Monday, April 22, 2002

April 22-26, 2002

APRIL 22, 2002

Should I be concerned that my daughter -- just turned 12, in the fourth grade at school -- loves "Clifford"?

I was feeling pretty happy about it last week, when on a shopping expedition she chose a "Clifford" video and a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen CD over the far racier fare someone her age might have turned to. But now ... over the weekend, we went on a birthday-gift-certificate shopping spree, and she wound up with another "Clifford" video, a "Clifford" CD-ROM (intended for ages 3-6) and an enormous stuffed "Clifford." Should I have been forcing her to buy Britney Spears CDs and Star Wars figurines instead?

I know that her peers -- even the two-years-younger kids that she shares a classroom with -- would likely tease her if they knew she gave her birthday money to the Big Red Dog. It's better than Barney, who she was teased for liking two years ago, but surely it is still considered little-kid stuff. Should I protect her from their derision of her taste in toys by deriding it myself? Should I tell her that it's stupid to like what she likes, and she should get something she likes less? "Clifford" comes from a perfectly respectable line of children's books, and the TV show plays on good themes of how to be a friend and a responsible citizen. If Emily Elizabeth was wearing halter tops and hiphuggers instead of that darned sweater, dress and kneesocks all the time, preteens might like it fine.

But what is it they like instead? Harry Potter, I guess -- but my daughter hated Harry Potter. Gross-out Nickeldeon shows -- but none of the Nick CD-roms works on our Macintosh. She does like boy bands, and did request a Backstreet Boys CD; she likes basketball, and begged for (and got) a net to play on for her birthday; she likes Mary Kate and Ashley, though probably more because her seven-year-old cousin likes them than anything (and maybe that means they're meant for seven-year-olds). And, she likes "Clifford." So, for that matter, do I. I'm certainly not the only adult who likes to watch things that are beneath my particular level of intelligence (how else to explain "The Bachelor"?) Why shouldn't 12-year-olds?

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APRIL 23, 2002

My kids are on school vacation this week, and my husband has the week off. Which means I get to go to work and leave him with the task of amusing the little ones, tra la, tra la. I did at least take them to Toys 'R' Us and load them up with birthday toys over the weekend, so they've been playing nicely together. But today the sun is shining and the weather is clear and they're going to be clamoring to go outside and ride their bikes all the livelong day. And for a change, the one who has to either go outside and watch them or say no and be whined to death is not me. Hooray for work!

Tomorrow, I have a day off, and my son has a playdate. Also this week, we have to wedge in an occupational therapy appointment, blood tests for both kids, finishing some bathroom improvements and finally putting together the rest of the basketball net my daughter got for her birthday last week. What fun putting those things together is, huh? Whoever writes out the instructions and puts them in those big boxes must just laugh and laugh. Which is what I'm going to do, this morning, as I head for my place of business. Ha, ha! Have fun with the kids, dear.

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APRIL 24, 2002

Has anybody else noticed how out-of-control toy packaging is getting these days? Big toys, little toys, expensive toys, cheapies, it doesn't matter -- they're secured in their boxes as though they were made of gold. My son bought a little tub toy the other day that was moored to its packaging with cardboard tabs, scotch tape and those little plastic wire thingies that look like they should just slide open but in fact require big fat sharp scissors to hack through them. I mean, you wouldn't want a mere child to be able to get to a little plastic tugboat without close parental supervision.

The Barbie Volkswagen Beetle both my kids got recently was even more tightly fastened. It might as well have had its own remote-operated garage, car alarm and electronic combination locks, for all the trouble it took to get it out and play with it. I've seen real Volkswagens with less security. You know, you can buy things for adults that are hugely more breakable, and you're lucky if you even get a box or a lousy piece of tissue paper. But buy a kids' toy more elaborate than a Matchbox car, and you'll need a tool set to get it out. It all must be part of a conspiracy to make us actually participate in our kids' play. Can't just toss a bag of toys at the kids and run -- we have to actually open the dang boxes.

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APRIL 25, 2002

I've been reading about the upcoming series "Frontier House" on PBS, for which three modern-day families struck up homesteads in Montana and tried living the 1883 way for six months. And of course my first reaction to this is: Don't these people have enough challenges in their normal lives? They have to go looking for ways to make their lives harder? "Well, sure, dear, this tub of margarine we can buy from the supermarket is nice, but what I'd really like to do is churn my own butter." My goodness -- please, give these people hobbies.

I mean, it's not like there's any money in it for these families -- they're participating just for the fun of living history. And it's not like there's any fame -- it's on PBS, so the ratings aren't exactly going to be at "Suvivor" levels. There's mostly just bugs and mud and cold and work and dirt. If grown-ups want to try that out for themselves, that's one thing, but to drag your kids along? I'm thinking those parents deserve every ounce of spoiled-brat whining they're going to get throughout that long half-year.

Though I have to say ... If I could ever be persuaded to do such a fool thing -- and I could not -- it might be to see whether my kids could function better in a simpler time. My daughter doesn't do so great in school by today's standards, but out on the frontier she'd probably be great at doing chores and helping out with the other kids. A one-room schoolhouse, with all ages learning together, would suit her fine. And my son -- would he do better with days full of physical labor than he does with days full of sitting in chairs? There might be some value to living on the prairie for six months if we could find that out.

But then we'd have to go back, and what good would it all be? I think I'd rather just muddle through in our material world. Books like "Sarah, Plain and Tall" inspire many things in me, but a desire to go back and live in those times sure ain't one of them.

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APRIL 26, 2002

They have special courses to train kids to take the SAT, and teachers spend a lot of time this time of year priming kids to do well on those horrible grammar school achievement tests (we have the ESPAs coming up in NJ next week). But does anybody pay much attention to training kids to do well on those boring day to day tests, the multiple choices and the fill-in-the-blanks and the short essay questions, the exams that torment them on a daily and weekly basis rather than yearly? I guess those are supposed to be self-explanatory. But I have a daughter for whom nothing is self-explanatory. And she could use some advice.

I guess that's not a normal thing to ask for, because nobody quite knows what I'm talking about when I ask about teaching test-taking skills. Early in the year I wondered if her aide couldn't advise her to, say, do all the easy test questions first, or cross off the multiple choices that were obviously wrong -- as opposed to just straight-out giving her the answers. This request sent everybody into a tizzy, because the aide just wasn't trained for that. Nobody, it seems, is trained for that, least of all the kiddies. So I went out and got me a book called, well, "Teaching Test-Taking Skills." And if it seems to make sense, I'll give it to the tutor I have lined up for the summer. And then maybe we can give my daughter the know-how to show what she knows -- and guess better about the things she doesn't.

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