have been times I've felt misunderstood, too, by moms whose lives were so different from mine.

How are the dynamics in a many-boy household different from a one-boy household?

Same thing only more! When there's only one boy, he doesn't have anyone to wrestle with. Increase the number of boys, and the wrestling multiplies exponentially! The dynamics of multiple boys is both fascinating and frightening. When they're a band of brothers, it's wonderful; when they're in competition (so common with boys), it can get crazy.

What would you say are some of the top challenges facing boys today -- and how can parents help?

Media choices, I'd say. Teaching our boys to discern is the key -- guiding and leading them to make wise choices for themselves. The lure of technology is so great and will only grow in coming years. We won't always be there, and our boys needs to know how to maintain balance in the light of that lure.

A lot of boys today seem to be struggling in school. As a teacher and mom of boys, why do you think this is so? What can be done to help boys learn?

Oh, I think there are many reasons, ranging from acceptance of stereotypes (on the part of teachers and parents), lack of understanding of boys by teachers, and the nature of the boy beast (in the current educational atmosphere). The best thing we can do is foster and nurture a love of learning and discovery -- early -- so that it lasts. Next, we need to set the bar for our boys and expect excellence while balancing that with unconditional love. We need to look for their best in all things and be willing to accept their best as their best. We can't tie our acceptance to their educational -- or any other type of -- achievement.

How have your boys helped you grow?

Oh, my. I truly understand the male beast better after raising four of them. They helped develop a different side of me -- helped me keep alive the wonder and discovery and joy of childhood. Even though they're young men, they continue to be captivated by the wonder of discovery, and they drag me along. Practically, my experience with them pushed me to write a book, and I've certainly grown though that process.

Want to know more about Laura? Visit her (wonderful!) blog at
Want a copy of her book? Enter my contest! Laura has agreed to donate one signed copy of I'm Outnumbered! to one lucky Blogging 'Bout Boys reader. To enter:
  • Leave a comment, either telling me one thing you've learned about raising boys or asking a question about boys. I'll answer all questions in future posts.
  • Be sure to include your contact info! Please leave an email address, so I can contact you if you're the winner.
  • One comment = one entry. (And please, no more than one comment per blog post). To earn additional entries, you can...
  • Tweet the contest. Each tweet (up to one per day per entrant) equals one more entry. Please include my Twitter tag (@jlwf) so I know you've tweeted!
  • Mention the contest on Facebook. Again, be sure to let me know. (You can find me on Facebook as Jennifer L.W. Fink.)
  • Mention the contest in a blog post and include a link back to my blog. I love getting to know other bloggers!

Now for the legal mumbo-jumbo: The contest will run through midnight CST next Friday, September 10. The winner will be drawn at random via and will be notified ASAP. Laura will send the book directly to the winner.

Ready? Comment!

Monday, August 30, 2010


It's good to step away from the computer.

Last week, I took my four boys camping in northern Wisconsin. It was a first for us, in a way -- our first long-term camping trip. (If you can call five days long term. Since I was alone with four boys, I declare that you can!). It was also a first in that it was probably the longest any of us have been without screen, TV or computer in, oh, about five years.

Sad, isn't it?

We've gone up North (Up Nort', as my fellow Wisconsinites tend to say) for years, but in years past, we've rented a cabin. And in years past, we've always packed along my laptop computer. In case of rain, we said. You know, so the kids could watch a DVD instead of driving us crazy. And generally, they did. I also had a bad habit of bringing it out to do "just a little work," while their Dad pulled it out at night to play Solitaire.

But last week, camping on a simple, non-electric site in a state forest, we had no electricity. My laptop -- still infected with a virus it caught over a month ago -- remained home. And you know what? We had fun. We biked. We hung out at the lake. We played mini-golf, went go-karting and toured the area. We spent time around the campfire. (Did you know that 1) boys are more likely to eat food cooked over a campfire and 2) more likely to remain in the vicinity while you cook if you cook over a campfire?) Five days without TV, computers or Wii, and no one missed it.

Ok, not no one. Boy #4 *did* pretend my back was a TV while biking behind me down the trail.

Have you gone screen-free, even for a short time? How did it work out for your family?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Motherlove, or Why I Took My Son's Project to the Fair

Today was Drop-Off Day for the County Fair. If you know what that means, congrats! You're a 4-H parent. If you don't, let me put it to you like this: Today is the day 4-H moms and dads drive their progeny to the fairgrounds to drop off the projects they've been nagging the kids about for weeks. Today's the day they finally get that mess out of the house (at least temporarily). And today's the day they worry and wonder, hoping that all the projects make it to the Fair intact.

In other words, Drop-Off Day is a pretty big day around here.

At noon today, I was silently patting myself on the back. The projects were all done. Fair tags were attached. All that remained was to deliver them to the Fair.

The first sign of a problem came as we were headed out the door. "Is this a 14 X 22 inch poster?" Boy #1 asked, holding his Casting Techniques poster out for inspection. Oh, $%$^, I thought. I knew photography projects had to be on a specially-sized piece of paper, but had no idea that posters faced a similar requirement. I'd simply handed him a regularly-sized piece of posterboard and told him to have at it.

"It'll be OK," I told him. "Load it in the car."

Well, it wasn't OK. When he attempted to check in his project at the fair, he was told he could a) submit the project as-is and receive a participation ribbon, b) cut off part of the poster to meet the size requirement or c) take it home and re-do on an appropriately-sized piece of paper. He was NOT happy about any of those options. In fact, at that point, he was determined to quit 4-H. Forever.

I should note here that we live 20 minutes from the fairgrounds. And that I'm a single mom of four kids. Who I'd just hauled to the Fair. That's a 40 -minute roundtrip. I was not looking forward to another.

Boy #1, meanwhile, was not looking forward to re-doing his project. I, meanwhile, felt more than a little guilt for this predictament, because I was the one who handed him the wrong posterboard.

At home, he grouched and groaned. I talked him through the process -- luckily, he'd saved most of material on the computer, so it was simply a matter of re-sizing and reprinting it -- and helped him crop the photos. Then, I left it up to him. If you want to do it, I told him, I'll take it back to the Fair. If not, fine.

