March 7, 2009

Teens, Sex, Love, Commitment, and Academic Excellence

When I speak about teens, I mean those under 18. I believe in a excellent, comprehensive sex education, and I don't know anyone who thinks schools provided that. Ideally parents would provide it, but schools have to emphasize it because so many parents don't do it at all or get it all wrong. I am startled that parents of my children's generation often seem more reticent than my generation of fervent feminists. Liberals might consider screaming less about abstinence education and more about parental failure to do their jobs. I was rather obsessed with educating my girls because my parents failed to do so. I developed my excellent library research skills looking at every book in my local library. In 1957 there was only one that told me what I needed to know.

I had two babies at home. Their older sisters, 3 to 9, were there. Sex education in my family began at birth. Discussing how babies are made and born is so much easier with preschoolers than with 11 year olds.

My 4 daughters all recall the condom-on-a -banana demonstration. My four year old wandered in, discovering a challenging new game. (We were willing to purchase bananas for her, but not condoms.) My oldest told me "You talked so much about sex that I don't even want to think about it until I am 30." At every sleepover, every sex-ed book and Natalie the birthday doll mysteriously migrated to the basement with the revelers. My kids all reported that they could have taught the school sex education courses infinitely better than their creepy gym teachers. Does anyone know of a truly excellent sex education curriculum?

Emphasis on love and commitment, not using people, should be a vitally important part of the curriculum. I wish more adults would see junior high and high school sex as undesirable. Parents should fight the sexualization and pornification of our culture, in our advertising, media, movies, television. Women are denigrated. The sexualization of little girls is criminal.

So many parents are puritanical about drugs, booze, smoking, high school soda vending machines, pizza or hamburgers in the cafeteria, yet are not confident enough to warn about the physical and emotional damage of premature sexual activity. Most young teens are not ready for sex. Surveys indicated that many young women do not find it pleasurable. Teens too ignorant and reckless to protect themselves are particularly unready. Too many girls have sex out of insecurity, not lust, and do not exactly find it ecstatic.

Yes teens desperately need to learn how to protect themselves, both physically and emotionally. I took my college daughter for the pill. I would have helped a sexually active daughter of any age to protect herself. work with teens both as a librarian and a social worker. No one has ever accused me of being judgmental.

Teens without adequate parental sex education are more likely to be sexually active. Parents whose kids can tell them everything are more likely to have kids who wait until late high school and college. If you want your daughter or son to graduate from high school a virgin, demand rigorous academic effort and excellence. AP courses might be the best abstinence education. Valedictorians often seem to be virgins; they have enormous self-respect for their bodies as well as their brains.

I think that I, my siblings, my children, my nieces and nephews all had sex in college, mostly, but not entirely, with people they loved and were faithful to. I and my sibs mostly married their college sweetherats; my children and my nieces and nephews mostly married people they met after college. Obviously I haven't taken a comprehensive survey. Hooking up, friends with benefits, drunk sex with a stranger upset me, because sex, love, and commitment have been inseparable in my life.

Love is a decison as well as an overwhelming emotion and passion. You can honor the commitment even though love and passion ebb and flow. If you don't feel your love for your husband or wife any more, try acting loving toward him. Obviously I am not talking about abusive marriages. We saw many of our friends give up when their problems seemed so less serious than ours. There have been remarkably few divorces or affairs in my extended family. I have known dozens of happy marriages, some lasting 50 or 60 years. I have seen spouses taking tender, dedicated care of their demented or chronically ill spouses. I know too many excellent parents to count.

My favorite sex education book for kids of all ages is The Facts of Life by Jonathan Miller and David Pelham. It is a magnificent, astounding, 3-dimensional pop-up book. It seems to be out of print but you can track copies down. Every kid in Baldwin who set foot in my house studied it carefully. Sheila Kitzinger's wonderful Being Born concentrates on pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding and is also essential. How could these books have been allowed to go out of print?

I would like to see a study on teen girl sexual activity and academic excellence. In many ways I was a permissive parent, but none of them were ever allowed to quit the gifted program, drop out of honors classes, or choose not to take as many advance placement courses as they could. God had gifted them with excellent minds, and it was their moral responsibility to themselves and to the world to honor and develop those gifts. They have more than carried out my dreams for them.  All have married wonderful guys. It has been an utter joy watching them and their husbands parent my young grandchildren.

