Saturday, May 29, 2010

Before the Boys

Before my boys...

  • I'd never watched an entire Star Wars movie
  • I couldn't pronounce the names of most dinosaurs, much less identify them
  • I'd never wielded a power tool
  • I had no idea that the 1927 Yankees were the best baseball team ever
  • I'd never participated in a lightsaber duel
  • I didn't know what a blog was
  • I'd never read a book about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig or Mickey Mantle
  • I never fully realized how dirty white socks can get
  • I'd never seen a case of poison ivy, first-hand
  • I knew nothing about the brain-based differences between males and females
  • I didn't own any legos
  • I'd never published a single article
  • I didn't know that "buddy" was slang for "cup"
  • I didn't spend nearly enough time in the woods

How 'bout you? Help me add to my list!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day injuries

As we prepare to embark on a three-day weekend, I have three words for you: 1. Enjoy!
2 & 3. Be careful.

The number of injuries spikes over Memorial Day weekend, especially for boys. A review of records from 1997 to 2006 found that injuries are indeed more common on holiday weekends, with Memorial Day and Labor Day topping the list of dangerous holiday weekends. Most of the injuries, however, are not specifically event-related (say, a fireworks injury on July 4th). Most of the injuries are simply the result of active, outside activities, such as biking.

Boys suffered 62 percent of the reported injuries.

Older youth are particularly at risk for drinking-related injuries. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) found that ER visits related to underage drinking increase by 11% over the Memorial Day weekend.

So have fun, but keep a close watch on your boys. Let's make this a safe and enjoyable holiday for all!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


In the early 1900s, gay meant happy and carefree. In 2010, gay is about the worst epithet a boy can throw at a another boy.

Last year I blogged about Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, a book that explores boys' seach for meaning and masculinity. That post came to mind as I watched the most recent episode of Glee this week.

Watch Kurt's dad stand up for his son after Finn, another member of the show choir, uses the word, "faggy."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gender Intensification

Do we really want to make the differences between boys/girls even more wider than they already are? If we divide education along gender lines, will the divide create less ability for men and women to coexist? Will it increase an already high divorce rate?

In addition, will girls stop playing with trucks and cars completely, and boys with dolls? How much more difficult will it make for girls to enter traditionally male-dominated fields without feeling ostracized from their own friends and life?

-- Jill

Pretty powerful questions, eh? Because we live in a co-ed society, the idea of single-sex education seems a little odd -- and frankly un-American to some people. Most of us agree that gender stereotypes have trapped both men and women for far too long, and few of us want to bind our children with what we hoped were antiquated notions. We want to stretch our children's horizens, not reinforce their limitations.

Interestingly, though, the research shows that children in single-sex classrooms actually experience more freedom. Ironically, children in mixed-gender classrooms often experience what's called gender intensification, meaning an exaggerated preference for all things "boy" or "girl." In co-ed company, a boy who might play dress-up alone may instead play with trucks in an attempt to identify with his group, the boys. Similarly, a girl who is brilliant at math may downplay her abilities because 1) boys don't like smart girls and 2) the other girls aren't into math. In other words, students in mixed-gender classrooms may actually gravitate toward the stereotypes.

In a single-sex classroom, with no need to prove their identity, boys (and girls) often feel more free to explore the gamut of experiences. Instead of reinforcing gender stereotypes, single-sex classrooms allow students to explore the range of "male" and "female." In other words, girls in a single-sex preschool may actually be more likely to play with trucks; boys, more likely to pick up a doll.

Single-sex education isn't as simple as marshalling all the boys in one classroom and the girls in another. To be truly effective, the teachers of single-sex classrooms must have a thorough understanding of typical male (or female) development, and their teaching must reflect that knowledge. The best single-sex teachers create environments that nurture and facilitate the development of their students. Teaching boys isn't about trucks and dinosaurs; it's about letting boys move (because their brains enter a state of rest unless they're physically engaged).

As for boys and girls learning to co-exist, we live in a co-ed world, remember? Students in single-sex classrooms continue to have many opportunities to interact with the other sex in their churches, clubs, communities and families.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Single-Sex Education

What do you think of single-sex education?

According to a recent article, single-sex education is on the rise in the United States. In 2020, about a dozen US public schools offered single-sex classes. In 2010, more than 500 public schools offer single-sex instruction.

