because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

When Your Kid Is Smarter Than You Are

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Photo 43

Many summers ago, our family went to a local art festival, and while I visited another booth, my son found a turquoise and green glass pendant and, though he only had eight dollars in his pocket, he convinced the vendor to sell it to him.

We coined the piece of jewelry my “compliment necklace” because every time I wore it, I received kind words from strangers who gushed over the glass that glowed in the sun.

I loved my necklace like nobody’s business, and I wore it every day.

Recently, while we were vacationing in Florida, the glass pendant slipped off its silver chain and smashed on the bathroom tile.

Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 9.47.15 PM

“NoooOooooo!” I wailed, falling to my knees. “NoOoo! No! NoooOooo!”

Carrying the jagged shards in my open palm, I showed the pieces to my son who happened to be sitting in his brand new rocking chair, reading a book, and eating a slice of pie.

Standing, my boy put one hand on my shoulder. He’s taller than I am now, so he looked down at me a little. Stepping aside, he pointed to his new rocker, not 24-hours old.

“Come. Sit down. Have a little pie. You’ll feel better.” He offered me his plate.

I shook my head. Because I didn’t want any pie.

I wanted my glass pendant back.

“You bought it for me when you were 7,” I complained. “Every time I wore it, I thought of you.”

My son settled back down in his rocking chair. “If we didn’t lose people and things we love, we wouldn’t know how important they are to us.” My son shoveled some pie into his mouth and pointed to his chest. “Anyway, you don’t need a necklace to think of me. I’m right here.”

At home, TechSupport doesn’t let me tuck him into bed anymore. But, the night my pendant smashed, my son let me cuddle with him for a few minutes. As I stroked his spiky crew cut, I saw a silver thread in his hair.

I tried to pick it out, but it was attached.

Turns out, my 13-year-old has a gray hair.

My husband and I have said our son is an old soul. To us, he’s always possessed the understanding, empathy, and kindness of someone with more life experience.

As a youngster he always shared his toys. He was comfortable with rules, and sometimes, as I explained things to him, he eyed me suspiciously, as if to say: Of course we don’t write on walls, or touch hot pots on the stove, or stick fingers in electrical sockets. Of course, we don’t bite our friends. Or push them. Duh.

Over the years, I’ve complained when he’s been overlooked for awards. It kills me each Friday when his middle school publishes its list of “Great Kids of the Week,” and his name never makes the list. Meanwhile, he doesn’t care. He tells me he doesn’t need his name announced over the loudspeaker or his picture posted in the hallway. He knows about his good deeds, and that’s enough. A stellar student, he doesn’t like me to mention his grades. When he was bullied in elementary school, he refused to retaliate. Even when his father and I gave him permission to kick the bastard who was bugging him in his cahones, our son told us he believed in nonviolence. Like Gandhi. How did he even know about Gandhi in 5th grade? Though middle school can be an unhappy time as teens jockey for popularity, Tech has maintained a core group of smart, kind people who are loyal to each other.

Our son has never been interested in material things.

He has simple requests.

A bed.

A book.

A rocking chair.

A slice of pie.

That one single silver strand of hair on his head confirmed it for me: proof positive that my kid is an old soul — unusually understanding, wise and empathetic beyond his years.

Don’t get me wrong: he’s a teenager, too. He eats constantly, hates putting away his laundry, and making his bed. He laughs at dumb YouTube videos and would play Minecraft all day, if we let him.

But he knows how to talk me down when ants are crawling across the kitchen floor. Or tonight, while I held my stomach as I listened to the news, crammed with voices, the President talking about justice and violence and terror — again.

This is the world I brought you into, my son. A world where things are always breaking. And nothing is solid.

But he has the right words. Reminds me that most people are good people. That G-d hears prayers and love transcends zip codes and time zones.

“Kinda makes you realize your necklace wasn’t such a big deal,” he said.

What will I ever do without him?

Have you ever lost a sentimental something? Do you put on a strong front for your children? Or do you let them see you cry?

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Can You Leave Your Kids Alone?

