Friday, March 25, 2005

The Good Enough Parent

One of the best books I've read on child rearing was The Good Enough Parent by Bruno Bettelheim. This is from the introduction:
In order to raise a child well, one ought not to try to be a perfect parent, as much as one should not expect one's child to be, or to become, a perfect individual. Perfection is not within the grasp of ordinary human beings. Efforts to attain it typically interfere with that lenient response to the imperfections of others, including those of one's child, which also make good human relations possible.

But it is quite possible to be a good enough parent -- that is, a parent who raises his child well. To achieve this, the mistakes we make in rearing our child -- errors often made just because of the intensity of our emotional involvement in and with our child, -- must be more than overcompensated for by the many instances in which we do right by our child.

The book never was widely read, probably because it was not an easily read how-to book, but an invitation to look at a child's world from the child's point of view and to remember one's own childhood to discover what hidden agendas we bring to the world of parenting.

I'm thinking of this book after pondering the "Mommy Madness" articles. My siblings and I are also trading anecdotes in preparation for our parents' 50th wedding anniversary. It is quite fashionable nowadays to find a few flaws in one's upbringing and attribute all sorts of psychic harm to one's childhood trauma. Maybe that's what makes those Mommies so crazy. They have become accustomed to pursuing and achieving perfection, they fell that less than perfect parenting will ruin their kids, yet there is no such thing in parenting.

Working on an Indian reservation gives me a totally different perspective. The lucky rez families have stayed intact through the generations, but many families are still rebuilding after generations of alcohol abuse, poverty, and the old practice of forcibly separating kids from their families in an attempt to make the kids "less Indian".

I work with some people who suffered through abysmal childhoods, but they are determined to do better by their kids. They have forgiven their parents and are even caring for those parents who forgot to care for them. I know that when I get really stressed with my kids I blurt out the same things my mom said to me, and I'm thankful that my "inner soundtrack" is reasonably sane. My friends who were raised in foster homes and orphanages, my friends whose parents were literally never sober, these people are inventing parenthood from scratch. I am in awe of their bravery and dedication as they forge through what is, to them, uncharted territory.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Quote for the Day

A quote for the day:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday's Chess Club with the younger kids was a good one. I had two adults and four high school boys there to help, so I could wander from game to game giving advice and solving disputes. The high school kids had not played in a long time, so the elementary kids won a few games, which made them proud. Most of the group this year has learned about controlling the center, making a good opening move, how to evaluate trades, and the basic king-rook, king-queen endings. Quite a tidy bit of chess knowledge for a K-3 group.

The garden is still gowing in two flats on the shelf under the lights, but the snow is melting. I bought pea seeds yesterday at the feed store. When it melts enough to dig I will dig up the parsnips that I grew last year. Leaving them in the ground until spring makes them sweet. A parsnip in the fall is just snother root vegetable, but a parsnip in the spring is fresh food.

The dog thinks it is spring. She lays out on the deck on the south side of the house soaking up the sun. Sometimes the husband is there, too.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Patriot Boy

A quick post before we go to TC. Saturday brought us 8 inches of wet snow. Richard got up Sunday morning to blow out the driveway, but the snow was so heavy that it snapped a pin on the snowblower.

The driveway is half done, and melting already at 9 AM. We are hanging out two loads of wash then going to buy snowblower parts.

I enjoy political satire. Lately one of my favorite sites is Patriot Boy. This is not a work-friendly site, not a family friendly site, but it is wicked funny and gives insight into the neo-conservative mind set. Saturday's post eloquently illustrated something that has been breaking my heart:
Proud to be frightened

I admit it. I'm a frightened little coward. There's nothing wrong with that. You can't truly be a patriotic American these days unless you're as frightened as a neocon in a room full of Army recruiters. It's the central organizing feature of conservative politics.