Some see this the trend toward single-sex education as a positive; others consider it an old-fashioned technique that reinforces gender stereotypes. Perhaps not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the prime antagonist of the single-sex education movement. An ACLU spokeswoman, quoted in the Forbes article, said, "The programs push the notion of a fundamental difference in the way boys and girls learn."

And there it is, the 5-ton elephant in the corner. The are-there-differences-between-boys-and-girls question.

While some staunch feminists want to deny any innate differences between males and females, I believe the answer is yes. I'm all for civil liberties and women's rights, but I simply don't understand how anyone can argue that there are no differences (save the physical ones) between males and females. Anyone who has ever had a friend or partner of the opposite sex knows that men and women perceive the world differently. Anyone who has ever had a son understands, instinctually, that boys are different than girls.

"Different" isn't better -- and it certainly isn't worse. It's just different. And respecting and honoring those differences, rather than snuffing them, demonstrates respect for the child, whether male or female.

Serious scientific studies have documented serious biological differences in the brain function of boys and girls. While boys and girls are both equally capable of learning to read, the portion of the brain that handles language matures, on average, six years later in boys than in girls. Is it fair to ask all six-year-old boys to read at the same level as six-year-old girls? Boys' fine motor skills develop more slowly than girls'. Is it fair to ask five-year-old boys to write with the same precision as five-year-old girls?

I don't think so. It's far better, I think, to support and encourage each child individually, respecting his or her natural gifts, inclinations and personal development. Single-sex classrooms are an institutional attempt to tailor education. School districts will never have the necessary funding for individualized education, so until then, single-sex classrooms a way of reaching boys and girls who often flounder in mixed-gender classes.

That's my opinion anyway. What's yours?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blogathon2010: Haiku

Posting everyday can be a challenge. There's the time commitment, sure, but even more than that, there's the pressure to stay fresh, interesting and relevant on a daily basis. So today's Blogathon challenge is short and sweet: Write a haiku.

Don't remember haikus? Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, a word picture expressed in 17 syllables: 5 syllables for the first line, 7 for the second and 5 for the third. Some great stuff has been posted today, so I highly encourage you to visit a couple other Blogathoners.

Here's mine:

Bouncing on the couch
Boundless energy in jeans
Men yet to be born

See? It's easy! Give it a try -- I'd love to see your haikus.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: No Photo Cord

I have some incredibly fun photos of my boys. I really, really do. I do not, however, have my photo cord.

Bear with me! I'll post some photos later this week. In the meantime, anyone else have a fun boys-at-work photo they'd like to share?

Saturday, May 22, 2010


"You have such nice boys."

We spent the day with extended family -- many of whom we haven't seen a long time -- and by and large, almost everyone had something good to say about my boys.

"Your boys are so well-behaved."

Now I realize that my relatives may have been making nice. And I'm fully aware that very, very few people are going to come up to me and say directly, "Your kids are scallywags!" All the same, it was nice to hear good things about my boys.

What's the nicest compliment anyone has given you about your sons?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Life with Boys

Am I the only boy-mom who doesn't swoon at the sight of little girls clothes?

I know quite a few moms of boys who wish they'd had a daughter -- not because they yearn for the mother-daughter bond but because they dreamed of dressing a little girl in cute frilly dresses. Like this mom.

When I walk through a mall, though, and see the clothing options available to today's young girls, I'm GLAD I have sons! My sons can get away with a Tshirt and jeans for almost every occasion, and I never, ever have to worry about the length of their skirts or clothing that has "Eye Candy" emblazoned across the butt. My boys are so clueless about clothing that I can place hand-me down clothes in their drawer and the boys will wear some of those hand-me downs, oh, 5 times before looking down one day and asking, "Where'd I get this shirt?"

But let's revisit the girl-clothing-swoooning mama up above. I might not share her fetish for all things pink, but I can definitely relate to her life. I haven't given my boys my wooden dollhouse, but I can totally picture my boys destroying one in less than 10 minutes. And when she talks about her son, who still calls all women "Mama" but correctly identifies cars, trucks and trains, my heart sings with recognition.

