Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Does spanking deserve jail time?

A foster mother in Connecticut is facing 100 days in jail after she admitted spanking a four year old with a wooden spoon according to a report.

The women told officials that she had spanked the child because the child had hit the woman’s granddaughter, spat at her, and used a racial slur toward her. The biological mother noticed bruises on her daughter during a supervised visit.

Let me tell you, if my mother had to spend 100 days in jail for every time she spanked me with a wooden spoon, she would have easily been serving 20 to life.

You see, the wooden spoon was my mother’s spanking instrument of choice. She brandished that kitchen utensil like a magician wields his wand. And it had the power to work its magic, too. The mere mention of the wooden spoon could stave off defiant acts such as deliberately disobeying, sassing back, “borrowing” your older brother’s pocket change, or singeing your own eyebrow off while playing with your father’s matches.

On more than one occasion, my mother would ask the utterly ridiculous rhetorical question: “Do I need to get the wooden spoon?”

She would even take the instrument of discipline and cookery on road trips. Even when concealed, its presence was felt. I remember one time we were on a day trip to place my father had to go for an hour’s worth of business. While my dad was in some office, my brother and I played in an adjacent field. At one point I found the wooden spoon tucked up near the front seat of the car. I pulled it out and starting pretending it was a sword. As I swashbuckled toward a patch of woods, the wooden spoon leapt out of my hand and flew deep into a patch of briers beyond reach.

Although I had repeatedly insisted that it was only an accident, but my mom wasn’t buying any of it. I had to spend the rest of the time in the backseat, perseverating over what would happen when my dad got back. When nothing did, I had to sweat it out the long ride home, wondering how bad my punishment would be, regretting I had ever touched something that wasn’t mine.

If I had done anything bad, I was lucky to only get the wooden spoon. For serious offences, it was Dad and the belt. Those castigatory moments happened after my mom would utter the oft cited albeit cliché phrase, “What ‘till your father gets home.”

After the arduous wait, the grip of fear as he walked in, the dead-man-walking moment hearing the mumbling that was mom telling dad all that I had done, Dad would call me into his room.

There he would ask me what I had done. I would tell him all. There was no point of lying at this point. He already knew. In fact, as I would later find out, he knew a lot more than I had realized. We lived in a pretty small town where no one person was separated by more than one or two degrees from each other. Dad would then talk to me, very calmly, about what I had done, why it was wrong and such. Then came the consequence out from around his waist punctuating a lesson that would be soon learned and long remembered.

Whether with a wooden spoon, belt, or bare hand, spanking was a part of my childhood, of my friends’ childhoods. It’s what our parents did. It’s how we learned. When we got it, we deserved it. We didn’t like it at the time, but, let me tell you something, we did learn.

While I would never think of using an object to spank my kids, I don’t hold it against my parents at all. They were good, dedicated parents. Perhaps if they had spared the wooden spoon, I might not be who I am today.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Even if you don't watch, second hand television can still get you

Still once again, it’s TV’s fault – and now you don’t even have to be watching it!
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics warned that television is not only dangerous to early child development, but by merely having the TV turned on could result in problems.
Some experts are calling it “secondhand television.”  Likened to the hazards of secondhand cigarette smoke, when a TV is turned on when a child is playing nearby, his or her language development is affected, they say.  A child won’t develop a working vocabulary necessary for school because the television will keep children and parents from interacting.
But think about it.  Isn’t that the whole idea of putting the TV on in the first place?  Try getting anything done with a toddler nipping at your ankles!  You have to wonder if the members of the American Academy of Pediatrics have ever really spent an extended amount of time around the preschool set. Next time they want to release a study, let’s release Happy Hoppers Kiddie Care on them and see how much studying they get done.
And just try listening to the intricate, intellectual dialogue between sports casters with a toddler talking your ear off.  If I had a dime for every “Daddy can’t hear, darling,” I’ve uttered, I’d have me a 57 inch widescreen LCD digital TV in the bathroom.
Televisions, like computers, smart phones, hand-held video game devices – screen technology – have become essential childrearing tools.  Why else would Barney DVDs have the wonderful option of continuous play?  Or why are there these delightfully mesmerizing, parent soothing cable stations like PBSKids Sprout or Noggin-Nick Jr. that run nonstop kid fare?  And how else can a bone-weary mommy or debilitated dad tune their little prodigy into a Baby Einstein than the use of a DVD and the glorious TV? 
Let’s be honest, older generations, the only reason the TV was shut off when we were kids is that there was nothing really good on.  We had three major network channels and one blurry public service station.  If it wasn’t primetime or Saturday morning, it just wasn’t worth it.
Today television not only aids parents in raising their children, but it also plays an important role in the social, behavioral, and intellectual development of our kids.  A recent study by Common Sense Media found that kids under 8 spend twice as much time in front of screen media than they do books, either reading themselves or being read to.  The study further found that 40% or two to four year olds and over 50% or five to eight year olds use smart phones, iPads, and the like. 
If today’s technology is changing the way we process information they way experts contend it is, what parent would want his children still thumbing pages of antiquated books when they could be touching screens of tablets like the other kids?  What respectable parent says to a child, “If you have one good friend in your life, that’s a lot,” when they kid swinging next to him on the playground will have no less than 65,800 friends of social media sites?  What parent wants his kid to think of apples and blackberries and ice cream sandwiches as something to eat? 
Whether we like it or not, technological advances are going to change the way we process information, they way we parent, and it will mandate greater screen time for us and our kids.  We must remember, though, that technology is essentially neutral.  We are the ones who put it in gear.  Let’s focus on teaching and modeling constructive use of screen technology so.  Remember, if it wasn’t for TV, you would never remember where you were the moment Fonzie jumped the shark.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Life's Meaning is in the Margins