The NRA was built on cowardice. They've become one of this nation's most powerful lobbying groups by fighting such things as trigger locks, armor-piercing ammunition bans, and background checks on the basis that such measures would interfere with a person's ability to defend his or her home against criminals.

Think about that for a minute. How often do home invasions occur? You have to be one frightened puppy to buy into that kind of rhetoric. I am that frightened. That's why I have as many loaded guns lying around my house as I have gladiator movies on my shelves. It may not be rational, but by God, it's Second Amendment patriotic.....

......Five years ago, no respectable person would dare to even think that Americans should employ torture or eliminate due process. September Eleventh changed everything. It turned us into a nation of timid, frightened, but still manly, little bunnies. We have become so afraid of extremely rare acts terrorism, we are now eagerly disposing of our most cherished democratic values.

Yes, I'm frightened, but that's what makes me a better American than you.

Ever since 9/11, you hear the Star Spangled Banner a lot less and God Bless America a lot more. People always complained that the Star Spangled Banner was hard to sing. That's one of the things I always liked about it. Patriotism should not be a slam-dunk. The path of lest resistance is not always the most patriotic. You should have to wonder at the beginning of the song whether you will be able to hit the high notes, to wonder whether you can do our nation justice. Nowadays I really miss the "Land of the Free, Home of the Brave" line. How quick we were to start trading in our freedoms for promises of improved "security".

Thursday, March 17, 2005

More on OM

Saturday's post generated some comments. An old friend called me a "curmudgeon". From the net comes a comment:
As a parent (and team manager) of two kids involved in Destination Imagination - another creative problem solving program - I can tell you that for many, many kids, what they get out of CPS is the opportunity to do it their way. It sounds as though you give your kids plenty of CPS at home, but I've experienced a number of parents who absolutely *cannot* step away and give their kids the room to test out their ideas. CPS is a learning experience for the parents, too!

So let me clarify. I am not against OM. I am all for creative problem solving. There was a subtle moment in last Saturday’s performance where they kids were forced to adlib and prolong their play. One of the adlibbing kids had played chess last year and had been so afraid of making a wrong move that he seldom finished a game. It was wonderful to see him dare to think on his feet.

What I am objecting to is a sort of tunnel vision parenting where being a parent replaces both the rights and responsibilities of being an adult. What I am advocating is creative problem solving that is integrated into everyday life.

Many parents avoid integrating creative problem solving into their kids' lives because it is messy and time consuming. Life's first bout with creative problem solving is supposed to happen just after birth: How do I get the milk out of Mom? The process of breast feeding involves much trial and error on the part of both baby and Mom. As time goes on each gets more experienced at what works and the baby learns ways to latch on efficiently and stimulate the mother's milk producing reflexes. But, alas, many moms find themselves to be too busy to provide this experience. I suspect that there may be an underlying reluctance to relinquish control of the situation. Parents, who may have originally envisioned a baby as the perfect complement to their already storybook lives, are horrified that parenthood might actually refashion the parents. This conflict ignites what turns out to be a long battle with their kids for control. In its ultimate manifestation you see parents arguing with their kids over ridiculously trivial issues and jumping in to micromanage so rudely that the kid seems like Gandhi on a sit down strike.

Two axioms come to mind, one I've learned as a parent and one I've learned as a casino dealer and student of human nature.

The first axiom is that you are always parenting. Every moment you spend with your child you are parenting, whether you are consciously thinking about parenting or not. Every moment you are reinforcing some behavior or failing to reinforce another behavior, just by the set of your jaw or whether or not you make eye contact. (Our kids are training us, too, but that is a topic for another day.) The old snippet of sarcasm, “Do as I say, not as I do!” is still in effect. We are constantly acting as examples for our kids, examples that carry much more weight than what we say. One of the best things we can do to become better parents is to ask ourselves on a daily basis what kinds of behaviors we reinforced today and what kinds of examples we have set.