As a women, I will never quite understand my sons' predisposition toward guns and trucks and farts. As a mom, though, I'm having a great time exploring their world.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Let Them Be Little

It was a beautiful day outside today, so the boys and biked to a local nature trail about a mile from the house. We had a great time in the woods, but the ride home took FOREVER -- mostly because Boy #4 was in no particular hurry and kept weaving his bike from side to side. I was getting frustrated. I was hungry, tired and wanted to get home.

Then I remembered this post. Almost exactly one year ago, my little boy didn't even know how to use the brakes on his training wheel bike. Now, I'm getting frustrated with him because he doesn't bike quickly enough? Twelve months ago, he couldn't safely navigate a hill. Today, he biked over a mile there, hiked the 1.5 mile trail and biked back. And I, the supposed grown-up in this scenario, was upset because I was hungry.

The incident got me thinking about our expectations for our kids. No sooner do they master one skill -- riding a bike, for instance -- and we expect them to master the next (riding efficiently!). Same thing in school: One day, we tell ourselves we'd be happy if the kid could just read. The next, we're worried that he's not reading enough. Growth, though, isn't linear and predictable. It's not a straight-up diagonal line on a line graph; a child's natural growth curve includes lots of jumps, starts and stalls. There are moments of incredible leaps -- and months of seemingly no activity whatsoever. There are times of regression. All in all, though, our little ones are growing at an amazing pace and need our support, no matter where they're at.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Childhood Depression

Could your son be depressed?

My good friend and fellow blogger, Sarah E. Ludwig, has a terrific article about childhood depression in Parenting magazine. Among her points:
  • Childhood depression is more common than you may think. 1 in 20 children and teens are clinically depressed.
  • Depression is often masked by other issues. ADHD, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder may all occur in conjunction with depression.
  • Irritability can be a major sign of depression in kids. Sure, we all expect some irritability from our children as they approach their teen years, but a kid who's constantly annoyed and irritated may actually be depressed.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment is key. Prolonged untreated depression, Sarah writes, can actually change the shape of the brain.

If you think your son may be depressed, get him help NOW. (You can find a list of symptoms here.) Help doesn't necessarily mean anti-depressants, although anti-depressant have been used effectively in children. Help can include cognitive behavioral therapy, coping skills and emotional support.

Of course, not all depressed kids require years of psychotherapy or medication. Some kids experience transient situational depression, a natural response to a traumatic event. And some kids are only mildly depressed; with time and attention, their depression may resolve in weeks. Other children, however, struggle with a despair so dark and deep that it feels unending. A professional can help you determine the severity of your child's depression and plan appropriate treatment.

Have you dealt with childhood depression? I'd love to hear your story.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Blogathon2010 Guest Blogger: Jan Udlock

It's guest blogger day! Please allow me to introduce fellow freelancer and homeschooler, Jan Udlock. Jan writes for a wide variety of magazines and homeschools her youngest three children (ages 10,13, 14; her oldest children are away at college). She lives with her family on a bit of acreage in the Pacific Northwest. Her vices include coffee, chocolate, anything pink, and checking her email too often. Catch her blog at IMP3RfeCt Mom. (I'm there today too, if you want to check me out!)

When my first-born boy was young and we were living in Southern Callifornia, I was not going to allow guns in the house. And yet, when he was around 18 months, he was eating a graham cracker in his high chair and took a bite out of it and proceeded to say bang! (I had never said that.) Because he was our first, he didn’t watch violent cartoons, etc. etc. Now, 21, he reminds me that I never allowed Power Rangers because I thought that the program was too violent.

We now live in a rural area in Oregon and as my boys got older, they shot BB guns. My oldest wanted to hunt with a bow and arrow. As the mom, I did not understand any of this at all. My family in Southern California do not understand hunting in the least. However, I definitely think it’s a regional tradition.

My younger son plays airsoft on our property with his friends. Why do you want to shoot each other while running around in the trees? He proudly shows me his welts when he comes in and brags about the welts he gave his brother or friends.

Competition between my sons seems to be the constant topic at our house. They brag about how much weight they’ve gained. They talked about the pounds they can lift, press, squat or whatever they do with weights. Our youngest son is taller than his older brother and when the oldest comes home from college, my youngest son takes every opportunity he can, measuring himself next to his brother and announcing the difference.