Everybody's busy.

Everybody's page is full lists and notes and additions and deletions with smudged erasures and dark cross-outs and scribbles and doodles in cursive and print and symbols and numbers with so many annotations that if you tried to take in all at once, you wouldn't be able to read a single word.

But it's not just the words on the paper that are important, much of the meaning lies in the pages margins.  These often overlooked annotations are what life is really about.

It's those small, common, everyday notations that we take for granted and do not recognize the value and the astonishing greatness in such small things.

Try washing the dishes deliberately.  Focus on each caress of each plate or bowl or platter or spoon or for or pan.  Feel the fine smoothness of the plastic; feel the dragging studder of the clean wet glass.  Realize that these are the tools of the meal, the mainstay of the family unit which is all too often marginalized by our busy schedules.

Life is in the margins.

Everybody's busy.

Happy Mother’s Day to a mom who never stopping mothering

I had spoken to my mother on the phone the morning of the day she died nearly 21 years ago.
She was in end-stage lung cancer and tumor fever had her back in the hospital for the umpteenth time in two years. Tumor fever is when the body says, “That’s it! I’m going to take on this insolent cancer myself,” and turns up the heat to fry the intruder while scorching the landscape along the way. They’ll treat the fever, the doctors said. Palliative measures.

When I had called Mom that morning, she picked up the phone and told me she had just taken a shower and was about to get back into bed. She sounded like she had just run from the shower to the phone to the shower to the phone about a hundred times before she picked up. She was out of breath. I told her my wife, my then four-month-old son, Zachary, and I would be there in about an hour.
Mom was in the same hospital where my dad had died of bladder cancer only seventeen months earlier, two doors down to be exact. She knew what tumor fever was. She knew what it meant. She had seen it as I had seen it before.

When we arrived at the hospital, Mom was in bed. Her breathing looked like a fish out of water. She had an oxygen tube that looped around the top of one ear, to her nostrils, and disappeared around the top of her other ear, but it didn’t seem to be doing much good.

“I -- breath -- breath -- breath – can’t -- breath -- breath -- seem -- breath -- breath -- breath -- to -- breath -- breath -- breath -- catch -- breath -- breath -- breath -- my -- breath -- breath -- breath -- breath.”

That’s alright, I told her in a forced nonplussed tone, we’d do all the talking. My wife and I made as much banal banter as we could to fill the quiet spaces to prevent too much thought while Zachary played in the walker we had brought with us.

“This is – breath – breath – breath – my grand – breath – breath – son,” Mom said proudly to the woman in the bed next to hers. My mom asked my wife to bring the baby closer to her. Then, although Mom struggled for breath, she began to sing.

“The itsy -- breath -- breath -- breath -- bitsy spider -- breath -- breath -- breath -- climbed up the -- breath -- breath -- water -- breath -- spout -- breath – breath – breath…”

She held her hand up high, raising up with it the tube that ran from the bruised bend in her arm up to the plastic sack half-filled with clear liquid. Zachary’s eyes were glued to her hand.

“Down came the -- breath -- breath -- rain and -- breath -- breath -- wash the spi -- breath -- breath -- der out…”

It was as breathless as it was breathtaking. The effort this newly crowned grandmother put into a simple song for her child’s first child was paramount to pyramids. Every note so delicate, so deliberate.
Soon after the song ended, a nurse appeared. My mother explained her breathing difficulty, and the nurse, smiling, asked if she was ready for the morphine shot now. It seemed she had held off the palliative measure so she could be awake and alert for our visit, putting her struggles aside. Yet another heroic act.

Mom said yes she was ready for the shot now. The nurse smiled at her and then left the room. Mom motioned that she wanted Zachary up on the bed. My wife propped him up between her feet. The nurse came in with the needle. She walked around to Mom’s IV and proceeded to inject the medicine in an opening high up on the tube.

“What will that do,” I asked the nurse.

“It will relax her so she doesn’t have to work so hard to breathe,” the nurse said. She finished then left the room.

I smiled at my mom; she smiled back and closed her eyes. Later that afternoon, as my son lay happily by her feet, my mother died. She was 56 years old.

That was my mom…being a mom…even to her last breath.

Thanks, Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day.