Posts by slapin

Library Shaming?

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

I have an emotional attachment to libraries.  When I was young, our family didn’t have a car. Before I was old enough to travel by myself, my mother regularly took me on the bus to the library. I was a voracious reader and there was an absurd limit on the number of books one could take out so this trip was a frequent occurrence. 

Libraries stayed in my affection and my routine from that time on. As a homeschooling mom, our family was well known at our local branch. This should help explain why, despite the many momentous events happening in the United States and around the world that will impact millions of lives in frightening ways, I don’t see my concern this week as trivial. Retaining the structure of civilization no matter what turbulent  maelstroms are swirling around our cultural foundations not only keeps us better able to cope with life’s vicissitudes but actually affects the bigger picture as well. 

Years ago, as part of a program that helped a beleaguered New York City become a desirable location again after years of decay, the police department began cracking down on “small” crimes. They started fining and arresting people for jumping the turnstile in the subway, for blocking intersections with their cars rather than stopping at the red light before entering the intersection and they paid attention to littering. Lo and behold, when they enforced the law on minor infractions, an atmosphere of law and order prevailed that helped reduce major criminal activity as well. As things go, that style of policing seems to be out of vogue and New York is dirtier and more crime-ridden again, but the point stands. Sometimes, focusing on the micro-issues keeps the macro-issues under control.

Hence my sadness at hearing that an increasing number of library systems are choosing to forego fining readers for returning books after their due date. Recently, Chicago joined the list of cities determined to end “library shaming.” Inevitably, articles on the subject trot out middle-aged women who have avoided libraries since their ten-year-old selves  couldn’t locate their copy of Anne of Green Gables or sitcoms where characters wallow in shame decades after losing their copy of The Yearling. 

A spokesman for the Urban Library Council said, “We’d rather have you come to the library and engage in our services,” rather than feeling guilty. I admit to being a guilt-inducer of the highest order when my children were younger. I’m not saying for sure, but I might have implied that if books weren’t returned on time and in good condition, pictures of the miscreants would appear in the post office right under those featuring the FBI’s most wanted list. I wasn’t trying to stop my children from reading library books and, indeed, we took out —and returned—thousands. Rather, I was trying to instill the following messages that I had been given. 

  1. Growing up is about accepting responsibility in exchange for being granted more privileges. I recall practicing writing my name in cursive neatly enough so that it would fit on the small library card I desired. Even at the age of six, being allowed to take out books under my own name rather than having them taken out by my mother, signaled that I was getting older and more mature. I needed to prove that with the dedicated hard work of perfecting my signature. (Cursive, of course, is no longer a part of many schools. You will not be surprised to hear that studies show that writing in cursive plays a role in brain development.)
  2. I am expected to be a responsible member of society. My nation/state/city/neighborhood/family have so much to offer me. In return, I, too, need to give to them. 
  3. I must treat others as I want to be treated. If I want access to thousands of well-kept books, I need to treat them properly and return them on time so that others can have similar access. 
  4. I must be accountable if I mess up.  Did I take a book to the park and leave it there? Did I spill a glass of milk on a book? Did I lose track of when my book was due? I need to face the librarian and pay my fine. Wouldn’t we be better off if today’s children practiced owning up to mistakes from an early age on minor issues?  

I’m sure there were more lessons I learned as I was given the key to the wondrous domain of the library. My children learned those lessons too. I truly see the change in libraries today as a tragedy. Libraries shouldn’t be about inculcating children into the latest political fad (such as today’s Drag Queen Story Hours) or providing children with a place to play computer games. They shouldn’t be about a child’s “right” to books without any expectations. They should be about how reading opens millions of doors and how honored and grateful we should be to join the ranks of those granted such a powerful key. 

P.S. I was amused to see how many of my previous Musings mention libraries. Here are two of them from years past: A Library Love Letter and Frigates, Coursers and Librarians.

