Monday, March 31, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

CLASSICAL EDUCATION

Q. What constitutes a "classical education"? I've been hearing this term from people who want to combine a "back to the basics" model of education reform with a more modern, high-quality approach, not necessary "back to the way we used to teach."

It's often confused with an elitist education that sticks strictly to dusty old classic books in teeny, tiny type that's booooooring. But think of "classical education" more as offering a true "liberal-arts" curriculum, and you have the idea of its general attraction and value. Basically, it uses the old-school (literally!) order of taking students through these three levels: grammar, logic and rhetoric. Grammar is the foundation -- what's what. Logic is how to analyze information. Rhetoric is how to decide what you think about it, and put the information to use.

They learn language and logic, expressive writing and speech. They get aesthetic appreciation, empirical inquiry skills, spatial relation practice and plenty of mathematics, science and social interaction teaching. What they DON'T get is a lot of Politically Correct, fad-du-jour, special-interest driven content, which is fine with the parents who recognize the benefits of equipping students to think and question, rather than indoctrinating them with what to think.

It's a great alternative to the cookie-cutter style of education that took hold in the last few decades as waves of the Baby Boom and their children moved through public schools. Classical education goes far beyond the familiar school curriculum which by definition is targeted toward the norm and sticks to standardized content from texts written for the mass markets.

On the other hand, a true classical education does not skimp on equipping students to think about and problem-solve on thorny contemporary issues and diversity . . . because a true classical education covers those big-picture issues which have always been key, whether it was many centuries ago, or on today's front page. And a true classical education covers the sweep of history which, by definition, is the epitome of diverse.

A good classical education teaches teenagers symbolic logic, Aristotelian rhetoric and civic responsibility. Those are mighty fine ideals, and if word is spreading about this quality alternative philosophy of education, it's a good thing.

Homework: "Classical Education: Towards the Revival of American Schooling" by Gene Edward Veith Jr., and Andrew Kern (Capital Research Center, 1997, 99 pp.).

Sunday, March 30, 2003


SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE GOES TO WAR

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

-- Matthew 13:46

A dear friend just got back from 12 days in Hawaii, where three generations of his family stayed at the Hale Koa (''House of the Warrior''), a special military resort on Waikiki. Our friend, former Omahan and University of Nebraska graduate Steve Alberg, was ROTC in school and a captain in the Air Force Reserves. His father, Henry Alberg, was a colonel with the Nebraska National Guard and a longtime helicopter pilot. They all wear their hearts on their sleeves; there's no doubt that family has a deep and abiding love for the United States of America.

Now, most people come back from Hawaii with great tans and self-absorbed stories about snorkeling and surfing. But here's a souvenir for wartime: a letter from Steve about an extraordinary experience his family had a few days ago at Pearl Harbor.

It puts this war into perspective, as we defend the ''pearl of great price'' that belongs to all Americans: our freedom.

Steve writes:

''Security was tight all during our stay, with armed guards and I.D. checkpoints extending even onto the beach. We heard a rumor that the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier was loading up on fuel, stores and munitions in nearby Pearl Harbor, about to sail into harm's way along with her battle group.

''Early the next morning, the rented van was fueled and at curbside with Col. Alberg, 71 years young, barking orders and indicating that the mission to see the carrier off at Pearl was going to be on time. As we approached the Navy Gate at Pearl, we were inspected and had to produce picture ID to a contingent of MP's who were armed to the teeth and looked very intent on their business. A humvee with a 50-caliber was parked nearby and manned as well. They refused to confirm any rumors about the Nimitz, but the Colonel's and my old reserve military ID did the trick. The weapons were shouldered and a smart salute was rendered from all the young warriors to the old. The Colonel rendered one back to those sharp young troops and held it for a moment longer . . . and so did I.

''One of them said crisply: 'Col. and Capt. Alberg, Sirs, you may proceed but I think you ought to get rid of the Jayhawk ball cap.' We all laughed, and of course Mom told them we were from Kansas City and grew up in Nebraska, just in case they might have any doubt about our background as loyal Americans. The trooper said, 'Ah'm from West Virginia, Maaa'aaam' . . . and then we were in Naval Base Pearl and the adventure was on.

''We saw the old original stone military buildings still obviously riddled by air from the attack in 1941. They are left and still used as a reminder to all those soldiers who see them today -- a reality check. The strafing planes left easily observable double parallel paths of many, many individual four- to six-inch circular pock marks across the stone buildings.

''We headed down toward Battleship Row. On the way we saw more destroyers and cruisers than I have ever seen in my five previous times at Pearl. Lots of activity.

''As we turned the corner, there she was: a gun grey steel behemoth about four football fields in length, maybe 10 stories high. She was parked next to the famous Battleship Missouri with her monster deck turret guns and the sunken Arizona on eternal patrol. What a sight!

''The Nimitz' decks were bristling with fighters and supplies. A tug was approaching her bow, another her stern. And then came the chopper, circling the harbor, scoping out the shore and looking underwater with its sonar, machine gunners in the open doors, scanning the 300- to 400-yard wide channel that runs out of Pearl Harbor to the sea. The tugs slowly turned her around to get her bow toward the channel and the open ocean.

''Approximately three or four weeks before, there had been a rumor in Pearl that terrorists were planning to get an airplane and dive it into the nuclear sub pens and, according to the same rumor, that is why we went to Code Orange at that time. The resulting nuclear problem would be another Pearl Harbor for us. I had earlier noted with interest the Aegis missile cruiser parked two or three miles offshore near the Honolulu Airport flight path and visible from Waikiki and downtown. She stayed there every day.

''The carrier was now beginning her run for deep water. We decided it was time to head to the entrance to the channel going into Pearl Harbor a couple of miles away. We raced back to the van and headed through a back gate into Hickam AFB, taking a shortcut to 'Orville and Wilbur's' cafe out on the point overlooking the channel. That's a breakfast/lunch restaurant on the base named for the Wright Brothers and famous for great egg, toast and bacon 'All American' breakfasts at cheap military rates. We arrived at Orville's parking lot overflowing with cars, and we ran for the point.