He did, so I ended up making not one but two trips to the fairgrounds today. My question to you is, What would you have done in my shoes? We hear a lot today about the harmful effects of parents bailing their kids out of trouble. Parents who rush to school to deliver every forgotten project and lunch, the experts say, deprive their children of natural consequences. Was I a meddling, over-involved mom today, or was I a caring and supportive mom? How would you have handled the situation?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: Summer Snow

Want to know what happens next? Visit me on Facebook. Tell me you came from Blogging 'Bout Boys and you'll get to see the whole, glorious, messy scene.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Best of the Blogs: Boys in the News

Fridays have traditionally been Best of the Blogs day here at Blogging 'Bout Boys, a round-up of some the best boy-related blogs on the 'Net. But this week, I ran across so many fascinating news articles that I'm going to focus on news instead. (Who says journalism is dead?)

I first saw Debra-Lynn B. Hook's article, "There's Something to Be Said for Summer Vacation," in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but apparently (and thankfully), her article ran nationwide. Hook, a mother of three, decries the push toward year 'round school. An excerpt:

My built around the the concept of "academic achievement." Don't get me wrong. I support public education and every child having the opportunity to do well in school. What I do not support is academic achievement as the definition of childhood's success.

CNN also ran an interesting article this week, entitled, "ADHD: Who Makes the Diagnosis?" All too often, the article suggests, teachers are the ones who suggest a diagnosis of ADHD -- but only physicians are qualified to diagnose and treat the disease. Other conditions, such as depression or anxiety, can trigger similar sypmtoms but require a completely different approach. If you have a son in school, you owe it to him to learn as much as you can about ADHD; ADHD is most often diagnosed in boys and occassionally used as a catch-all diagnosis to describe boys who simply have a hard time sitting still in classroom settings.

In fact, if ADHD has ever been mentioned in relationship to your son, you deserve to know about a new study out of Duke University. As reported in the Sept. 2010 issue of Family Circle, Duke researchers strongly suggest re-assessing kids with ADHD every year. A different classroom dynamic, they say, may lesson symptoms. In fact, they found that one-third of kids with ADHD showed no trouble concentrating the following year.

Another longitudinal study suggests that personality is pretty well established by first grade. The 40-year-study, soon-to-be-reported in the the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, followed 2400 individuals from childhood to adulthood and found that "talkative youngsters tended to show interest in intellectual matters, speak fluently, try to control situations, and exhibit a high degree of intelligence as adults. Children who rated low to verbal fluency were observed as adults to seek advice, give up when faced with obstacles, and exhibit an awkward personal style."

Finally, Colin Mason's article, "Are Children The Enemy of Productivity?" expresses my experience perfectly. I have four kids, and the writing/parenting question I get most often is, "How in the world do you manage to write with all those kids around?" The logistical answer is that it's not always easy. The logistical answer includes a basement office, a shared parenting schedule and kids who know that "Mommy's doing an interview" means "stay out of my office!" But the full truth is that I wouldn't be writing without my kids. From Mason:

Children see things that we cannot see, they remind us of truths and insights that we long ago forgot. And they remind us that the greatest insights in the world were discovered not while ponderously meditating, but while delighting in the simple pleasures and pains of life...Children are a great blessing to grown-ups not simply because of the joy, the wonder, and the incredible privilege of caring for a young soul that they provide. Children are also a blessing because they are a kind of living alarm clock, telling us that it is time to wake up and seize the day.

That's the message, I think, that has gotten lost in our society's obsession with happiness. Children may or may not make us "happier," but they enhance our lives in myriad ways.

Happy browsing!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Boy Killed for Acting Like a Girl

Have you heard about the case of Roy Jones?

The 17-month-old baby boy was killed by his mother's boyfriend, Pedro Jones, in a savage beating. Jones' explanation -- "I was trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl" -- only makes things worse.

We've talked before about homophobia and gender expectations. If anything, this case should be a wake-up call to those who deny or minimize the harm our society regularly inflicts on boys who don't meet our pre-determined (and incredibly narrow) definition of "male."

For the record, boys come in all shapes, sizes and styles. Some boys are jocks -- and some are artists and musicians. Some are both, and no boy should ever have to choose one aspect of his personality over another just to fit in with the crowd.

For the record, a boy can wear a dress and still be a boy. A boy can bake cakes and still be a boy. A boy can cartwheel across the moon with pink fingernail polish on his toe- and fingernails and still be a boy.

When, oh when, are we going to expand our definitions of "boy" and "girl" to include, accept and love every little boy and girl on this Earth, no matter their appearance or demeanor?

I write often about gender differences, and I do believe that there are some innate biological differences between boys and girls and that those differences should be taken into consideration as we raise and educate our boys. But respecting boys' biology is far different than slamming someone for not being "boy" enough. To me, it's all about respect. As parents and adults, we should respect and nourish each boy's innate gifts, talents and interests. Trying to cram someone into a pre-determined box is never productive - and, sadly, sometimes leads to a small wooden box buried six-feet under.

RIP, Roy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting Boys to Read

You gotta love the AP headline: "Boys trail girls in reading; can fart jokes help?"

The topic -- boys' lack of interest in reading -- isn't a new one to readers of this blog. Neither is the solution, which is to "meet boys where they are" -- fancy psycho-speak for "capitalize on their interests." Boys, in general, respond to shorter bursts of non-fiction text. If the material is funny, all the better.

But boys, like all humans, are complex creatures, and their interests, believe it or not, do extend beyond fart jokes. My boys absolutely loved Captain Underpants, Walter the Farting Dog and Diary of a Wimpy Kid -- but they also enjoyed Hatchet, a Newbery Honor-winning novel. And Boy #1 just finished a book about German POW camps in Wisconsin.

My best boy-related reading advice? Keep a variety of reading materials around the house. Picture books, comic books, novels and non-fiction tomes are great, but so are magazines and newspapers. My oldest loves to thumb through our local paper; Boy #2 like to check out the headlines and photos on the Sunday sports page. They've become big magazine fans, a fact which cheers this magazine writer's heart. Current favorites include:

Boys' Life


Sports Illustrated

Musky Hunter

BMX Plus!

What magazines do your boys enjoy?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Being a Parent

I was playing in the sandbox with Boy #4 today when Boy #3 looked at me and asked, "What would you be doing right now if you didn't have kids?"

