I’ve watched the viral #Iwishmyteacherknew campaign with earnest intrigue. If you haven’t read about it or followed along this past week, know that the campaign started when Denver 3rd-grade teacher, Kyle Schwartz, honed listening and asked students directly what they wished she knew about them. They wrote out responses and she started to post them on social media with the above hashtag when she realized the goldmine she’d discovered. In my mind this has captured the nation’s attention because of the empathy we feel reading about perceived (and real) short-comings in children’s lives and because the raw power that third-grade words provide in understanding inequities for US children. As a previous inner-city middle and junior high school teacher I think this teacher’s tactic and insight-seeking is profound. Reminds me so much of Momastery’s post last year about a teacher who finished each week in the classroom asking children to write down who they’d like to sit next to in school. She asked not to stir up the seating chart, but to determine immediately which children were being left out. She honed listening to facilitate and build connection for children who may be silently struggling.
I’ve been snagged a number of times this past week thinking about the #Iwishmyteacherknew, thinking on asking my own children the same question. What do they wish I knew? Would they journal something they wouldn’t say? Would invited words, written out in silence on paper, protect our children from the inevitable judgment/worry/concern/disorganization they may feel in answering a question like this in real-time when something dear is at stake? Something as dear as the bond they feel?
I surveyed a couple of parents and friends in the last few days if I should do it and if they would ask their own children. Most parents I discussed it with had a similar feeling to my own. Immediately our faces wince. We cringe when we think of it, unsure we’re ready to face the reality of where our children may feel we’ve fallen short in listening or unsure we’re steady enough to not just tolerate what we hear but also change things in life to improve the circumstances.
Would you do it? You ready to ask your school-age children or even your teen what they wish you knew about them and allow them time and space and paper to write it down?
We’re just back this week from a vacation with our children. The 6 days we had together, the variant pace at which we were able to live for the week, and the challenges that bubbled up offered some reminders but also some fears for me. We’re always on quicksand while raising children. Parenting demands exceptional grace but also exquisite flexibility and immediate rapid-fire insight. Our job descriptions, as parents, are ever-evolving; we’re asked to shift what we know as we step from stone to stone and into something new as quickly as our children do. The minute we feel we’ve figured something out — whammo — a new challenge arises we never even thought to consider.
The stakes are high. Of anything that unites us all as parents it’s knowing that truth. Along the way we will fail, fail, fail and have wondrous little successes too, thank goodness. Yet the tasks involved in raising a child will never look just like they did last month. I loved a This American Life (#553) segment I listened to this past week where a mom discussed some of the complexities in the requisite shifts she faced raising a principled little 7 year-old boy named Elias who is vegetarian and very emotional about animal-eaters. He finds himself living amid a family who explores an occasional pepperoni pizza and turkey sandwich. As his parents upend the way they eat at home (they end up banning all meat at home because of their son’s feelings) narrator Ira Glass states,
“If you’re hearing all this and you are feeling judgey about these parents and I know you are, because that is a national pastime — judging other people’s parenting – I just want to say I totally felt that way until I heard Elias….just like she says. Hearing Elias made me realize ‘oh, right, she actually is in a really tough situation. Where she has these two kids and those both have really strong feelings about this and she doesn’t want to crush either one of them.’”
Judging others’ parenting is often just the malaise of parental insecurity. We all have our own shakiness at times, especially as we’re asked to rise to new heights each new day. It’s of course so easy to judge, and so much harder to elevate and emulate others. In my mind, the best we can do while parenting (failing or succeeding) is tease out others’ profound moments. Learn from them but also copy and try those things out ourselves and see how we can make them work in our own lives. Read full post »
Last night four Swansons sat in row 6 of a little commuter airplane on the way to visit family, all plugged in. Four people who love each other with four separate devices hardly communicating for the two hours or so that we sped through the air. At first glance it can look like an utter failure — you can hear the criticism ringing in your ears — this family must not be connected, or these working parents, pounding out emails and prepping presentations while their children watch videos and play apps, really must have their priorities off, right? Right.
