My kids are sitting at the kitchen island waiting for the lunch I’m preparing. Before me are three plates where I will carefully arrange three different assortments of tasties that I hope will pass their picky test.
I wash and slice each grape individually for my Babygirl.
It’s toast with no butter for the Babyboy (he hates butter).
And, for the oldest of the three, a peanut butter sandwich with the crust cut off.
That last one, crust-free sandwiches, sparked a problem for me.
“Mom doesn’t cut it like that,” he said. The others laughed. Apparently, Daddy is a poor stand-in for mom’s culinary artistry. I cut sandwiches into four pieces to make them child-sized, but mom cuts them in half (still child-sized, but it doesn’t make them feel like babies).
Can I get a little slack? I was their age in the 1970s when kids could eat grapes without choking. I ate butter on toast if the toast came with butter on it. In my time, crust on bread wasn’t disposable.
So, when my kids gave me the business I wondered if I’m getting old and starting to say things that old people said to be back in the day. My elders were fond of saying “Y’all don’t know how good you have it – we didn’t have no McDonald’s in our day!”
I used to laugh and think “that would suck.” Then I’d pity them for not being modern.
Those of us who grew up knowing what it was like to be thirsty longer than five minutes (the great soda rationing of 1975), and how to live without air conditioning or cable or gadgets for extended stretches of time; maybe we have so internalized those shortcomings of past days and turned them into a cause for spoiling our precious offspring who can’t be bothered with the indignities of our dark past.
Maybe it’s a sign of how much we’ve “made it” that we raise our kids to be mainstream and familiar with the middle-class privilege we’ve come to see as the common markers of class. Our past lives of perceived scarcity might feed our drive to give conveniences and advantages to our kids and protect them against feeling less-than in a world where less-than might as well mean social exile.
If so, that’s more about our unresolved wounds and our medicinal signifying, and less about giving kids what they need to survive in the future.
I’m the first to admit my struggle. If the charge is spoiling and indulging, damn, lock my black ass up and forget about bail. I am not my parents, who, while doing their own bit of spoiling (I once had 9 cats), can only scratch their head about the next-leveling overcompensating that happens these days. I spoil, therefore I am.
Still, I worry about it even as I do it.
In the back of my mind, there is a dark thought that loiters in my recesses, moving about without much acknowledgment but present and haunting nonetheless. “Am I raising soft children of color who will crumble the first time they are tested by the unique challenges of a world that won’t always cut the crust off the bread for nonwhite people?
A story from yesterday’s news brought that challenge into focus for me again.
Two young women who were accused by white employees at an Applebees in Independence, Mo. of dining and dashing the night before. That’s when you eat and flee the premises without paying, and these two young ladies knew they were nowhere in the vicinity when the crime happened.
Police officers came and grilled them with paternalism and white license; in the background, a sheepish looking white employee stood firm in her recollection of these two black diners as petty criminals.
The video of the event when viral and the Applebees employees were fired. That might seem like a satisfying outcome, but I found one thing unnerving. The two young ladies cried during the event; one called her mom to whimper and whine about the incident. The young woman feigned disbelief that such a thing could be happening.
I was bothered more by her tears than the assault itself. I don’t feel good about that, but it’s true.
Not to belittle her, but her response calls into question the preparation we provide for black and brown children.
Are we preparing them for the world we want them to have, or the world as it actually exists, corrupt, inhuman, and racist AF?
In the same situation, I can see my three babies (and their older siblings) faltering too. My 50 years of living have trained me to expect racism, to distrust white authority, and to never feel fully “in” this country, but I’ve attempted to train my kids to expect to be treated as human beings, equal to any others.
What happens when they encounter an Applebee’s situation? Will it shatter illusions I should have never allowed them to adopt?
We’ve put our kids in piano and dance lessons; sent them to camps where they blend in with kids who have different cultural backgrounds and we have traveled with them far and wide to expose them to the world beyond their bubble.
And, yet, our parental program is missing the tough mudder, the thing that will test and train them to be indefatigable in the face of adversity.
What about self-defense? What about being strong and kicking ass and believing in your power, your people, your skin, your history?
Without a doubt I want my daughter to call me first whenever she is in trouble (my boys too), but I also want to know that she feels capable enough to fight for herself, and trained enough to do it effectively. I’d prefer she know here constitutional rights and understand that America’s history of racism is ongoing. In situations like the Applebees debacle I’d prefer she not cry in the face of her oppressors, but to deliver a message from all of our family members – dead and living – who’ve taken far too much inhumane abuse from the white world.
In short, my children should channel their ancestors rather than break apart like some child actors on an after-school special.
I worry about doing my part to make them strong, informed, and capable if it means exposing them to discomfort, but how much can I teach them about their personal strength if I’m slicing their grapes and removing crust from their bread?
I’ll have to keep thinking abou that problem. For now I have to make a run to the store to pick them up somehting for Valentine’s Day so they won’t feel left own tonight.