I shrugged. "Probably have lunch or working at my computer."

He nodded. "So your life would be more boring?"

"Exactly," I said. "Exactly."

There's been much talk on the Internet lately about parenting and happiness, much of it triggered by a New York article titled, "All Joy and No Fun." As the article states -- and as every single honest parent will tell you -- parenting is frequently messy and not much fun. I love my children to death, as they say, but they drive me crazy every single day. You think I like trying to teach four young boys how to sit at a table?

And yet...

As frustrating and exhausting as parenting can be -- and as good as a quiet lunch and time to work sounds, especially in the middle of a hectic day -- I wouldn't change my life, because my kids have changed me.

Let that sink in for awhile. Then click over and read author Jennifer Lawler's extremely moving blog post, For Jessica. If you can, come back here and tell me what you think.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Risky Business

Do you have a risk taker in your house? You know, one boy who insists on climbing to the top of the swingset, then jumping down? Or one who's always building the bike ramp higher and higher, pushing the limits of safety?

Where does he fall in birth order? Based on a new study, I'm going to guess he's not first.

According to a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, younger siblings are more likely to take risks. The authors reviewed Major League Baseball data (how's that for a cool data set?) and found that younger siblings are 10.6 times more likely to attempt to steal a base -- a risky behavior, at least in the game of baseball. Younger sibs are also more likely to be hit by a pitch, which the researchers believe may reflect a refusal to be intimidated. (Or to back down?) They also reviewed previous studies and found that later-birth order children are almost one-and-a-half time more likely to participate in a dangerous physical activity, such as football or skydiving.

My kids aren't old enough for skydiving, but based on limited experience, I'd say the study is right on. The climb-to-the-top-of-the-swingset example at the top of this blog post is cribbed directly from my life. Boy #3 first climbed the park swingset at age 5. By age 4, he was riding a bike without training wheels and skateboarding down the incline of my neighbor's driveway. My oldest son didn't even touch a skateboard until he was 8 or 9.

While the study doesn't attempt to address the reasons behind increased risk taking behavior, the authors suggest three possible contributing factors:
  1. Personality differences -- Some kids are simply born risk takers.
  2. Learned behavior -- Younger sibs learn by watching their older brothers and sisters, so they can skip some trial and error
  3. Sibling rivalry -- Believe it or not, the statistics bear this out. Younger brothers who were separated from their older sib by less than five years were more likely to take risks, especially when/if they competed in similar categories. An attempt to stand out, maybe?

All three causes seem plausible, but I think the experts are missing one big one here: parental experience/benign neglect. With our first children, we tend to freak out over every. little. thing. If the Cheerio drops on the floor, we quickly whisk it away. If he approaches a skateboard at age 3, we redirect him to a more age-appropriate toy. But by the time there are two kids on the scene, we've learned to relax a bit. A combination of parental experience and lack of time (because, really, who can hover when there's a toddler and preschooler running around the house?) generally leads to a more relaxed style of parenting, a live-and-let-live attitude that gives kids the freedom to try things. Other parents freak out when my boys climb ever higher in the tree. This many kids into it, I trust them enough to let them try. I also, to tell you the truth, would rather spend my time chatting with other parents at the park than harping at my kids to stay out of the trees. See what I mean by benign neglect?

What about you? Are your younger boys more likely to take risks? Why (or why not)?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Boys and Sex

Our kids today live in an increasingly sexualized world. Disney darling Miley Cyrus morphs from Hannah Montana into a full-blown sexy singer, and while some of her young fans (and many of their parents) disprove of her new look and lyrics, she's traveling a well-worn path. Our stores and catalogs, after all, are filled with skimpy clothes aimed at pre-teen girls.

For the most part, I thought I'd been spared that angst. As a mother of four boys, I don't have to deal with Halloween costumes that barely cover their midriffs or short-shorts emblazoned with the word "Juicy." But as a recent blog post at Sociological Images pointed out, boys are not immune from sexualization.

Jayden Smith, the 11-year-old star of Karate Kid, is admired for his abs. Apparently, he's also a self-proclaimed "great kisser." More distubring than that, however, is the fact that almost no one seems disturbed by these facts. Would we accept and tolerate the same behavior and treatment of an 11-year-old girl?

I'll admit it: The fact that he had a girlfriend in the newest Karate Kid seemed a bit odd to me. In Karate Kid I, the protagonist was a high school student. Here, he's barely in middle school. But beyond that, I hadn't given any thought to the fact that maybe -- maybe -- we tolerate certain sexual images, behaviors and casting as OK for boys but not OK for girls.

Sociological Images also ran photos of 16-year-old Justin Bieber with 29-year-old Kim Kardashian. And while the photos don't seem particularly disturbing (at least not compared with the site of Miley Cyrus tramping around in next-to-nothing), the author brings up an excellent point: What if the roles were reversed? Would we accept such photos of a 16-year-old girl with a 29-year-old man? Why do we tolerate provocative photos of young boys with older women? Could it be that a double standard is still in place?

"We accept the idea of boys being sexual, or sexually interested, at younger ages than girls, and any interest they show in older girls or women is a sign of their sexual precocity..." writes gwen. Think about that. Sub-consciously, are our expecatations for our sons different from those for our daughters? Why?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teens and Mental Illness

How do you know when your son's behavior crosses the line from typical teen to troubled? When -- and how -- should you intervene?

This Wall Street Journal article has some answers.

Have you ever dealt with a depressed teen? What have your experiences been with boys and the mental health system?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Speak Up!

It's the kind of story that breaks your heart. Two boys, ages 2 1/2 and 5, starved and beaten to the point of malnutrition and dehydration. Cops investigated and removed the boys from the home after the landlord reported not seeing the boys outside for some time.

While every single aspect of this story makes my skin crawl -- the guy was persuing a Master's in teaching? -- the most chilling line, in my opinion, comes at the end of the story. "I believe we're also at fault," a neighbor told the AP, " 'cuz we all saw something and nobody said anything."

According to the neighbor, theirs was very much a mind-your-own-business neighborhood. So while the neighbors saw and discussed the boys' absence, no one -- but the landlord -- did anything.

It's sobering, really, the power that we have. With a word, we can improve someone's day. With our silence, we can condemn a child to another day of starvation.