My second axiom is perhaps a little more controversial. Thirteen years of playing games with adults has convinced me that most of what people do can be reduced to trying to win one sort of game or another. Standing in line in the bank, we are constantly evaluating which line will be quicker, even if we aren’t actually in a hurry. Shopping is a competitive event for many people, there are even those who less motivated by acquiring goods that they are about bragging about the deal they got. And of course parking is for many people a competitive challenge. We try to park as close as possible, except for those who try to play the other game and park where they think they are less likely to get dinged.

That was the set-up, now for the collision. What are kids actually learning when we drop them off at a competition, tell them to play fair and make us proud, when we are cheating at the parking game even as we speak? We can offer justifications (“I’m running late.”) or pass the buck (“Someone should be directing traffic out here.”) but what we are really teaching is that breaking rules is OK if following them is too inconvenient.

Having two teenage drivers on the road, I can tell you that we all start teaching our kids to drive when they are about six years old, when they are able to read road signs and compare the speed limit to the speedometer. When they have seen us break the law for 10 years already, we haven’t got a snowball’s chance of convincing them to toe the line.

One more theme is rattling around my head, and was bouncing around as we wandered through OM competition. It’s the Newsweek article from a February 21, the Front page article about the new book Mommy Madness. The author Judith Warner describes professional women who are undone by the demands of mothering:
Once my daughters began school, I was surrounded, it seemed, by women who had surrendered their better selves--and their sanity--to motherhood. Women who pulled all-nighters hand-painting paper plates for a class party. Who obsessed over the most minute details of playground politics. Who--like myself--appeared to be sleep-walking through life in a state of quiet panic.

Although Warner describes the demands of motherhood to be out of control, it looks to me like the mothers themselves are out of control in their attempts to micromanage their children. Parenting itself may always have been something of a competitive event, but now it is an occasion to prove oneself as a shopper, tutor, logistics analyst, and to moan about how much we have done for our kids at every opportunity.

Kids thirst for control of their lives, yet competitive parenting demands a clean house, cute clothes, and an endless stream of activities to brag about. It demands that kids hurry up, not make messes, do things our way. It demands that kids sacrifice their childhood in the parents’ quest for a story book life.

Being kid-centered parents requires us to become better people, perhaps much better people that we think we are capable of being. Raising kids who can make their own choices requires us to let them fail, even if that failure embarrasses us as their parents. We have to be brave, and mindful, enough to consider not what people will say about us today but what life lessons our kids will glean from losing their homework, being too broke to buy a new prom dress, or spending the day in the principal’s office.

But, and this is the cool part, our love for our kids has the power to change us, bit by bit, into better, braver, wiser people. Remember the old Disney movie of Snow White? As kids, it seemed that Snow White was the one who was lucky at love. She found her Prince Charming and lived happily ever after. If you watch it again as an adult, you may see things differently. The seven dwarves are locked onto a ho-hum life. They slave in the mine. They sing the same songs every day. Even their personalities are one dimensional and so static that their personalities have become their names: Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey…

Then one day they come home and find a surprising, beautiful creature who needs their love and protection. Their lives are changed, in ways that they did not choose, cannot control, and in ways that force them to become more than what they thought they could be. They are truly the lucky ones. The seven dwarves are the ones who found the really precious sort of love, the sort of transforming love that our kids offer to us on a daily basis, if we will only stop, look into their eyes, and accept it.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

I Still Don't Get OM

Last fall, Anna asked if she could be in "OM", Odyssey of the Mind, an "international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college."

I didn't get it. I couldn't figure out why it was neccesary to provide creative problem solving opportunities for kids. I've been telling my kids to solve their own problems since kindergarten, even if it meant that they wore weird clothes in public and that they missed some things because they forgot to write them on the calendar.

I remember hovering behind the kitchen door as Anna (then four years old)dragged her tricycle to the top of her slide and considered riding it down. I was myself calculating exactly how long I could wait before dashing out to catch her. She eventually chose to push the trike down and then slide down after it, but she did solve her own problem.

