Category Archives: children

Halloween: now *that’s* scary

Halloween paranoia reaches a new low (high?) in Dear Abby today:

DEAR ABBY: I have always enjoyed Halloween. I like seeing the children in their costumes and, for most of the little ones, it is a fun and magical time.

In our neighborhood, a group of 15 to 20 parents escort their trick-or-treating children from door to door. Sometimes there are 25 to 30 kids. When they approach a house for their treats, the parents remain on the sidewalk, apparently oblivious to what’s going on when the door opens.

We have a small front porch that rises about 8 inches above the sidewalk. The kids push and shove, jockeying for position to get their “loot.” Last year, a 5-year-old fell off our porch. Fortunately, she was not hurt. The parents did not issue any directions to their children to take turns accepting our candy because they were too busy chatting among themselves.

Because of the inherent danger to unsupervised children (and the possibility of a lawsuit if there should be an accident), I will not be turning on my porch light this year — the signal in our area that alerts kids that the home is participating in trick-or-treat.

I hope my letter will remind parents to practice mindfulness and make this Sunday a Happy Halloween! — LIGHTS OUT IN HARRISBURG

Ah, yes, the three P’s of Halloween paranoia: poison, pedophiles, and….porches?

Good Lord.  Now, kids whose parents don’t hold them by the hand and walk them to the door are “unsupervised” and in “danger”?  Their parents not “be[ing] mindful” because they’re standing 10 feet away on the sidewalk, chatting? And a five-year-old fell 8 inches?  Cripes.

Even more disturbing is Abby’s response:

DEAR LIGHTS OUT: So do I, and that’s why I’m printing your letter, which arrived just in time for me to include it in today’s column. Last year your neighbors were lucky the child who fell didn’t break a wrist or an ankle. Parents, when escorting your little ghosts, goblins and vampires, please remain vigilant. Common sense must prevail.

Right. Common sense.  Like, kids can probably walk a few yards on their own two feet–and that hardly counts as unsupervised.  If anything, these kids are probably too supervised: if they were on their own, they’d be wandering in groups of 3 and 5, not escorted in a mob of 50 as the entire neighborhood approaches each house at one time.

And, of course, if the homeowner feels that she or a little hannah montana is in danger of being trampled by a herd of mini justin biebers, she can just shout out, “Hey kids, one at a time!  no candy until you line up to the right, please!”

Lights Out might try a little common sense herself, rather than bitterly shutting off the lights on the entire holiday.

For some refreshing attitudes on Halloween, and, um, life, please check out Free Range Kids.

Grandma gets into the game

When Carolyn Hax is on vacation, her column consists of advice from readers on topics that have come up in the past.  Here’s one on being a grandma (mostly) by phone:

My way of keeping a close relationship with my five grandkids is to have a journal for each child. Every few months, we have our journal time, where I ask about classes, best friends, favorite movies and video games, frustrations, teachers, cartoons, etc. They also have to supply me with a writing sample each year and photos — all of which go into the journal. It has been a great way to get alone time on the phone and certainly when I visit. On my recent visit, the 13-year-old asked if I’d brought the journal with me because he had new info. Who knew?

Something else I do to stay involved: I have my daughters e-mail me the spelling test for the week. Each Thursday, I call to go over the newest words in preparation for their Friday quiz. One boy is struggling a bit with reading, so he calls me weekly to read from a book that we both have (thanks to public libraries). I read a chapter and then he reads the next. The 3-year-old gets a bedtime story twice a week — again with a book we both share so I can ask questions about the pictures. It’s no more energy than what I would expend if they lived here, it’s a thousand times better than e-mail/Facebook.

Continue reading

Talk about hands-off parenting…

I’m completely bewildered by the classic Ann Landers column run today (the original was published in 1999):

Dear Ann Landers: My son, “Danny,” was a perfectly adorable little 8-year-old. Unfortunately, when he started school, he did very poorly. Neither my husband nor I think Danny has a learning disability, but we were quite concerned when his teacher told us he only knew the letters A through H and showed no progress in learning to read.