It's so easy to get caught up in our own families, our own jobs and our own lives But there are children and parents next to us, beside us, who need us.

Yes, we hesitate to interfere in others' lives. Our is a very disconnected, independent society, and to comment on another's parenting is often seen as an intrusion of personal privacy. But think about it. Remember how good you felt when the old lady at church commented positively on your boys' behavior after Sunday services? Or how much you appreciated the sympathetic looks at the grocery store when your son melted down?

The truth is, raising children is a group endeavor. We all have a responsibility to the children of our community -- to the children of the world. And while none of us can independently eradicate child abuse or world hunger, we can make a difference on the local level. Imagine if those neighbors had called the cops earlier, or if one had knocked on the door to offer a casserole.

Yesterday, I saw a woman sitting on the curb at WalMart. She was calm and peaceful. Her son was not. He was storming, pouting and otherwise whining. His mom just sat there, the wind blowing in her hair. I was curious, but didn't say a word. Then her words floated through my open van window: "We'll go in," she said, "when you pull it together." Instantly, I understood what was going on. I'd been there before, and I have to say that half the time, I don't look nearly as self-composed as that mom did. I rolled down my window. "You're doing a great job," I told her. She smiled, and sat on the curb.

It was a moment, but a moment that may have been significant. Imagine how different the world would be if we spoke up, helped our neighbors and supported their parenting.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Best of the Blogs: Parenting

Parenting is hard work -- but maybe not as hard as we make it. In Why Good Parenting is Less Work Than You Think, blogger Denise Schipani writes about some intriguing new research that suggests parents may have far less power over their kids' potential than we've been led to believe. It's an especially great read if you happen to have more than the typical 1.86 children.

Of course, parenting involves many decisions, from the mundane (do I let them watch one more TV show?) to the serious (is he mature enough to drive?). Mommy Minute tackles one of the more mundane issues in Raising Nature-Loving Boys in the Age of Wii, while Peggy Sue Brister examines boy-parents' first big decision, To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise?

Kris at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers is one of the wisest parents I know (even if she is weird and unsocialized!) Her latest act of parenting brilliance is Time for Mom. Stop over and see what she's been doing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Selling Unhealthy Food to Kids

Full disclosure: I have two boxes of Scooby Doo-themed Gogurt in my fridge right now. Actually, make that one-and-a-half boxes. The boys hit those pretty hard today.

According to a new study, it's quite possible that my boys chose that yogurt because Scooby Doo was on the box. Knowing my boys, I absolutely concur. They're good, price-conscious shoppers, but given the choice to choose their own yogurt, they choose the Scooby Doo version over tubs of Dannon every time. And if you read the small print on the side of those Gogurt boxes, you know that the wildly colored product inside is not exactly a health food, despite yogurt's healthy reputation.

My boys' ability to be swayed by cartoon packaging is, unfortunately, all too common and entirely known to marketers. It's also having a detrimental effect on our children's health. According to a Pediatrics study published online June 21, boys and girls ages four to six said food tasted better when it came from a cartoon-enhanced package. Is it any wonder our children are selecting Trix yogurt and SpongeBob Cheez-Its?

Some, including study author Christina Roberto, are drawing parallels between Joe Camel of the past and snack cartoons of the present. I think they've got a valid point.

I've expressed my concerns about McDonald's marketing tactics before. And while I'm not entirely sure about the tactics, I don't disagree with the sentiment behind the Center for Science in the Public Interest's threat to sue McDonald's if the fast food purveyor does not remove toys from all future Happy Meals. Let's face it: If not for those toys, my kids would have chosen Happy Meals far less often. Often, my kids ordered Happy Meals solely because they wanted the toy. And while McDonald's rightly claims to offer healthy choices, my kids, like most, are well aware that Happy Meals come with fries or apple slices -- and that fries are the preferable choice.

Yes, I could put my foot down. I could insist on apple slices. I could boycott McDonald's and I refuse to buy any food branded with a cartoon character. But that doesn't change the fact that there's something inherently wrong with a bunch of marketers strategizing ways to attract kids to unhealthy goods.

That's my opinion. What's yours?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Books for Boys: Comics

Most boys -- even boys who hate reading -- find it hard to resist comic books. The attraction is obvious: active, colorful pictures; few blocks of text and ridiculous, courageous or hilarious scenarios. What's not to like?

If you live with a struggling or reluctant reader, I challenge you to check out some comic books. Leave them lay around the house. Watch as your "non-reader" flips through the pages.

Don't know where to start? Here are some ideas, based on recommendation from other parents of boys:

As your son gets older, he can progress to graphic novels. Many publishers, recognizing the popularity of comics and graphic novels, have even added comic elements to more traditional books. (Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid.) Others are comic-izing everything from historical events to classic works of literature.

Who knows? Your son just might be inspired to compose his own comic. I'm going to check out The Comic Book Project, which provides education, training and materials for teachers and schools who want to use comic books in the classroom. They also offer a make-your-own comic book kit, which might be just thing for Boy #2.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Zero Tolerance and Common Sense

As you may have heard, little David Morales created a patriotic-themed hat -- by gluing toy soldiers to a camouflage hat -- for a school project. His hat did not go over well. The principal called the boy's parents and told them that the hat wasn't allowed in school. The reason? The toy soliders carry toy weapons, and school policy forbids the wearing of images of weapons or drugs.

Naturally, much uproar ensued. David's parents expressed their view (which basically boiled down to, "It's a hat. Created to honor veterans. Why all the uproar?"), but ultimately abided by the prinicpal's decision. The case, though, had already attracted national attention. Ultimately, David received a medal from Lt. Gen. Reginald Centracchio, the retired head of the Rhode Island National Guard, who also met with school officials and asked them to review the policy. To their credit, the school officials did so.

"The event exposed how a policy meant to ensure safe environments for students can become restrictive and can present an image counter to the work of our schools to promote patriotism and democracy," Coventry school superintendent Ken Di Pietro told the Associated Press.

Always one to seize a teachable moment, I showed a picture of the hat to my 9-year-old son. "It's a pretty cool hat," he said. I told him what happened. "What is wrong with those people?" he said. "It's a little plastic toy, Mom. What do you think is going to do more damage, a little plastic toy or a pencil? But they allow pencils in school! There are thumb tacks on the bulletin board. Heck, you can do more damage with the rocks next to the playground!"