March 3, 2009

Working Mothers

Perhaps it would help both me and my daughters if I could clarify my thoughts on working mothers. Reviewing family history might be illuminating.

Grandma Nolan only graduated from grade school. After Grandpa Nolan died in 1938, I recall she worked in the local Laundromat to help make ends meet. Perhaps she did some home-based work. She was widowed at 40 with 7 children, including a two year old. Her parents were dead so they couldn’t help her. She had survived the death of a two year old daughter. She was always available to her family when someone had a baby, when someone was coping with illness. She always lived for others, was busy, involved, purposeful. She was probably the best listener in the family. Her daughters-in-law have expressed nothing but praise for her love, supportiveness, wisdom, nonjudgmentalness.

My mother was a highly intelligent women who today would have graduated from college and grad or professional school. I suspect she would have become a lawyer like her dad. Maybe she would have run for political office. She would not have become a teacher; that was a pragmatic decision. She makes that clear in her retirement interview in the Uniondale high school newspaper. Most likely she would have had fewer children. I know my parents practiced rhythm, now known as natural family planning. My mom insisted it had worked for her and they wanted each of their kids.

My mom went back to school in 1962 as soon as Mark started kindergarten and went to work full-time when Mark was 11. My grandmother helped out, but working right down the block was an ideal situation. My dad left about 7:30 AM and got home around 7 PM, so he wasn’t involved. Mark had two older brothers at home. Certainly Grandma was never available to help me during weekdays until we returned from Maine. If she hadn’t bee working, I might have gone back to school and then work much earlier.

My family lived very frugally on my father’s income; most of my mom’s earnings went to pay for my younger brothers’ education. Because she was working, they did not win the scholarships Richard, Stephen, and I did, and the cost of college had increased significantly. My dad was retired before Mark graduated from college. So they always raised children on one incomeThat is no longer an option if you chose to live in a major metropolitan area. 827 Henry Street cost them about 7,000 in 1947. They did refinance the mortgage to make the expensive addition of the dining room, garage, and upstairs bathroom and dormer in 1957.

Growing up, I knew four aunts with careers. Joan married late and was a nurse for 10 years, always considered herself a nurse, took refresher courses etc. Uncle Jim’s wife, Aunt Kay, was a teacher and returned to teaching once her youngest started school. Aunt Rosemarie taught high school Math, returned to teaching when Michael started school, went to Hofstra Law School at age 40 and had an excellent job as chief counsel to the president of Stonybrook. My Aunt Mary worked for AT and T and its predecessors for almost 50 years. She advanced rather high. At some point she went to college and got her degree. She considered teaching high school, but I think the phone company offers her a very appealing promotion.

I am not sure about my Koch aunts. As far as I know, none of them ever went to college. I think Agnes was a practical nurse. Peggy worked for Nassau County

Work and Children--Family History

Perhaps it would help both me and my daughters if I could clarify understand my family history on parenting and working.

Grandma Nolan only graduated from grade school. After Grandpa Nolan died in 1938, I recall she worked in the local Laundromat to help make ends meet. Perhaps she did some home-based work. She was widowed at 40 with 7 children, including a two year old. Her parents were dead so they couldn’t help her. She had survived the death of a two year old daughter. She was always available to her family when someone had a baby, when someone was coping with illness. She always lived for others, was busy, involved, purposeful. She was probably the best listener in the family. Her daughters-in-law have expressed nothing but praise for her love, supportiveness, wisdom.

My mother was a highly intelligent women who today would have graduated from college and grad or professional school. I suspect she would have become a lawyer like her dad. Maybe she would have run for political office. She would not have become a teacher; that was a pragmatic decision. She makes that clear in her retirement interview in the Uniondale high school newspaper. Most likely she would have had fewer children. I know my parents practiced rhythm, now known as natural family planning. My mom insisted it had worked for her and they wanted each of their kids.

My mom went back to school in 1962 as soon as Mark started kindergarten and went to work full-time when Mark was 11. My grandmother helped out, but working right down the block was an ideal situation. My dad left about 7:30 AM and got home around 7 PM, so he wasn’t involved. Mark had two older brothers at home. Certainly Grandma was never available to help me during weekdays until we returned from Maine. If she hadn’t bee working, I might have gone back to school and then work much earlier.

