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.
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.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.
My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.
My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.
What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.
I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.
This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.
It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.
I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.