On that flight I read a beautiful blog post from tenacious pediatric researcher Dr Jenny Radesky that questions the new world in which children are being reared. The one where their parents are plugged-in, distracted, perhaps less attentive and less available while raising infants and young toddlers. It’s the same world today, where preteen digital natives may be connecting more by text than by talking. She cites data that found, “if you take away preteens’ mobile devices and make them hang out with their peers in the country for one week, they get better at reading other people’s facial expressions.” Perhaps these children and teens are swapping thumb skills for interpersonal ones. Radesky is the researcher behind the observations out last year evaluating parents’ use of mobile phones at dinner that alarmingly demonstrated children’s near need to act out to get their parents’ attention. Are our parent-child connections forever changed because of the profound brilliance that digital devices have in capturing our attention? Radesky brings up the zone of proximal development (I’d not previously heard of it) and its profound value. She says,
In order to effectively teach children how to regulate their behavior, we need to interact with them in what psychologist Lev Vygotsky termed the child’s “Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).” This means knowing their cognitive and emotional sweet spots: what they can do on their own, what they can’t do, and what they can do and learn with an adult’s help. You can’t fit the puzzle pieces in yet? Let me guide your hand a little bit until you figure it out by yourself. You can’t calm down when you’re frustrated yet. Let me help you identify what emotion you’re feeling and then show you some options for calming your body down. And I’ll slowly take my support away until you can do this skill on your own.
Oh yes, we certainly do need to be in this space and be available, eyes connected, body engaged, actively listening to the loves of our life (children). In championing this reality we can easily finger-wag that how things used to be (without smart phones and wild virtual connection to data and community) is better. Slow down, unplug, unwind, and CHECK BACK IN, right? Common Sense Media even has a new PSA campaign, that I happen to love, tagged #realtime guiding us back to life with a series of delicious, tight videos reminding us how we mess up. Read full post »
At dinner tonight we had breakfast for dinner (genius meal when you’re stumped by an unending need to create something “new”). At the end of the meal we were all discussing our love for bacon. Without a beat this came from the 6 year-old in our midst:
“Mama, could I live a long time and still have a piece of bacon everyday?”
I thought about it. Yes, it seems, yes. Yes, every day with bacon!
“Yes, I said, “I think you can have bacon but only if you exercise everyday and if you have really great friends. The kind of friends that make you feel alive.”
I launched into some sort of summary of the art of moderation with bacon, pouring out facts about fats, cholesterol, and diverse food choices – the essential need to balance bacon with things that grow in the ground. As I waxed on with a macronutrient-level discussion the 6 year-old in front of me just kept moving with his idea. Turned out he wanted concrete responses for his life with bacon. He pushed into the friendship part.
A long life with bacon goes something like this: of course you need to eat a lot of other goodnesses with your bacon. We can borrow wisdom from the Mediterranean diet and reduce the red meat we eat, put fish on the table twice a week, eat lots of seeds and nuts and ensure fruits and veggies show up on every plate we serve. Debates will wage on about the magic foods we eat, today it was the complexities to the value of an orange over OJ so we always have to put food advice in the context of life. I told my 6 year-old tonight he’d have to exercise every day and get outside, twirl around without a ceiling, take a lot of steps, and be connected with nature.