This past year, we decided to send Danny to a boarding school out of state. When he returned for the summer, things were worse. Danny used to have a gentle temperament, but now, he is angry and belligerent. He abuses the family pets, which he never did before. He rushes to answer the phone and is rude to the caller. When I ask him how things are going in school, he says he hates it.

It sounds to me as if something might have happened to him at boarding school. I need to find out what is going on. What should I do? — Puzzled in Riverside, Calif.

This letter sounds like it was written by a grandparent, concerned aunt, or family friend….not the person responsible for raising this child!  This letter raises so many questions: he was a “perfectly adorable 8-year-old,” but everything went downhill when he started school? Shouldn’t he have been in school for three years already, at least?

They “were quite concerned” when they heard from his teacher that he only knows the alphabet through the letter H?  He’s not been tested for any kind of learning or behavior problems, but their first step was to send him, not just to a private school, but a boarding school, and not to one where they could visit on weekends, but out-of-state?  Rather than find out that their child has, say, dyslexia (just a random example), they’d rather send him off to live in another state–without that information to aid his teachers?

Yikes.  There’s just something seriously screwy here. There’s not really enough information here to say much more than that.  It’s entirely possible that “Danny” has  learning or behavioral challenges that have totally befuddled or exhausted his parents’ mental and emotional energies–but they don’t seem willing to admit or investigate that possibility.  I can’t help but wonder if he’s so far behind because simply they haven’t raised him–and now he can’t catch up, and is acting out.

It seems like one thing–and a perfectly natural and common thing–for an eight-year-old boy to struggle with the transition to school, and learning to read and write.  It seems like another all together for his parents to be surprised to hear about it from a third party.  In short: if they don’t know he doesn’t know his alphabet, that suggests they’ve never taught it to him or practiced it with him.  If they never taught it to him or practiced it with him, how is he supposed to know it?  I wonder how much of this unfortunate cycle comes down to the fact that he’s woefully behind his classmates because he’s woefully unprepared.

Certainly he should be tested–especially if he’s starting to abuse animals and act out in other frightening ways–but it would be a shame if he were diagnosed with a disability when the real trouble is, he’s trying to pick up, in school, at eight, what the other kids have been practicing since they were three.

Of course there is room for infinite shades of complexity, here.  For one thing, it’s possible there’s a combination of learning disability and parental confusion about what to do.  It ‘s also possible that he does fine at home, but–much to his parents’ surprise–can’t or doesn’t perform the same tasks in a school setting (though the mother didn’t give any indication that this is the case). It could be that English his not his parents’ first language, so they aren’t able to be as involved as they’d like in helping him with it at home.  I’m not a parent, teacher, or child-development expert, so I won’t even venture to make up the many other possibilities that I’m sure could also be in play here.

Any of these could be true.  But it was this mother’s strangely objective distance that shocked me.  It didn’t sound from the letter like she interacted or tried anything with her son at all–like she expected his academic and social development to just happen independently.  And she signs off as “puzzled”?  This is her child, not a sudoku.  For over a year, her son has become increasingly miserable and frustrated–and now destructive–as he is unable to get a handle on perhaps the most basic skill he’ll need for school (and life), and she’s “puzzled”?  Freaked me out.  Poor little guy.

Brilliant parenting.

Tucking this one away in the old memory bank for hypothetical future use…..

Dear Amy: It has been interesting to read how different people handle toddler meltdowns. My father’s method seemed to be effective. Whenever my brother or I would have a meltdown, we would go off on an extensive search for our “composure.” We would look everywhere — under the couch (“No, I don’t see your composure here), behind the door (“Still not here), until we finally calmed down.

I don’t remember ever officially finding my composure, and it took me until I was about 6 to realize that “composure” is not a concrete object! — Hannah

We’ve got this helipad….

Abby printed the following letter from an operating room nurse whose experience is that overemotional parents can make the prospect of surgery even more terrifying for a small child:

DEAR ABBY: I am writing this as a mother of four and an operating room nurse for 30 years. Once again, I had to pull a crying mother from her child so I could take the child into the operating room.

