Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dinner Conversations

I cannot remember how many articles I have read based on a variety of studies that all came to the same conclusion, not always the case as you may have noticed with studies, and that conclusion was that families that eat dinner together and have dinner conversations tend to have children who are healthier weight, better in school, less likely to succumb to negative peer pressure and more likely to achieve and not get involved in drug abuse.

My own childhood consisted of many dinners together, even if it was not always with both parents and there were nights were my mom worked late so dinner was bit later or on my own but then I kept her company on those nights.  It involved the age old "what did you do in school today"..."nothing" but then somehow it went either really well and at other times depending on my dad's mood really poorly.  The times that it was good it went from nothing, to a little something, to non-stop talking.  The times it was not good it went from nothing, to food stuck in my throat, tears held back and parental fight about how my father should leave me alone at dinner time.

Yet it was there - I am pretty sure most of us did not have the novel like conversations about the influence of Socrates on theology but in my house we did talk some politics, some history, some music, some pop culture and some current events along with jokes and without knowing it the art of dinner conversation.  Most parents, where I grew up, were busy people working hard to make a start in the States (being and living in a neighborhood of immigrants) and did not have time for discussions on Dickens but did want to eat and talk with their kids.  In a busy day it was a time to slow down and be together before kids ran outside or to another tv or to their room to listen to music or read.  I know the myth these days is that our kids are on their devices but to some degree we had our own even though they were not the same as theirs.

I am not saying this meant we did not do things that we should not have, or that we all got great grades but I look back at most of my friends from then, my friends from high school and we all did really well (there were some exceptions but hey I grew up in a city with a LOT of people so not surprising).  We did become achievers and we did do better than our parents and we bounced back from our mistakes.

Was it because we had dinner with our parents ?  Were the kids who fell through the cracks the ones who did not (my personal study says that was more the case than not) have this family time?  It was not always pleasant and often it was stressful for many of us with parents who were much less likely to use the time to encourage growth but instead believed in fear goals .. you know the ones ... "if you know what's good for you, then you will fill in the blank".  We did not always have parents who could relate to our experiences which were so different than their own but they did want us to know they were paying attention.

In my experience with people I know most of us are home at dinner time,  some of us cook, some of us get take out and some do a little of that prepared meal that is just easier on any given night.  I try and have dinner with my kids every night,  the TV was on in the background often when I was growing up and that actually added some discussion, it is often on in the background in my house and I find that my boys do go from "I did not do anything special today" to talking non-stop if I allow for them to tell me about things that interest them, I know things about Halo that I would have not ever imagined.  These are memories made but more than that it is actually the foundation that we are building between us of a safe place for them to come and test new ideas on, to try their limits and even to get guidance.  It will not stop them from bad choices because those are lessons in life that we all must learn to get over but am hoping the studies are right and it will make it easier for them to make better choices more often than not.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Inclusion Class

When we first got the placement letter for my 4th grade son this year I noticed it had 2 teachers' names on it.  I live in a town where this could mean a number of things.  The first which I know was not the case could be that he was in a dual language class.  I know that was not it because he is in 4th and that starts earlier and after much debate and research, I admit my parenting geekness but it is all with good intent, I had already decided that it was not a program I wanted my kids in but is a good option to have.   I still think we should teach kids another language other than English much earlier than we do in the States, maybe starting in 1st grade, as a subject, conversational first and add grammar later.  Two teachers could also mean collaborative class - which is basically 2 classes combined with two teachers.  Neither son would do well with this - the oldest is much too social and the youngest does not have tolerance for that much chaos.   I did what every overbearing mom does in the internet age - I emailed the school and of course checked the town Mom FB page for info.  He was in an inclusion class.

I who proudly and diligently have gotten services to help my older son with his fine motor issues, I who could care less really what people think about this except if they are going to be mean to him in which case forget that we are in Westchester 'cause Queens girl will give you a beat down.   I who really pride myself in being self-aware and who befriends people based on their actions not their appearance or beliefs.  Me -- all that -- well I actually took a deep breath and did not know if I was happy about it.

Why the PC police will ask.  Why some of my friends will ask.  Why am I acting this way I actually asked myself.  It is because if it is different and unknown or veers off the path and if you do not admit that you have your own questions how will you ever get comfortable with it?  I did not know what this meant for my son, who has worked on patience in the classroom because he used to ask out loud how many times a teacher had to explain something if he had gotten a concept already, my son who up to 4th grade had learned fairly quickly and then drifts if you do not challenge him and who is working on being ok with just waiting it out because that's life.  