But perhaps most essential to living a long life (with bacon), I repeated, is solid choices with whom he chooses to live his precious life. If you’re going to eat bacon every day you have to make great friends and forge partnerships with those who make the world feel possible. In my mind you need soul-fetching friends — the ones who literally make you feel like you can fly. We have to spend time with those who let us unpeel ourselves without judgment and urge us to take risks, help us take our time, and lend support to shelter whatever we consider dear. Read full post »
Our children will never be the sole judge of our job as parents of course. We are likely our own closest and most fastidious critic. And really it’s just us (and our partners) that can truthfully reflect and evaluate how it goes as we raise our children — what our hopes were when we started on the journey of raising another and where we find ourselves. And so, however radiant the peaks and successes seem, the anxiety of our choices in this high-stakes job will likely dominate. The angst with how this all goes as our children mature ties our feet together at times, and can feel a little like stuffing big rocks into our pocket as we jump off the dock into the lakes of our lives. We’re hard on ourselves. Sometimes this is good and motivating, centering or stabilizing, and at times it can even be useful when sorting priorities. But sometimes, it’s simply unkind. Some of the best advice I was given after my boys were born was this: Read full post »
I recently listened to an interview on This American Life that stuck with me. The show was entitled “It’s Not The Product, It’s The Person” and went through a series of examples uncovering the reality that great business (or great work) is more a product of the who than the what. Who people are, how much grit, tenacity, raw or natural talent, passion, or skill really matters when doing whatever it is that that they do. Far more perhaps than what they actually create, sell or even perform. And although this isn’t the point I mean to make (you’ll see) it’s worth noting that the show opens with details of a young entrepreneur, like really young (age 11 years) and demonstrates how her talents, bravado, and finesse allow her to sell things and attract attention that others can’t. The show rounds out as the narrator showcases the varying pitfalls in his own quest for success as an ex-NPR radio producer turned start-up entrepreneur. The story was somewhat lighthearted, of course, but one point stuck. As he was gleaning information from an established, successful venture capital investor he was asked a potent question. The investor was interrogating how this fledgling entrepreneur could get funding; assisting him in creating his “pitch” for the money people. He asked, “What’s your unfair advantage?”
Think about it, what’s your unfair advantage?
It stuck with me because it was so relevant for success in an often random, senseless world of building ideas and companies but also in parenting “like a pro.” An unfair advantage sometimes facilitates success and I would suggest nearly all of us have something in our pocket that we know makes it work. You can think of this unfair advantage in terms of celebrity or early success for some (Kate Hudson’s mom is Goldie Hawn after all, and it certainly seems easier to get a bedroom in The White House if your last name is Bush or Kennedy or Clinton for that matter). Yet we all also know that success isn’t only built of “unfair advantages,” that it does take advantage wed to sheer passion, purpose or intent. But clearly those unfair advantages help people get their ideas and skills discovered.
It was only recently that I realized my unfair advantage this past decade or so. Read full post »
I felt very much alive reading Dr. Atul Gawande’s new book, Being Mortal. Not because I have a sense of youthful immortality, but because stuck here in the sandwich generation I’m feeling a bit caught in-between — feeling simultaneously mortal and then very alive. In my mind this has a little bit to do with turning 40, a bit to do with the gift of raising young children, and a whole lot more to do with a year of losing people I love. Over the last 11 months I feel like my soul has aged by a decade as people I’ve loved and held onto have passed away. When dealing with death some hours can feel far more centurion than any others we can remember.
Gawande’s words granted some space to reflect on both my profession and my role as a parent, wife, daughter, sister, relative and friend. There’s a balanced vulnerability woven throughout the book that facilitates our joining into his stories as peers. And although the book begins notably academic, it accelerates into a rich narrative of love, endurance, small failures and singular courage. In its essence, Being Mortal is about one man’s journey loving his family, caring for patients, discovering inadequacies in his profession and interrogating the options afforded us all in living our lives with intention.
As a true “middle-ager,” sitting with these words felt to me a bit like peering over a vast, newly frozen Great Lake. Imagine letting your eyes move from left to right, looking out at the cracks in the ice and swirling snow as you capture the enormity of the expanse and what lies in front of you. But remember that this Great Lake is enormous, as big as the potential space of the lives in front of us. The words in Being Mortal can feel like a nudge. It’s as if while looking out from the shores of that frozen lake you hear someone whisper, “ Why, yes, it’s only been frozen overnight, but please just get up and run across it, Girl.” And you will, never knowing just when you’ll fall in. Read full post »
Malala, Malala, Malala – this is a historic day! A child has just won the Nobel Peace Prize! Our heroine, Malala Yousafzai, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She shares the prize with Kailash Satyarthi. Children and parents everywhere on planet earth have a perfect bedtime story. The youngest ever recipient of the prize goes to a girl born and raised in Pakistan who was denied equal access to her education. I mean, really, whenever you think your child’s potential is bounded or someone in the community minimizes the importance of your child’s ideas or implies that their potential is truncated by their age, limited by their perspective, or premature because of their experience, we have a new story to tell. We have an extraordinary antidote to those who treat children as lesser citizens of the world.
