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.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.