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Recycle Your Recycling Ideas

October 10th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

One of the most influential lower-court judges in American history was Judge Learned Hand who served during the first half of the twentieth century. . If you know Hebrew, his name is an especially intriguing one. As my husband and I explain in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, the Hebrew word for child, Y-L-D, is composed of the Hebrew word for hand, Y-D, with the letter whose sound is ‘L’ and whose meaning is ‘learned’ in the middle. In other words, when all goes well and you are blessed, your children become extensions of you, extra hands that learned your teachings and can carry them forward. Alas, Judge Hand’s name did not come from his parents deep understanding of the Hebrew language but rather because Learned was his mother’s maiden name. Nonetheless, his name always makes me smile.

The above should give you some idea of the pride with which I read a letter one of our daughters and her husband wrote after hearing that two mothers of girls in their daughter’s class had spoken to the class about the importance of environmentalism and recycling. I have redacted identifying information and added some explanatory words in brackets, but I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Dear [names of mothers],

Thank you for your dedication to [name of school].  As you were introducing recycling projects through the school last year, I had some thoughts that I did not get down on paper till now and I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I shared with you some of my thoughts on recycling.

I know that nowadays in the secular world, recycling is seen as the ultimate good project for the future of the world, and I do think recycling is fine as long as it is taught from an authentic Torah outlook.  I don’t know how it was introduced to the students, as my daughter wasn’t in class when the projects were introduced, but these are my thoughts on the matter.

My hope is that recycling can be taught within the framework of the following 3 ideas.

Recycling should not be taught as if it is a mitzvah. It is not. It may be good for the planet but I don’t think it can be considered a mitzvah unless Hashem [God] gave us the commandment as one of our 613 mitzvos. [a mitvah—plural, mitzvos or mitzvot—is often translated as a good deed, but that is incorrect. It is a deed that God commands, whether or not we, with our limited human understanding, think it is good or not.]  Non Torah-observant Jews call it a “mitzvah” as part of “Tikun Olam” [a favorite phrase of secular Jews that means improving or correcting the world. However, that phrase is taken from a prayer where it is actually followed by the words, “with the Kingdom of God.” In other words our obligation is not to fix the world based on our own ideas, but only on His.] which is simply a cloaking of their ideals in religious garb without any basis in the Torah.  To borrow the language of those who have abandoned our tradition is damaging to our tradition. 

In the secular world, sometimes subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, people who don’t recycle are considered “evil” or “bad.”  I would hope that our children do not receive this message in any way, and are corrected if they put together a statement on their own, even if it is as simple as “It is good to recycle, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are bad.”  Or “Recycling saves the Earth, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are destroying the Earth.”

In the last century, there has been much emphasis placed on coercing people to do things based on fear.  Of course, this has spread to recycling as well.  Children’s books, television programs, etc, are full of the message that if one doesn’t recycle, the Earth will fill up with garbage and we won’t have anywhere nice to live or the Earth will fill up with garbage and the animals will die.  Sometimes the message is given in the reverse as in, “Recycle to save our planet,” which in fact teaches that the Earth is in danger and is meant to inspire fear among those who care about the Earth and their own lives.  I would hope that any recycling program introduced to [name of school] students does not have any element of fear.

Recycling is fine for those who are inclined to do so, but I honestly believe that the secular world has gone too far with the idea that if more people recycled, the world would be different. I think that sometimes it is hard to focus on what the Torah and authentic Judaism teach about the matter when the world is screaming differently.

In closing, I value our friendship and would love to discuss these ideas further if you would like.

[Signed by our own “Learned Hand” daughter]

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Boys Adrift – a must-read book

October 6th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 7 comments

You have seen those ads for medications that ask questions such as:

  • Do you ever have trouble falling asleep?
  • Are you ever anxious?
  • Does the world ever seem like a scary place?

They might as well ask: Are you human?

I have two questions of my own:

  • Do you have any sons? Daughters? Students? Neighbors? Grandchildren?
  • Do you have a stake in the future?

The 99.9% of you who answered yes need to read boys adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Dr. Leonard Sax. It will not be a pleasant read. Not because the book is poorly writtenit is very readable. But the information it contains and the questions it asks will make you uncomfortable. Truth often does that. While I have a few quibbles here and there and would like to see further information on some of the avenues he explores, overall this is a valuable read.