Malala, you amaze us and you open up doors for little girls and little boys everywhere. Parents and pediatricians can and will share the news with young children and teens who falter.
First off, don’t let her globe-trotting-book-writing-media-circus attention fool you into thinking she’s an adult. She found out about her Nobel while in class, a place where all the other 17 year-olds in our country get the opportunity to sit…
17-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate Malala Yousafzai found out about her win in her Chemistry class. — USA TODAY (@USATODAY) October 10, 2014
Malala has leveraged her skills as a brilliant communicator and wed it to the courage of a champion to change the world’s understandings and opportunities. We are all so lucky.
Quick Facts For Your Family About Malala Yousafzai:
Malala and her father report that part of her success is based on the reality that her “wings were not clipped.” More from her dad in this popular TEDtalk.
Malala is a world leader. Read Amy Davidson’s New Yorker article from earlier today as a reminder of her influence — note Davidson saying, “It is past time to stop seeing Malala as simply the girl who survived, as a symbol. (The Times called her a ‘global emblem.’) She is a girl who leads: who addressed the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday; who amazes Jon Stewart and asks Barack Obama about drones.” Watch her interview on Jon Stewart for examples of her unflappable courage and determination.
Age-Appropriate Malala Bedtime Stories:
Age 2-5: There once was a little girl loved to go to school. But one day the rules changed where she lived and she was unable to Read full post »
I was at Back-To-School night this week at my boys’ school. Heard something I’m still thinking on. One of the teachers talked about how students are introduced to technology in the school house. She detailed how her philosophies helped shape their evolving understanding of, skills with, and opportunities with computers, code, and digital tools. She discussed her opacity with instructions as just one way to help develop grit. She said,
I use deliberate ambiguity. I want to make it a bit of mystery getting from point A to point B…
In ways, this is our job as parents in rearing independent children. Strike through childhood with deliberate ambiguity and provide a sense of mystery each day. With it, we can prime opportunity for our children to discover and stumble upon a sense of mastery. We can vilify technology in our children’s lives or we can facilitate our children’s use of new tools for expression and creativity. But deliberate ambiguity? That’s genius that we can apply in all sorts of places in our children’s lives.
Florida politicians will not change pediatrician resolve to advocate for and protect children. There’s no question that a gag order cannot halt a passionate child advocate. I’d call the recent Florida ruling a dull tool taken to a very sharp crowd. Consider this post an open letter to Florida politicians…
I live as far away from Florida as any continental American (you do the math) yet Florida politics this past week affect pediatricians and families everywhere. In my opinion, every parent should tune in and follow this case. Florida just restricted physician free speech and hindered a physician’s ability to help your neighbors, your relatives, and your family create a safe environment for children.
Florida may have gotten this wrong thinking that restricting a pediatrician’s words and inquiry about safely storing firearms meant that pediatricians were trying to take away guns. Not so fast.
The Florida Physician Gag-Order Law:
Last Friday The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida upheld the “physician gag law” in Florida, a law that violates the First Amendment rights of pediatricians and family doctors and threatens their ability to counsel parents about how to protect children from unintentional injury and death. This started way back in 2011. Then the law was appealed. Now the appeal is overturned. This ping-ponging is just politics but the waste here is distraction from protecting children. In 2011 I explained the gag-order for pediatricians — basically it’s this: Florida says it’s illegal for pediatricians to ask about how families and guardians store firearms in their home even though we know about 4,000 American children die every year from firearm injuries. Read full post »
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