Methinks the boy has a point. What do you think?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

For the longest time I guess I thought he didn't give a damn
Hard to read, hard to please, that was my old man
On the day I left for college, it was nothing new
We never had that heart to heart - he had too much to do

He checked the air in my tires
The belts and all the spark plug wires
Said when the hell's the last time you had this oil changed
And as I pulled out the drive he said be sure and call your mom sometime
And I didn't hear it then but I hear it now
He was saying I love you the only way he knew how

A hundred twenty-thousand miles and six years down the road
A brand new life and a brand new wife and we had just bought out first home
When he finally came to visit I thought he'd be so proud
He never said he liked the place he just got his tool belt out

And put new locks on the door
Went back and forth to the hardware store
Said come and hold this flashlight
As he crawled beneath the sink
These old wires aren't up to code
And that circuit box is gonna overload
And I didn't hear it then but I hear it now
He was saying I love you the only way he knew how

Last Sunday we all gathered for his 65th birthday
I knew he'd stiffen up but I hugged him anyway
When it was finally time to say goodbye I knew what was next
Just like he always does, right before we left

He checked the air in my tires
The belts and all the spark plug wires
Said when the hell's the last time you had this oil changed
And as I pulled out the drive he said be sure and call your mom sometime
And I didn't hear it then but I hear it now
He was saying I love you the only way he knew how

Saturday, June 19, 2010

You Know You Have Boys When...

...your child points to a fading wound on his abdomen and asks, "Will that make a scar?" -- and pumps his fist with glee when you respond yes.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Best of the Blogs: Father's Day Edition

It's not easy being a man today. In Rethinking Manhood: The New Feminist Project?, author Tom Matlack writes about the need to re-invent masculinity. "The most macho thing in the world is to be a loving father. To be a faithful husband. To put food on the table," Matlack writes. "Even more macho is to come clean about how hard it is to try to try to be all those things at the same time. Women have been doing for fifty years. Now it's our turn."

Of course, being a hands-on parent of either sex isn't easy. An Ordinary Mom gives some great tips for handling the witching hour in Working the Swing Shift.

If you're ready for something deeper and darker, check out "Boys Will Be Boys": The Connection Between a Sex League Scandal and a Domestic Violence Murder. It seems a group of teenage boys out East had a competition of sorts, where they gained points for sexual activities with females. As heinous as they actions were, the rationalization some adults used to excuse the boys' behavior -- boys will be boys -- is even worse.

Finally, check out Unschooling Changed Us All Around, by Andrea at Say YES 2 Boys. Andrea has just completed year two as a homeschooling mom and like most homeschooling parents, she's grown in ways she never would have imagined.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Teen Boys Eat A Lot

That's the conclusion of a new scientific study. I know, right? Tell us something we don' t know!

But the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, could be reassurance for parents and teen boys in this day and age of eating disorders. While we tend to associate eating disorders, dieting and poor body image with girls, boys are affected too. Just today, another mom told me that her 7-year-old son recently asked if he was fat. (He's not.) And my 12-year-old son, a growing boy if ever there was one, frequently expresses concern about the weight he's gaining. He's gotten the societal message that weight gain is bad -- at 12-years-old.

Teenage boys, though, need to eat. According to the study, prepubescent boys average nearly 1300 lunchtime calories, compared to girls' 900 calories. Boys in their mid-teens typically consume around 2000 calories at lunch. While that might sound like a lot (particularly to our weight-obsessed brains), boys need those calories to fuel their tremendous growth.

If you son starts obsessing about his weight, obsessively counting calories or exercising in the extreme, pay attention. As Adelaide Robb, an associate professor of psychiatry, said in a 2007 Washington Post article, "A teenage boy shouldn't be eating what his 110-pound, dieting mother would eat. It's normal for a half-gallon of milk and a loaf of bread to disapper every 48 hours if there's a teenage boy in the house."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Books for Boys: Authors

Ever notice how some authors are more boy-friendly than others? My boys, for instance, loved the offbeat humor in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales, both by Jon Scieszka, a former boy and current author who's trying to liven up the literary offerings for boys. Scieszka, in fact, has a great website,, which includes entire lists of books for boys.

Other boy-friendly authors include:

Matt Christopher If your son likes sports, you have to check out Matt Christopher, author of the #1 sports series for kids. He's written about everything from basketball and baseball to dirt bike riding and lacrosse. He's even written a series of non-fiction books about sports legends such as Dale Earnhardt and Michael Jordan.

Neil Gaiman An award-winning, living legend in the comic world, Neil Gaiman is perhaps best known to the masses for his book-turned-movie Coraline. Be forewarned, though: Gaiman has written everything from children's books to adult novels, and his themes can be a bit dark at times.

Shel Silverstein Is there a better way to introduce boys to poetry than through the work of Shel Silverstein? My four active boys actually begged me to read more poems when I sat down and started reading selections from Where the Sidewalk Ends during lunch. (Bonus: his website actually has some really cool activities for kids as well.)

Geronimo Stilton Apparently, some mice really know how to write. Geronimo Stilton is a talking mouse and the fictitious author of a wildly popular series of children's books aimed at kids ages 9-12. Would you believe that Geronimo Stilton is more popular in Italy than Harry Potter?

Do you have any favorite authors to add to the list? Who do your boys enjoy reading?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Definition of Futile

According to, futile means having no useful result. Like, say, vacuuming your living room only to discover a flood in your kitchen?

Life with four boys is anything but neat. Interesting, chaotic, loud, exciting, annoying and invigorating, but not neat. And for the most part, I'm OK with that. For the most part, I'm able to see the scattered toys, papers and books on the floor as physical evidence of their creativity and learning. But every now and again, enough is enough. Every now and again, I make an attempt to contain the chaos.

Today, while 3 boys were happily making/floating homemade boats in the kitchen sink, I headed to the living room to vacuum. I took a timer with me. 10 minutes of housework at a time is about all I can handle.