My kids have spent the day in the principal's office because I won't come to their defense when they get in trouble. They have had multiple opportunities to spend all of their money and then be broke. I stopped buying clothes for my kids in junior high when they started earning babysitting money. My teenagers still try to make their problems into my problems ("But I need to use the car....) and I am still resolute in calculating how to stand ready to catch them while providing them with the chance to solve their own problems.

But Anna really wanted to "do OM". The coach, a good friend of mine, was anxious to have her on the team. Anna's sisters and I had a hurried meeting at school the day of signup during which they said I should let her be in OM, since a lot of their friends had "done OM" and enjoyed it. I allowed myself to be swayed, on the condition that Anna's schoolwork and piano practice not suffer.

Her team met once or twice a week through the winter. I was blissfully unaware of most of what went on. They wrote a play and then lost the script on the playground and then found it and made costumes. Anna glued some balsa wood together on the kitchen table and I gave her some clothespins to use for clamps. Her coach told me that they were "getting a lot done".

So it was that Richard and I ended up driving to Traverse City East Junior High School on Saturday morning to see the OM competition. It was snowy, and it had been pretty much a March white out as I drove home at 2 am the night before. We were crunched for time and worried that we would miss their 9:30 start time. The parking lot of the school was full. There were signs for overflow parking at the school next door, but there was a long line of people parking their vans and SUVs in the firelane or cruising the lot in case a space was vacated. We aren't the sort of people who park in fire lanes; Richard dropped me off and went to park next door. The school was one of those contemporary mouse maze designs with minimal signage and lots of circular hallways. The OM people had put up maps, but this was a younger generation of parents and the print was too small for my 47 year old eyes. I walked around the whole school and then circled the room twice before I found it. The team was in there, waiting for the judges to give them the go ahead. They waited a long time, long enough for Richard to make it back from parking the car.

The room was a half a a gym with bleachers pulled out and a loud ventilation system. Anna's team had chosen to solve the Crazy Columns problem, in which they presented a play that featured the testing and ultimate crushing of some balsa wood structures that they had built. They performed the play, they crushed their structure, the judges talked to them, Anna gave me a hug, and then the team left the room to go watch something else. Richard and I were kind of left there, wondering what to do next. We watched another team from our school, this time performing in a classroom where the parents stood at one end of the room and the judges sat at the other so we were watching the kids' backs. They did a play with a communications theme. Some of the more purposeful parents did an impromtu school cheer as the kids walked in. The kids ignored them.

Our kid was ignoring us, too. The school was crammed full of parents standing around while their kids ignored them. The parking lot was crammed full of illegally (and dangerously) parked cars, cars that had been parked by parents who were frantic to get to this venue where they were now being ignored by their kids. On the one hand this was good: kids were supposed to be doing their own stuff and not leaning on their parents. On the other hand I wondered what these parents were doing here. They needed to "get a life." This is the same generation of parents who forgot to stop the war, the same generation who are standing there with their thumbs in their ears as our public school system is being systematically dismantled, the same generation who can plow $30,000 into a "safe" car, but who can't hang up and drive the speed limit. Somehow being supportive parents was getting in the way of being responsible adults.

We left. On the way home we debated what to do about next year. Homework and piano practice has been suffering, but I'm not sure that they wouldn't have suffered even without OM.

Anna came home later; her team won 2nd place and is going to state final competition next month. Her idea of why they won was almost the opposite of her coach's story. Oh well. State finals is at Grand Valley State University; she is looking forward to staying in a motel with a pool. I will have to work so Richard will take her down. Maybe after that he can explain this OM stuff to me.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Starting from Seed

Basil Plants Days Old

This time of year a person needs to see some green. I started these plants in a flat that I kept in the kitchen cupboard that has the heat vent running under it. Now they have graduated to the shelf under the shop light. There is basil, peppers, cherry tomatoes, leeks, and another flat of grrens and cilantro.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Baghdad Still Burning

After a few dry spells, Baghdad Burning is posting again. I think that her sporadic posting is probably due to her sporadic electrical service.