My family lived very frugally on my father’s income; most of my mom’s earnings went to pay for my younger brothers’ education. Because she was working, they did not win the scholarships Richard, Stephen, and I did, and the cost of college had increased significantly. My dad was retired before Mark graduated from college. So they always raised children on one incomeThat is no longer an option if you chose to live in a major metropolitan area. 827 Henry Street cost them about 7,000 in 1947. They did refinance the mortgage to make the expensive addition of the dining room, garage, and upstairs bathroom and dormer in 1957.

Growing up, I knew four aunts with careers. Joan married late and was a nurse for 10 years, always considered herself a nurse, took refresher courses etc. Uncle Jim’s wife, Aunt Kay, was a teacher and returned to teaching once her youngest started school. Aunt Rosemarie taught high school Math, returned to teaching when Michael started school, went to Hofstra Law School at age 40 and had an excellent job as chief counsel to the president of Stonybrook. My Aunt Mary worked for AT and T and its predecessors for almost 50 years. She advanced rather high. At some point she went to college and got her degree. She considered teaching high school, but I think the phone company offers her a very appealing promotion.

I am not sure about my Koch aunts. As far as I know, none of them ever went to college. I think Agnes was a practical nurse. Peggy worked for Nassau County

Women's Issues Are Men's and Women's Issues

The recurring reference to women's issues in the media needs to be clarified. Most of these are better described as family and caregiver issues. However, vitally important women's issues exist. These include the availability of abortions and the morning after pill, the scandalous C-section rate, and the obscene harassment of nursing mothers. Too many companies expect breastfeeding mothers to pump in filthy toilets for 20 minutes and refuse to provide a comfortable room for them to pump and adequate short-time storage for breastmilk.This is a health issue as well since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least a year. Working mothers of infants are heroic, incredibly dedicated to making sure their babies only get breastmilk and not formula. Encouraging, supporting, and facilitating breastfeeding is an integral part of wellness and prevention.

The best way to reduce the C-section rate is using nurse- midwives for normal births, but obstetricians fiercely resist giving nurse-midwives hospital privileges. At this point in New York City, the first question after how big is the baby is did you have a C-Section? It appalls me that the most educated professional women in history are allowing that to happen to them. When I was pregnant with my first child 35 years ago, baby books advised not considering a doctor with a C-section rate higher than 5 percent. Obviously the human race would have died out long ago if a 30 to 40 percent C-section ate was the norm. I crusaded for natural childbirth and had my two youngest daughters at home with a nurse midwife.

Virtually all nannies and human health aides are women. In New York and Long Island they are almost always women of color. They can't afford to own cars. They have to struggle to work on public transportation that doesn't necessarily get them where they need to be; some take three different subways and buses. Agencies fail to even provide a mapquest to the client's home. Some caregivers have left their own children in the Islands with relatives, so the moms can make enough money to rescue her own kids from abject poverty. How shamelessly they are exploited is certainly a vitally important women's issue. Caregivers who are illegal immigrants can be virtually slaves, too afraid to complain or quit because they will be deported. Home health agencies charge the clients more than twice the amount they pay the women who actually doing the caring. They have absolutely no job security. Most have no health benefits, no disability benefits, are not eligible for unemployment. How we treat these loving, warm, compassionate, kind women is a national disgrace.

But almost all other "women's issues" are parent issues, caregiver issues. We seem to have made no progress on parents' sharing equally in child care and elder care responsibilities. The oldest daughter (if there is one) is usually her parents' caregiver, no matter how many siblings are in the family. Caring for aging parents disrupts women's work schedules even more than caring for young children.

The mommy wars drive me round the twist. In the 70s the feminist agenda was that society and the economy would change fundamentally so that moms and dads could share equally in child care. Now everyone seems to work longer than a 35- or 40- hour week; grandparents are either employed or too far away; day care centers are not staffed by professional teachers with career paths, so the turnover is constant. How dedicated can anyone afford to be at $8 to $10 an hour, often with no benefits? Excellent day care, where teachers are educated, accredited, and paid like grade school teachers, is very expensive, and the state would have to offer considerable support.