My timer hadn't even beeped when screams summoned me to the kitchen. In less than 5 minutes, my 4-year-old had managed to flood the kitchen. Water was EVERYWHERE -- on the floor, on the counter, on the stove, on my cell phone, running down the counters, seeping out of cracks, etc. It was the kind of mess that puzzles you for a moment because you have no idea how to clean it up.

"Towels!" I yelled. "Get the bathroom towels"

So my boys went running. Together, we slip-slided our way around the floor on bath towels. We also yelled at each other. The boys yelled at Boy #4; I yelled at them. By the time we were done, the kitchen floor was almost clean and 3 boys were in 3 time-outs.

That's when the word futile popped into my head. I meant to spend 10 minutes cleaning the house. Instead, I spent 20 minutes cleaning up the kitchen -- and I still have a load of towels to wash. Phyllis Diller had it right: Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.

Futile, indeed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Boys and the Arts

I watched the Tony Awards, the Oscars of the theatre world, with my 12-year-old son last night. We critiqued the musical numbers, commented on the plays and predicted the winners. And at the end of the night, my 12-year-old son watched me jump off the couch and applaud my childhood best friend as he took the stage at Radio City Music Hall, part of the crowd accepting Memphis' award for Best Musical.

I was proud of my friend because he's my friend, but also because he and I grew up together, here in a small midwestern town where sports reign supreme. I watched, supported and shared his interest in the arts over the years, listenting to Phantom of the Opera in his room (on new-fangled CDs!) and applauding wildly the first time we saw Cats. We sang in choirs together, acted in plays together and attended the theatre together.

But while all of those activities were deemed OK (if not cool) for me, my friend fought an uphill battle because boys, you see, aren't supposed to like art. Boys are supposed to be manly and tough and strong. They're supposed to play football, not participate in show choir.

That was the message, at least, 20 years ago in this small town. Things are changing -- and I give a ton of credit to the choir director who came our junior year, who elevated the arts in our community -- but culturally speaking, the message still looms large. The arts are for girls -- or fags.

Don't believe me? In his 2002 report, Engaging Boys in the Arts, Scott Harrison cities a number of studies that uncovered stereotypical and homophobic beliefs about boys in art:

  • From Hanley, 1998
Singing is viewed a feminine activity - boys who engage in singing are feminine by implication... the peer group is hung up on the image that boys don't sing and those who do are gay or sissies or whatever - weak anyway

  • From Levine, 1995

American adults held...that only certain occupations were appropriate for homosexuals... They included nurse, librarian, airline steward, waiter, interior decorator, hairdresser and dancer, musician and artist...Homophobic men do not participate in sissy, womanly, homosexual activities or interests...Fear of being thought to be a homosexual thus keeps some men from pursuing areas of interest, or occupations, considered more appropriate for women or homosexuals.

Yes, the studies are older studies, but given the trouble my son's show choir has attracting male members, I don't things have changed as much as we'd like to believe. As far as art is concerned, our sons face some serious obstacles.

That's why I'm so glad my son watched the Tonys with me. He's been interested in music, dance and theatre from the beginning, and while we've encouraged his passions, nothing compares to a role model. When my son watched the Tonys last night, he heard performer after performer reference their dreams, dreams that once-upon-a-time seemed impossible. And when he saw me jump off the couch and my friend take the stage, he knew, somewhere deep in his soul, that boys from small midwestern towns can do anything they want.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Best of the Blogs

Parenthood is a full-time job (plus!). Picking up crackers, wiping snotty noses and reading All About Diggers for the 100th time doesn't exactly leave a lot of time for personal pursuits. And many, many parents, caught up in the whirlwind that is parenthood, let themselves go for a period of time. They push their dreams and passions aside while caring, exhaustively, for the needs of their children. But is that they way to go? Visit Boy Crazy to read a great post, On motherhood and art and our former selves. (You'll see a comment from me there as well.)

A lot of parents struggle with feeling of incompetence too. But as Jan Udlock learned, there's a big difference between "incompetent" and "learning." Read more at Imperfect Mom.

Interested in healthy, hearty, homegrown food for your family? Andrea at Say YES 2 Boys is busy reading about food, and she shares her favorites books with you in Books, Chickens and Boys.

Education Week has a great post about educational standards. No Child Left Behind may have been well-intentioned, but the standards generated in its wake are often nearly unobtainable, especially for many young boys.

Read anything else interesting this week? Send me a link!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Books for Boys: Series

It's the beginning of summer. If you're like most parents, you're probably trying to figure out how to keep your son reading this summer, especially given the fact that a lof of boys are less-than-enthusiastic readers.

Luckily for me (and you!), I'm a member of a fabulous group of writers who also happen to be parents. When one parent recently asked for book suggestions for her elementary school-aged son, the suggestions were fast and furious -- and so good that I'm passing them on to you. So good, in fact, that I'm only going to share their series recommendations with you today. We'll talk authors another time.

Here, then, a list of boy-approved book series:

Lemony Snicket and a Series of Unfortunate Events

A to Z Mysteries

Little House on the Prairie (start with Farmer Boy if you think your boys will object to the female protagonists)

The 39 Clues

Star Wars chapter books

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Alex Rider

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Hardy Boys

Captain Underpants

Harry Potter

The Secrets of Droon

If You Lived... historical series

Zac Power

Time Warp Trio

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Warriors or Seekers book series

The Keys to the Kingdom

Peter and the Starcatchers

Hank Zipzer

Inkheart triology

Have any series you'd like to add to the list?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Nanny Question

Here in small town middle-America, nannies are pretty rare. Babysitters? Check. Daycare providers? Check. Nannies? Cue the crickets.

Never mind, though. According to Dr. Dennis Friedman, any woman who outsources the care of her son to another woman may be putting him at risk of future infidelity.

Dr. Friedman is the author of, The Unsolicited Gift: Why We Do The Things We Do, which, according to TIME magazine, "explores how a mother's love for her offspring can determine how those children behave as adults." And leaving your baby boy in the care of another woman, Dr. Friedman says, "creates a division in his mind between the woman he knows to be his natural mother and the woman with whom he has a read hands-on relationship," a division that essentially teaches him that it's perfectly normal to have a family woman at home and a mistress to "take care" of him.