Dr. Sax is a family physician and an author. I have not read his other books yet, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this one is only of interest to you if you have sons. That is a bit like suggesting to the rest of your body that it should ignore an infection in your finger. It can’t. The body is interconnected and a danger left untreated in one area doesn’t stay confined. Society is the same. We all have a stake in understanding the ways in which we are failing boys. Things have only gotten worse since the book’s 2016 date of publication.

On the plus side, if you do have specific boys under your influence whether as a parent or grandparent, a teacher, an employer or through your church, synagogue or community, this book will provide you with tools to improve the lives that intersect with yours. Whether discussing ADHD, girl-centered education or endocrine disruptors, Dr. Sax makes a compelling case that, as a society, we are on a dangerous path. Like me, you probably know amazing, mature and wholesome young men. Yet they don’t spontaneously erupt. The more aware we are of the pitfalls on the road that impede boys from turning into men we can admire and upon whom we can rely, the more we can actively intervene to help them achieve that goal.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

(Days of) Awe Inspiring

October 3rd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

The Jewish calendar resembles a jigsaw puzzle more than it does a collage. Holy days do not stand alone, but are linked to other dates in the calendar so that we are constantly being propelled to the next notable date while still retaining fumes from the previous one. Even this chock-filled time of year with Rosh HaShana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Simhat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah) doesn’t spring up in isolation, but is connected to an earlier summer date of tragedy that is strongly linked to a lack of brotherly love among the Jewish people. Indeed, as we head to the Day of Atonement which falls next Wednesday, we are reminded that God does not forgive sins between man and man; those we need to take care of directly with the injured parties.

If we are tuned into the power of this time of year when all mankind is judged, our sensitivities are heightened. This gave even greater power than usual to the news story I saw this morning. You can read the details yourself, but here is a brief synopsis. Just over a year ago, in a terrible tragedy, off-duty police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her neighbor Botham Jean when, according to her,  she mistakenly entered his apartment instead of her own and shot him, thinking he was an intruder who threatened her.

I did not follow the details of the trial, but at the end of it, after she was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison, the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean said, “If you are truly sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you,” and then asked for permission to hug his brother’s murderer. That act of grace and compassion took my breath away.

There are so many elements of the killing and what followed it that can and should be discussed in the larger picture of our judicial system, our police, racial tension and other matters. The judge’s actions after the trial, too, when she also gave Amber Guyger a hug along with a Bible, provide an opening for discussion. This exchange of ideas should not be the domain of internet trolls and angry, vulgar diatribes, but of actual meaningful conversations. As worthy as those conversations are, I am not going to discuss those matters here.

I simply want to say that in a society that sometimes seems to be full of incitement towards hatred from so many different avenues, Brandt Jean’s words and actions stand as a beacon of light. During this unique time of year, a period known as the Days of Awe, each of us who tries to maximize our opportunity is aware of not only needing to ask forgiveness from those we have harmed but also of being in the position of granting forgiveness to those who have harmed us. In doing so, we are reminded that God judges us as we judge others. If we are quick to assume error rather than ill-will on the part of others, God will lean towards leniency when assessing our own actions towards Him. If we show compassion to others; God will similarly show compassion to us.

There are hurts that go deep beneath the surface and losing a beloved brother ranks high on that list. Mr. Jean’s largeness of spirit, fueled by his Christian beliefs, challenges us all to become greater people able to relate to others soul to soul. He is probably unaware of how the timing of his beneficence coincides with this period in the Jewish calendar when God judges all mankind, but for me and others the power of his lesson is truly magnified at this time.

P.S. Writing and speaking in public, as I do, is scary. Not only are mistakes “out there” even when later corrected, but each reader comes with his or her own perspective. At this time, I do ask forgiveness if something I wrote or said over the course of this year caused pain to any of you.

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Defending Justin Trudeau???

September 24th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 87 comments

I am a bit nervous about publishing today’s Musing and so will issue the following disclaimer: I am not trying to be provocative. I simply want to ask an honest question. What exactly is wrong with dressing up as someone of another race? I’m not even sure what the word blackface means and I don’t know that anyone else does either.