''A crowd lined the channel’s coast for hundreds of yards. We found our spot just in time as someone yelled, 'Here she comes! She's rounding the bend!' A great cheer sounded.

''And there she was . . . steaming for open water . . . battle flags flying . . . sailors manning her decks . . . F-18 fighter aircraft and antiaircraft guns at the ready . . . the public address system on board crackling orders and the ship sounding like something out of a 'Star Wars' movie.

''She passed 100 yards in front of us. There were more cheers. The crowd waved American flags and held up signs . . . 'Good Luck and God Speed!!!!' The sailors waved back and cheered us!

''Kids yelled for their dads. Wives and girlfriends waved and blew kisses to their sailors. Grown men were crying and cheering at the same time onshore, myself included. My 14-year-old daughter Katy started crying when the little girl next to her yelled, 'Goodbye, Daddy! I love you! Come home soon, Daddy!'

''My daughter and I and many others ran along the shore so we could be with the 'flat top' and her brave warriors as long as possible.

''At land’s end, they kept going but we had to stop. With a look of real concern, Katy asked, 'Dad, they will come home, won't they? Their chances are good, aren’t they?' I knew she had realized what was at stake and what it was all about.

''She got her answer right away. The carrier's horn sounded – 'Whoop, Whoop, Whoop' -- and with a blast from her mighty foghorn that shook the air and a speeding, low-flying chopper escort zooming right over our heads, she broke into the open sea followed by a cruiser and her sailors standing in white and lining the deck . . . 'Hurrah! Hurrah!'

''We learned they were headed for Maui waters to link up with the Nimitz' entire battle group of destroyers, cruisers and subs which were waiting for her there at sea. Ultimate destination unknown. Our forces are being sent to four theaters out of Pearl: Iraq, Korea, the Philippines and Afghanistan.

''Wherever they are tonight, I can rest easier in this crazy world. I've seen it with my own eyes: the power of that proud ship and the good and brave faces of those sailors and aviators risking their lives to fight for freedom from oppression and terror. I saw their proud, brave families and the tears of the wellwishers, too.

''Pearl Harbor has always been a rallying point for our country, a symbol of who we are compared to other countries and what we have to do to keep what we have for ourselves and for the good of the world. Whatever it takes, it's worth it . . . worth fighting for just as much today as in 1941.

''For all of us who were there to see that magnificent ship embark that day at Pearl, with lumps in our throats and goosebumps on top of our goosebumps, it was a priceless reminder of who we are and what we're like.

“We were all Americans that day! Be brave!”

-- Dedicated to Ben Rudnicki, a U.S. Marine from Omaha now fighting in Iraq, whose mother is my Sunday School teaching partner; she asks for covering prayer for Ben and all our fighting forces.

--------------------------------------------------

Susan Darst Williams, www.DailySusan.blogspot.com, is a writer, wife and mother of four who lives at the base of Mount Laundry, Nebraska.

Monday, March 24, 2003


SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

NEENEE AND THE QUEEN BEE

And said, O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong.

-- Daniel 10:19

We have this gorgeous, sweet daughter Neely who is getting ready for her senior prom this weekend. She has a knockout dress in raspberry red that’ll show off her long, golden hair, and she gets to wear her first set of grownup sparkly earrings.

It seems crazy, but because of this war going on against Iraq and the drip, drip, drip of worries about terrorism, I’ve been thinking lately about something our Neely did ‘way back in fifth grade. It involved putting down some real, live terrorism, but not a shot was fired and there weren’t any casualties. I wish the military and political leaders of the world could take a clue from how NeeNee handled the school bully that day on the playground.

Neely was a skinny fifth-grader with Band-aid knees and a ponytail. She was one of those quiet girls who would never hurt a fly, and she had a group of very nice friends. However, the class ahead had a few girls you could call “headstrong” or “high-spirited” or “Queen Bees.” “B,” that is, for “bullies.”

You know the type: very smart, very pretty, very loud, very bossy, from high-achieving families, used to getting their way, used to dominating their little group of wanna-be’s, and most of all, not really happy with themselves just the way they are.

And lots of times, it spills out on the playground, onto other kids.

Well, on this particular sunny afternoon, Neely and the other fifth-grade girls were on the blacktop playing an all-American game of Four Square. There were four girls standing in painted squares on the pavement bouncing the ball around, and two or three waiting in line for their turn to get into the game.

All of a sudden, here came the Queen Bee and her entourage. The older girl stepped right into the Four-Square game, into the space rightfully occupied by the tiniest little girl in the entire fifth grade, and snatched the ball away from her.

“Heyyyy!” the little girl protested, weakly. “You can’t take cuts!”

“Oh, yes I can and I just did!” the Queen Bee buzzed, menacingly. “You go to the end of the line.”

“But that’s not fair!” the little girl whimpered.

“Oh, yeah?” the Queen Bee challenged. “If you’re so smart, what’s six times four? What’s seven times eight? What’s 42 divided by seven?”

She was a year ahead in math and light years ahead in sheer aggression. She out-dazzled the younger girl, who stood there speechless and humiliated, then grudgingly turned to go to the end of the line.

All of a sudden, another pair of hands seized the ball.

The Queen Bee turned in shock. To be challenged outright in front of her entourage and her victims? She locked eyes with . . .

NeeNee.

NeeNee, the quiet, reserved, polite, obedient child who never said “boo” and never got into conflicts of any kind, had stepped right into the fray to preserve, protect and defend her smaller classmate’s rights.

She locked her laser-blue eyes onto the older girl’s. “If YOU’RE so smart,” she challenged the Queen Bee, “what’s the square root of 3?”

Silence.

The Queen Bee had no idea.

This time, the bully was the one standing speechless and humiliated. It was a staredown, and the tables were turned.

Game ball.

This time, it was the bully who grudgingly gave it up.

Holding the ball for all to see, Neely said to her, loud enough for all to hear, “Go to the end of the line, then, and wait your turn like everybody else. C’mon, now! Let’s play Four Square!”

And do you know what? The Queen Bee and her wanna-be’s politely waited their turns, got into the game fair and square, and a good time was had by all.