My boys can be a bunch of cavemen. But they can still have a tender heart. My youngest has a cat that he snuggles with every night in bed. And my oldest kisses me and all three of his younger sisters every time he comes home from school as they run to greet him. Raising boys was not what I expected it to be. It’s worrisome and always a stretch for me to understand their desires but I wouldn’t have it any other way. (I keep telling myself...)

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Merit Badge for Video Games?

The Boy Scouts of America have added a new merit pin -- for video gaming.

Understandably, the blogosphere has lit up with criticism of the new award. Those critical of the idea complain that today's boys already spend too little time outside, too much time gaming. They argue that today's boys need little incentive to take up a pastime that already consumes many of their waking hours. (Kids today spend an average of 1.25 hours a day video gaming.) They cite alarming studies linking increased video game play with decreased grades in school.

And yet...

What ever happened to "all things in moderation?" Like them or not, video games are a part of our modern culture, and a boy today without knowledge of video games is like a zebra without stripes: he'll simply never fit in with the group. The Boy Scouts of America aren't encouraging non-stop video gaming -- heck, even my video game designer brother doesn't encourage that. Instead, they've instituted a program that encourages boys to take a critical look at video games, that encourages them to play with their families and to monitor and control their spending.

What's so bad about that?

What do you think of the new merit award? I'd love to hear your opinion!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

16 hours chaperoning junior high school boys. The thought terrified me.

But because Son #1 asked me, over and over again, I eventually relented and agreed to chaperone his jr. high show choir field trip to Six Flags Great America. I was still terrified. I might spend my days in the company of boys, but those are my boys, boys I've known from the womb. The idea of spending the better part of a day -- at an amusement park, no less -- with 3 or 4 unknown-to-me preteen boys was my idea of torture.

I was wrong.

The boys were wonderful. They were respectful. They were polite. They were responsible, age-appropriate and considerate. They were, in word, a delight.

A lot of credit goes to their director. He drills and instills respect and hard work. He emphasizes character building. And he stresses team work. He's also an excellent music teacher, but for the boys in his show choir, he's much more than that. He's teaching them by example how to be men.

In his book The Purpose of Boys, author Michael Gurian writes of boys' need for male connection and role models, particularly as they enter their teen years. "At a certain point — puberty and beyond — males...naturally need to look to other males to try to understand how they're supposed to be loving, wise and responsible men," Gurian told USA Today.

Mr. K focuses a lot of time and effort on creating a top-notch show choir, but I think the messages he sends by example are even more important. He's showing the boys how to be a dedicated community member, how to nurture the next generation and how to treat others with respect. He's also showing them that it's possible to be a success while doing all of the above. Those are the messages our boys need to see.

And if today is any example, I'd say the boys are picking up on the message.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This is the Racecar...

...that my son and his friend built. Notice the smile of absolute pride on Boy #2's face? (Yep, he's the one in the back.)

I could have said no to their little adventure. I could have squashed their enthusiasm with fears and complaints and a litany of reasons as as to why their crazy scheme to convert a broken wagon into a racecar was nothing more than a crazy scheme.

But I didn't. When I heard hammers pounding in backyard, I let them be. When they asked me for paint to color their spoiler, I gave them paint. When they wanted me to drill holes so they could attach the new base to the wheels -- at 8:00 at night, as I was tucking my younger boys into bed -- I very reasonably told them to ask the friend's dad. And when they asked me to come look at their creation, I followed them outside, even though it was dark and I had a million things to do.

We parents tend to obsess about what we say to our children, but good parenting, I believe, is also built on what we don't say.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Creativity at Work

Ever notice how a boy's best "toy" is his imagination? Leave a boy alone with time, materials and space, and he'll find something to do. (Maybe after complaining he's bored for a half hour or so, but eventually, he'll find something to do!)

One of our two red wagons gave out a few weeks ago. After being left out in a rain, oh, 100 times too many, the wooden bottom finally gave way. Boy #2 removed the bottom and replaced it with a piece of plywood to make a racer.

That was a pretty cool invention, but nowhere near as cool as what he and his friend dreamed up today. Today, they realized that most of the original base was salvageable, the only the bottom piece was affected. So they tore out the bottom and replaced it with a different piece of wood, leaving the slightly built-up side pieces intact. They also added a spoiler on the back because, well, they're boys.

