My oldest son is litigious by nature. When he was three years old, I told him he couldn't bring the Matchbox car he found in the sandbox at Westmorland Park home. Instead he brought home the Matchbox cement mixer. When I told him I was disappointed he had disobeyed me, he reminded me I had never specifically said not to take a "truck." I had only forbidden him from taking a "car." As far as he was concerned, he hadn't broken my rule. The fact that neither toy belonged to him was beside the point. It was not easy living with a pre-school Bill Clinton.
Fast-forward to sixth grade when his science teacher gave the entire class permission to use the Internet to research the answers to a take-home assignment. Once home, it took my son no more than 10 minutes to find the teachers' edition to the worksheet on-line, complete with each and every answer spelled out for him. A heated mother-son discussion ensued. I was upset and felt using the Internet answers was tantamount to cheating. He felt the teacher had made it perfectly clear using on-line sources was just fine; it wasn't his fault that he'd hit the homework jackpot. It was excellent opportunity to engage in a "spirit of the law" vs. "letter of the law" discussion.
So as my son watched the unpleasant situation at Penn State unfold on ESPN last week, it was clear to me that there was a key lesson for him, now 14, in all that was happening at State College. This was the perfect opportunity for my husband and I to let him know that regardless of what laws were technically broken and by whom, just about every person who knew of Jerry Sandusky's alleged actions and didn't call the police broke the "laws" of decency and compassion for children.
We explained that it is possible that assistant coach Mike McQueary might have met his legal obligation in telling his supervisor Joe Paterno of the sexual assault he witnessed in the locker room. It is possible his job may even be safe given whistle-blower protection status under Pennsylvania state law. But by choosing not to call the police immediately, McQueary behaved immorally. Many boys, we told our son, may have been unnecessary sexual assault victims due the 28-year-old graduate assistant's ethical weakness.
We further explained that even though Joe Paterno may not go to jail for his part in the scandal -- he told both the Athletic Director and Penn State's interim VP of finance and business what McQueary told him, his minimum legal responsibility -- he still failed every victim of Sandusky's abuse. We told our son that Paterno was ethically obliged to make sure a member of his staff was fully investigated for the alleged criminal behavior. But he never followed up, allowing Sandusky continued access to kids.
There are many teachable moments that have surfaced in the wake of the Penn State breakdowns. It's a reminder to parents that we need to be in tune with our children, and teach them that no one, not even a trusted adult, has the right to make them feel uncomfortable in any way, especially sexually. It's also an opportunity to remind our kids that while being a fervent fan is fun, coaches and others involved in athletic programs are got gods. They are human, and fallible.
I am hopeful that the outrage directed at Penn State will cause states to update their laws and make it a crime not to report suspected child abuse. But in the meantime, what I most need my kid to understand is that there are certain situations where there is always a right thing to do, regardless of what any law on the books may say.
Last week Paterno was quoted as saying, "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
Hindsight, though, is not the measure I want my son to use for ethical decision-making. Moral decisions need to be made in the present -- especially when children's futures are involved.
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.
My 11th-grade and 8th-grade sons have heard "the chant" for years. You know which one I'm talking about -- the ESFY (U?) chant (I'm not sure what the parenting post rules are for writing two of the more forbidden four-letter words in the English language) that appears to have both Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Blank quite concerned.
There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.
We spent hours poring over name books and checking for inappropriate initial combinations. We looked at meanings, variant spellings and popularity charts. And, as I am sure every parent does, we thought we'd hit the name jackpot with each of our kids. But there are always surprises.
A generation or two ago, the pediatrician was the guy (yes, they were mostly guys) who gave your kids shots and prescribed big bottles of antibiotics for every sniffle. Madison's Dipesh Navsaria is a different breed of pediatrician.
Gamehole Con will be the premier tabletop gaming convention in the region. And with Wisconsin being the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the nation's leader in gaming stores per capita, it kind of makes sense that the convention's organizers want the Dairy State to be known for more than just cheese, beer and bratwurst.
This year I will also try to ease up some of my previous costume concerns. Sure, the world is rife with inappropriate dress up choices for our kids; there is no parent out there that is keen on his or her child dressing like a pint-sized prostitute, even for one night.
This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades.
I was greeted at the door by Tom Moen, who has served as executive director of what he likes to call "Madison's best kept secret", for the past 39 of the center's 47 years. Located in the middle of the subsidized Truax Park apartment complex, EMCC, with its vast array of offerings for kids, seniors and everyone in between, is unquestionably the heart of the neighborhood.
Madison's Kashmira Sheth has written four award-winning novels for middle grade and teen readers, and a popular chapter book for six- to nine-year-olds, but right now her picture books are what she's excited to talk about.
A few summers back, my daughter, maybe 8 or 9 at the time, decided to take part in our swimming pool's annual water ballet show. I'm not really sure what initially piqued her interest in the somewhat under-the-radar, very much under-the-water sport of synchronized swimming.
We rarely included a stop at the Central Library as part of our regular outing. For those of you who've been in Madison for a while, I'm sure you'd agree that the old building was pretty run down. Not to mention, dark, cavernous and depressing. Libraries, at their best, should be portals to discovery, right?
My eleven-year-old daughter spent most of last weekend alone in her room, door shut. It wasn't a temper tantrum or an overwhelming need for tween privacy that led to her self-induced isolation, though. Instead, I didn't see her (except for meals) for two days because she was, in her words, "going through her closet."
Yes, the 2004 classic comedy Mean Girls is an absolutely delightful movie. But it's definitely not the smartest mother/daughter viewing as your child is about to enter her inaugural year of middle school.
Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.