If your presidential debate isn’t fit for kids, you’re not fit to be president
In a time when concerns about public health are stealing precious learning time from America’s children, it’s sad that this week’s presidential debate was another dispiriting lesson in failed leadership.
As citizens, we should expect the contest for the American presidency a top civics learning opportunity, but instead, we got schoolyard rock-throwing on Tuesday that wasn’t worthy of our children’s eyes, ears, or seat time.
That’s a shameful sign of three-plus errant years of declining decorum and lost integrity at the top of the American leadership pile – mostly because a lout has led us into moral anarchy.
If a president is the nation’s exemplar of our values and virtues, a presidential debate is a test, then Donald J. Trump spells trouble. The president I saw on Tuesday was a peevish and sweating example of everything I teach my kids not to be. He was rude, accusatory, irresponsible, blame-shifting, dishonest, and, worst of all, a nasty bully.
Let’s be honest here, if Trump were a Black 6th-grader behaving this way in a Houston classroom, he might be suspended and not allowed to return until his parents met with school staff about his self-regulation challenges.
Now, this is where I’m supposed to dazzle you with my broadmindedness by pointing out ways in which Biden fell short too.
That form of mindless bothsiderism is a shortcut to thinking and judgment. It’s not good for a responsible citizen and fails as an appropriate example for children.
Unlike the president, I don’t see value in teaching our children to equate white supremacists with the convenient ghost of Antifa or the political cartoon of Black Lives Matter. To overstate something moral and obvious: There are no “very fine people” who are so spitting mad about the existence of non-whites that they descend on communities with tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
If I fault Biden for anything, it’s not being assertive enough about centering these mass-media opportunities on the nation’s children. In my view, his education plan is expensively inconsequential concerning the things that matter most, but are talked about least: quality teaching, learning to standards, evidence-based educational interventions, and academic outcomes that close gaps between the haves and have-nots.
I waited for his promise to move hell and Earth, unions and bureaucrats, publics and privates, lefties and right-wingers, to ensure every American child gets a practical education that prepares her for life in the economic mainstream (a promise that every president since Lyndon Johnson has made), but instead, the former Vice President mostly shadow-boxed the patently erratic orangish gentleman to his right.
My friends, please expect more. When these two private school parents who want to lead the free world take the stage next time to present competing visions for where we should go as a people, let’s hold them to two demands.
First, they commit to being appropriate examples for our children of how great Americans behave, think, and debate. Or, let them disqualify themselves for failing on that point.
Second, they explicitly detail how their policies will prepare the next generation to be productive members of a free country. They must articulate a plan for systems and policies that allow children to learn in ways that best suit them.
We are so far from that now. Poor academic outcomes for racial minorities, students in poverty, and students with special needs are all too enduring. For example, in most states, less than a quarter of Black students read or perform math proficiently. Non-white students get the worst prepared teachers who – as research tells us – hold implicit biases against them. Further, students of color are more often identified for negative discipline consequences than for gifted programs (even when they don’t qualify for the former and do qualify for the latter).
At the same, education bureaucracies stifle the creativity of teachers through endless standardization. Their lobbying groups fight the emergence of innovative schools and programs that come from chartering laws. Their programs too often limit the most advanced students by gearing the system to a catch-all, mediocre middle.
On top of all that, legacy debts that were born of poor financial decisions compound over time and rob our students of their full per-pupil income by paying for yesterday’s obligations at the expense of tomorrow’s promise.
All the while, we lament the mythical cuts to education funding as the bill for public miseducation and its systemic failures escalates annually.
Hopefully, when they meet again, both candidates seeking our votes in the upcoming election will have something profound to say about how we change the game for students and families.
The candidates need to can speak to raising the expectations for results in education. We need to know how colleges can prepare better teachers for the classroom and how schools can better support them once they are there. Above all, we need to hear how these candidates can provide more resources directly to families so they can determine how, when, where, and what their children learn. We need a moonshot for things like getting all cities, towns, and rural areas wired with broadband and how we expand the educational opportunities diverse families need.
I’ll be watching the next presidential debate for all that and hoping against hope that two candidates worthy of the nation they want to lead show up with all their best faculties on display. Above all else, I hope they remember the children.
Crisis parenting isn’t easy, and carry on
Who will ever tally the toll of mass school closings that have put many families into crisis parenting mode? I’m not sure, but the media messages we get need to be more informative.
Let me use a scenario and to two people.
The scenario: you’re in an elevator in a tall Chicago building with two other people. There is a big bump that jolts the elevator, the lights flicker, and you can tell something bad could be happening.
Person numero uno in the elevator with you starts screaming “we’re going to die!“
“This is the end!“
Person numero dos is calm. She appears to be assessing the situation and considering possibilities for escape.