They worked for hours. They used hammers, nails, wood stain (to color the spoiler), drills (with adult supervision), nuts and bolts. And they are 100% completely satisfied with their creation. In the words of Boy #2, "Today was the best Thursday ever!"

I wanted to include pics, I really did. But my camera ran out of batteries just as I was getting ready to download -- and there are no more AA batteries in the house. That'll happen in a house of boys!

Pics -- and reflection -- to come later.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Boys Do Better in Full-Day Preschool?

Educators in Montgomery County Maryland recently announced that boys (and African-Americans of both sexes) who attend a full-day pre-kindergarten program do better academically. The study is intended to provide support for public full-day programs at a time when many districts are cutting early childhood programming due to economic pressures.

So is more school the answer for our boys?

Not necessarily. The Maryland study compared kids in full-day preK programs to kids in half-day preK programs. It did not include, measure or assess kids in full-time family care. It does not answer what I consider a most basic question: Is school a better option than parental care and nuturing?

A few years ago, I was researching an article about full vs. half-day kindergarten. (Notice the incremental creep: Seven or so years ago, educators were still debating whether full-day KINDERGARTEN was in the best interests of our kids. Now it's full-day PRESCHOOL.) A number of my experts implied that full-day kindergarten was especially helpful for kids who never attended preschool, because they needed more time to attain school readiness skills. But were there any studies, I asked, assessing the academic and social readiness of children who stayed home, in parental care, vs. kids who attended preschool? The answer was no -- and the reason for the answer was quite revealing.

Studies like this are basically conducted in a quest for money. If enough studies demonstrate a benefit to full-day kindergarten (or preschool), school districts have the data they need to support spending on new programs and teachers. If the studies don't show a benefit, why would school districts pour time and money into a program with no proven benefit?

Virtually no research has been conducted on kids who stay home because there's no economic incentive to do so.

Think about that. We have headlines blaring at us, almost every day, telling us which academic programs are best for our son. But there have been almost no studies examining the effect of a supportive, nuturing family environment.

That's a glaring overview, in my opinion, because far too many parents read the headlines and conclude that their sons need something "more" than Mom and Dad. One of the saddest comments I ever heard was from one mom to another. Mom A had enrolled her son in a local preschool; Mom B's four-year-old son was still home with her. Mom B couldn't afford preschool and felt she was somehow shortchanging her son: "I'm sure your son is getting so much more at school than mine is at home," she told Mom A.

The comment saddened me because Mom B is the kind of mom who takes her kids to story time at the libary and on interesting excursions. She talks to her kids constantly, creates projects with them at home and encourages their creativity. The kids live on a farm and spend plenty of time outside in nature. Yet somehow, the ubiquity of school -- and the constant message that school is best -- caused this mother to devalue her own contributions.

Boys (all children, really) need time and attention to thrive. Does that time and attention really have to be provided in an academic setting? I'm thrilled that some boys in Maryland are getting the help they need, but I remain concerned about the trend toward earlier formal education, especially for boys.

Monday, May 10, 2010

10 Blogs to Read Before I Sleep

Blogathoners all over the Internet are posting the top 5 (or 10) blogs they can't live without today. And while I can certainly live without blogs, there are certain blogs that keep me up way past my bedtime. Here's a sneak peek at what I'm reading when I should be sleeping:

Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers -- Kris is a phenomenal resource. If you want to know anything about homeschooling -- how to do it, what a typical day looks like, where to find curriculum, what math program would work best for your active learner - WUHS can help you out.

Boy Crazy -- The writing here is sublime. And since this blogger has three boys of her own, I can definitely relate to her world!

Outnumbered Mom -- Are you a "boy-mom?" This mom of four boys has written a book just for moms of all boys. Watch for it later this summer!

Living in Splitsville -- As a mom going through a divorce, I've found this blog (by a mom/writer who's a little further along in her divorce) to be oddly comforting.

BIKE with Jackie -- I met Jackie during the Blogathon last year, but continue to follow her blog because she inspires me to be a better person.

The Happiest Mom -- This blog's tagline says it all: Happy. Mother. You really can use both words in the same sentence.

Blog Salad -- Ron Doyle is hilarious. And smart. And sensitive. Plus, he gave me an award.