Yesterday she was talking about how uncomfortable Iraqis feel about jurnalists being kidnapped in their country:

Iraqis are getting abducted these days by the dozen, but it still says something else about the country when foreigners are abducted. Iraqis have a fierce sense of hospitality that can border on the obnoxious sometimes. When people come to our houses, we insist they have something to drink and then we insist they stay for whatever meal is coming- even if its four hours away. We cringe when journalists and aide workers are abducted because it gives us the sense that we’re bad hosts.

Reading the regular news it is easy to think that Iraqis are backwards, hostile people. Reading Riverbend is like reading about anyone's friends and family. Sure, they get together, eat, argue a little, but who doesn't?

One of her posts detailed a trip through the bombed out city to take an aunt to the cousin's house. Hoping not to drive into a bomb crater, hoping the traffic didn't stop near any angry mobs, hoping the random gunfire stayed's a lot to go through to see family. No one should have to live like that.

Juggling link

Juggling With Balls is a link to a juggler's web log. He has nice instructions for beginning jugglers, and some nice video incorporated into his site.

It was written in French and translated with translator software, thus some of the funny double entendres.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

U.P. Family History

I have been under the weather all week, barely holding my head up, let alone writing. Here is a reprint of a family history piece I wrote a few years ago. I was reminded of it last night at the poker table when John, a retiree from Philadelphia, asked why there would be colleges in Michigan's Upper Penninsula. Nowadays the UP is known as a wilderness, but there was a time when Houghton seemed destined to edge out backwater Detroit for the position of state capital. Read on:

Grandpa Gord as a young man

Grandpa Gord was born in November of 1899 in Ishpeming, in the upper Peninsula of Michigan to William Rowe Harry and Sarah Louise Hawes, immigrants from Cornwall, England. He was their first and only son; sisters Myrtle and Olive were 6 and 4 years older than Gord. Many people were coming over from Cornwall then, as the Cornish were known for their expertise in the mining of shallow ore deposits.

Although the mining company had paid their passage to America in 1889, William and his ancestors had worked on estates as butlers, gardeners, farm laborers, etc. William told stories (passed on by Gord) about the “Duke” of St Albans and the hunting parties for his well-to-do guests. Local kids were hired to flush pheasants for the visitors, or “poachers” would use ferrets to run rabbits out of their dens. (This theme of hunting as a gentleman’s sport is echoed in family photos from the 1920’s and 30’s that show men in three piece suits and fedoras posing with their hanging bucks. What a treat it must have been for William to move to a place where he could be the gentleman with the gun instead of the kid beating the bushes.)

The Harry and Hawes families were acquainted back in Cornwall (William once worked delivering coal to the Hawes’ neighborhood), and eventually most of the members of both families were reunited in Michigan. William traveled to this country with his friend Henry J. Ivey. They boarded in the Hawes home at Ishpeming and each married a Hawes daughter. The 1900 census shows William and Louisa, both able to read and write English, married and living in Ishpeming.

The Hawes family had more of a mining background. My uncle Bryan writes: “Gordon said his Grandfather Hawes had a homestead on the road past the Rope Gold Mine near Ishpeming. Its ‘lower 40’ is now covered by Dead River Reservoir. Grandfather Hawes left Cornwall when the mines gave out. He brought a large family to Ishpeming, but traveled widely from there---to Grass Valley, CA, to Africa three times. He worked on the Cape to Cairo Railroad (‘he was a railroad man, not a miner’). Once in Africa he ‘had three helpers who were Hottentots;’ if the train hit and ‘killed an elephant they stopped until they ate it.’ When Grandfather went to Africa, he signed three year contracts.’” Bryan continues: “I remember in the late ‘50’s my dad discovered a rifle displayed over a bar in Lander, Wyoming that had belonged to Grandfather William Hawes. (The bar owner noticed Dad’s Michigan plates and said he ’knew a Seymour Hawes of Detroit—that’s his dad’s rifle’). The bar owner wouldn’t part with it. Not much was said about son’s Willie and Jack’s entry into the U.S. They’d been in the British Navy but jumped ship at New York City and came to Ishpeming.”

