Thursday, August 30, 2012

We Are the Egg Men

I channeled my mom today.

Not that channeling my mom is an unusual occurrence for me. Actually, my parenting style is very similar to hers, so I crib mom tips from my own childhood on a regular basis. But today I made lunch with my son in a way that totally brought back memories of making lunch with my own mom: we made Egg Men.

I was an incredibly picky eater as a child, so getting excited about food wasn’t exactly a common occurrence for me. But whenever my mom announced that we were having scrambled eggs, I was always thrilled because that meant we would make Egg Men. I’m not sure how the tradition started. I suspect that my mom had made me some scrambled eggs and I refused to eat them, so in desperation she tried to make them entertaining. And she succeeded!

The bits and pieces we used to decorate our Egg Men would vary based on whatever happened to be handy at the time. Options usually included one or more types of breakfast cereal (Life and Cheerios were my particular decorating favorites); pretzels or pretzel sticks; vegetable pieces like carrots, celery, broccoli, or sweet peppers (often offered but invariably declined); shredded cheese; and, on a really good day (usually shortly after Halloween), sometimes even a handful of M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces.

So when Ryan and I decided to make scrambled eggs for lunch, I assembled the necessary ingredients: eggs, milk, butter, salt and pepper, and the full lineup of decorating materials.

Ryan was delighted at getting to crack the eggs (I only had to fish out a few stray eggshells), helped me pour in the milk, manfully whipped the eggs into a frenzy, and then waited (sort of) patiently for the eggs to cook so he could begin decorating.

He was mystified by the olives until I sliced them and he realized they would make excellent eyes. A row of Cheerios supplied a big cheery smile. Shredded cheese became fuzzy hair. And after much thought of how to incorporate the pretzels, Ryan’s Egg Man was given two long arms and two lanky legs.

In the time it took me to get my camera from the next room, Ryan had already eaten one arm, one leg, a good bit of hair, part of a smile, and a chin. I guess it’s safe to say that this meal was a success.

And although I honestly don’t remember whether Mom decorated her own eggs when I was a girl, I still consider it an honor to her memory that I made my own Egg Man after Ryan made his. Like Mom taught me, everything tastes better when there’s some love and laughter mixed in.


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Friday, August 24, 2012

Bathroom Bribery

Once upon a time (or, more accurately, twice upon a time), I gave birth to a couple of babies. Which means that at some point after that, I had to start potty training those babies. And for child #1, that day has come.

That day has been a long time coming, truth be told. My son was only about 18 months old the first time he peed in the potty – at his own request. I was thrilled to death, and pictured my amazingly advanced child potty-training himself by his second birthday.


He’ll be three years old in a few short months, and although he will willingly pee in the potty right before tubby time and even asks to use the bathroom every time we’re at Costco (I don’t see the allure of the public bathrooms at Costco, but apparently he does), but he has shown very few indications of being able to sense when he needs to pee or of being bothered by a wet or dirty diaper. So I had resigned myself to the fact that he, like me (as my mother often reminded me), was simply too busy and uninterested to be potty-trained until he was closer to age 4 than to age 3.

But just this week, he’s started to show more interest and willingness in using the potty, so yesterday I went with my gut and we started potty training in earnest. He loves pushing the buttons on the kitchen timer, so I brought it down to the playroom, set it for 30 minutes, and let him push the “Start” button. I explained that every time it beeped, he could turn it off, and then he could pee in the potty, and each time he did, he’d get some kind of a treat.

I am not above bribery.

I am also aware that there are many different things that motivate a child, so I made a mental list of a bunch of different bribes – er, motivators – to encourage him to use the potty. The most obvious is, of course, sweets. Like most children, my son has a sweet tooth, and like most parents, my husband and I allow him sweets sparingly. So dangling the figurative carrot in the form of a mini cupcake, half a brownie, or a single Rolo candy was my first line of attack. But I realized that dealing with a small, already energetic child who had been eating candy and sweets every half hour all day long was not necessarily an improvement over changing diapers all day, so I tried to mix it up. He’s always begging for juice boxes (mostly because he like to put in the straw by himself), so that became one of his rewards. He hates wearing pants, so another reward was getting to play outside without having to put on pants. Watching YouTube videos on my computer is another treat he begs for on a regular basis, so the offer of getting to watch a few silo demolitions or a clip from Cars 2 dubbed in Russian (? we stumbled across it by accident once and for some reason it became one of his favorites) was added to the treat list.