I used to think that  the word meant a vaguely insulting parody of a black-skinned person in the manner of Al Jolson in the movie, The Jazz Singer. (Disclaimer #2: I haven’t actually seen the movie, but that is my understanding of it.) I’m sure there are dozens of images in movies from the 1920s that would be unacceptable today. I get that. But the assaults on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Virginia Governor Ralph Northam using that word, confuse me. Let’s be clear. I do not agree with either of the men’s politics and would not vote for them if I was an eligible voter in a race that included them. Nonetheless, I despise the idea that disagreeing with someone politically, even vehemently, means that you should try to destroy them personally. I also object to combing through people’s pasts and judging them by standards that didn’t exist at that time. However,  I’m even having trouble understanding why today’s standards see what they did as offensive.

What am I missing? I understand that costumes can be worn that are in bad taste verging on hateful. I would put dressing in a Ku Klux Klan outfit in that category. I would put dressing like a Nazi  officer in that category. Doing either of those things shows at a minimum poor judgment, historical ignorance and a lack of sensitivity and, depending on the venue and the person, might well reflect worse. (Even so, destroying people for behavior when they were, in the words of George W. Bush, young and irresponsible seems cruel and counter-productive to me.)

I don’t automatically put dressing in a costume to look like a person other than oneself in the same category. Isn’t that the whole idea of a costume or a dress-up party?

When I was a child, probably around second grade, I owned a book called Taro and the Tofu. To me, it was a tale of a far-away country where people ate exotic food that I had never seen. A few decades earlier, a number of my uncles had fought against Japan in World War II. There was actually something quite amazing about the fact that I wasn’t expected to hate the Japanese, but was instead being introduced to their culture. For Purim (a holiday on which Jews dress up in costumes) one year, a friend of mine who had once lived in Japan wore a beautiful kimono. I don’t remember if she used make-up to give herself Asian features, but I can’t understand why it would be wrong to do so. Isn’t that what dressing up means?

At the same age as I read Taro and the Tofu, I also owned a set of miniature international dolls, each one robed in the traditional dress of his or her country. I believe the collection was bought in the gift store of the United Nations. While a modern Dutch girl most likely doesn’t walk around in wooden clogs, if I wanted a Dutch costume, that’s probably what I would have imitated. I’m hard-pressed to understand if that would be seen as wrong by the politically correct crowd today. Or maybe that would be o.k., but I mustn’t think that I should try to look like the doll from Nigeria? What exactly is the difference?

There are Black rap artists today who dress in Hasidic garb – the clothing of certain sects of Jews. In and of itself, I don’t see what is wrong with that. If I want to dress up as for a party as Hillary Clinton or Melania Trump, am I allowed to do so because I’m a white woman? But if I want to dress up as Michelle Obama that would be offensive because I’m white? The only way I can read that is that I must define Black people as “the other.” Isn’t that a step backwards for society?

After  Mao’s communist revolution in China, people were forced to issue humiliating public apologies for past misdeeds. Those “misdeeds” were newly created sins. There was an endless supply of them as new categories of wrong were created. Millions of people suffered as this type of society took control. America today is far from that, but I do worry that we are moving in that direction.

As I said, I’m not a fan of either Prime Minister Trudeau or Gov. Northam. Yet, I would cheer if, instead of apologizing, either of these men declared that the emperor of cultural appropriation has no clothes. Mr. Trudeau said that he should have been more sensitive as to how his actions showed intolerance and discrimination. How exactly did dressing up as he did for an Arabian Nights party do that? Either I’m missing something or this entire ramping up of ways in which we are offended sows division and hatred. It is beyond my understanding how that leads to a better world.

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Grandma Camp Lessons

September 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

Our fifth season of Grandma Camp is over and once again I am grateful for time spent with five special little girls. (I do have to figure out a way to connect as strongly to our other grandchildren. These five just conveniently cluster in age and gender.)

This year it became clear that they are not so little any more. During year one I scripted and supervised almost each minute of the week. Each year, my involvement has receded a bit and this time around, while I still read aloud from our much-love Grandma’s Attic books and planned some crafts and outings, I was in the background a great deal.