Neely came home that day and told the story. “Wow,” I responded. “What made you think of that? What IS the square root of 3?”

“I have no idea,” Neely replied, squinting a bit with a rascally smile, “but it SOUNDED good.”

For the rest of the school year, the Queen Bee never bothered their little group again, and even played games with them from time to time, uneventfully with mutual respect. Well, whaddya know? She wasn’t so bad after all.

All it had taken to put her in her place was a show of quiet strength from an unexpected source . . . a younger girl’s resolve to make peace and make things come out right, relying on her God-given wits to pull off a simple but effective bluff.

You call ‘em on their own game, and you win, every time.

Here’s hoping the war ends as quickly and as well, for all concerned.

And here’s hoping Neely can enjoy her senior prom without having to break up any fights. Something tells me, though, if the boys try to get fresh . . . she’ll send ‘em to the end of the line.

Saturday, March 22, 2003


SATURDAY: Just For Kicks

‘BETTER THAN BREAKFAST’ CEREAL PARTY MIX

This is a great treat to set out at a party with individual paper cups for people to scoop some together and not miss a bite. Or bring it in individual zip-lock bags to a ball game:

9 C. Chex or Crispix cereal
1 1/2 C. coconut
1 1/2 C. peanuts
1 C. light brown sugar
1 stick butter or margarine
1/2 C. white corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 C. chocolate chips
1 C. raisins

In two 13” x 9” pans, mix cereal, coconut and peanuts. In double boiler over medium heat, melt butter with sugar and corn syrup. Stir frequently until it boils. Boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. (Note: if you are doubling this recipe, use a large pot with tall sides because the syrup bubbles up at this stage). Pour over cereal mix and stir well to coat. Bake at 250 degrees for one hour. Take pans out every 15 minutes and stir carefully with a large spoon to make sure all sides are coated. Let cool completely. Add chocolate chips and raisins, breaking clumps gently.

Friday, March 21, 2003


FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

A MOM WITH CLASS

Most kids go off to college and do just fine. But there are always those exceptions that can break your heart. It's almost never because of an inability to do the schoolwork that young people drop out. It's almost always a financial or emotional problem.

If your child has one or both and has to move home, be sure to insist on structure -- translation: a "job" -- and insist that the child start taking at least one class just as soon as possible. You don't want the young adult to fall out of the habit of "going to school" or underachieving right out of the mainstream.

If at all possible, enroll in the same class with your child. You'll both learn something and your moral support may be just the ticket to keep that young adult on track, and back on the road toward independence.

Thursday, March 20, 2003


THURSDAY: Cre8iviT

WAR: WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

The song's answer is "absolutely nothing." But that's not true. One thing war can do for the families of young people who are engaged in it is to teach them unmistakeably that love is what life is all about.

You can help support a family with a loved one who is dispatched overseas with a simple gift: a scrapbook.

It might be a tool for them to keep news clippings, letters from the soldier, notes from friends, mentions of prayer groups, photos, mementos from rallies, snippets of memories, email stories, and anything and everything else that might help document this momentous time for someone who was there, but unable to record such memorabilia because of the press of business.

Help someone get through this challenging time by giving them the tools to keep the creative juices flowing, and perhaps to hold back the flood of worries by keeping busy doing something constructive.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies

THAT DARN DAY CARE

Most family one-liners come from off-the-cuff remarks that are never intended for posterity, but wind up that way, anyway. When our toddler smacked Grandma's arm at a restaurant, we were all shocked, and then, hoping to deflect blame from my own very real inadequacies as a mother, hoping to hide the fact that I was kind of "iffy" some days on being able to instill and model self-control, consideration and discipline in my children, I took the classic way out, and said, "That darn day care."

Nobody bought it, but everybody gave me a pass, anyway.

So now, that's what we say when we forget to feed the cats, or break a plate, or allow a word of less than impeccable origin leave our lips.

"That darn day care! Golllleeee!"

Works for us.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

MAYBE THOSE VACCINATIONS DID CAUSE THE SPIKE IN AUTISM

A dramatic rise in the incidence of autism, a serious brain disorder that impairs a child's ability to interact with other people, might be connected to the use of the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal in childhood vaccines, according to a report in the Journal of the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons by Dr. Mark Geier and David Geier.

In a related move, parents of children with mercury-induced autism will demonstrate Wednesday in Washington D.C., in favor of a U.S. House of Representatives bill, the Burton / Waxman / Weldon bill, which they say allows for civil litigation for parents who seek compensation from drug companies for their child's medical care related to their neurological disorders.

There is another side to the story, of course: though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that the rate of autism has increased from one in 10,000 in 1990 to the current rate, 1 in 150, solid medical studies refute the link to vaccines and contend that better diagnosis is the reason for the increase in autism cases. One study from Denmark, published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at 400,000 children who got vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, and 100,000 children who did not. The study found that there was slightly less autism among the children who'd been vaccinated.

However, the spike in the autism rate does appear to dovetail with the increase in mercury exposure due to vaccines given to children in the late 1980s and through the 1990s.

For more on the issue, see Safe Minds or Moms on a Mission for Autism




Monday, March 17, 2003


MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

SAVVY SINGLE PARENTS

Q. I am divorced, work full-time, and have three children, one in high school, one in middle school, and one in grade school. What should I be doing to fit in, in our new district?

Don’t buy in to the stereotypes either way. Single parents are often the most admirable parents around. And even though kids with only one parent in the home are indeed overrepresented on learning disability rolls, that doesn’t mean schools are mistreating them. In fact, most education activists say schools are doing a great job with children from one-parent households.

But . . . here are some ways to excel as a parent advocate:

-- Work on your relationship with your ex. It’s not only good for the children, it’s impressive to the school community.

-- Divide up the academic areas in which you each will mentor your children. Split the workload by class subject, or one of you take homework and the other take tests and projects.

-- Provide your kids with good nutrition, enough sleep, a place to study, hugs, kisses, and get school paperwork in on time!

-- Make sure to have both of your names, household addresses and phone numbers in the student directory if you both are in town, for the kids’ friends to find them and present a unified front even though you’re technically split.