Other than a few token protests here and there, he was surprisingly willing to go “do a try” periodically through the day. At the end of the day, we’d only gone through two diapers – and the only reason I had to change one was that he’d peed in his sleep during nap time.

So we’re on to day 2 of “motivational training.” If all goes well, by my son’s third birthday, bathroom bribery will be a thing of the past.

At least until child #2 is ready to be “motivated.”


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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Parental Earworms

You know how sometimes you get a song (or worse, a bit of a song) stuck in your head, and it just goes around and around and around, over and over and over until you think you’ll lose your mind? Yeah, that’s an earworm.

Everyone gets earworms now and then. Before I had kids, they were usually bad 80s or 90s pop songs, triggered by some random word. For example, if I was helping my husband fix a loose board and he said, “Could you pass me the hammer?” a voice inside my brain would immediately sing, “Hammer Time!” Or if I was at the reptile house at the zoo and saw a chameleon, it would start singing, “Kaaaarma karma karma karma karma chameeeeeleon…” And naturally, any mention of something “in the air” and my little brain voice would start channeling Phil Collins: “I can feel it coming in the air toni-iiight, hold on!”

If they’re not pop songs from your youth, they’re often cheesy commercial jingles. See a robin hopping around in your backyard and you immediately have, “Red Robinnnn, yummmmm” on an infinite loop inside your head. See a sign in the grocery store advertising, “All Beef Patties” and what do you start singing? Yeah, you know. It includes the words, “special sauce” and “sesame seed bun,” doesn’t it. It’s often an ad from so long ago that you didn’t even remember that you remembered it. See a kid playing with a slinky and deep from the recesses of your brain comes the chorus, “A slinky, a slinky, for fun it’s a wonderful toy! A slinky, a slinky! It’s fun for a girl and a boy.”

But when you’re a parent, the earworms become both more pervasive and more insidious. First of all, you have the theme songs to every show that plays on any PBS station between 6am and 6pm. All parents who are reading this, tell me you’ve never had the following scraps of theme songs stuck in your head: “She went ‘woof’ and ‘bark’ and ‘rrrrr’;” “Everything…is so wond-erous…;” “And I wanna know everything now;” “Flying at the speed of sound, vocabulary that astounds;” “It’s electric! Oh-oh!;” “And I say, ‘Hey! What a wonderful kind of day…’;” or “Red and green and brown and blue, they’re the Really Useful Crew.” (For you non-parents and Luddites, these would be parts of the theme songs to Martha Speaks, Curious George, Sid the Science Kid, Word Girl, The Electric Company, Arthur, and Thomas and Friends, respectively.) And that is a mere sampling of the theme songs your brain has to draw from.

And don’t get me started on all the songs from Disney movies, from classic to contemporary. I must have over a thousand Disney snippets waiting to get stuck in my brain, from the ones everyone knows like “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Heigh-Ho” and “Hakuna Matata” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (which I am delighted to say both that my spellchecker recognizes and that I spelled correctly on the first try) to the less familiar “We Are Siamese If You Please” and “Feed the Birds” and “When I See an Elephant Fly.”

But even beyond the kids’ show theme songs, you have the endless nonsense songs your parents sang to you, that THEIR parents sang to THEM. Nursery rhymes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Little Boy Blue;” silly songs like “On Top of Spaghetti” and “Found a Peanut;” “learning songs” like “The Alphabet Song” and “Ten Little Indians;” lullabies like “Hush, Little Baby” and “Rock-a-bye Baby;” and other random snippets like, “Clean Up, Clean Up” and “Brush-a Brush-a Brush-a.”

These earworms might be annoying, but I find that they do remind me of one very important thing: I sing to my kids. A LOT. I sing songs that they love and learn, songs that someday they’ll sing to their children, and that THEIR children will sing to THEIR children. So it’s not an earworm, it’s a legacy. Because after all, what else can you do with an earworm besides pass it along?
The Ultimate Earworm. You're welcome.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mom Fails

I make no claims at being a perfect mom. Quite frankly, I screw up on a regular basis. Most moms do. Oh, let’s be real. ALL moms screw up on a regular basis.