I understand that a child having surgery is upsetting and stressful. My own children have had to have surgical procedures done, so I know the feeling. But if I can help parents understand one thing, it would be that the child looks to the parent for support. If the mother is crying and clinging at the bedside, the message the child receives is: If Mom is that upset, something bad must be about to happen to me.

No one is implying that you do not love your child or you are not worried about him or her, but it does no one any good if you have to be peeled off your child. Please send your little one off with kisses and encouraging words, and the child will be a little less frightened. — WISCONSIN R.N.

Yikes! Abby is behind this woman all the way, but unfortunately, I think she’s flubbed the details a bit:

DEAR WISCONSIN R.N.: I’m printing your letter verbatim. As traumatic as sending a child into surgery can be for both parent and child, the words a child needs to hear are, “You’ll be going to sleep, and when you wake up, Mommy will be right here. I love you. Now give me a kiss.” For the child’s sake, venting for stress relief should be saved for the waiting room.

1) I think “you’ll be going to sleep” should be part of a much larger conversation–simplified, age-appropriate, and not meant to terrify, surely, but kids deserve to hear more than just “naptime!” before the go under the knife. I’ll give Abby the benefit of the doubt here and assume she’s talking just about the moment when the parent has to leave the kid, not the grand scheme.

2) I don’t know a lot about hospitals, and maybe the rules are different for kids, but don’t patients go to “recovery” to come out of general anaesthesia, before they’re allowed to see anyone? (Or rather, anyone is allowed to see them?) Don’t promise a kid you’ll be there when they wake up if you won’t!

Abby’s sentiment here is good (usually is!) but she’s often a bit off on the small stuff–frustrating!

A Little Help Please?

I’ve written before about parents and coaches and kids’ sports and how nasty it seems these events can get.  Abby has posted coaches’ pleas for parents to behave themselves, along with codes of conduct (and another).  Parents have written to the columnists wondering how their kids turned into such bad sports, etc.  But this week, I learned about a new low in children’s athletics spectating etiquette humanity, and it didn’t come from the columns, but from my family’s own experience.

My cousin, J., will be 10 in May–she’s hilarious, happy-go-lucky, and one of my most favorite people.  J. plays on a YMCA girls’ basketball team in Denver, CO, and her game last weekend was the scene of this debacle.

J. does her own thing, for sure.  For one thing, she’s the only member of our extended family with any interest in playing sports (and the motor skills to do so).  Literally since she was able to express a preference (about 2 years old), J’s opted for jeans, t-shirts, and short hair over dresses, skirts, and ponytails.  I remember when she was just learning to talk, if you told her she or something she was wearing was “cute,” she’d respond with “not cute, cool!”

So at the last game, J’s team won by a bundle (yay!) but during the course of the competition, both the opposing coach and parents of kids on that team made repeated snide remarks that the winners had cheated by having 2 boys on their team.  I’m sure you’re connecting the dots here–because J. and one of her teammates don’t look and dress like the other little girls on the team, many of the adults (oooh, would we call them adults?) at the game assumed they were boys–and beyond that, became insistent and insulting when corrected.

Things escalated quickly.  Nasty words were spoken.  Things got physical–no one was hurt, but someone’s cap was knocked off.  There was an arrest.  There was a suspension.  The whole thing was a shameful display of Adults–some thoughtless, some downright cruel–Behaving very Badly.  Grown ups insulting each other’s children in front of their own children?  Actively passing on their own prejudices and assumptions to their kids?  At a kid’s recreational event?  It just doesn’t get much lower or uglier than that, etiquette-wise, or, um, person-wise.

Despite being mortified and scared by the whole thing, I hear J. has bounced back well, and her mom is actively rallying friends in the area to come out to their game on February 6, when they’ll have to play this same team again.  So if you’re in the Denver area, would you think about stopping by (Feb. 6th @ 11:00 am. 1551 S. Monroe St., Denver) to cheer for J’s team and coach, and demonstrate to “the others,” and the kidoodles, what it means to be a respectful spectator and a good sport?  I wish I could be there.

Backrubs are good! Mean people suck!

Grandma on Guard

Dear Annie:

I had the same problem as “Not So Rich Mom,” whose grown, well-off children expect her to treat them to dinner all the time.