Person numero uno is the media. He uses words like “disaster” to describe challenges parents face with remote learning. It’s godawful he says. Too hard. Kids hate the new normal. The technology glitches out constantly or bores or confuses them. Teachers cry online. Parents suck at teaching. It’s nearly impossible to stay on top of kids and their studies while also working (for those privileged enough to work from home).
Along those lines, columnist Peg Tyre wrote in Forbes last spring “[r]eality is dawning that parents of school-aged children can’t work and educate their children at the same time.”
I take issue with that. Parents can and must educate their children, even while balancing other demands of life. Even during a global pandemic. There is no other option. Period.
Damnit, that’s what being a parent means. You signed up for it. Now do it.
I suggest you consult with Person numero dos. She won’t tell you what you want to hear (that you’re a martyr and woe is you), but she’ll say what you need to hear (toughen up buttercup).
No, life isn’t always convenient.
Yes, you’re in possibly the toughest situation ever.
Yet, worshipping the problem won’t make it less tough. These are your kids and you were always responsible for moving mountains to get them the education they deserve. Schooling has made it easy for you to idle on autopilot, but no more.
I’m not saying Person number uno is wrong to be alarmed. Reality is on his side. There will be negative consequences of closed schools and the curtailing of daily classroom instruction. It will almost certainly stunt the academic growth of children under-resourced families.
We weren’t prepared to turn our homes into makeshift schools without warning. We quickly feel inadequate about assisting our kids. They keep asking us about concepts we haven’t studied in years. We also worry about the looming social emotional and mental health consequences of the isolation of quarantine.
Some will say I’m glossing over the wildly different financial and social situations families live in. Obviously the single parent with a job in hospitality faces far greater challenges than telecommuting professionals currently forming learning pods for their kids. And yet, no matter where you live on the economic totem wallowing won’t help you or your children. Only character will.
I see story after story about the inequities that will be widened because wealthier parents are hiring tutors or teachers and setting up their own micro-schools. Recognizing that as true doesn’t absolve anyone from having to answer the most powerful question: “what am I going to do?“
Who has the information that will help us do our best for our kids wherever they are? What is our inventory of resources, connections, and skillsets?
What power do we have that we aren’t using?
Panic and pity will always be inferior to extreme ownership and stress management in my mind. The best thing we can teach children right now is how to confront adversity with a clear head and fortitude.
To that end, it’s time for Person number dos to tell Person numero uno to sit down, zip it, and speak only when spoken to. This is crisis parenting and we should aim to win.
Children and families are hurting while you take selfies
Families are having a tough time and that’s especially hard on children. So, you’d think that would generate empathy and generosity. Instead, it looks like selfish gene has taken over.
Let me not overstate the problem. But a New York Times story about the ugly and petty clashes pitting Silicon Valley workers with children vs. the those without children is sad commentary on where we are.
When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, hosted a companywide videoconference on Aug. 20, more than 2,000 employees voted to ask her what more Facebook could do to support nonparents, since its other policies had benefited parents.
The question struck a nerve. An employee wrote in comments accompanying the video feed that it was “unfair” that nonparents could not take advantage of the same leave policy afforded parents. Another wrote that while the procedure for taking leave was usually difficult, it was “easy breezy” for parents.
This problem repeated at Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google. Inter-office chats raged with childless employees expressing frustration with their co-workers who have children, and working parents firing back.
A key to understanding the conflict, at least in my mind, is this snippet from the story: “[the problem is] where workers tend to be younger and have come to expect generous perks and benefits in exchange for letting their jobs take over their lives.”
This is an indictment of the always-on self-loving generation who demand to compensated greatly for losing themselves into work (something that is killing them).
It’s also a mark against the previous generation that parented them during the self-esteem movement which produced little more than entitlement and isolation.
We should fear repeating those detachment issues with today’s kids who are out-of-school and living through Chromebooks, iPads, and iPhones.
Isn’t it telling the Times’ story is set at tech companies? They are basically narcissism factories providing clout chasing ME-llennials digital tools to live that selfie life, why wouldn’t they attract workers who put their wants ahead of the needs of others.?
Can we really expect the generation that swipes left or right for love to demonstrate genuine empathy? Can we get them to look up from their app long enough to see 9 million of their fellow Americans have dropped out of work to care for children or an elder relative?
These families don’t have employer-paid wading pools, bike repair shops, free meals, and doggie cafes – but, who cares?
But, they should. We all should. I’m as libertarian as the next guy, but your issues will often become “our” issues.
Nearly one in five working adults reports not working because the pandemic shuttered childcare options. That’s crazy.
According to the federal government “Of those not working, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands.”
I don’t know when we stopped believing that children and their parents should be a policy priority? And, no, it isn’t one generation of us suffering from an empathy deficit. America is afflicted with that as a whole.
I don’t have an answer for what workplaces do to make their childless workers feel they have benefits equal to working parents, but I know more than ever we need everyone to put kids first.
If not, we’ll all face death by selfie.
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