Most of the screw ups are pretty minor, like the time my daughter was sitting on my lap and suddenly lurched over my arm and fell head-first on the floor. Or the times (yes, plural, sadly) that my son has climbed into his own car seat and I’ve forgotten to strap him in. Mom Fail, but no harm done.

Occasionally they’re a little more serious – or at least, a little more traumatic (for either me or my kids). Like the time that my son, who always slept through the night, woke up crying in the middle of the night and I let him cry for half an hour until I checked on him and discovered that he’d thrown up all over himself. Mom fail. Or the time I gave my daughter a bottle of milk in the car and when she dropped it on the floor, I picked up and gave her what I assumed was the same bottle of milk but what was in fact a bottle that had been left in the (extremely hot) car since the day before. I will omit describing the results, but whatever you’re imagining, it was worse. Spectacular Mom Fail.

Sometimes the screw-ups could have tragic (or at least serious) consequences, but don’t (thank God). Like the time I wasn’t watching my son very closely while he was eating his dinner and he informed me that he had stuck a bean up his nose. A few hard nose-blows cleared it out, but we could have easily ended up in the emergency room. Or the time I didn’t realize that he was able to climb up the table in his (3rd floor) bedroom and he knocked out the screen and started throwing books out the window. He wasn’t hurt in the least, but if I had taken a few more minutes to realize what was going on, he could have been much worse than hurt. Epic Mom Fail.

There are lots of different reasons for my various mom fails. I’ve failed one child because I was dealing with the other. I’ve failed a child because I was paying attention to something else. I’ve failed a child because I was sleep deprived and not thinking straight. I’ve failed a child because I just didn’t know any better. But I’ve never failed a child because I didn’t care, or because I didn’t have the best of intentions.

So despite all those fails, I still consider myself a pretty good mom. After all, I try hard to keep my kids safe. I try hard to teach them about the world around them. I try hard to teach them to be polite, and curious, and generous, and to have common sense. And most of all, I love them. I love them more than anything in the world, more than my own life. What more could any child ask of a mom than that? I’d call that a Mom Win. An EPIC Mom Win!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Well, I Love a Rainy Night

Or, in this case, I love a rainy morning. I woke up this morning to an overcast sky and a warning breeze blowing through the screen doors. By the time I got the kids downstairs and ready for breakfast, the skies opened up and it poured. And then came the thunder and lightning. And what thunder and lightning it was! The first flash was incredibly bright, and I thought to myself, “Wow, this one’s going to be a doozie.” And about eight seconds later, a rolling thunderclap shook the house. When it started the kids both stared at me with uncertain expressions, like when they fall down and aren’t sure whether to cry or not. And just like that situation, I was able to stave off their tears by my reaction – in this case, by clapping excitedly and announcing, “Thunder!!!!” Both kids immediately grinned and clapped along with me.

When I was small, no-one had to convince me that storms weren’t scary. For all that I was terrified of the noise of fireworks, I was never bothered by thunder. I loved to stand in the window with the lights off and watch storms outside. And I have never grown out of that delight. Thunderstorms, hailstorms, snowstorms, windstorms – it doesn’t matter. Any time the sky puts on a show, I want to watch. And listen.

Listening is the reason that thunderstorms top my list of exciting weather phenomena. The whistle of a windstorm or hurricane is cool, the muffled near-silence of a snowstorm is fascinating, the plink-plunk of hailstones hitting their target is marvelous, but thunder is different. Thunder has…personality. It can be a single, resounding clap, or a long rumble that builds in intensity, or a few overlapping slams. Plus, thunder has an opening act – a herald, if you will. You get a second of advance warning on thunder. The lightning that precedes it is like the starter of a race announcing, “On your mark, get set, go!” You know to stop and listen for it. I love that.

Plus, thunder is informative. Who among us has never counted the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to calculate how far away the storm is? Who among us has never mentally compared succeeding thunderclaps to determine whether the storm is getting closer or moving away? You can’t trust how loud or soft the thunder is to determine distance, but you can be absolutely sure if you use the time between the lightning and the thunder. Meteorology + math = fun!