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Muppet Feet by irreverentwidow @ flickr.com

My mother left me alone in our house when I was in 4th grade. She would sometimes make a quick run to the grocery store and I would watch (torture?) my younger brother for about an hour before she came back home with the goods. By 6th grade, I was making pretty good money as a regular babysitter to several neighborhood families. (When I say “good money,” I mean I was making $1/hour to watch up to 3 children – and sometimes even a dog with a bladder problem.) I would typically arrive at 6 pm, make the kids dinner, entertain them, feed the dog, help them get into pajamas and brush their teeth, get everyone into bed and have them sound asleep by the time the parents came home around 11 pm or so! Pretty responsible for an 11-12 year old, right?

Last year, my husband and I started leaving our (then) 9-year old son alone in the house for little chunks of time. We didn’t leave him for very long. Maybe hubby and I wanted to take a walk around the block after dinner or stop and chat with some neighbors. That kind of thing.

Since things went so well, we gave our li’l monkey greater independence this year. Sometimes he comes home from school, and I’m not home. He knows how to get in, how to make his own snack, knows to get his homework done. He might (or might not) practice his piano. He knows not to let strangers in the house. He knows what to say if someone calls on the phone. I’ve been feeling mighty good about m’boy who has morphed into a pretty confident and competent little person.

That said, I’ve been catching a little grief from people who seem to think that age 10 is simply too young to leave a person “unattended” for any length of time.

Most people have heard of Lenore Skenazy. The author of Free Range Kids, she’s the chick who let her 9-year old son Izzy ride the train from Bloomingdales in the middle of Manhattan to their home in Queens without a cell phone (and she wasn’t even secretly following him or anything. She simply believed he could do it.) Was Izzy too young to take the Subway? Hell, he did it!

I’m not even putting my kid on a train or a bus! He’s happy to have a bit of time alone in the house. And I’m seriously wondering, what could happen to my kid in our home? Why is everyone so worried about him? About me? About my parenting skills? After all, my mother trusted me to stay at home and watch my 6-year old brother when I was 9 years old. Think about the first time you stayed home alone? How old were you? Chances are, if you are over 40, you were about the same age.

So I’m curious: When is it okay for a child to stay home alone for the first time? And would you hire a 6th grade babysitter these days?

"Just-a-Minute" Syndrome: Have We Caused It?

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This entry is courtesy of my dear friend, former high school teacher turned full-time parent, Betsy Whitehouse. If you’d like to pipe in about a topic pertaining to parenting or education (or a place where these world’s collide), please feel free to let me know! I’m glad to shut up from time to time!


photo from joleenieweenie @ flickr.com

I never said boo to my parents. When they told me to do something, I may have slumped my shoulders, but it never occurred to me to reply. I do not mean I wanted to object but showed restraint and held my tongue instead; I mean, the thought of disobeying a parental command never floated across my synapses. How has this tradition not been repeated?

When I ask my son, age 11, to put down his book and come to dinner, I first get silence.

I say, “Please come to the table,” and then I get, “Just a sec, Mom.”

Me: “Fritz!”

Ungrateful child: “I’m coming!” Then silence, followed by no movement from the couch.

Some people will no doubt snicker as they read these words because the child I’m complaining about is reading and not playing video games or texting friends or screwing around on Facebook, but my frustration level is the same, and my dinner is congealing. My mother would whistle up the stairs at me like a dog, and I’d come running.

Why are kids different this generation?

Because it takes work to give kids consequences. We often think that the grounding or the taking away of the hand-held video-game or the cell phone is uncomfortable enough to be a deterrent for the child, but really, it’s uncomfortable for us. We want to teach our kids the right way to live, but how far out of our way are we willing to go?  Not far enough. We are slow to react to bad behavior because it’s disappointing for dad to come home to a child who’s unavailable, banished to her room; because – without a cellphone – it’s inconvenient for us to be unable to call the kid to tell him you’ll be late at pick-up; and, let’s be honest, it can be distracting to have one’s pre-teen PSP-less and yammering while you’re trying to clean, cook, manage. Setting consistent limits for our kids means parents have to suffer the consequences, too. We have to be willing to live with, and be strong with, whatever punishment we mete out.

I never really wanted to turn into my mom; maybe I could just have that one, confident, in-charge, diligent piece of her.