our weekend with Chocolate Chip

This past weekend, we were scheduled to celebrate Fergus’ 5th birthday on Friday afternoon, my (guess what milestone) birthday on Saturday night, and host fourteen for brunch on Sunday afternoon. Let’s just say, our dance card was full, and so I couldn’t believe my bad luck when Cooper greeted me at the first grade door with the news that we were also in charge of his class mascot for the weekend. I did NOT have time for this.

Mind you, this mascot is not alive. He is a stuffed bison answering to Chocolate Chip. But do not let that fool you: weekends with the class mascot are exhausting, as I learned the hard way when we hosted Penny the Pig for the weekend just this past May. You’re supposed to show this stuffed animal a gay old time, and then render the memories in adorable scrapbook format by Monday morning. This is a tall order for a mother whose own family photos have been piling up on Shutterfly and in shopping bags stuffed in high cabinets since about 2003. And an even taller order for a mother who had planned to celebrate her impending mortality with a few cocktails and sleeping in the next morning.

But there Cooper was, handing me this journal, and so excited that we were the privileged family for the weekend. I am ashamed to say that I did not react in kind, at least until I opened the journal and saw the new rules, now that Cooper was in first grade:

1) the student had to do all the writing;
2) it could be as brief as three sentences;
3) drawings (by the student) were an acceptable substitute for actual photos.

If these rules had been in place in kindergarten, I’d have seventy two hours of my life back. That’s not so bad, I figured. Cooper would do all the hard work! Of course, I was forgetting that getting a six and a half year old boy to sit down and write three sentences would require so much haranguing on my part I could have finished it myself eighteen times.

But I did find the end result particularly pleasing, and so here it is: our weekend with Chocolate Chip.

On Friday, Cooper’s dad and grandfather were both on hand to pick up Cooper and two of his friends and deliver them to Fergus’ birthday party. As you can see, this is a very long first sentence, and I had to work to whittle it down even that far. Cooper balked at writing out “Chocolate Chip,” and so came up with the “c.c.” nickname on his own.

Above is a photo of Chocolate Chip lying on Cooper’s bed. I am sorry to say that is a quite accurate representation of where he spent the weekend. Note his horns and goatee.

Here is an example of invented spelling gone horribly awry, although I did like the idea of me not having to sit there while Cooper wrote it all. (I was putting on makeup for my own birthday party at the time). Here is a translation:

“C.C. Was Being Bad So I Had To Put Him In My Back Pack.”

That’s a little six and a half year old humor. Cooper came up with that on his own, as well as the idea that every single word should be capitalized. I tried to give some gentle constructive criticism on that part and brought Cooper to tears almost immediately, so I dropped it. It’s very A.A. Milne, don’t you think?

“On Saturday We Went Ice Skating.”

This morning I brought the journal in to Cooper’s teacher. “Would you like me to tell you what this says?” I asked. “No, I’m good at translating,” she said, and she was, right up until this sentence. “Iies Sguadiegn” would stump the best of us, I am sure. Let’s give Cooper some credit: he knows the “ing” sound, it’s just that he thinks it’s spelled “ign.”

And then, in the last sentence, we go completely off the rails. Give it a shot on your own before reading translation below.

“On Sunday Like 11 People Came Including My Uncle Mike.”

“Including” is spelled “In Cklotgn.” I think I’m going to stop trying to generate humorous material and just post Connor’s work from here on out.

“But cc. Just Sat On My Bed. Connor.”

Strong finish wouldn’t you say? Somehow he got every word in the last sentence right.

I’m thinking there is probably an interesting psychological study on why every word in the whole story got capitalized EXCEPT the ostensible subject. Poor c.c. Anyway, the rest of us had a fun weekend.

the amazing reach of the blogosphere

Holy crapola y’all. I posted a snarky “review” of a book called Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, just yesterday. My comments, as I at least had the sense to say at the time, were not due to an actual reading of the book in question, but upon an interview on salon.com with one of its co-authors, Mr. Bronson. To my utter shock, the book’s co-author, Ashley Merryman, has responded IMMEDIATELY, with a very civil, thorough, and thought-provoking explication of what I had taken issue with. In my blog post. Which isn’t exactly Time magazine, in terms of its number of eyeballs collected. I am humbled and honored by this, and wanted to post Ms. Merryman’s comments in their entirety here so everyone can see them, and hopefully, discuss further. Oh, and buy the book. Thank you Ms. Merryman!

I just wanted to clarify something.

What the research suggests is that overpraising is a problem, because it isn’t sincere praise. I used to tell my tutoring kids that they were really smart just because they got their homework done. That was an exaggeration, not reflective of their work. So now, if they worked hard on that homework, I say, “Wow, Honey, you worked really hard on that didn’t you?” And the kid feels more rewarded, because it showed that I was actually paying attention to what he was doing.

Neither Po nor I — nor any of the researchers we’ve written about — have ever suggested that parents should limit their expressions of love for their children.

What the research indicates is that it can be problematic when people who substitute actual expressions of love/affections with praise, or when they tie the two concepts together (e.g. “You are so smart, and I love you so much”).

This is a concern because it can send a message that our love is conditional –i.e. I love you BECAUSE you are smart. But if that’s true, then the implication is that I WON’T love you if you aren’t smart.

At this point, kids become very concerned with image-maintenance: they won’t allow themselves to make mistakes, because to do so risks their self-image of being smart, talented, etc., and if they lose that, then they will be unloveable.

The research also cautions against combining praise for achievement with encouragement. Meaning it’s fine to say, “Congratulations on your soccer win: you played your heart out.” However, it would be problematic to add “and I’m sure that you’ll do even better next time” because, first, it indicates that what he did then wasn’t actually praiseworthy – again the praise was conditional because it was based on future performance — and there is no guarantee that he will do better next time.

