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Posts Tagged ‘kids’

You have/are an only child — selfish, lonely, spoiled. Really?

In aging, behavior, books, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, news, parenting, US, women on June 14, 2013 at 12:15 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you really want to see, or provoke yet another hair-pulling catfight, write a book about any aspect of American motherhood.

I dare you!

Sibling!

Sibling! (Photo credit: Gus Dahlberg)

The latest entry in the spittle-flecked self-righteous-fest known as The Mommy Wars, (wouldn’t Mummy Wars be so much more…Egyptian? But I digress) is this new book, One and Only, about being an only child and choosing to have only one child.

(She also tosses in a fairly astonishing to me — and unattributed statement — that mothers are the women most likely to have an abortion.)

Here’s some thoughts from its author, Lauren Sandler:

If you only have one child, you’re inevitably asked, “Another one
coming soon?” Despite the overwhelming evidence that only children are
no different than those with siblings—not to mention it’s better
environmentally and fiscally—I’ve found that a lot of people only want
to have a second child for the sake of their first child. There’s a
notion that you’re not a good mother if you don’t give your child a
sibling. Why can we debate ad nauseam about tiny minuscule things like
diapers, schools, and organic T-shirts, but not about the number of kids
we have?

To me, U.S. family policy is a failure. We are one of the only
countries on earth that does not have structural family-support system.
This failure is due to our ideological individualism, our lack of a
labor movement addressing parents’ rights as workers’ rights, and the
fact that we’ve never had a population crisis. It’s completely different
in Europe and Asia. In Italy, you can’t even Google “family time”—the
term doesn’t exist. Instead they have an integrated way of living, with
parents and their children mingling with family and friends as a
community—and adults are actually allowed to focus on themselves.

Here’s a radio interview with her.

I grew up as an only child, so this is familiar territory. Onlies are told, all the goddamned time, how spoiled we are. How lonely we must be. How selfishly we behave — everywhere!

I call bullshit.

Here’s some of what was true for me, and still is, as someone raised as an only, (and now with no kids):

You often spend a lot more time around adults than kids with siblings. You get used to actually being listened to attentively, (a nice start in life for little girls, especially), and feeling at ease around people much older than you. You learn young it’s polite to refresh a guest’s drink or pass the hors d’oeuvres. These are valuable life skills, people!

Booooooored?  Deal with it. With no siblings to torture play with, we’re left to our own devices to amuse ourselves. Back in my youth, cave drawings filled up a slow Sunday. Kidding! But even without the Internet or apps, etc., I was fully able to have a lot of fun alone. Trolls, Legos, stuffed animals, books, drawing, sports. Who needed a sib?

— Less competition! Whether Christmas pressies or dessert or adult attention, it’s all yours, baby!

— No odious parental, relatives or teachers’ comparisons to your brothers or sisters. I never had to be “the smart one” (instead of the pretty one). I could just be me.

– Lots of travel. With only one kid to finance, your family can easily pick up and go somewhere, for the day or a month or even a few years. I knew from the very start how damn lucky I was to have visited England, France, Mexico and the Caribbean, all by the age of six.

– Decent social skills. If you have no sibs to hang out with or socialize you, you better figure it out, stat. Once you realize that the world is filled with cool, fun, interesting people to hang out with, you’re ahead of the kids still terrified to talk to anyone in authority post-college. Friends become your family, and often much nicer, too!

Of course, yes, there are downsides. Like:

— No one has your back when things get scary. I used to cower behind the living room curtains when my parents fought, which was often and loudly, before they divorced. I could really have used some back-up.

– In a split family, there’s just not enough of you to go around. Christmas was crazy — divided between my mother, maternal grandmother and father.

– It’s all on you to win the Nobel prize/MacArthur/Pulitzer/cure cancer/create world peace. People with siblings can fob off these absurd expectations/hopes onto someone else and go watch (some more) TV.

– When your parents get sick and old, it’s all on you. Serious issue. A smart, kind spouse or partner helps!

When you get sick and old (and God forbid, broke), and if you have no partner or very close friends, what happens? (Note terrified silence here.)

Are you an only?

How was it?

If you — as several Broadside followers did — had a bunch of kids, what kept you going past one?

How was your childhood?

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, parenting on April 19, 2013 at 4:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved this recent special issue of New York magazine focused on childhood in New York.