So I am sitting in my office with the window open and the lights off, listening to the muffled roar of thunder and feeling a vague disappointment as it recedes into the distance. The concert is coming to an end. But it’s still summer in New England, and I know there are more stormy mornings yet to come. And I’ll be listening for them.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2 > 1 + 1

When I was expecting my second child, I knew it would be a lot more work than having only one child. I figured that as much as I hoped it would be significantly less than twice the work, it would probably turn out to be twice the work. I never realized that 1 child plus 1 child equals way more than 2 children’s worth of work.

The thing about having two children is that they feed off each other. Trouble that neither one of them would ever dream of on his or her own can happen with two children working together. Take my children, for example. My 2-1/2 year old son is a curious and careful observer who noticed how the lock on the sliding glass door leading to the pool worked, so we installed a hook and eye at adult height to keep him safe. My 1 year old daughter is an adventurous explorer and climber who constantly attempts to climb up onto the seat of her scooter and then stand up. It would never occur to him to stand on the scooter and it would never occur to her to try to unlock the door, but put them together and voila! He stands up on the seat of the scooter and lets himself out the door. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

My children are still at the age when any kind of working in tandem to make trouble is purely accidental. Unintentionally, one will distract my attention by coloring on the table while the other sneaks off to play in the potty or push the buttons on the computer. Or while I’m rescuing one who’s stuck at the top of the stairs (she can do up but not down), the other one is scaling the bookshelf to grab a butane lighter or moving the table to get at the pincushion in my sewing drawer. But I live in fear for the day when the two of them consciously work together to plot parental overthrow. I imagine a huddled discussion where Brother, age 9, whispers to Sister, age7: “OK, you get her to try to explain long division while I disassemble the toaster and get the staple gun, then we’ll rendezvous back in my bedroom to build the trebuchet!”

I suppose I should just resign myself to the fact that the two of them will be ruling the world before they’re 20. I can only hope they’ll be benevolent dictators.
King Ryan and Queen Katie, the early years
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Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympic Musings

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London were, as every Olympic Games are (at least in my personal memory), spectacular. From the pageantry of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies to the human drama of individual athletes to the nail-biting photo finishes to the puzzles of unfamiliar sports and convoluted rules, this year’s Olympics were no exception. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights that stick out in my mind:

The Brouhaha Over the U.S.A. Team Uniforms (Lowlight)
The official 2012 Summer Olympics USA Team Uniform

Even before the Games began, there was trouble over the uniforms – they were made in China, they featured an absurdly large designer logo that outshone the American flag, they were ridiculously overpriced. During the Games, some of the uniforms (and, rather ridiculously, the Olympians wearing them) were criticized for not being patriotic enough in that they were in colors other than red, white, and blue. Despite some of these criticisms being valid, it was a shame that the uniforms made headlines more often than the athletes wearing them.

Swimmer Missy Franklin (Highlight)
Missy's Tweet from the Closing Ceremonies; Missy at right, with teammate Kara Lynn Joyce

I had never heard of Missy Franklin prior to the Olympics, but I am now a firm member of her fan club. Not only is she an amazingly gifted and hard-working athlete, she is a charming, humble, and delightful human being. She was obviously thoroughly enjoying every moment at the Games, and her smile during the Closing Ceremonies packed enough wattage to power the entire stadium. And the fact that she is a member of her school’s “Anglophile Club”, which speaks in British accents and drinks tea, only endeared her to me more. She is the ideal embodiment of the Olympic athlete.

Sports You Never Get to See (Lowlight AND Highlight)
The pistol shooting portion of the modern pentathlon
So many Olympic sports never make a television appearance other than at the Olympic Games. This includes sports most people are at least nominally familiar with, such as judo, fencing, water polo, and synchronized swimming, but also lesser-known events like race walking, canoe slalom, modern pentathlon (fencing, shooting, horseback jumping, swimming, and running), track cycling, and handball. Highlight for actually televising some of these fascinating events; lowlight for not giving enough coverage or background on either the sports or their athletes.