Well then. Even if Dr. Friedman's hypothesis was true -- and his detractors are quick to point out that he provides no proof or statistics -- how exactly does he propose we solve this problem? Require maternity nurses to settle in for long chats with boy-moms, chats to explain that the mothers' presence is absolutely required to prevent their sons from cheating? Special food stamp affadavits for boy-moms, because, you know, moms must stay home the entire first year to ensure the future stability of society?

What ever happened to teaching responsibility and values? Whether a mom works or not, whether she physically cares for her son 100% or 60% or 35% of the time, she can influence her son -- not by her mere presence, but by her words and actions. And so, by the way, can his dad.

Ultimately, though, any blame for adult infidelity lies solely with the cheating adult. Our job as parents is to provide our sons with a firm foundation. From there, the choices they make are their own. If one of my sons decides to cheat on his wife in his mid-40s, I may feel many things, but guilt, I can promise you, will not be one of them.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Birth Control and Boys

According to the latest study by the Centers for Disease Control, 40% of teens aged 15 to 19 have had sex at least once. 81% of boys who engaged in sex reported using birth control during their first sexual encounter.

That's the good news, I suppose. Most of our teens are not having sex, and the vast majority of those who are sexually active are taking steps to protect their health and prevent pregnancy.

Buried in the "good news," though, is an extremely disturbing nugget of information: 18% of the boys surveyed said they would be a "little pleased" or "very pleased" if their sexual encounters resulted in a pregnancy.

Take a minute for that to sink in.

Almost one-fifth of the boys surveyed -- boys aged 15 to 19 -- would be happy if they impregnated a girl. Why??? Because it proves their manliness? Their virility? Because they hope to leave a lasting mark on the world? Whatever their misguided reasons, we need to get one message through to our boys, loud and clear: Making a baby does not make you a man. Living up to your responsibilities, whatever those responsibilities might be, makes you a man.

Kimberly Spector, an LA-based adolescent-health educator quoted in a WebMD story about the study said, "This report shows us that if we as educators and parents are going to take a wholistic approach to sex education, one that addresses all of the risks and most completely informs our students and children, we are going to have to start talking more in depth about the realities of parenting. Teenagers need to know that having babies is not just about cuteness, love, and a lasting relationship with a significant other, but also about dirty diapers, sleepless nights, increasing expenses, and often, emotional exhaustion."

The truth of her words is stunning in its simplicity. We need to teach our kids that sex may result in parenting.

I'm a proponent of open and honest conversations about sex and birth control. I firmly believe that our children need to know about sexually transmitted diseases and birth control options, because like it or not, we can't control our children's behavior. We can, however, influence their behavior, and maybe that's where we've been slacking off.

Most modern sex ed programs focus on mechanics, diseases and birth control methods. But how much time really is spent drumming in the idea that sex leads to babies, which leads to parenting? It's almost as if that reality has gotten lost in the details. It's a hard concept to teach -- I mean, how many of us really understood how difficult parenting would be? -- but one that's absolutely essential. Our boys need to know that sex doesn't end with making a baby, that making a baby is just the beginning.

On the other hand, I don't want our children indoctrinated with the inconveniences of parenting. Yes, having a baby results in dirty diapers, sleepless nights, increased expenses, and often, emotional exhaustion. But parenting can also be the greatest adventure of one's life, an opportunity for personal growth like no other. The hitch, though, is that you have to be ready. To fully partake in the joys of parenting, you have to be ready to set aside your own needs to focus on those of another, and that requires a maturity that most teens simply don't have.

As always, our kids are learning from us. My boys, especially the older ones, understand all too well that parenting is hard work, because they see me doing it day in and day out. They know that toddlers are extremely demanding little creatures because they've seen me deal with their highly persistent and strong-willed little brother. They also see, however, the deep love I have for each of my children, and I frequently talk about ways parenting has changed my life for the better. We also talk very candidly about teen sex, especially during teachable moments. FOX's hit TV show Glee contains a teen pregnancy story line, and we talk about it. Slowly, gradually, I think my boys are getting the message.

What about you? Do you think boys today "get" the idea that sex leads to parenting? What do you think needs to be done to improve our sons' sexual education?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blogs about Boys

Welcome to a new weekly feature, a weekly round-up of some of the best boy-related blog posts on the web. Find something interesting during the week? Send me a link! You just might see it again next Friday.

On being heard -- Elizabeth at Boy Crazy writes beautifully and eloquently about the need to listen to our sons, and the way their words can get lost in the busyness of our days

Lessons from the class of 2010 -- Outnumbered Mom has a son graduating this week. She accompanied his senior class on a mountain hike and learned something about stragglers and leaders.

Boost kids' summer reading -- This time of year, a lot of parents are wondering how to incorporate reading into their sons' summers. Single Parent Savings has some excellent ideas, including a link to Guys Read, Jon Sciescka's blog. (Yep, he's the guy who wrote The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. If you haven't read it yet to your boys, run to the library immediately!)

Numbers right now -- From the time we first count their little fingers and toes, parenthood is all about the numbers. Visit 4 little men & girly twins for a numerical snapshot in time. I'll bet you can relate!

Can we lay off mom-judging now? Please? -- Let's face it: we've all felt superior, on occasion, to another mom. But as fellow boy-mom, blogger and freelance writer Denise Schipani points out, our judgements do more harm than good.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Boys Are All Right

My boys will tear each other to shreds over the simplest things. Lest you think I jest, I overheard one boy blasting another today because the one picked up a scrap of wood the other had just discarded.

So it really wasn't surprising to find Boy #3 in tears after he broke his brother's bike. He'd borrowed it to ride around the block and summoned me to our front door, almsot hysterical. In his hand, he held the bolt that had been serving as the bike's left pedal.

To be fair, Boy #2's bike has been in fair-to-poor condition for some time now. After the left pedal on his bike fell off, his Dad and Grandpa attempted to fix it, without much success. The bolt was clearly a stop-gap measure, but it was working. Without the bolt, the bike was pretty much useless and Boy #3 knew that. He also knew that the bike is pretty much #2's favorite plaything right now -- and that #2 has a volatile temper.

Boy #3 begged me for help. Fix the bike, he pleaded. I can't give it back like this! He'll kill me! I sent him searching for the lost nut; no luck. We attempted to secure the bolt with another nut scrounged from the garage. No luck there, either. #3, I said, you're going to have to tell him.