-- Early in the school year, one or both of you should stop in, see each teacher, and give them the noncustodial parent’s name, address and phone number, urging the teachers to call either of you if there’s a problem.

-- Volunteer at least once a year and attend at least one parents’ group meeting. Don’t get labeled as a “no-show.”

-- Both of you should come to curriculum night, parent-teacher conferences, concerts, science fairs, musicals, and other events. Be cordial. Keep your sense of humor. It’s your job!

Homework: “Helping Your Child Succeed in Public School” by Cheri Fuller (Tyndale, 1993, 1999, 285 pp.) is a thorough guide.


Sunday, March 16, 2003


SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

SOAP SANDWICH

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
– Luke 11:13

We heard about this guy who belongs either on a funny farm or in the Fathers’ Hall of Fame. He had a load of dirt dumped down the window well into his basement. He did it so that his two little boys could play trucks and army down there all winter.

I wish I could have seen the neighbors’ faces as that dumptruck and mini-dozer pushed that fill dirt in through their basement window all afternoon. I wonder how many fingers were poised to dial “911.”

You know, some of us spend a lot of time trying to get dirt OUT of our houses. Here’s this clown paying people to dump a ton of it IN.

But you have to hand it to him. That was genius parenting. He knows what a long, boring winter can be like for little boys. Cabin fever to the max. I’m told the family has a concrete floor and block walls down there, anyway, so it wasn’t a cleanliness problem. And this is key: the Mr. cleared it with the Mrs. well in advance instead of springing it on her. So a good time was had by all.

Especially the little boys. Just think how cool that must have been for them. Think what a lifetime memory that made. Think of the fun they had with each other and their friends. They could always be proud that they had a dad who “got it” about the needs of childhood, and met those needs with style.

This time of year brings out the best in most parents. Of course, with children, every season is memory-making season. But it seems to peak in the spring.

I just heard about a bunch of mothers of kids who were competing in the state swim meet. These moms got together for weeks in advance, making fantastic commemorative towels, intricately appliqu├ęd with the kids’ names and school logos. For many women, it was the first crafts project of any kind, but I’m told they were gorgeous. I’m sure those towels will be treasured for decades to come.

We all know of many fathers who are out there coaching ball teams, repairing camp cabins, supervising toy racecar construction, and putting together graduation videos from baby pictures, being careful to wipe away their sentimental tears so the photos don’t get dotted.

Make a memory, Mom and Dad. Make a good one, every day if you can. Give to your kids the best that you can, and you’ll point them to God, the giver of it all. Now’s the time. Forever’s the reason.

I say this because one of the best fathers I know, with some of the most realistic habits and attitudes of parenting, had one of the worst childhood memories I’ve ever heard.

When he was a teenager, his father had gotten into some heavy drinking. One night, my friend came home to find the house full of his parents’ friends, drinking and partying. His father, always the center of attention, greeted him warmly, which was unusual. It was one of those sad, reverse situations in dysfunctional families in which the father did all the taking and the son did all the giving . . . and waiting . . . and hoping.

But this time was different. The boy was a little cautious at the sudden turnaround in his fortunes. But here was his father, with an arm around him, saying loudly in front of all of his smiling and inebriated friends, “Here’s my boy! Well, Son. Are you hungry? I’ll make you a sandwich. My son is hungry, and I’m going to go into the kitchen and make him something to eat.”

My friend was partly embarrassed and partly proud, to have had this unexpected attention. Everyone smiled his way and he felt important and attended to.

Then his father came back out of the kitchen with a sandwich on a plate. My friend took a bite.

It was a soap sandwich.

Ptuui! He spit it out. Everyone laughed . . . including his father.

He ran to his room and slammed the door. The party went on.

Never was a word of apology or explanation offered. The memory just hung in the air, creating or perhaps completing a distance between them that persisted until the father’s death.

That was many years ago. My friend doesn’t like people telling that story. But it stays with me, and sticks in my throat sometimes when I’m tempted to ignore my own children, or yell at them, or otherwise put myself and my needs ahead of them and theirs. That happens more often than I’d like to admit, since the day they passed out the superhuman parent capes, I didn’t get one.

But when I feel like being a lousy mom, I think of the soap sandwich, and the great father that boy has become, and I’m humbled, and clean up my act.

The boy who got the soap sandwich grew up into a man who is gentle, tender and loving with his own son, although he has cracked the whip a time or two. He has never said an unkind word about him, to my knowledge. He has taken him hunting numerous times with his own friends –- a privilege to be a boy among men -- and treated him like someone to listen to and learn from.

He has given him the incomparable gifts of a father’s trustworthiness, approval and respect. He has been a model of fatherhood, doing it God’s way, solid as a rock and yet sweet as spring.

And it’s all because of a soap sandwich?

Could be. Over and over, we see good things coming out of bad. We see good things coming out of good, too, of course. That’s very nice. But this is of a higher order and a deeper meaning. This is the beauty of the overcomer, blessing all who know what has been overcome, and what it has taken to do it.

All I know is, a thoughtless, dirty trick has wound up creating an excellent, thoughtful father with a clean heart. His son is getting memory sandwiches that are spiritually nutritious, fresh and wholesome, made with love . . . and the bread of life.

Saturday, March 15, 2003


SATURDAY: Just For Kicks

ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARTY FOR TWO OR A WEE FEW

If bar-hopping is not your scene this St. Paddy’s Day, rejoice: there are still fun, inexpensive ways to mark this holiday with your significant other or just a few friends.

Wear green, of course. Serve corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, soda bread and a good, strong Irish coffee. If you have Irish linens and crystal, now’s the time to use them. Irish lace makes a wonderful table covering. As a centerpiece, clean and polish a garden rock and label it “The Blarney Stone.” Everyone can enjoy their after-dinner coffee and stay at the table, taking turns telling stories and kissing the blarney stone.

You could visit the library ahead of time and check out picture books with lovely scenes from Ireland to place around, or buy a poster of the gorgeous Irish countryside and put it up with some green streamers and a shamrock or two. Rent a funny Irish movie such as “Waking Ned Devine,” or dig out your old songbooks and fire up the piano or keyboard with sing-along favorites such as “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” Even if you don’t have an authentic Irish tenor in the bunch, everybody sings beautifully when the songs are from the Emerald Isle.