Michael Phelps’ Medal Count (Highlight)

200m IM gold medalist Phelps (right) and silver medalist Ryan Lochte
Since the 2008 Olympics, Phelps had gotten a bit of a reputation for being something of a party boy and an arrogant git (sorry, there’s no American equivalent to that expression. But you know what I mean). Prior to these Games, I found myself not really feeling a strong need to root for him, especially since he seemed to have lost the spark and the drive he had shown in previous Olympic Games. However, I found his behavior to be reasonably gracious after failing to medal in his first event, and his spark seemed to return for the following events. Not an undeserving recipient of the title of most decorated Olympian in history, as the holder of 22 Olympic medals, 19 of them gold. The footage of him interacting with aspiring young swimmers as part of the foundation he began after the 2008 Olympics didn’t hurt his reputation with me, either.

The Royals Are Human (Highlight)
William and Kate beaming with national pride during the Opening Ceremonies
From the Queen’s delightful appearance on film with James Bond during the Opening Ceremonies, to William and Kate holding hands in the stands, to Harry’s cheery whistling and singing along during the Closing Ceremonies, the British Royal family put on a charmingly human face at the Games. Extra points for their exuberance at not only their countrymen’s achievements, but for the winners of each event. Even if London got no other benefits from hosting the Olympic Games, the benefit from showing the royals – particularly the younger generation - in such a refreshingly positive light is incalculable.

Feck Video Goes Viral (Lowlight)
[Out of sympathy for Mr. Feck, I will omit posting a photo of his dive.]

Much like the unfortunate skier who graced the opening sequence of ABC's Wide World of Sports for years (“the agony of defeat,” indeed), German diver Stephan Feck will be forced to relive his Olympic disaster for years to come. Feck’s foot slipped off the board as he began his second round dive and he landed in the water flat on his back, resulting in a score of 0.0. Every Olympian hopeful dreams of being famous throughout the world, but I don’t think this is what Feck had in mind.

The Parents’ Perspective (Highlight)
Aly Raisman's parents watching her balance beam routine.

One of my favorite parts of Olympic coverage has always been interviews with the athletes’ families, where they describe getting up at the crack of dawn to drive to practice, uprooting their family to move nearer to a training facility, going for weeks and months without seeing their kids, and trying to describe the feeling of watching their child compete in the Olympic Games. But nothing explained that feeling more eloquently than the footage of Aly Raisman’s parents watching her perform on the uneven bars. As my husband once described watching his daughter’s gymnastics meets, “It’s four hours of sheer boredom punctuated by four minutes of sheer terror.” Extra bonus points for P&G’s lovely “Thank You, Mom” series of ads, especially the one showing Olympians still seen as little kids through their parents’ eyes.

Closing Ceremonies (Highlight)

Ballerina Darcey Bussell’s dramatic entrance as a flaming red phoenix
The start of the Closing Ceremonies was a bit lackluster. There was spectacle, but the sound was terrible and the energy was flat. And who decided that Russell Brand should not only appear, but sing? But all that changed with the entrance of the Spice Girls riding in lit-up Bentleys. Each one looked (and sounded) as spectacular as ever, and when they climbed on top of the cars and continued singing as they zoomed around the Union Jack-shaped track, the crowd went wild. The show only got better with the appearance of Eric Idle to sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” accompanied by roller-skating nuns flashing Union Jack boxer shorts, and was topped off by a glorious virtual Freddy Mercury. Other memorable moments mixed in were a choir of children singing and signing John Lennon’s “Imagine” while dancers formed a giant plaster replica of John’s face, a performance by Stomp, Timothy Spall portraying Winston Churchill atop a replica of Big Ben, and of course, thousands of Olympians from all countries mingling, dancing, and just plain celebrating. The final fireworks and brilliant red phoenix rising from the Olympic torch were a fitting ending to the Games. And based on the taste of Brazil we saw, the 2016 Opening and Closing Ceremonies are something to look forward to.

All in all, I’d call the 2012 Summer Olympic Games a rousing success. Hey, let's do it again in four years!

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Thursday, August 9, 2012


My son has developed a very strong sense of logic of late. Unfortunately, it is his own unique kind of logic, which does not always jive with my ideas of logic. Most of the time, his logic is circular logic: If he says he doesn’t want to take a nap and I ask him why not, he answers, “I don’t want a nap because I don’t want a nap.” Or if I ask him why he’s crashing his cars, he tells me, “I’m crashing my cars because I’m crashing my cars.” Technically true, I suppose, but not really the kind of logic that makes a particularly convincing argument.