SingleParentSavings -- This is a new one for me (thanks, Blogathon 2010!), but I've quickly come to love it.

Project Happily Ever After -- A marriage blog might seem like a crazy choice for a divorcing woman, but Alisa's writing and advice is so straight-on and amusing that I inevitably spend way too much time on her blog.

Mothers for Women's Lib -- I'm passionate about parenting, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, and this blog has some of the most excellent, thought-provoking articles on the Web.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

“Moms are as relentless as the tides. They don’t just drive us to practice, they drive us to greatness.”

-- Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Homeschooling Boys

What a great session! When I agreed to present a session on Homeschooling Boys at the Wisconsin Parents Association's annual conference, I had no idea I'd be speaking to a room of almost 100 people. And yet there they were, bright-faced at 8:30 AM on a Saturday morning, ready to share their concerns, insights and comments.

Ostensibly, I was the expert, but I learned from the conference attendees as well. I learned that parents of boys are hungry for information about boys' mental, emotional and physical growth and development. I learned that they're passionate in their quests to support their sons' learning, and frequently frustrated with institutional educational settings that not-so-subtly imply that there must be something wrong with their sons. Many -- if not most -- homeschooling parents of boys have sent their sons to schools, but ended up bringing them back home because school wasn't working out. Either the school squashed their sons' natural love of learning or deemed their sons deficient. Too often, boys who have a hard time sitting down, reading or writing are labeled as troublemakers, slow learners or hyperactive children. Rarely does the school take responsibility for creating an environment that fails to respect the basics of boy behavior and biology.

I also learned that parents of boys grapple with many of the same questions. Over and over again, I heard the same three concerns:
  1. Boys' predilection to violence and guns. Seeing little boys shoot each other as they play War is unsettling, especially to parents who came of age post-Columbine. Our society is understandably jittery about violence and gun play, and for good reason. But boys have been fascinated with violence forever, and guns, ever since they were invented. Fortunately, a lot of good research suggests that violent play (including gun play) may actually be healthy for boys.
  2. Boys' difficulty with writing. Most boys are reluctant writers. Part of that reluctance is biologic: Boys' fine motor skills develop at a slower pace than girls', so holding a pencil and forming letters on a page truly can feel like torture to a young boy. The parents I talked to, though, had some innovative ideas for encouraging boys to write. Ever thought of picking up postcards as souvenirs everywhere you go, and asking your boys to jot down their favorite memories of the day? Postcards are much less intimidating than big sheets of paper!
  3. Boy's apparent lack of interest in reading. Boys in general are not avid readers. But right there, in the middle of my session, sat a young boy reading, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. If your son is reluctant to read, read to him. Check out non-fiction books on topics of his interest. And try comics. After my session, I attending one about learning through comics. In years past, comics were ridiculed as fluff, but for some kids, comics can inspire a whole tidal wave of learning. One homeschooled student even learned Japanese as a result of her love of manga.

Do you agree with my list? What are your top concerns about your sons?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Guest Post: Nathan Musack on Spontaneous Learning

Nathan Musack is maintenance technician, writer, musician and follower of Blogging 'Bout Boys. He's also the father of four children: Twin boys (11), a daughter (8), and another little boy (2). When he mentioned the hole-turned-archeological-dig in his backyard, I just had to hear more.

In mid March, my twin sons and some of their friends started digging a hole in our garden. Personally, I would have forbidden this activity. However, my wife allowed it because it kept them out of the house during their spring break. Our home is That House: the house where all the kids gather. It is not unusual for us to have 7 to 10 kids in our yard. You can understand mom's need to keep them outside.

This hole started out as a fox hole for a war game the kids were playing. My wife and I are continually amazed at the creative, imaginative play our children engage in. This kind of activity is not unusual in our household. We encourage and support (and often clean up after), their creativity.

Our garden is in a corner of the yard that must have been a trash heap or burning area at one time. As the kids were digging and the hole got deeper and bigger, they started to find pieces of glass, porcelain, crockery, etc. The fox hole had now become an archaeological dig and a wonderful spontaneous learning experience for all of us. We explained to the children that at the time the house was built, 1903, trash was often burned. There were no recycle bins for glass or anything else.