Friday, March 14, 2003


FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

PREVENTING PERFECTIONISM

Sure, mothers want their children to try their best every time. Of course we want them to strive for excellence. Naturally, we want them to work hard and use their gifts in this world.

But sometimes, with the best and brightest children, the messages we mothers send can push them over the edge into perfectionism.

Overachieving is a trap. It doesn’t broad the child’s world; it narrows it. The drive to be perfect and the best doesn’t bring the child joy and satisfaction; eventually, it brings stress and anxiety, disappointment and isolation.

So prevent perfectionism with a few numbers games:

1. Teach your child the 80 / 20 rule: about 80 percent of what’s really important in life comes from 20 percent of what you do. The child should concentrate on doing that 20 percent just as well as possible, but to quit sweating the other 80 percent so much. Life is a snap if you take time to study and set your priorities.

2. You don’t always have to do a 100 percent job on everything. You can do an 80 percent job on some things, and even a 60 percent job, and they will still be fine. Encourage your child to shoot for less than the stars in the things that don’t count, and you’ll be amazed at how that “permission” to be less than perfect will free up the child’s spirit dramatically. So the child’s bed is made three days out of seven; that’s still 300 percent better than a lot of kids do!

3. Help your child confront the fears that are often behind perfectionism. What is the child afraid of? What is driving the child to stay up so late working on school projects? Help your child over a fear of failure by describing some of your failures and, in retrospect, how you gained from them. Help your child build a sense of humor and put the challenges of life and school into a more perfect perspective . . . which is, we’re only human, and that’s good enough!

Thursday, March 13, 2003


THURSDAY: Cre8iviT

THE NAP GAME

Smart babysitter trick: if a little one in your care just will not go to sleep, announce "The Nap Game." You and the little one both lay down on the floor in the child's darkened room. Whoever keeps from giggling or moving, and "naps" the longest, is the winner of the game. Only a couple of minutes need to go by until you "lose" and proclaim the child the winner. With a big grin and a chest puffed out with pride, he or she will go to bed immediately. There's only one caveat: be careful that you don't REALLY fall asleep during the competition!

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies

MY DAD GOT TRANSFERRED

A first-grade teacher was killing time at the end of the day, just chatting with her students. They were discussing the meanings of unfamiliar words. She would throw out a word and the kids took turns using it in a sentence.

"How about 'transferred'?" the teacher asked. "Does anybody know what 'transferred' means?"

One little boy's hand shot up. "Oh, yeah, my dad got transferred by my mom," he said. "He had to move into an apartment."

Tuesday, March 11, 2003


TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes
A PERSON’S A PERSON NO MATTER HOW SMALL

In states around the country, legislation is being proposed that would provide that an unborn child may be regarded as a "person" for purposes of "wrongful death" civil litigation. Because of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, abortion is excluded from consideration in this matter, so abortionists could not be sued after an abortion, if these laws are passed.

But others could, including drunken drivers or violent attackers whose actions lead to miscarriage and death of the unborn child. Therefore, this legislation is central to continuing efforts to build legal recognition and protection for unborn children.

The issue hinges on when a human being becomes a “person” under our laws. There is no question that at the instant of conception, what is created is a being, and it is human. But there is controversy over whether that human being also should have legal status as a “person.”

Bottom line: life begins at conception . . . but do legal rights?

In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court abortion case, Roe v. Wade, it was determined that an unborn child who was not yet viable – able to live on his or her own outside the womb – could not be considered a “person” under our constitution’s equal protection clause. However, that ruling was 30 years ago based on the knowledge of the day. Scientific disciplines from embryology to genetics have yielded so much more information about unborn children since then, and pushed back the determination of viability so much earlier in the pregnancy, that the ruling now appears ridiculous on its face.

Those opposed to “personhood” for an unborn child bring up the traditional Jewish view that it is not until a newborn baby draws breath that “ensoulment” occurs. Since our laws are based on ancient Jewish laws, the thinking goes, we ought not to consider unborn children as “persons” under the law, either. However, Jewish laws did provide significant protections for pregnant women, so immense value was given in ancient times to the unborn.

In the thousands of years since those Jewish laws were devised, modern science has since done so much to show the uniqueness of the newly-created life in the instant of conception that the idea of no protection for an unborn baby until he or she breathes also looks ridiculous on its face now. It may no longer be a reasonable stance to ignore scientific truth and stick with what ancient peoples believed. We don’t limit ourselves to ancient beliefs about much of anything else, do we? We’ve accepted advances in everything from art to transportation to zoology. This issue is no different.

For example, at conception, DNA from both parents is transferred to the new human being, making a third, separate human being. The ancient Jews could not have known this, scientifically, and if they had, it’s reasonable to assume that they would have viewed the sanctity of life in the womb much more cautiously.

Modern ultrasound technology also has shown how a fetus recoils from a prod, and obviously feels pain and distress even in his or her early months. Even the pro-abortionists are saying that fetuses should have pain medication during abortions, as if that isn’t the craziest thing ever said. But the proof of fetal sentience puts the lie to the opponents’ claim that the fetus is not conscious and thus can’t be termed a “person.”

Those in favor of civil rights for the unborn might have been influenced just as much by a famous Dr. Seuss book as by the Bible’s solemn and beautiful instructions to sanctify life in all its stages and forms.

The Dr. Seuss book is “Horton Hears a Who,” featuring an elephant who could hear some teeny, tiny people on a speck who were crying out to be heard.

“A person’s a person no matter how small,” that book teaches us.

Indeed.

Monday, March 10, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

Play Time With Writing

Q. Our son is 10. He can’t spell, his grammar is terrible, and he doesn’t write in complete sentences. He freezes when a blank piece of paper is put in front of him. How can we help?

It’s hard to feel confident when the pressure’s on. It’s better when you do what comes naturally, for kids: play.

Writing should be joyful and natural, and it can be, with the right kind of playful practice activities you can do at home:

-- Write a joke or funny note on a slip of paper. Tuck it in your child’s lunchbox or backpack. Next day, the child should write back, hiding the new note for you to find. Keep it up as long as you can, and keep the notes to re-read together.