Maybe it is that anything that is an impact on what your expectation is for our children, that veers from the path you think they are on, that is not the way you anticipated it gives pause to parents.  We want to protect them, to make sure they are the best at whatever they choose to be, that the world which is ever so harsh to them is kept as soft as possible for as long as possible.  We know that what gives us pause can translate to mean behavior in children and adults.

So here I was and in just a few hours of receiving the letter and getting my information, official from school it is an inclusion class, unofficial from other moms "she is a good teacher, my son was in an inclusion class for many years and it was great it was like having 2 teachers for 23 kids" and after reflecting on my own thoughts I was comfortable.  I was comfortable and actually thought how good an opportunity this was.  

My son would benefit because he needs to learn to be able to work at the pace of a group, slower or faster than him, and if he needs help then he needs to learn to ask for it.  It would teach him that people who have educational needs are his peers not "special needs" label on top of a body.  It would mean that kids who would have felt ostracized or not have had help now were part of a community as they should be.  

Inclusion is not only about the kids who have extra help but it is a great lesson for our kids on how to be kind to others who are not like them - to accept people for who they are and their actions not by a label that is attached to them.   My son is doing well, he did not the first 2 weeks.  Not for any of the reasons I thought but because his non-inclusion teacher was a bit standoffish.  I am not one that needs hugs in the classroom but I saw what he meant at back to school night.  - she seemed to just be not engaged.  The special needs teacher on the other hand was totally upbeat,  maybe that's why they are a combo.  That has since changed, maybe she needed time to get to know the class much like they needed time to get to know one another. 

Does my son realize that he is in an inclusion class ?  Yes he does but he could care less and in fact invited one of the kids (there are 3) who he has befriended to his birthday party.  It has given us a good opportunity to talk about how to be with people who are not like us and in a town as diverse as mine it seems that the only thing that doesn't fly is being mean to someone based on who they are.  It still happens because drama and school are just a part of growing up but much less for the reasons I see in other places.  

As a parent I guess the biggest thing I learned was that we are all imperfect in some way and isn't that what makes the world so much more interesting?  Kids and adults are not one thing; not their race, not their sexual orientation, not their religion or lack of it, not their limitations, not their successes - they are the sum of all of these things.  The only thing we should not be inclusive of is mistreatment of others in the name of these things.   Now I think - "What a wonderful gift this has been for my son -  to be in an inclusion class!!!"

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

No this is not gluten free gmo free paleo organic - but it is free

How important is it to you that something you eat is vetted by the current fad police?  Do you have kale chips that were farmed by fair trade, locally sourced, organic certified made at home ?  Maybe you are more like me you try your best to buy and cook better for the family but do not think that eating the odd McDonald's is the path to one of Dante's circles of hell.   The fact that I had to choose from a plethora of images on this subject actually made me chuckle.

I have tried for years to be more environmentally conscious - I used to say no thanks to bags in the 90s, my friends rolled their eyes.  I tried to use Chinese newspapers for wrapping paper one year - oh that went over well with my Eastern European family - NOT.  I have embraced recycling from the first appearance of the blue bin.  

I had my first son tested at the very young age of 2 1/2 for spectrum disorders - he is a non-specified spectrum disorder child which means his fine motor skills are weak but he is social so they are not sure where to put him except that it got him services that helped him pretty much get his fine motor skills to average.  It was about this time when he was stymying (flapping his little hands and walking on his toes) when I decided to do a lot of investigations.  I had a typical reaction of course - what had done this to my beautiful boy.  I read everything from scientific studies to Jenny McCarthy.  I vaccinated and realized that it wasn't even remotely possible that is what caused him to be part of these spectrum disorder children.  I learned to also understand that he and his friends are different but not less and instead of placing blame and acting as if getting and spreading a deadly disease was somehow better than accepting who he was was not how I was going to parent.  Yes I got him services, yes I still work with him but more because I want the world to be less difficult for him.

It was about this time though that I was pretty dismayed at some of the factory farming practices I did find out about.  It makes sense that if you eat locally sourced foods they will be fresher, more in season and picked ripe rather than chemically require some intervention at each step of the process.   I went back to my roots, my European/NYC borough roots - bought more at farmer's markets and if a local farmer told me he was organic but couldn't afford the certification it is good enough for me.  

I am still on the fence about GMOs -- mostly because the nay sayers really make fairly non-scientific claims which leads me to think many are just joining the fad.  I am in the process of trying to understand this better. 

Gluten - unless you have celiac or irritable bowel syndrome your eating of this substance is a choice not a dietary need.  Nut - allergies are a real thing so those we should be sensitive too. 