On Wednesday, I overheard some prank calls being made, amid much giggling. As the recipients of the calls were their respective mothers/aunts, I felt no need to say anything. My daughters are perfectly capable of telling young ones to stop bothering them.

Thursday followed with more laughter and whispered consultations. As the girls headed out the door telling me, “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll be back soon,” this time I did ask for more information. It turns out that the success of the phone calls led the girls to think that prank visits on some neighbors might be a good idea.

Here is where the benefits of being a grandmother rather than a mother kicked in. I did not feel the need to lecture them. I didn’t feel the need to berate myself for not having taught them sensitivity and concern for others. I didn’t even mentally berate my own children for not having taught their children well. I simply redirected the girls, mildly suggesting that people wouldn’t appreciate answering the door and finding no one there. They would, however, appreciate finding a card under their door wishing them a great day.

For the next hour, the girls wrote message and drew matching pictures on construction paper, offering all sorts of good wishes and signing the cards, “The Grandma Camp Crew.” Those of our neighbors who know us smiled as they recognized the source of the greetings while those who don’t simply smiled. But no one smiled as broadly as me.

One More Time

September 23rd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Deuteronomy 26:1 begins, “And it will be when you come to the land…” It continues with the laws of first fruits and other commandments that we are only obligated to do in the land of Israel which the Jewish nation was about to enter.  In truth, most of Deuteronomy is filled with commandments the Jewish people can fulfill fully only in the land of Israel.  Many of them we have actually already learned about earlier, but Moses reviews them here  in his final speech to the nation before they enter the land.  Nachmanides, a key transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, tells us that even the commandments that seem new to us here in Deuteronomy were actually taught earlier in the 40 years in the desert.  They just weren’t recorded in the Torah until this point when Moses reviewed them.

Here is a great parenting tip, straight from Moses!  When something out of the ordinary is going to happen, we should tell our children in advance and in detail what will happen and how they should behave. Then, immediately before the event, we should review again what to do. That’s how Moses did it! 

[Rebecca now gives an example that is relevant for Jewish parents as many mothers bring their young children to synagogue to hear the shofar  (ram’s horn) on the New Year (Rosh HaShanah) holy days. This includes children who may not be accustomed to being in synagogue as they usually go to children’s groups or stay home until they are older and able to behave properly.)  For example, now is a good time to talk to our little children about Rosh Hashanah and the shofar, and how we’re going to go together to hear the shofar, and this is what they need to know.  Synagogue is a place where we behave respectfully and quietly. We will walk, not run in the halls, and we’ll walk quietly to and from our seats, and we don’t talk, especially not when we’re there for Shofar blowing.  (I’m not suggesting this is what you have to say, just sharing what may come up when I do this.)  This conversation can happen now, and repeatedly over the next week as needed.

But then, right before we walk into synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, you can be sure, I, and many other mothers, will say, “Do you remember what we do and don’t do in synagogue on Rosh Hashana?  Can you remember to walk, not run, and be totally quiet once we’re inside?”  Effective mothers do this all the time before trips to the grocery store, museums, airplane travel, before guests come over and on and on.  We all do it, but now you know where it originated! The commandments concerning the land of Israel were taught over a period of 40 years, but now right before entering the land, we get a review, just like we give our kids!  That’s parenting the Biblical way!

The Missing Words

September 23rd, 2019 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

I have not seen an advance copy of a new book about adolescence. The title, Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals,” is off-putting only because I consider humans to be an entirely different creation, not simply another breed of animal. Nevertheless, judging by an article I read that was adapted from the book, the book will present fascinating nuggets.

The piece I read explored how different animals, ranging from sea otters to gazelles, put themselves in danger during adolescence. The paradox is that they may not survive. However, if they do, they are better equipped for being successful adults. The parallels to human adolescence provide much food for thought.

What captivated me about the article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal was the complete absence of the words “male” and “female.” I do not know if this is because authors Dr. Natterson-Horowitz and Ms. Kathryn Bowers don’t discuss any distinctions between the sexes in the book or if this was a function of newspaper editing. Somehow I think that mentioning that certain behaviors are unique or more prominent among males or that all behaviors cross gender lines seems to me to be…how shall I say it—Scientific?