Barbara Walters’ dad ran nightclubs?

Chevy Chase got stabbed in the back by a mugger?

Matthew Broderick in Sweden to promote Ferris ...

Matthew Broderick in Sweden to promote Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matthew Broderick was robbed constantly?

The black and white photos are fantastic, and the memories, of New York and childhood, lovely.

I was born in Vancouver, and lived in London ages two to five, before moving to Toronto where I lived to the age of 30.

My childhood was a mixture of material comfort and emotional chaos. We lived, until my parents split up, in a large, beautiful house in a nice neighborhood. We had a huge backyard, a maid named Ada and I walked to school. But my parents were miserable and I used to hide behind the living room curtains as they shouted at one another. It was a relief when they divorced and my mother and I moved into an apartment in a downtown area much less charming.

I was at boarding school at eight, and summer camp all summer every year ages eight to 15. So I didn’t see that much of my parents. I was then an only child, so grew used to amusing myself with books, toys, art, sports.

I spent my school year awakened by bells: 6:55 wake-up; 7:05 walk around the block, regardless of weather; 7:25 breakfast. And so on. We wore plaid kilts and ties, in the Hunting Stewart tartan, and black oxfords and dark green knee socks. In summer, our camp uniform was yellow and blue, white for Sunday chapel. I spent most of my childhood surrounded by strangers — room-mates, cabin-mates, teachers, housemothers and counselors.

In retrospect, it was a distinctly odd way to grow up.

But it’s what I knew. I got a terrific education, made some wonderful friends at camp and developed my athletic skills. Camp was my happiest time and forever shaped my love of nature and outdoor adventure. I learned how to canoe, water-ski, swim, sail, ride horses. I collected badges and awards and prizes, at school and camp, for my talents, whether athletic or intellectual.

Every summer I would act in a musical, Flower Drum Song or Sound of Music or Hello Dolly!. I usually won the the lead, so knew from an early age I could win and hold an audience. I wrote songs and played them on my guitar, singing before the whole camp, an audience of 300 or so, strangely fearless.

I felt loved and safe at camp, while by Grade Nine I was always in some sort of trouble at school — my bed was messy, I talked too much in class, I sassed teachers and got into radio wars with room-mates. When my neatness scores (!) fell too low, I’d be confined to campus on weekends and had to memorize Bible  verses to atone. (“For God so loved the world…” John 3: 16, kids.)

We were only allowed to watch an hour or so of television on Sunday evenings, although we were taken to the ballet and the Royal Winter Fair to watch horse-jumping. Every Wednesday night, after filling out a permission slip, we could go out for dinner with a friend or relative — the lonely kids left behind were fed a comforting meal of fried chicken with cranberry sauce and corn.

Privacy was an unimaginable luxury when you always shared a room with four or six others. There was nowhere to shut a door and just be alone in silence, to exult or cry. I was sent to my room at school, as punishment, for laughing too loudly. We were constantly told to be “ladylike.” In both places, we ate our meals communally, at large tables, consuming whatever food was served to us whenever it was offered.

Many decades later, I’m still seeing the many ways this has shaped me, for better and for worse.

How was your childhood?

No kids? You really don’t want kids?

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on October 4, 2012 at 12:19 am
scream and shout

scream and shout (Photo credit: mdanys)

Really.

If there’s a default expectation for women, it’s Becoming A Mom.

Surely every one of us wants kids. Don’t we?

No, some of us do not.

I don’t have kids and never wanted to. Neither do either of my younger half-brothers. So, sadly — as those of us without kids often enjoy time spent with them — there are no children anywhere in our extended family, no nieces or nephews, no grandkids.

There’s a reason some women don’t want kids, but one we rarely discuss publicly.

Like me, some childfree women were parentified at an early age, pressed into premature service as the adult, the responsible one, the person who reluctantly but efficiently dealt with doctors and teachers and bankers and realtors and lawyers far too young — often because their parent(s) was/were mentally ill, and/or alcoholic or drug users and they had no other family to turn to.

This tends to make for lousy parenting, as your caregivers are often physically or emotionally absent or careless. Worse, they’re often exhaustingly selfish, needy, demanding, immature and insatiable.

Just like a baby.

Except that babies gurgle and coo and smell delicious and are charming as well as exhausting. They grow up and their needs change.