Also, we never wrote that praise was ineffective; that kids didn’t respond to it. Instead, we explained that it can be too effective.

Finally, our book is not a parenting manual; it’s a presentation of scientific process and evidence — and we leave it up to the individual reader to decide if and how to apply the work.

That’s just a fraction of what we write about, but I hope that helps.

invented and inventive spelling, part deux

Whoa! I never realized there would be such specific and differing responses to my post about Cooper and his invented spelling techniques. According to the comments here– and I hope you know I trust my readers above all others– I need to be on it and teach my kid how to spell. Thanks to Amy, Heather, Sarah, and Anonymous, I will be so on it. I don’t know what “sonsonant blends” and “digraphs” are but I guess I’m about to find out. More firewood for the Mother Load!

There are two articles you should read this week: one to make you feel better, and one to make you snort with derision. I hope.

Both articles suggest that we should rethink some things we’ve been told about parenting, but one is very helpful and one is very unhelpful- another example of the parenting panic that is constantly foisted upon us.

First, the one I didn’t like. It’s not an article, exactly; it’s an interview on salon.com called “Parents: Most of What You’re Doing Is Wrong.” If you think that’s exaggeration for comic effect, it’s not. Lynn Harris (mom, writer, old friend of mine) has interviewed Po Bronson, co-author of a new book called Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children. This author’s modus operandi, it seems, is to make parents question everything they have ever been told, and grip them with a sudden panic that all along they should have been doing just the opposite.

Chief among his hypotheses is my pet peeve: the idea that we should stop praising our children so much. Love and support, daily encouragement? What a bad mommy you are. “When we’re telling kids they’re smart all the time, effort gets stigmatized,” Bronson asserts. I’m not sure what proof they have of this, and I fully admit I have not read the entire book, but it sounds like they’re just kind of making it up. This interview has lots of anecdotes that become worrisome trends in parenting– dire predictions based upon a statistic sampling of one. Well, I’ve got a statistic sampling of three at my house, and they’re part of an ongoing experiment. I tell my kids they’re smart and funny, and beautiful and loved, every single day, and it embarrasses them a little when I do it at school dropoff, but even then I still see their eyes light up with pleasure. I may read Nurtureshock and I may not, but this idea that we can love our children too well or spoil them with self-confidence just makes me roll my eyes. And I’m reading it more and more.

On the other end of the spectrum, an article on slate. com by Dr. Alan Kazdin: “Plan B: What to do when all else has failed to change your kids’ behavior.” This essay also suggests that parents might want to consider doing the opposite of what they have thought was correct, lo these many years, but in contrast, I think this advice is actually helpful. If you have a kid who won’t eat or won’t use the potty or who bites his babysitter, stop doing cartwheels to get him to do what you want, and try doing exactly nothing:

[We] direct the parents to temporarily back off almost entirely: to stop asking their child to do the desired behavior and say it’s OK not to do it at all, stop offering praise or other rewards for doing it, and mask their attitude of engaged enthusiasm or frustrated rage with an appearance of bland disinterest in whether the child does it or not. What happens next, frequently, is that within a day or two the child starts doing the behavior with no prompting from parents or anyone else.

This sounds like it just might be brilliant advice. The article further suggests that parents find opportunities to explicitly tell their child something like, “Don’t worry about this now; you will be able to do this when you get older,” a pressure-reducing antecedent that can actually speed up compliance. Why couldn’t I have read this back when I had an almost-four-year-old pooping in Pull Ups?

This isn’t to say that in all things, or even all things parenting, that slate.com is a better resource than salon.com. I usually enjoy reading them both, because I can never remember which one is which. All I’m saying is that mothers need, as a group, to reject all these feel-bad “experts” out there. If you’re going to tell me I’m doing something wrong, then give me some news I can use.

(photo from slate.com Kazdin article)

Cooper the Grader

We are easing back into our fall schedule around here; school finally started yesterday. I think September 14th has to be a nationwide record for the latest start to a school year, ever, and yet I was still not ready for it to begin. We were all a little bleary eyed around here yesterday morning, and getting all of us out the door, dressed and fed and teeth brushed, by eight a.m., seemed insurmountable after a couple of months off from the grind.

But we’re back! And despite the kids’ protest, they are happy about it. Well at least Cooper is. Fergus, as you can see, has more of a resigned outlook.

Cooper is particularly excited this year because he is now “a grader,” as he likes to put it, as in a first grader, which in his school is a very big deal. No more snack time, no more nap mats. It’s uniforms and desks and HOMEWORK, heaven help me. Last night’s took half an hour, plus we had to read a book so he could mark it on his reading log, and I don’t think I am ready for the next seventeen years since I considered last night’s work to be already somewhat excessively taxing.

But it was also incredibly informative, and so I’m going to pass the blog baton over to Cooper at this point so he can tell you a little bit more about himself.

He loves to plae, and he hates babby toys, like rattles and teething rings. I very much enjoy his Chaucerian spelling. This is the new way for children to learn to write, called “invented spelling,” and it is absolutely adorable, but I am not sure, as a parent, how to navigate it.

“How do you spell ‘baby’?” Cooper asks, pencil poised. “Sound it out,” I say. “B…A…B, B…Y?” he asks, and I think I’m not supposed to say no, so I do not, but this feels duplicitous. Should I tell him the correct spelling? Pretend i haven’t heard him? Leave the room entirely? I keep asking this question at parent/teacher conferences, and have never really gotten a straight answer. Just another thing to keep a mom uncertain and on her toes, I suppose. Happy New School Year!