I prefer to give my kids antibiotics only if they need them rather than through their food ingestion of animals that were dosed with it.  

All of this to some degree makes me feel like what we are not doing is addressing a fundamental issue - these are all very upper middle class or higher socioeconomic choices.  These product choices  that no one would deny are less chemically laden, have no growth hormones which is proven to get passed through  (does obesity increases come to mind for anyone else) and are overall a better food choice are made partially financially.  You cannot afford to eat this way if you are making minimum wage, if you are not in the higher income brackets, because this is all much more expensive.  So you are not a bad parent, caretaker, partner because you choose the Hungry Man dinner - you did the best you could with the money you may have -- or maybe for one day you needed to go off course but you could afford to go back to organic, or a cleanse  - eye roll, right away.  This is what bothers me the most.  Also let's face it food should also taste good and no I do not want to live forever munching on what a friend of mine calls, nose wrinkled, grains that taste like Cardboardios.  Basically a vegan, sugar-free, fat-free lifestyle is not quite life - will take some fresh baked bread with a slab of butter anytime over that.  

Yet in spite of my beliefs on these subjects what I cannot stand more than anything is the uber liberal obnoxiousness about it all.  It is based on a judgement system that "they" are so much more informed than you can be and that if you do not adhere to this well you really should not be trusted to make any decisions for you and your family.  Oh please - get over yourself - you are as preachy and easy to dismiss as the far right arguments on why climate change cannot possibly be a real thing.  Both often have nothing to do with science or fact but with a belief that their way is that of the chosen people.  

I want my politicians bullshit free, organically evolving, intelligent and to be grown ups - our children demand it.  I would like food to be a source of nutrition and comfort not worry and it should be affordable for all of our children.  Parents are responsible for raising their children let's give them the best choices to help on that path.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

There are no words

I am not sure how to tell my kids anymore how to deal with school shootings - I just don't.  They have seen it happen in their under 12 year old lives multiple times, in multiple places and with one common theme - they are scary, sad and not going away in the current climate.

The debate on this does not focus on the victims, the parents of the victims or potential victims or how to realistically address this.  The easy fix appears to be usually to make gun laws that are on the books federal and enforce them, to reduce the number of weapons one individual can own, remove assault rifles for all civilian buyers.  Maybe you add in registration, courses, insurance kind of like you have with cars.  There is no real justification in my mind for the number of guns in the US, one for every resident of this country -- over 300 million.  There is also no real argument in the 2nd amendment which has not been upheld multiple times by the Supreme Court and then was upheld in recent times.  You want guns I am ok with muskets - to keep in line with the time the amendment was signed into law.  

That alone will not fix it - that will help a lot - but it will not fix it.  We have a mental health system that needs to be more available too, though I think this is a worldwide problem and no where is mental health really being addressed as much as it should be.  

We have a problem where the same people who fight tooth and nail against government telling them what to do with their firearms have no problem trying to use that same government to regulate women's choices for their bodies.  

Along the way it seems like the media wants us to believe we have lost our empathy - that the people who like to categorize us in to us v them are winning.  That we do not care about one another, or our children but instead are a bunch of judgmental fundamentalists who want nothing but to say no to anything that threatens to question the belief system they have. 

Somehow we are lost in these arguments and partially that is why we are still seeing these school shootings - because at the base of this whole problem is actually the real issue.  Term limits and campaign reform.  When our politicians are beholden to millions of dollars from any one entity because they need that much money to keep getting re-elected to the same office they no longer want to work to what is right for the people except for those people writing the checks.  So those writing the checks have two main interests the first being that they get their money's worth for their own personal gain.   The second is that they ensure that their belief system is the one that gets pushed through.   In order to do this they have to ensure we are distracted and divided.  

After all if we stopped to think about it no matter your color, your background, your socio-economic status, your relationship and who it is with status would not matter if we asked do you want our country to do better, do you want opportunities, do you want our children to learn of school shootings as a thing of the past that we solved, do we want great healthcare and a system that sustains innovation not imitates other systems with their own issues - do we want our children to be the next Greatest generation?  Well yes we do - we also as a majority worry more about these things and how we are going to balance the need for our government to do this without asking our government to be the biggest crutch we have.  We want them to be our physical therapy not our permanent cast.  

So I have no words to tell my sons that this will get fixed because we need to demand that we all have the thing we have so cherish - a democracy and for that we need campaign finance reform and term limits.  We have our votes and we have our ability to speak through them -- until we do the tragedies will be our future.