The kids discovered three intact items during their dig. One was a small, clear glass bottle. We explained that it once likely held an extract or something of that nature. The second item was a clear glass jar. It is difficult to say exactly what this was for, but it is likely that it was a canning jar. The jewel of their discoveries is a brown glass bottle about the size of a 20 oz water bottle. This bottle had the word, “Kepler”, around the neck and Wellcome on the bottom. The neat thing about this bottle is we were able to research it online. It turns out this bottle once contained a formula of cod liver oil and malt extract.

Of course I got the pleasure of filling the hole in and reclaiming our garden. Planting time is coming.

Have your boys been involved in any spontaneous learning adventures lately? Tell me about them!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

You Know You Have Boys When... tuck your four-year-old into bed with a gun. (Yes, Boy #4 is currently cuddled up to a toy gun.)

...the same four-year-old lovingly bundles his toy skidloader after giving it a bath. read Dodge Vipers for a bedtime story.'re actually enthused when your mother announces she's coming over to drop off part of a dead snake.

Care to add to my list?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blogging 'Bout Kids and Family

Over 100 writers are taking part in this year's WordCount Blogathon. I'll post the full list soon, but today, I'm highlighting the parenting blogs.

Karen BannanNatural as Possible Mom, Because natural isn’t always possible — or easy

Danielle BuffardiHorrible Sanity, Going into the mind of a mother and freelancer

Heather FaesyBlame it on the Full Moon, My kids, writing and reading

Nancy Mann JacksonGrowing Food and Kids, Gardening, harvesting, cooking and preserving with kids in tow

Sarah E. LudwigParenting by Trial and Error, The learning curve in raising kids

Kim McNeillKim’s Play Place, An active parent trying to make sure my kids are educated

Charles NewberyPine Tree Paradise, The life of a work-at-home writer and father of three

Andrea ParkerAutism Fundraising Guide, For parents of children with autism

Kate ReillyPolka Dot Suitcase, Family fun through creative living

Melissa SaisDigital Mom, Raising kids in a digital world

Lisa SamalonisSingle Parent Savings

Michelle SmithLaw Office of Michelle R. Smith, Because it’s your life, your family and your choice

Jan UdlockImperfect Mom

Rachel VidoniEast Coast Musings, A humorous look at kids, family and life

Take a look around. Enjoy! And if you get a chance, come back here and let me know which are your favorites.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Re-booting, or How to Save a Day Gone Bad

I needed a do over.

This morning I was in a funk, to say the least. My hard drive crashed yesterday and the crash was the straw that broke this mama's back. I was done, overwhelmed, exhausted and seriously contemplating finding a corner to sit and cry.

But mamas can't do that, I thought -- the thought adding insult to injury. I can't just sit and cry because I have boys and house and work. So I carried on. Threw in a load of laundry, dressed children, oversaw math, listened to reading and set up phonics. Inside, though, I was a mess. Inside, I was this close to falling apart. Stuff was getting done, but it wasn't pretty. I was crabby and anxious and irritable, and so were my boys.

That's when I decided it was time to re-boot. I shut myself in the bathroom and settled in to write. I drew a hot bath, luxuriated in the steamy water and finished reading my novel. When I emerged, life was better.

One by one, the boys trickled back inside, asking for lunch. Boy #4 wanted sausage. #3 asked for popcorn, so he popped popcorn while I sliced sausage, cheese and apples. #4 loaded up the plate; #3 popped more corn. I seasoned the popcorn and we carried our impromptu lunch to the living room, where Boy #1 was watching, "America: The Story of Us." The rest of us settled in to join him. Soon, we were nibbling finger food and discussing the Donner Party. (Note: We were nibbling finger food, not fingers!)

Just like that, our day was back on track.

When our computers glitch, we re-boot without a second thought. But when our day glitches, far too many of us force ourselves to power through. We ignore the warning signals -- the sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs, the overpowering desire to just take a nap -- and keep going. Meanwhile, the day goes from bad to worse.

The next time that happens, I challenge you to re-boot. Stop where you are. Make sure your boys are in a safe place and do something just for you. Sing. Paint your nails. Call a friend. Cry. Stare at the wall. Do nothing. Do whatever it is you need to do to get back to an even keel. Then start over, fresh.

What's your favorite way to rescue a day gone bad?

