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.