Does Financial Independence Sound Appealing?

September 18th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

I may not be exactly the audience the Wall Street Journal’s money advice for those starting their careers is targeting but, nonetheless,  I was interested in what they had to say. Five successful business individuals wrote short pieces sharing their wisdom. I recognized names like former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson and I had heard of the companies that these professionals lead like Land o’Lakes or a subset of Merrill Lynch. There was only one  exception – Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble.

Ms. Herd stood out on a few fronts. Not only did I have no idea who she was or what her company did but looking at the drawings of the featured three women and two men suggested that she was the youngest of the group. Most importantly, her advice was of an entirely different type than everyone else’s.

If, like me, you aren’t familiar with Bumble, it is a dating app. Its unique property is that it gives women sole control of the first point of contact. What interested me, however, wasn’t the company but its thirty-year-old founder and CEO’s advice. You could file all the other respondents’ advice under the category of financial literacy. They included concepts like understanding debt, valuing savings and measuring job opportunities by looking at growth potential and skill acquisition as well as salary.

Ms. Herd’s succinct advice? “Never be financially dependent upon anyone else in your life. Don’t rely on a parent, a spouse or a boss. It will only erode your self worth and negatively impact the important relationships in your life. Instead, learn to save money, make money and then you can rule your own world!”

I found it fascinating, if not surprising, that the youngest member of the group offered the most personal and emotional advice. It turns out that Ms. Herd isn’t advocating living life alone. She married a few years ago and is expecting her first child. Interestingly, the articles I subsequently read about Bumble featured quite a few women who were economically independent but who were finding it very difficult to meet a worthy man with whom to share a life. Many of these woman were of an age where children may no longer be a reality. Recent studies have shown that younger people in general value marriage and children less than earlier generations did at the same age. Is Whitney Wolfe Herd an outlier as a strong, effective woman who at what today is considered a relatively young age is combining business success with marriage and family?

Her advice reminded me of the advice my generation of women received when we were in our twenties, “Don’t sign any documents your husband hands you without investigating and understanding it yourself.” In theory that sounded reasonable and prudent; in real life it wasn’t so simple. After all, pretty much everyone today checks a box that reads, “I have read and agree to the terms of service,” when we have at most read the first few sentences of legalese governing how we will interact with online companies.

The advice to independently assess insurance documents, house deeds and other legal contracts was spurred by fear. What if your marriage fails and you find out too late that you signed away your economic interests? What if your husband is actually a horrible person who is looking to cheat you? The most benign interpretation was, “What if your husband is incompetent and financially foolish?” After all, if you trust your spouse, there is no need to duplicate effort and spend time and possibly money by having separate lawyers and advisors walk you through verbose and confusing documents.

Everyone giving the advice knew of or had heard of someone who had been hurt by a “bad guy.”  They did not want another woman to fall victim in the same way. Those of us getting married did not think that our chosen loved ones were bad guys or would become so. If we did, why would we marry them? And, as always, time and money were at a premium and the desire to wade through boring papers was well under control.  We signed the papers put in front of us. In the overwhelming majority of cases, everything ended up just fine. In a rare case, it did not.

I assume that Whitney Wolfe Herd, like many of her generation, has been raised to value independence over relationship. The fact is that each time you trust another person and each time you attach a piece of your heart to another person, you cede some of yourself. I read that as a result of her pregnancy, the CEO is prioritizing childcare initiatives at Bumble. Yet, no matter how good the childcare, chances are that a piece of her heart will ache if she misses her baby’s first smile or if she has to walk away when a feverish baby clings to her. When you love, you lose some of your independence. That is true in all relationships. Financial independence can protect us from one type of harm, but seeking it may lead to other damage such as missing out on marriage and family in a timely fashion while we are busily pursuing our economic goals.