These sorts of parents rarely do. We often spend our childhoods and teen years and early adult years — the ones falsely glorified as a time of totally selfish independence and freedom — dreading the latest email or phone call signaling the next crisis. We may spend savings we barely have to repeatedly rush out and rescue our parent(s), as their own friends and even relatives burn out, give up and turn away.

So, by the time society expects us to start cooing lovingly over our own kids — as well as everyone else’s — you’re simply worn out. The whole idea of starting another job being someone’s caregiver and protector feels, as it is, overwhelming.

Nor do these sorts of parents want to baby-sit for you. Nor might you even trust them to do so, so the sort of automatic family support and love many people assume is normal and take for granted — and which makes parenthood look a lot more affordable and appealing — is never going to happen for us.

We rarely say this publicly because:

It’s not cool. If your Mom gets cancer or your Dad has a stroke, sure. People will be kind because they can relate. There are no pink ribbons for those of us carrying the weight of an alkie or a parent who’s in and out of mental hospitals.

These burdens are ugly and painful, and often only end when that parent dies or ends up in others’ professional care.

Non-mothers are often dismissed as selfish, cold, unloving bitches. Nice!

Non-mothers are pitied, their infertility assumed. It’s almost never seen as a deliberate choice.

Non-mothers are considered people who want nothing to do with children. Wrong!  Kids are fine, and often fun. I just don’t want the lifelong responsibility for one, or several.

Here’s an excerpt from Jessica Valenti’s new book about women fed up after having had kids:

In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a “safe haven” law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off at a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.

Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here’s the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family — nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.

The Nebraska state government, realizing the tremendous mistake it had made, held a special session of the legislature to rewrite the law in order to add an age limitation. Governor Dave Heineman said the change would “put the focus back on the original intent of these laws, which is saving newborn babies and exempting a parent from prosecution for child abandonment. It should also prevent those outside the state from bringing their children to Nebraska in an attempt to secure services.”

One father dropped off his entire family.

On November 21, 2008, the last day that the safe haven law was in effect for children of all ages, a mother from Yolo County, California, drove over 1,200 miles to the Kimball County Hospital in Nebraska where she left her 14-year-old son.

What happened in Nebraska raises the question: If there were no consequences, how many of us would give up our kids?

How do you feel about having kids?

Do you feel pressured to become a parent?

Do you hate Mother’s Day too?

In aging, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, love, news, parenting, women on May 13, 2012 at 12:09 am
Česky: Matka a dítě. עברית: אם ובנה, 2007. Sve...

Česky: Matka a dítě. עברית: אם ובנה, 2007. Svenska: En mamma som kramar om sitt barn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bear with me.

Like many others watching the annual flood of maternal sentimentality, this isn’t a fun week for me. (It’s celebrated on May 13 here, but not necessarily in other countries.)

My mother lives in a nursing home in a city a six-hour flight away. I don’t plan to send flowers or a card, even though I know I should and would like to. I’m her only child. She has no grand-children and many of her friends have died or abandoned her over the years.

We haven’t spoken in a year, since our last verbal exchange consisted of her raging at me without pausing to draw breath. The Mother’s Day flowers I had sent went unacknowledged, then my birthday.

Like many mothers out there — not the cookie-baking, hugging, call me! text me! types — mine has no interest in my life. And she’s now doted on by a woman even the nursing home staff told me they found rude and weird, someone nasty to me whom I’ve never trusted.

So, Mother’s Day?

Meh. 

I know other men and women whose mother, for a variety of reasons, lost interest in their own children, no matter how well-behaved or accomplished or how hard we’ve tried, for a long, long time, to get closer to someone who…just doesn’t want it.

But we never talk publicly about it, the subject taboo.

I’ve re-written this post about 20 times, debating whether or not to even publish it. I am weary of secret-keeping.

My mother, who is beautiful, bright, sophisticated and charming, never re-married after divorcing my father when I was seven. She never seemed to miss emotional or physical intimacy.

When I was 14, we moved to Mexico. There, on Christmas Eve, she suffered a manic breakdown; I left within weeks to move in with my father and never returned to her home except for visits. I saw her first manic episode when I was 12, then again lived through them when I was 19, 25, 27 and beyond. She ended up in jails and hospitals all over the world, as she traveled alone and refused to stay on her medication.

For a long time, she wrote letters often and we spoke every week or so.