It was boom times in the UP. Another daughter, Eveline, was born in 1901. William and Louisa relocated their family to Painesdale, MI, probably in 1902 when the Champion mine came into full production. It must have been a lot like a lumber camp in those first years. Grandpa talked of stocking up for the winter because there would be no supplies until the ships came back through Lake Superior in the spring. He learned habits of self-sufficiency from these early years—if you wanted to eat something, you’d better be able to grow it, kill it, and cook it. If something broke, you figured out how to fix it. Louisa was scared to death of the wolves howling in the woods at night but Gordon learned to love the woods and would be an avid hunter for the rest of his life. There was one church and a number of traveling clergymen. The people would all come and hear whatever denomination (or native tongue) was giving the service that week. For a kid raised in a small, remote village, Gordon was remarkably at ease with people from all walks of life. This trait that was probably acquired back in the early days of Painesdale.

The Harry family in Painesdale

Progress came quickly to Painesdale. The mine was owned by William Paine of Boston (founder of Paine-Webber). Mr. Paine played a key role in the development of the paternalistic communities of the South Range. He personally saw to the creation of hospitals, schools, stores, entertainment, land for churches, libraries. Painesdale was the hub of the series of communities built around the various mines. In 1909 a water system was installed throughout Painesdale. Electricity and a phone system followed. The Sarah Sargent Paine Library, named after Mr. Paine’s mother, was located in Painesdale. Grandpa told me many times about the portrait of Mrs. Paine, painted by John Singer-Sargent, that hung in the main room of the library. The high school was also located in Painesdale, and Grandpa was proud of receiving an education as good as any eastern boarding school. His high school even had an indoor swimming pool! By 1909 the high school had 400 students, many of them commuting by train from other mining towns. Painesdale was on the main line of the Copper Range Railroad, heading north to Houghton-Hancock and south to a connection to Chicago.

In the 1910 census, William was listed as a butcher in a meat market and owned his home free of mortgage. This was where Gordon and his family lived until he graduated from high school. At the start of World War I, Gord was working at the mine, as a student helper at $30/month making metallurgical tests in the master mechanic’s office. The master mechanic, a MSU graduate, was called up to serve in the army and Gord took over his job, essentially running the mine, armed only with his high school education and a textbook the guy had left behind. Grandpa told me this story many time as a testament to what can be done with a good book and a sharp mind. His faith in literacy was life long. When he was in his eighties he could still read three books in two days and suddenly be well versed in a topic that he had never considered before.

It was not all great times. Gordon’s oldest sister Myrtle died in the fall of 1915 at age 21 of a “sudden fever”, probably meningitis. Around this time the most easily accessible of the copper was starting to play out. Strikes were breaking out at the mines. The price of copper was bolstered by World War I, but when the war ended in 1918 it crashed. After Gordon graduated from high school in 1917 he enrolled in the University of Michigan and his whole family moved south.

Guards at the Chevy plant, left to right: William Rowe Harry, Willie Hawes, Henry Ivey

His dad and Henry Ivey got jobs as guards in the Buick plant in Flint. Gordon graduated from U of M in 1923 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. By 1925 he was working at the AC Division of General Motors. He was active in community affairs in Flint, including serving as Treasurer of the Warner School when the new teacher came by train from the SE Missouri State Teacher’s College.

The Rest is History…..

This bio is based on conversations with Grandpa, supported by Bryan Harry’s genealogy research and notes on family lore. Background information on the copper range came from:

originally posted on