Sometimes, though, he surprises me with “true” logic: “Mama, this truck is a bad guy because he’s making a scary face.” OK, that’s actually some pretty sound reasoning right there. But then he follows it up with something relatively nonsensical, like, “And he’s making a scary face because the zoo has a red door with zeroes on top of it and yellow triangle.” Huh? I’m sure that makes sense to him, but it doesn’t make much to me. I’d swear that sometimes he’s just saying random words in succession, except he’s so sincere about it.

But it’s only fair that I can’t follow his way of thinking, because he very often can’t follow mine, either. He has no concept of how my mind works. This is actually very helpful to me at times, since he has not figured out that protesting his innocence before I’ve accused him of anything causes me to accuse him of something. If I walk into a room where he’s playing and he immediately jumps up and announces, “I wasn’t doing anything,” I know he was doing something, most likely something like writing on the table with a crayon or taking a juice box from the pantry without permission or driving his trucks along the wall. If he’s playing in a part of the room that I can’t see and I go over to check on him, and he heads me off and announces, “Mama, don’t look at that blue thing,” I know immediately to look at “that blue thing”, which might be anything from a Sharpie stolen from my desk drawer, to a DVD taken from the bookshelf, to a tube of sunscreen that is now spread all over his legs and the wall. (Yes, those things have all happened.)

Fortunately, he is beginning to understand logic enough to understand – however vaguely – the concept of consequences. He knows that if he whines after supper, he’ll be sent straight to bed with no tubby time. He understands that throwing his toys results in those toys being taken away. He knows that sassing Mama or Daddy means sitting in a chair with no toys for a few minutes. And he also knows that being well-behaved in a restaurant means we might get dessert, that sharing toys with his sister gets him big hugs and kisses from Mama, and that asking politely for something vastly ups his odds of getting it.

I look forward to the day when his logic is developed enough that he will know without my explaining what kind of consequences certain behaviors will bring, and I can’t wait to hear him give a logical explanation for something. But until that day arrives, I will enjoy listening to his own unique brand of toddelogic.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Television: Friend or Foe?

Before my son was born, I was adamant that there would be no television for him until at least age 2. Ha! That went out the window as soon as we accidentally discovered that breakfast in front of the television meant eating instead of yelling and throwing food. I felt guilty at first, thinking I was being a bad mother. But then I heard my then-18-month-old use the word “humongous” correctly. And I realized that television, when used wisely, can be a useful and effective teaching tool.

I consider myself fortunate to live in an age where there are so many wonderful choices of educational television. I grew up with Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, The Electric Company, and Schoolhouse Rock, but my son also has Word World, Super Why, Word Girl, Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, Curious George, Fireman Sam, Handy Manny, Arthur, Wild Kratts, The Berenstain Bears, and dozens of other well-produced shows that teach everything from reading, numbers, and shapes to sharing, table manners, and safety. I work hard to teach my son his letters, colors, numbers, and shapes, but he learns them much more quickly when he sees a puppet turning into a yellow triangle and singing a song about having three angles and three sides.

Because of shows like Sesame Street and Word Girl, my 2-1/2 year old son knows words like “gigantic,” “fragile,” “scrumptious,” and “hypothesis.” Because of shows like Sid the Science Kid and Curious George, he knows how a vending machine works, why rain falls from the sky, how many legs a spider has, and what plants need to grow. Because of shows like Wild Kratts and Dinosaur Train, he knows that some animals eat plants and some eat other animals, and that some animals fly, some swim, some walk, and some crawl. Because of Arthur and the Berenstain Bears, he knows that sometimes you share toys by taking turns and sometimes by playing together. Because of Fireman Sam and Handy Manny, he knows that there are some things that you need to be very careful of because they’re hot or sharp or heavy or breakable.