In 2003, a 4-inch tumor was pulled from her head and I asked the surgeon to “make her less of a bitch.” The words shocked me as they fell out of my mouth.

His answer shocked me even more. “Her tumor has made her aggressive for years, possibly decades,” he explained, thanks to its location in her brain. She was, for several blissful years afterward, loving, gentle and kind, the sort of mother I had longed for. (Here’s my magazine story about this experience, with a great pic of us when I was little.)

By the summer of 2010, when I flew out to see her on my annual visit, she had become unrecognizable to me, the amount she was by then drinking destroying what was left of her mental and physical health. I called my husband from the motel where I was staying and wept, in rage and frustration and despair, for 30 minutes.

When, if ever, would this shit stop?

The verb “to mother” implies nurture, care and concern. We automatically conflate the two, while “to father” often means simply to create a new life, not to stick around and take care of that child.

I’ve tried to be compassionate. I’ve tried to reach out, for decades. I’ve tried.

I’m done trying.

How’s your relationship with your Mom?

Have we lost the art of conversation?

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, parenting, Technology, urban life on April 26, 2012 at 1:06 am
Talking in the evening. Porto Covo, Portugal

Talking in the evening. Porto Covo, Portugal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This recent think-piece in The New York Times argues that we have:

At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates…

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.

One of the rituals my husband and I enjoy is my driving him to the commuter train station in the morning. It’s only about 10 minutes door to door, but it’s a nice chance to connect and chat before his 40-minute commute and a crazy life working at the Times, one with six meetings every day.

We talk a lot, usually two or three times, briefly, by phone and maybe an hour or two in the evening. That’s a great deal more than many couples, certainly those with multiple children juggling conflicting schedules.

But sitting across the table from someone, sharing a glass of wine or cup of coffee, seems to have become an unimaginable luxury. How else can we ever get to know one another? I’ve had two female friends tell me, only after many years of knowing them, that they had each been sexually abused as a child.

That took a lot of trust and courage. I don’t think most of us would want to share such intimacies only through a computer or phone screen.

I love road trips, six or eight or ten hours in a vehicle with my husband, or friends, or my Dad. You get a lot said, and the silences are companionable.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, (on Virgin Air, maybe the reason for such indie fellow travelers), my outbound flight had a career musician beside me, Homer Flynn, who has spent a long life making very cool music in a band called The Residents. Their Wikipedia entry is huge! We had a great conversation, for more than an hour, about the nature of creativity, about managing a long and productive worklife, about inspiration.

On the flight home — 5.5 hours — I had a similar conversation with my seatmate, a visual artist a little older than I.

Ironically, she’d just opened and started to read a book about introverts and I figured she’d never want to chat. But we discovered we had so much in common we talked the whole way! She had even attended the same East Coast prep school as my mother.

Another flight, from Winnipeg to Vancouver, placed me beside a coach for the Toronto Argonauts, a professional football team. Orlando Steinauer and I had a great time comparing notes on the world of professional sport and professional writing. We found it hard to decide which is more bruising!

As you can see, conversation is my oxygen. I love meeting fun new people and hearing their stories.

It’s why, after 36 years as a journalist, I still enjoy my work — and the comments I get here. I’m endlessly curious about people.

Do you make time in your life now for face to face conversations?

With whom and how often?

If not, do you miss them?

Caine’s Arcade: A little LA boy creates a cardboard world

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, cars, children, cities, culture, entertainment, film, Media, news on April 14, 2012 at 12:09 am
Taipei Arcade Games

Taipei Arcade Games (Photo credit: Michael Kwan (Freelancer))

Have you heard — surely, yes, by now if you live in the U.S. — about Caine’s Arcade?

Here’s the link.

In one of those unlikely fairy tales, a nine-year-old boy named Caine Monroy decided to build an entire amusement arcade out of cardboard boxes and packing tape. He created “fun passes” and used calculators to make sure each pass was legit. His arcade had every variety of game but the place, at the back of his father’s east Los Angeles auto body shop, lacked the crucial element — customers. Most people now buy auto parts on the Internet.

Until Nirvan Mullick, a film-maker, needed one for his old car.

He found Caine, played in his arcade, made a film — and asked everyone he knew to come and play there. They did. The event made NBC Nightly News and a college scholarship (and college prep tutoring) fund has topped $145,000 for Caine, a sweet-faced kid in a bright blue T-shirt.