Men almost never work in day care or nursery schools; the sexual abuse day care hysteria ended that. People don't want to hire boys as babysitters or men as nannies. That is revoltingly sexist. Misogyny is hatred of women; sexism applies to both sexes. Women seem to have made more progress than men in bursting through gender stereotypes. So guys, you might be entitled to call your mate a "female chauvinist pig," though you might spend the night on the couch. Men rarely seem to complain about the sexism inflicted on them since such criticism would be seen as girly.

When I was struggling to practice nonsexist childrearing in the 1970s and early 1980s, I noticed that parents of boys have a much more difficult time. Strangers abuse mothers on the street if the boy's hair is too long, his colors are considered girly, he is carrying a baby doll, he is crying. They are frequently accused of making their sons gay. I have five brothers and four daughters; my mother raised my brothers to share the housekeeping and the childcare. I love to take care of my 8-month-old grandson three days a week. He greatly resembles his adventurous, world-traveling mother, who has lived in places like Niger, Kosovo, and Rwanda. I eagerly await defending this enchanting bundle of rambunctious ness from sexist constrictions of his creativity and determination. Together we could run a childproofing business. When I put him down on any floor, he immediately crawls toward the most dangerous object in the room. even though there might be dozens of more suitable things for him to play with.

When I lamented the lack of male participation in the blog, Unfogged, I got this discouraging reply:
"It's a bit of a chicken and egg problem; as long as childcare (and kindred professions) is seen as feminized, it will be a pretty small minority of men who will consider this kind of work, and therefore the proportion of perverts in that sample is going to be way above average. Anecdotally I would say that the same is true, for slightly different reasons, of scout masters, camp counselors, and wrestling coaches. In a sense, it's not irrational when people look askance at a man interested in taking care of children; there is an inclination to ask oneself whether there is some nefarious ulterior motive at work. A result of sexism? Of course. But the motives of the individual are not necessarily sexist".
My answer:
My brother has been an elementary teacher in Portland Maine for about 20 years. He laments that male teachers would be terrified to touch or hug a 5 year old who had hurt himself or herself, although a female teacher would be glad to do so. It is outrageous to say the perverts are more likely to care for young children. I doubt that perverts are more likely to choose to work for peanuts. What possible proof can you give? How can men tolerate such assertions? What message does it convey to young children if they have no male teachers. Boys learn that only girls are caregivers. People speculate the boys have more trouble adjusting to the feminized environment of school.

Things were different in the 1970s, at least in New York City. Nursery schools and kindergartens tried very hard to recruit male teachers. When my daughter went to a Montessori nursery school down by the world trade center, she had a wonderful male teacher. Fathers spent lots of time taking care of young children and to the best of my knowledge their willies don't fall off. Whoops, I am married to an Englishman. Taking care of young children is incredibly exciting and fascinating. They are the best learners and the most creative free spirits you will ever encounter.

Every industrial Western nation has more family centered government policies than we do. American families no longer believe that government could make it more possible to be good parents, good caregivers of the elderly, and good workers. I hope the first woman president can implement significant change.

Why Grandmas Are Radicals

My grandchildren were born May 2007, September 2008, and December 2008.IMG_0696

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In the Night Kitchen

Sendak
john013
mickey

From Wikipedia:

"When Mickey (who looks to be about three years old) enters the Night Kitchen, he loses his pajamas and spends much of the story fully naked.

Critics of the book object to Mickey's nudity (which explicitly depicts his penis and testicles ), with some librarians drawing little pants on Mickey with a marker, or diapers with correction fluid. Some also take a Freudian interpretation of events, with the nudity, free-flowing milky fluids, and giant (allegedly phallic) milk bottle. Sendak himself claims not to have been trying to be controversial; his decision to derobe Mickey was to avoid the "mess" that falling into the batter would make of Mickey's clothes. (Knowing Sendak, I am dubious.)

As a result, the book proved controversial in the United States on release and has continued to be so. The book has been ranked 25th place on the "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000" compiled by the American Libary Association."

Note: I could not find these particular images anywhere on the Internet and had to scan my own copy of the book. It's a surrealistically wonderful book. Read it.