John Donne’s oft-quoted poem begins, “No man is an island, Entire of itself…” His words speak of the larger world, but they are true in our innermost lives as well. I don’t have a brilliant way to make sure that no one is harmed by someone they love and trust. I do believe that operating from a belief that we should be complete in ourselves, on whatever front, results in more of us being alone even when we don’t want to be. Linking our parents, spouses and bosses together as if our relationship with each is identical results in placing barriers on our hearts that keep out feeling as well as danger. Linking our self-worth too tightly to the economic arena limits our worth in other areas. I wonder if asked to comment on the same question in forty years, Ms. Herd’s answer would be the same.

Why does the Hebrew plural for father have a feminine form
while the plural for woman has a masculine form?

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4 Strategies to Reduce Whining

September 16th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

My mother rarely baked. There was no need to do so as she was blessed with her own mother nearby who happily delivered mouth-watering birthday cakes, challahs and holiday specialties. We even had a great kosher bakery only a few blocks away from our house. Between Grandma and Mottel’s Bakery, our home was well stocked.

Baking was not an easy activity to do in my mother’s  kitchen. The necessary utensils were kept either high up or low down. Mom stored roasting pans in the oven. This meant they needed to be moved elsewhere before you could bake. Making cookies or a cake meant spending a fair bit of time and energy just pulling the necessary items together and clearing space. Did my mother not bake because it was so much trouble or did she organize her kitchen in this way because she didn’t plan to bake? I do not know.

I do know that we can make many of the things that drain our energy much easier by organizing things differently. Whining and nagging children are a prime example. If we are at the end of our rope because of our children’s incessant demands, the good news is that the problem most likely lies with us, not them. While this may be a bitter pill to swallow, it means that the solution is in our hands. Even if we are willing to live with unpleasant brats, we owe it to our children to help them become individuals who others will also want to be around.

Children nag because it works. Every single time we say no and then change our minds after hearing a request repeated a few times, we teach our children to bug us. Every single time our “no” is met with sulking or aggression or tears and we respond with an emotional outburst of our own, we send the message that our children can control us. Whenever we agree to a an appeal that was delivered in a whiny or impolite tone we provide positive reinforcement for that method of communication, regardless of whether we are happy to say yes to the particular request.

Here are four steps that worked in our home. Obviously, it is easier to set up a relationship this way from the start and it takes longer and much more patience to break established bad habits. As with any new skill, these steps may feel unnatural at first and require intense concentration. When we make a mistake, we need to try over and over again, just as we do when learning a new sport or how to play a musical instrument. Eventually, we begin to do things instinctively and that is when we reap the benefits.

The happiest families I know are those where the parents really enjoy spending time with their children. No one that I know looks forward to stomach flu or lice infestations or some of the other accompaniments of family life. But there is every reason to expect to take pleasure in the majority of our time with our children. We are in charge of making that happen.      

1) Don’t respond to your children instinctively or with your attention focused elsewhere. From a very young age children can learn not to interrupt a telephone call or conversation. From a slightly older age, we parents can learn not to answer the phone, or respond to other attention-diverting technology, or to try to have an intense adult conversation at times when we know that our focus should be on our children. We need to be present in more than a physical sense when interacting with our children. 

2) It is completely appropriate to remind a two-year-old to say please. It is completely absurd to remind a seven-year-old of these same words. If they are missing, or if your child’s tone of voice is unpleasant or rude explain (softly and matter-of-factly) that you aren’t able to listen to a request presented in such a way and your child can try again in five minutes. Then set a timer so you both know when the time is up. Depending on the age, there might be an “X strikes and you’re out” rule.

3) When everyone knows the rules, life is simpler. If sugary snacks or computer time or messy arts and crafts are limited to certain times and occasions, then no one will expect them to be available around the clock. Very few children in Vermont beg to go to the beach in February. If you never allow the glitter to come out within an hour of bedtime, no one will ask for it. 

4) Some of the whiniest children I know are the children of complaining, less-than-grateful adults. Monitor your interactions with your spouse, parents, siblings and children. Do you speak to each other respectfully and in a pleasant tone of voice? Are you rude to other people in your life? Do you model gratitude or entitlement as you go through your day? We can’t expect young children to behave better than we do.

We spend a great deal of time with our children. Let’s not let whining ruin those special hours.   

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