Can't you do it, he pleaded, tears in his eyes. I told him no. He borrowed the bike; he would have to deal with the consequences. Even if we'd "fixed" the bike, I told him, we'd be obliged to tell #2 what happened.

#3 reluctantly approached his brother. He led his confused brother to the bike and pointed to the broken piece through his tears. And to my surprise, #2 simply patted him on the head and said, You thought I'd be upset about that? It was going to break sooner or later anyway. If it wasn't you, it would have been me. He wrapped his arm around his little brother and the two of them walked off as I stood there, my heart swelling with joy.

Gifted Gender Gap

In New York City, there are more gifted girls than boys -- or so one would believe, glancing at one of the many girl-heavy gifted classes.

According to the New York Times, the city's current population of gifted kindergarteners is 56% female, despite the fact that males actually account for 51% of all students in NYC. Why so few boys? The Times article lists a number of overlapping reasons:

Testing bias -- New York schools use two different tests to assess students' ability. One, the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, has been field tested for gender bias. Unfortunately, the Bracken test only accounts for 25% of a child's gifted score in New York. The other test, the Otis-Lennon Ability Test, has not been tested for gender bias and has a strong verbal component, which may play to the early verbal abilities of young girls. The Otis-Lennon test accounts for 75% of a child's score.

Delayed social and emotional development -- Many (most?) young gifted boys are still working on skills such as sitting still, sharing and impulse control. Young girls typically develop impulse control and relationship skills earlier than boys.

Non-academic tendencies -- Not all gifted children want to sit around the discuss the classics. Some gifted kids, especially some boys, prefer to create elaborate block towers or imaginative inventions. Educators who focus only on traditional academic measures of giftedness may miss some gifted boys.

What can you do?

Educate yourself about gifted issues, boys and education. Boys are disproportionately represented in special ed classrooms, and are far more likely than girls to be labeled as "learning disabled," "troublemakers," or "ADHD." Learn all you can about male and female brain development and share your information with your sons' teachers and schools.

Ask how your local school evaluates giftedness. Some schools rely on teacher recommendations; others, like New York, focus on standardized testing. If you believe the method used by your school district is unfair to boys, share your concerns. Be prepared to back up your position and to suggest alternative evaluation methods.

Encourage your sons' interests -- even the non-academic ones. School has increasingly become a sit-down-and-learn kind of place, but most boys are still active, experiential learners. If your son wants to spend hours dismantling broken appliances, let him. Give him some basic safety lessons, hand him a screw driver and be available to answer his many questions.

Gifted boys have a tough row to hoe. Being smart still isn't considered "manly," and far too many of our gifted boys are ignored by schools and society. So stand up for your son. He needs all the help he can get.

Want to know more about gifted boys? Be sure to read Lisa Rivero's guest post, Guiding Gifted Boys.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Blogging Lessons for Parents

Have you ever watched a bunch of marathoners at the finish line? Some stride through confidently throught the finish (only to puke on the other side). Others grimace and groan, determined to push through to the end. Still others stagger and crawl, the tears streaming down their faces a mixture of pain and pride.

The Word Count Blogathon is like that. Some, like Jackie Dishner at BIKE with Jackie, make it look easy. The rest of us are just grateful to have finally reached the finish.

Today, bloggers from around the world come together to reflect on the Blogathon. There's a wrap party on Twitter (join us at 8:30 am PST, #Blog2010). Blog posts celebrating lessons learned are lighting up the blogosphere. So I began to ponder -- What did I learn from the blogathon this year? -- and realized that my top four lessons apply to parenting as well. Take a look:

Four Lessons for Parents and Bloggers

1. You can't expect greatness all the time. It's pretty hard -- no, make that impossible -- to create a magnus opus every day. The only way to blog every day is to let go of your need for perfection. You need to accept the fact that some days, you'll only have the energy for a haiku. Or a borrowed YouTube video. Parenting is the same way. Some days, we're on our game, whipping up tasty, healthy meals while planning interesting activities and excursions. Other days, we order in pizza and let the kids watch TV and IT'S OK! Parenting, like blogging, is a long haul adventure.

2. Reaching out makes a difference. One of the main benefits of the Blogathon is the chance to learn from and interact with other bloggers. Participants are encouraged to visit others' blogs, to comment, to guest post, to share insights. Last year, I was an active particpant in the Blogathon, visiting and commenting on almost every blog in the bunch. I went above and beyond and hosted weekly blog exhanges, thereby creating relationships with other writers that last to this day. (The ever-hilarious and consummate professional Ron Doyle is currently designing my professional website.) This year, I was overwhelmed with deadlines (a GOOD problem for a writer to have!) and didn't reach out to other bloggers nearly as much. As a result, my experience this time around wasn't nearly as rich. Parents, too, need to reach out to others. Sure, you can do it alone, but it's much harder. When you reach out to others, you tap into the strength of a parenting collective. You can borrow others' ideas -- or just feel better about your own life. Isn't it reassuring to know that other boys badger their parents for airsoft guns as well?

3. Putting yourself on the list is a very good thing. We all KNOW that we need to make time for ourselves. We're heard the airplane oxygen mask analogy more times than we can count. But in the midst of daily life, with one child begging for milk and another asking for help on the computer, it's all to easy to forget to pee. Blogging is the same way. My paying work, naturally, takes priority over my blog. But all too often, that meant I had no time or energy left for the blog. (Hence, my hideous posting record in the month of April.) To blog every day, I added it to my work calendar: Blog. Just 4 little letters, but by placing those letters on the calendar every day, I gave them weight. Listed next to my assignments, "blog" became a priority, a part of my work day. Parents need to do the same thing. Schedule "exercise," "haircut" or "girls' night out." Put it on the calendar and make it happen!

4. You don't need a plan. More than one blogathoner has stressed the importance of a plan when blogging on a daily basis. I, however, did not have a plan for the blogathon. No plan, no pre-scheduled posts. And you know what? I made it through! Parenting, by it's very nature, requires hundreds of on-the-fly adjustments -- and often, the unscheduled days are the best. It's OK to be a planner, but it's equally OK to take life as it comes. Successful parents (and successful bloggers) are creative and adaptable.

What did you learn from the Blogathon? Did you like the daily posts in the month of May?