-- Tell “audiotales.” Ask your child to talk into a tape recorder about “my perfect day” or “how to score in soccer.” Whatever is familiar, fun and exciting should make the words freely flow. Then the child can listen to the tape and transfer the best parts onto paper. Result: better flow in print, too.

-- Match your child with a penpal. They can write letters or send email. A grandparent or adult friend of the family would be ideal so that good grammar, spelling and punctuation would be modeled. Teach your child to end each message with a question to keep the conversation going.

-- Kids love mysteries and finding what’s hidden. Take turns hiding things in your house and yard. Your child should write three or four clues to lead to the “treasure.” Clue-writing is a great way to practice writing clearly and concisely.

-- Teachers should be circling grammar, spelling and punctuation errors by third or fourth grade, but if they don’t, you should. Your child should correct and rewrite each error, and as a reward for “catching” errors, you should go out and play some “catch” with your all-star young writer.

Homework: good at-home aids for writing instruction are available through the Sam Blumenfeld Alpha-Phonics site

Sunday, March 09, 2003


SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

MR. DIXIE

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
-- Mark 12:31b

We have this neighbor, Dan Dixon. He and his wife happen to be old friends and classmates. We just love them. It's nice to have them living right across the street.

But it must be a bit painful on Dan Dixon's end. He may never live down the Night of the Near Tornado. See, Dan raises thoroughbred horses for a living. Just in case his clients read this, I believe these racehorses are each worth something like a squillion dollars. He babies them something awful. We love watching them kick up their heels and run and play in the pasture across the street.

Well, on the Night of the Near Tornado, Dan went out to check on his new colts . . . and saw the black one apparently distressed by the wind, disoriented, and trapped and struggling under the fence.

That is, most people would just see a horse, but Dan also saw piles of currency with wings on them, about to fly away. He knew that if that horse injured his leg, a large investment would be . . . you guessed it . . . gone with the wind.

So he crept up to the black colt, so as to not alarm him. He thought if he crept up soothingly, he could keep the colt somewhat calm and have a chance to untangle his expensive legs. He crouched 'way down and crept up, and crept up, nearer and nearer to the struggling black colt in the dark and stormy night . . . and then he saw that it wasn't a struggling black colt at all.

It was the plastic cover off our trampoline.

It had been ripped off in the Near Tornado, blown across the street, and caught in the Dixons' pasture fence. The edge of it was flapping furiously in the wind.

At that point, Dan saw the horses clear over on the other side of the pasture, standing there safe, sound and non-plastic.

So now, when we are praising him in front of his high-paying clients, we always say, ''That Dan Dixon . . . he knows horseflesh . . . and plastic trampoline covers, too.''

He's a redhead. It's a kick to make him blush.

What's not to like about a neighbor like that? Dan Dixon is very kind to our children, too, even when they don't get his name quite right. Maddy, the toddler, used to bolt across the yard in various stages of undress, waving and shouting, ''Mr. Dixie! Mr. Dixie!''

Usually, he would be completing a big-dollar deal with a client, standing in his driveway, trying to act cool. But, I think because his own three children are older and he's been feeling a bit child-deprived, he would always stop and smile and crouch down low to say ''hi'' to her, even though he wouldn’t crouch down as low as he did when he was creeping up on our trampoline cover.

But one time, we accomplished a nuclear blush on the face of our dear Mr. Dixie.

I remember it because Maddy's third birthday is this week, and this happened the day she turned 1. We were remodeling, and so the party was relegated to the basement. Because Maddy is sort of a community project, the only young child for a country mile in all directions, we had invited a few neighbors, including Mr. and Mrs. Dixie, of course, to come in and have cake, wear goofy party hats, blow whistles, sing ''The Wheels on the Bus Go Round-and-Round,'' and all that other birthday party stuff that we adults pretend we're too old for anymore.

Well, we had had our cake, and Maddy was in her high chair with frosting smeared from ear to ear. There was kind of a lull. I was proud that Maddy had learned to point that very day. I wanted her to demonstrate this amazing new skill.

''Can you point, Maddy?'' She looked at me, puzzled. ''Can you point to Daddy, Maddy? Show us! Point to your dad!''

She looked at me for one more instant, and then she made a frosting grin from ear to ear, and stuck out her chubby little triangular finger, and turned, and pointed straight at . . .

. . .

. . .

MR. DIXIE!!!

Well!!!

His nice, neighborly face went so red so fast, the air conditioning kicked on.

His wasn't the only one. I wished the trampoline cover would blow right downstairs and cover my face, as everyone, including our respective spouses, cracked up.

Sure, I love my neighbor. But heaven knows, not THAT much.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

SATURDAY: Just For Kicks

THE FINE ART OF THE UNIQUE DOUBLE DATE

Dinner and a movie. A movie and dinner. Dinner, a movie and then another dinner . . . socializing with other couples can get a little boring and routine, although it is very important that you make time each week to relax with friends.

Here’s an idea that’s a little different: start your Saturday night date a little earlier than usual, in an art museum. If there isn’t one where you live, it might be worth the drive for a relatively inexpensive, interesting and unusual experience. Museums tend to close at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. on Saturdays, so check the schedule and plan ahead to make sure you’ll be able to browse.

An hour and a half or two hours is probably your max. Have fun trying to top each other with wisecracks about the art pieces you don’t like. Read the background information posted by each piece; learn something! If they offer a children’s hands-on art activity, why not sit down and try it? Nobody will “card” an adult who wants a turn, and a little artistic expression does priceless good work for the soul.

After your close encounter with culture, have a nice dinner. Discuss art in general and the pieces you saw in particular. Everybody should name a favorite, and why.

It’ll be a colorful evening and you’ll have fun drawing closer together in a fresh, new way. Friendship: it’s a fine art.

Friday, March 07, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

ENGAGED . . . TO YOUR PARENTS?

At age 13, loving parents take their daughter out for a birthday dinner, just the three of them, and talk and laugh and reminisce.