Here’s how I handle it: If someone says, “Let’s go out for dinner,” I say, “Are we splitting the bill, or are you treating everyone?” If I make the invitation, I offer to pay and will choose the restaurant, but I inform my kids that they will have a separate bar tab because I don’t drink and they love expensive bottles of wine. If they want to pick the restaurant, the deal is off. I also announce that I am not paying for a week’s worth of doggie bags, so they should order only what they plan to eat.

This discussion must happen before getting into the car. Too many older folks get suckered into picking up expensive tabs out of habit or because no one else offers to pull out their credit card. A clear conversation can solve the awkwardness and unpleasant feelings. — California Nana

Dear Nana: Laying all the cards out on the table in advance certainly makes life much simpler.

Sure does….but at this point, who wants to go out to eat with you? (and who are you going out to eat with, that this is necessary for every outing?) Yikes. It’s certainly no fun if every time you see your family and friends you wind up spending a fortune, but this “the deal is off!” approach sure doesn’t seem to make this nana very, um, approachable.

It’s not easy being green

Today, Amy confronts a common fear, one that many of us probably remember well (I know I do): the first day of middle school.

The impending doom of middle school was an ominous cloud over my summer of 1996. I’m almost positive I had similar nerves about kindergarten, but I don’t remember them–it’s the middle school transition that stands out to me. This letter reminds me of that feeling (well, and every other scary “first day” feeling since: high school, college, grad school, new jobs, even showing up to conferences, meetings, and social groups for the first time). I think Amy addresses it really well:

Dear Amy: I’m 11 and about to enter middle school. There’s a problem: I’m scared to death of middle school. I’ve talked to my family and my friends, but nothing they’ve said helps at all. I’m not afraid of bullying, but it’s everything else.

I’m worried about getting up early, doing all the homework and having alternating schedules. It’s all so scary. Even actual middle school students, who tell me how much fun it is, don’t help. Time is running out. Please help me, Amy. No one else can. — Eleven and Scared

[OK, ok, first things first: all together now, “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” You know you were thinking it too. And now that that’s out of the way….]

Dear Scared: I’ve started and restarted so many new things that I know this butterfly-in- the-gut feeling very well.

Starting at a new school (or new job) is almost always scary, but here’s what I do: I tell myself, “All I have to do is show up.” Then I tell myself, “I just have to make it until lunch.” Then I think, “The end of the first day isn’t too far off. I know I can make it.” What I’m saying is that this will be easier if you take it in stages. Once you figure out where your locker and the bathrooms are, you’ll be well on your way.

Middle school teachers know how kids feel during that first week of school. That’s why they make sure that every student knows where to go and what to do.

Find a buddy that first day. Going through the process with another student who also has questions and might also be a little nervous will help both of you.

A book you will find helpful is, “Too Old for This, Too Young for That!: Your Survival Guide for the Middle-School Years,” by Harriet S. Mosatche and Karen Unger (2005, Free Spirit Publishing).

My cousin is starting middle school in a week, and is getting nervous. I wish I had some good advice for her. I know she’ll do great, but I don’t know how much it helps to keep saying that–as this student suggests, nothing much parents, relatives, and older friends say helps, perhaps especially if you’re the oldest in your family. You’re sure they don’t really understand or remember, and their constant reassurances can feel like they don’t take your fears very seriously. (FWIW, though, they probably do…as both Amy and I mentioned, this feeling comes back before nearly every major transition, so it’s never really very far away. Feel better? 😉 )

Even “helpful insights” from those just a year or two ahead of you can make things worse. When I was about to enter middle school, all the volunteer helper middle schoolers told us things like, “don’t worry, your locker hardly ever gets jammed like everyone says it will.” My reaction was along the lines of, “WHAT? THE LOCKERS JAM?” Your own fears are bad enough without having to pick up new ones from the folks who are trying to help!

The scary truth is that, as you’ve noticed all along, no one else’s kind thoughts, warm words, or described experiences can ease your fretting. You just have to see and do it for yourself. This nauseating fear is really a fear of the unfamiliar, a new routine in a new place, and the only way to face it is to get familiar.