Although — as someone not wild about traditional college education — I wonder where his amazing imagination would flourish best. Cal Arts?

It’s an astonishing video and I hope you’ll make the time, 10 minutes, to watch it.

It embodies everything I love:

Having a dream

Being persistent enough to make it into something real, even when no one is looking

Finding the tools to build your imagined world

Making stuff up from scratch

Finding someone who believes in you

Having that someone believe in you so much they want to do whatever they can to help you succeed.

I suspect for some people Caine’s win is that he’s now “famous”. It’s not.

The grin on his face when he saw how many people had finally shown up to play in his world was one of the sweetest sights you can imagine.

Related articles

The Locker Room

In behavior, children, family, life, love, sports, urban life, women on May 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm
YMCA office in (Ulan-Bator) Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

This one's in Mongolia! Image via Wikipedia

I work out and take classes at a local YMCA, which guarantees a wide mix of ages and income levels. A life-long jock, a veteran of boarding school and summer camp, I’m used to being around other people in various stages of undress.

But it’s the naked emotion that often surprises me there, not the glimpses of others’ flesh.

I learn a lot in the locker room and often leave it in a very different mood than when I arrived:

– the mentally disabled children who come to swim, bound up in splints and diapers, laughing and playing with their caregivers

– a diabetic woman my age who needed the EMTs after going into sugar shock

– the woman who casually announced it was her 83d birthday the next day, the one whose vigor and tart wit made me sure she was 20 years younger

– the scars of surgery

– what a woman’s body really looks like in old age

I value the very few places in American culture where little children and people in their 80s or 90s mingle freely, sharing space and ideas. One is church, the other is the Y. I don’t have children or nieces or nephews and lost both my grandmothers when I was 18, so I hunger for cross-generational contact.

A few weeks ago I was worn out, weary of holding it together. A conversation that began in the locker room after swim class with the 83-year-old was, suddenly, the most honest and helpful I’d had with anyone in months…Then we kept talking in the parking lot, even after I burst into embarrassed tears. Her unexpected advice was blunt but kind.

I’m used to being visible physically, not emotionally, a common theme in my life. I tend to keep feelings bottled up, not wanting to burden friends or family who have, of course, their own challenges as well.

I know you change in the locker room. I didn’t know it might be more than your clothes.

When Ares Makes You Do It — Kids Act Out Greek Myths At Book Camp

In behavior, culture, education on July 17, 2010 at 11:00 am
Combat de Zeus contre Typhon

Image via Wikipedia

I love this story!

As an only child whose favorite book, at seven, was D’Aulaire’s exquisitely illustrated book of Greek myths, I find the idea of a whole new generation of kids geeking out over Hephaestus and Zeus and Hera and Aphrodite so cool.

From The New York Times:

The oracle sat with her back to the hill, a breeze riffling the ruby scarves tied to her folding camp chair.

One by one, the 12 boys approached. They stood straight as the oracle lowered her sunglasses and looked them over. Sorting through a pile of paper slips with burnt edges, the oracle, a middle-aged woman, selected one for each child.

“I will prophesize your quest,” she told Tom Leier, 9, before reciting a mysterious poem that would guide him for the week ahead.

That morning, the boys had been regular Brooklyn elementary school students at a summer camp in Prospect Park. But now each had been revealed to be a half-blood, with one mortal parent and one who was a god of Greek myth.

Children have always sought to act out elements of their favorite books, becoming part of the worlds that the works create. Now, organized role-playing literary camps, like the weeklong Camp Half-Blood in Brooklyn, are sprouting up around the nation.

Even though I don’t have kids, or even nieces or nephews, I think this is great. One of the trends that makes me despair over kids’ lives today is their attachment, literally, to technology. They don’t play with one another face to face. They don’t play outside. They don’t need to use their imaginations because so many buzzing things will do it for them.

The myths I read over and over as a child are as powerful as anything I’ve read since. I often wonder how the Fates are doing with my life — the one who spins, the one who measures and the one who cuts the thread of our lives. I loved the stories of Persephone and the harvest, of Hercules and of the Minotaur. Even then, perhaps, I knew there was another layer to these ancient tales and characters, that their struggles and quests might echo in my life as well. As they have.

I later read (and loved even more) the Norse myths — Loki is a hoot!

Is there a myth or a god that resonated for you?

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