Monday, May 3, 2010

All Boys?

Moms of all boys face a special challenge beyond the fart jokes, the fashion issues and the flatulence. Every day, when we go out into the world with our sons, we face the preconception that a family is just not a family until it contains a mix of boys and girls.

Fellow "boy-moms," how many times have you heard, "Wow, all boys? Are you going to keep trying for a girl?" The variations are many. I've heard everything from, "I bet you wish you had a girl," to "What's wrong with your husband's genetics?" (That one from a complete and total stranger in the produce section of the grocery store.)

Moms of all boys are naturally offended by these remarks, which are so often made in the presence of our sons. Here we stand, surrrounded by beautiful, intelligent, creative children, and some idiot essentially implies-- in front of our beautiful, intelligent, creative children! -- that they somehow aren't enough. It's enough to make our mommy hackles stand on end.

Years ago, society valued sons. In the agricultural age, boy children were preferred for their muscles, strength and work capactiy. Prior to that, boys were valued because sons traditionally cared for their parents when their parents became old and infirm. Having one son was like having a long-term care policy and pension rolled into one. Having two sons was even better. Having three or more was a blessing.

Yet today, I can't go anywhere without someone commenting on my four sons -- and the comments are pitying far more often than complementary. No one congratulates me on my bounty; they bemoan my lack of a daughter.

Boys are no longer the preferred sex. Their messy energy, boundless enthusiam and penchant for weapons is seen as less desirable in today's sit-down-and-learn society. People see my four boys and somehow assume that I got the short end of the stick, sub-par children. They assume that I must be pining for a daughter, because, after all, who wouldn't?

Well, guess what world? I'm not pining for a daughter. I'm very happy with my four sons, thank you very much. While I used to stammer when people commented on my all-boy family, I now proudly tell them that I specialize. I do -- and many of you do too.

Boy-moms, what's the most insenstive remark someone's made to you about your all-boy family? How do you typically respond to these rude comments? Do they bother you or your boys?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Do Clothes Make the Mom?

Fashion is not a big deal in our house.

As the only female in a house full of boys, I've come to accept -- and even appreciate -- the overwhelmingly blue stacks of laundry. I wander past the girls' clothing sections in the mall and am thrilled that I don't need to fight the battle of appropriate vs. inappropriate clothes. My boys throw on jeans (or shorts) and T-shirts pretty much every day and I am 100% completely fine with that.

Most days, my dress is pretty casual as well. Blue jeans are standard. Why would I wear anything else in my crazy, boy-centered life? True, I tend to dress them up a bit when I'm going out on the town (belt, nice shoes), but you'll almost always find me in jeans. Except when I'm still wearing my jammies. There are some perks to the homeschool/freelance lifestyle!

But fellow freelancer and mother-of-many, Meagan Francis, made me re-think my stance. In her blog post, shopping, showers & self-sacrifice: the lesson of the blue dress, Meagan emphasizes the importance of self-care. Even moms deserve to feel great! And we rarely feel great in frumpy, ill-fitting clothes. Yes, our children are our first priority. And yes, if money is an issue, we'll wear our shoes another season (or three) instead of denying our child a pair of shoes. Putting our needs consistently last, though, tends to make for an unhappy mama, and that's not good for anyone.

I saw Meagan and her blue dress at the ASJA conference, and her post hit home precisely because I'd purchased a fabulous dress before heading to NYC. It was a designer dress in a figure-flattering shape and a pattern called, "Wonder Woman." If ever there was a dress for me, I decided, this was it. It's colors and shapes inspired me; the entire dress somehow seemed empowering.

So like Meagan, I dropped more than I typically do on a dress. But unlike Meagan, I didn't wear my dress in New York. I have yet to wear it out of my bedroom.


I could tell you it's because I haven't found shoes and jewelry to match yet. And that's true. After reading Meagan's post, though, I realize there's more to the story. After spending so much on a dress, I felt guilty about even considering shoes. After fading into the woodwork most of my life, I was afraid to wear such a bold dress to such a public event. I'd somehow gathered the courage to buy the dress -- but not enough to wear it.

That's going to change. I'm going to find some shoes. I'm going to buy some jewelry. And I'm going to wear that dress. Even moms of boys deserve to feel pretty.