Then they give her a little box. Inside is a beautiful birthstone ring . . . her first serious gift.

It’s called a “promise ring.” The parents explain that they want her to wear it every day until her wedding day. It is to symbolize her family ties and their hopes and dreams that she will choose the “true love waits” approach to sexuality, waiting for marriage to give herself in love.

Cheesy? Backward? Victorian? Maybe.

But guess what? It works.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

THURSDAY: Cre8iviT

A SHAMROCK WORTH SHARING

Nothing chases away the March blah's like an attitude of gratitude. So in the days leading up to this St. Patrick's Day, prepare your corned beef and a slightly corny centerpiece for your kitchen table or office wall.

Take green photocopy paper or construction paper and cut and tape together a four-leaf clover. In the middle, write, ''Luck and blessings.'' On each leaf, write a different category: ''Home,'' ''Work,'' ''Play'' and ''People'' might be your choices.

Then, as the days pass toward St. Paddy's Day, as you think of ways that you have been lucky or blessed in those categories, write them down.

Start accounting for all the good things in your life, and even if you're not Irish, you'll see you've had their luck all along.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003


WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies

SPECIAL OCCASION PARTY HATS

We wound up with about 10 really cheap paper party hats somehow. They're stacked in a corner of the storeroom for no special reason. Some have Buzz Lightyear on them, some have Scooby Doo, and some have Cinderella. It's a cornucopia of cornball comic figures.

Well, the other night, the toddler in our household finally -- finally! -- boldly went where she had never gone before. That's right: her first toilet-training success.

It so happens that our firstborn, who is away at college, was on the phone when this happened. She heard the shouting and screaming, and thought we were being robbed.

Meanwhile, I ran downstairs for the party hats. You just can't let a special occasion like this go by without 'em. We each strapped one on, and danced, and entertained our long-distance spectator with our shouts of glee.

The star of the show got a Hershey's kiss and a cheapo blue plastic ring, too.

That's the good news.

The bad news is, she thinks it's going to be like this for her EVERY time, for the rest of her life.

Hope those party hats can hold up!

Tuesday, March 04, 2003


TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

FIGHTING ABORTION

For those who would like to make legalized abortion moot by convincing women and girls that it’s destructive and unthinkable, here are five factoids:

First, the No. 1 health fear of women is that they might develop breast cancer. Yet 16 out of 17 statistically significant studies have shown an increased risk of breast cancer among women who have had abortions. This is thought to be because of the hormonally-induced explosion in the number of breast cells that starts in early pregnancy. Those breast cells are not given a chance to differentiate into milk-producing cells when the pregnancy is terminated. They remain cancer-vulnerable as a result.

For more, see the Coalition on Abortion / Breast Cancer

Second, the No. 1 reason that girls and women list for considering and having an abortion is the lack of concern and support by the father of the unborn child. This fact needs to be included in abstinence education programming for teenage girls so that they have the truth about what is likely to happen should they have sex outside marriage and become pregnant – they will be basically abandoned.

For more, see the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates

Third, the same organization reports that 88 percent of pregnancies that end in abortion occur outside of marriage. Implication: teach teenagers not to put themselves in that position in the first place.

Fourth, the symptoms of post-abortion trauma have been documented and are being dealt with, but are totally preventable if options other than abortion are chosen. Here are the post-abortion symptoms:

Guilt
Anxiety
Psychological numbing
Depression -- thoughts of suicide
Anniversary syndrome
Re-experiencing the abortion
Preoccupation with becoming pregnant again
Anxiety over fertility issues
Interruption of the bonding process with present and/or future children
Survival guilt
Development of eating disorders
Alcohol and drug abuse
Other self-punishing behaviors
Brief reactive psychosis

For more on treatment, see Ramah International

Last, but not least, according to the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, 75 percent of women abandon plans for abortion once they have seen ultrasound fetal images. That’s why one of the most effective things to do to stand up for babies’ lives is to donate money to emergency pregnancy centers to purchase ultrasound machines to show, not just tell, women and girls the miracle of life.

Monday, March 03, 2003


MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

$CHOOL$: CUT CO$T$

Q. Classroom teacher pay is only about half of our district’s total costs. Our costs are going up. I don’t want to hurt teachers. How can schools cut costs and still pay teachers well?

Nobody wants to see a dime less spent on schools than the students and the teachers actually need. But in some cost categories, things really have gotten out of control. The “entitlement” mindset, that any additional expense an educator might want is justified because it is “for the kids,” does real harm to the relationship between schools and their patrons – parents and the taxpaying community.

The need to contain costs is apparent. But so is the need to continue to offer good programs, and good salaries and benefits that will attract good people to education jobs. So what to do?

Think out of the box, that’s what. Don’t visualize cost-cutting as spending less money on teacher salaries and classroom equipment. Visualize cost-cutting in the nonclassroom, noninstructional spending categories of K-12 public education:

-- Reduce governmental regulations, requirements, monitoring and personnel to save huge dollars that are marginally productive, or even counter-productive, to quality education. This means reducing or eliminating state and federal education bureaucracies and excessive mandates.

-- Demand performance audits of district budgets that will reveal excessive, nonstatutory and even fraudulent spending patterns. Make sure this isn’t an “inhouse” function that district administrators control, but from outside the educracy.

-- Reduce “mission bloat” and force educators to pare down nonessential, nonstatory, nonrequired programs.

-- Pension reform.

-- Insurance reform.

-- School boards should have cost-cutting advisors.

-- Demand much better information about school spending.

Homework: School-finance charts on Education Intelligence Agency Online

Sunday, March 02, 2003


SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

HANKY PANKY

Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
– Psalm 33:8

Our daughter had a darling new friend named Hank. We heard about him all the time. Even though they were only 6 and the real attraction seemed to be her extensive collection of Matchbox cars, we teased her that he was her boyfriend.

We even gave him a unique nickname: ''Hanky Panky.''

Well, one day Hanky Panky was over at our house playing Matchbox cars when the man of the house came home unexpectedly and raced into his room to change for a hockey game.