Recognize that the first day might be hard, but no day afterward will be that stressful. Ditto the first week, and the first semester. Know that it’s OK for there to be a learning curve, and that almost everyone feels just the way you go, and go along for the ride.

Can You hear me Now? Good. I Doooooo!

One of Carolyn’s peanuts wants to know about the chances she has at making a long distance marriage work. While relationships have survived and even occasionally thrived in this unusual circumstance (usually by necessity, more rarely by choice), I’m afraid that everything this woman hopes to build in her new marriage despite the distance, will actually be prevented specifically by it:

Dear Carolyn:

What are your thoughts on a long-distance marriage? I’ve been dating a man for five years total — with a 20-year break between years 3 and 4. During those 20 years, we moved to different states, each got married, had two kids and then divorced. There are joint-custody situations and young children on both sides that make it nearly impossible to live less than a five-hour drive apart. We see each other at least every other week and we have a wonderful relationship (easy when you see each other every other week, I suppose). I really do see him as my life partner.

We could continue this long-distance dating thing for the next 12 years (when the youngest turns 18), but I’d really like to be married. Difficult to quantify, but goes something along the lines of: We’d be a family. Our family would always come first and invitations would be easier as would the holidays — no questions that our “family” should be together — even if it means not seeing one set of relatives one holiday.

But having been through a divorce and not wanting to relive that experience in this lifetime, it seems the deck is stacked against long-term success.


Several things strike me about her letter that suggest…well, not that she’s oblivious to the challenges this kind of relationship will pose, but that she wants license to ignore them.

-I don’t think that “I’ve been dating a man for five years total — with a 20-year break between years 3 and 4” is really a realistic description of a relationship (though it makes for a clever surprise reveal in her letter!). It sounds like she’s trying to use those three years long ago, which I would consider a different relationship altogether, between practically different people, as the “first” three years of this one.

“we have a wonderful relationship (easy when you see each other every other week, I suppose)” so she knows that they haven’t had to deal with the day-to-day realities that most couples would have to deal with in a 2 year relationship, but doesn’t seems concerned about how that will impact them in the long term when and if they move to the same place. Nor does she talk about the difficulties of maintaining communication and intimacy in a long distance relationship. Reality is going to hit in some way, at some point. That doesn’t need to be a bad thing (reality is good!), but she has to recognize it coming.

“I’d really like to be married…We’d be a family. Our family would always come first and invitations would be easier as would the holidays — no questions that our “family” should be together”
I’m not really sure what she means by “invitations,” or why that’s so important, but it seems to me like the “family always comes first” and “family should be together”–the most powerful reasons she wants to marry this guy–are totally cancelled out by being 5 hours apart.

An excerpt from Carolyn’s response says:
What you’re regarding as family, as you know, isn’t a legal unit, but an emotional one. To work as an emotional unit you need his full contribution and commitment. Once you have that, married or not, the other stuff will follow, including invitations and divvying up family visits, etc. You may have to insist on it, and repeat yourselves, and persist through others’ resistance, but that’s all secondary stuff.

I agree: if she wants to build a family with this man, she needs to start with day-to-day actions, not with ceremonies. And my impression so far is that she uses the word “family” pretty freely without any specifics about her children or his–and that’s a bit suspicious.

She doesn’t seem to be considering how their children will react to this arrangement, or how they will be a part of this family. If the reason neither of them can move is a joint-custody situation, and they see each other every other weekend, presumably their visits are when the kids are with their other parent. So how well do the kids know their potential stepparent and stepsiblings? And when the marriage happens, will they be expected to spend 10 hours in the car on 25-50% of their weekends? I’ve done a lot of that myself recently and it’s a big pain. What about sports? Part-time jobs, down the road? What will they have to give up to serve their mom’s vision of their family?

Although at first blush her plan seems to favor the kids over her own desires (waiting to be together until the youngest turns 18), in fact it serves the requirements of her custody arrangement–not the actual best interest of the children. This long distance family will lead to them spending more of their lives in the car than at any home. What about living somewhere in the middle? Unless the mom doesn’t actually WANT to deal with the reality of living together and blending their families for real. From the perspective of the kids, this arrangement sounds pretty awful to me.