Even with all these wonderful things that he’s learned, I’d still think of television as an enemy if he preferred to sit around on the couch staring at the TV instead of playing. But because of the television shows he’s seen, he is now even more creative in his playing. After watching an episode of Dinosaur Train, he’ll build a dinosaur out of Legos and tell me it has a long neck because it’s a T-Rex, or wings because it’s a pteranodon. After watching Curious George, he’ll pretend to make a kite out of paper and make it fly. After watching Fireman Sam, he’ll drive his fire truck around the room saving cats out of trees and rescuing people stuck on roofs.

So I think the answer to the question of whether television is friend or foe is that it is what you make of it. Because we watch together and talk about what we see, television has made my son more literate, more educated, and more creative. And as long as I continue to be careful about what he watches, television will continue to be not only a friend, but a teacher. I look forward to introducing him to shows like Nova, How It’s Made, and Mythbusters, so he’ll learn physics and engineering. In a few years, shows like Chopped and America’s Test Kitchen will teach him that cooking is fun and exciting. Blue Planet will introduce him to marine biology and National Geographic Wild will teach him geography and zoology. Hopefully all these shows will continue to pique his curiosity and encourage him to learn more and explore the world around him. As Dr. Scott the Paleontologist always says at the end of Dinosaur Train: “Remember, get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries!”

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Saturday, August 4, 2012


There are certain things that never fail to make me feel patriotic, that strike some inner chord of national pride, that make me stand a little taller as an American. Things like seeing the cannons shooting while the Boston Pops plays the “1812 Overture” on the 4th of July. Things like watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Things like seeing the statue of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. Things like looking at the names on the Vietnam Wall. Things like listening to a recitation of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. But as of this week, there is nothing that sends patriotic chills up my spine and brings proud tears to my eyes like hearing 1,000 brand-new recruits reciting the Soldiers’ Creed and proudly chanting in unison the words: “I am an American soldier!”
Part of the August 2, 2012, class of graduates of Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
This past week, my stepdaughter Rosemary graduated from Army basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. I was privileged to be able to attend her graduation in person, along with our whole immediate family. My son was impressed by all the soldiers in uniform everywhere and loved the colorful smoke bombs going off at the start of the Family Day ceremony; my daughter was delighted at having hundreds of people to watch (and flirt with); my husband and I were astounded at the sheer volume of soldiers being cranked out by the Army-making machine that is Fort Jackson.
PFC Philpott at her graduation ceremony, second row, dead center.
The soon-to-be-graduates making a grand entrance onto the field for the Family Day ceremony.
For us, as well as most of the families there, this graduation ceremony was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Unless you have several children who sign up for the military, this is the one time you’ll send your child away for ten weeks with no communication other than letters and one or two brief phone calls, culminating in this ceremony that officially declares your child to be a soldier. For us parents and families, Graduation Day is a pretty big deal. But for those who work on this base, it’s not a big deal. In fact, it’s just Thursday.
That’s right. Every Thursday of every week of every year (well, probably not Thanksgiving or the occasional Christmas Day that falls on a Thursday), roughly one thousand soldiers complete boot camp and graduate from basic training. Fifty thousand young people (and boy are they young – I swear some of the graduates we saw aren’t even old enough to drive yet) every year come to Fort Jackson as nervous teenagers and, after ten weeks of intensive training under the watchful eye of a group of tough (and kind of scary) drill sergeants, leave as confident, competent soldiers.
PFC Philpott with Drill Sargent Brock. I refer to her expression as the, “YES, DRILL SARGENT!” face.
PFC Philpott with her “battle buddy,” PFC Doyal.
 Everywhere we went on base, we saw groups of uniformed soldiers-in-training (SITs) going through various exercises: marching through the woods, standing in formation, studying, practicing handling their weapons, running on the track, doing pull-ups (I have never seen so many pull-up bars in one place as on that base – they’re like sheep in the Irish countryside). It’s no wonder to me that not all of them make it. About 10% of SITs do not graduate, whether due to some injury or personal issue that forces them to drop out temporarily, or because they are simply physically or mentally unable to complete the requirements of the program. In fact, it’s a wonder to me that the dropout rate is ONLY 10%. In all honesty, I don’t think that I could have mastered the physical requirements, even when I was 18.
But this past Thursday, the 1,000 young people who did complete all those requirements stood proud and tall in front of friends and family, and loudly and proudly declared themselves to be American soldiers. Including my stepdaughter.
She is an American soldier. Hooah!
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