Yes, at this particular stage of his midlife crisis, my husband had joined a Deranged Old Men's Hockey League . . . Deranged, Smelly and Beset With Aches and Pains, that is. That day, he had forgotten to bring his room-sized sports bag with all his pads and regalia to work, so he had had to rush home.

When he came back around the corner with his tattered, 25-year-old hockey jersey over enormous shoulder pads, a battered helmet under his arm and scuffed old skates tied together over his shoulder, I happened to be looking at Hanky Panky.

The boy was on the floor with a Matchbox car, but when he caught sight of the man in the hockey uniform coming his way, it was like a religious experience. His jaw dropped. His big, blue eyes widened as they absorbed the colorful hockey socks and uniform, widening even more all the way up to the spectacularly broad shoulders and cool-looking helmet and skates.

''Hi, Hank,'' my husband said, eating it up.

Hanky Panky just stared at him, open-mouthed. The awe on his face was astoundingly intense. It reminded me of that '80s ''Wayne’s World'' act where the two goofy guys prostrate themselves and moan, ''We’re not worthy!''

''My dad plays hockey'' our daughter told Hanky Panky proudly.

What she DIDN'T tell him is that it was against a bunch of other balding, washed-up has-beens whose tongues hung down so low when they had to skate for more than 10 seconds in a row that you were afraid they'd run over them.

This league was so lame that we didn't even go to see him play more than once a year, if that. There were only two teams in this league because that's all the washed-up, pot-bellied, former hockey jocks they could find dumb enough to subject what was left of their bodies to this weekly abuse and become human beads of sweat keeping the town's cardiologists in sports cars and leather shoes. With a two-team league, there was very little drama from week to week about the other team's strengths and weaknesses. Actually, it was considered a strength if you didn’t fall down much.

So this was hardly a classy deal. The same guy who sold you tickets also worked the concession stand, swept the bleachers, ran the Zamboni, cleaned the toilets and refereed the games.

On one of our annual visits when we arrived in mid-game, we were not too surprised to see that we were the only fans in the seedy little arena. We walked in, and play kind of stopped and all the faces in both uniforms turned our way, to see whose family we were – just to give you an idea of how totally un-NHL this was. A few seconds later, they all seemed to fall down except my husband, who staggered right up to the open net and sluggishly thrust in the puck.

Again, all the faces in both uniforms turned our way to gauge our reaction.

The referee skated over to the microphone, and crowed, ''Goal scored by DAYYYYYYYYVID WILLIAMS!'' as if to a roaring Stanley Cup crowd of tens of thousands.

The four of us clapped self-consciously, mustered a weak ''wave'' and spent the rest of the game with red faces, trying to look inconspicuous.

Anyway . . . little did we know that Hanky Panky was a little boy with a dream. He wanted to play in the NHL. Hockey was his favorite sport of all time. He had little skates and he was learning to use a stick. He was on a little team. So the sight of a full-grown man in full hockey regalia was a thrill beyond belief for him.

Well, soon thereafter, we happened to have rinkside tickets for a professional hockey game. The Omaha team was among the best in the country at that time. We had an extra ticket, and so we had our daughter invite Hanky Panky.

He was vibrating with anticipation as we walked into the huge arena, heard the peppy organ music, saw the Zamboni, got our frosted malts and took our seats right by the glass.

The action began. Boy, these young men could skate fast! It was exciting to be so close to the action: the scraping of sticks on ice, the grunts, the shoulder jabs jockeying for position that reminded me of the lunch line at my sorority house. . . .

But Hanky Panky was frowning. He was looking at my husband, perplexed.

Finally, he piped up.

''Heyyyyy!'' he said. ''Why aren’t YOU in there?''

I was in awe of my husband's quick-thinking reply:

''Oh, I’m injured.'' Actually, he was: he had bruised his behind the week before in his cheesy little league game when his edge caught in a rut and he fell down. No other player was within 20 feet.

The explanation satisfied Hanky Panky, though, and my husband and I exchanged winks over his head. We enjoyed the rest of the game and a good time was had by all: deranged, deluded and all those in between.

We kind of lost track of our little friend over the years. But the memory sure brings up a spiritual slapshot: be careful who you idolize. Awe is for God. Anyone or anything else will play hanky-panky with your heart.

Besides, God never gets hurt, never falls down, never high-sticks you . . . and on His team, you get infinitely more goals even if you’ve got bad knees and a pot belly.

SATURDAY: Kicks

50th BIRTHDAY SURPRISE PARTY

“He’s not 50, he’s 18 . . . with 32 years’ experience.” The clever party invitation set the stage for a rollicking 50th birthday surprise party. It wasn’t all that unusual for the wife to set up the Saturday night dinner at their favorite restaurant. But what WAS unusual was that 50 of their friends and coworkers were hiding in the restaurant’s back room. The minute dinner was over, the surprise was on. The birthday boy had absolutely no idea, despite all those years of experience. Gag gifts and dancing in the restaurant’s lounge topped off the fun.

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

THE PACI-FAIRY

We all know you’re not supposed to let your child use a pacifier outside the crib, but many of us do it, anyway. Then boom! You’re faced with a savvy 3-year-old or 4-year-old who’s addicted to it and there’s no such thing as A.A. to help. You start imagining your child at graduation holding a diploma with “Binky” still in.

Well, you can still make the transition to pacifier-free living with a few common-sense steps. Choose a good time for the transition and don’t just “spring” it on your child. A few days before a birthday or holiday is a good choice to help distract the child from the absence of the longtime friend.

Make sure your child isn’t sick or dealing with out-of-the-ordinary stress, and then talk over the process so your child will know what to expect.

A few days before the big split, buy some stickers or stars and make a daily chart. Give your child a sticker or star for each day he or she takes a nap without the pacifier. Practice other forms of comfort and ask your child for suggestions: cuddling with Mom, holding a stuffed animal, putting stickers in a book, whatever.

Then the Big Day arrives. Make sure your child expects this to happen. In the middle of the night, the Paci-Fairy comes and takes away the pacifier . . . but leaves in its place a wonderful new toy, a sack of lollipops, some stickers, some trinkets . . . making the Tooth Fairy look like a piker, and giving your child something wonderful to make the transition and pose for that graduation picture pacifier-free.