“Spank Me!”

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 6.38.12 AM“That’s the problem with kids today. You don’t have the authority to discipline them,” said one person who did not wish to be identified because (s)he will never be allowed to join the PTO and bake cookies again.

“I’ve spanked my son,” said one mom, lowering her voice. She tried to take it back, even though she’s one of my best friends and I’d never turn her in. Can’t be too careful. Soviet gulags filled up with people whose friends would “never turn them in.” “I’ve just spanked him once or twice…and not really hard at all,” she apologized.

Kids know society doesn’t want us to spank them. That it’s no longer a personal decision. I threatened my son once when he was practicing his hobby of being highly inappropriate. I warned him. “If you do that again,” I’ll omit the “that” so he has some shot at a prom date, middle school friends, and marriage, even after he does get old enough to realize his mother earned a Pulitzer prize by publicizing his childhood, “I’m going to spank your hand.”

“No you won’t Mommy. You never spank me.” It’s true. I don’t. Sometimes he taunts me. “Mommy! I’m doing something baaaddddd…. see…..spank me!” He’s even dared to wiggle his little behind near my face, “spannnnkkk meeeee…” running away and laughing. He turned mocking my kindness into a game.

I reached over and pulled out the parenting manual, turning to page three, “job description.” There it was. It’s the kid’s job to outwit me, and my job to defeat him and crush his spirit at those times when he thinks he has a chance of winning.

Without a word, I got up, moving the smelly wiggling behind aside, and walk silently to the big computer. I changed the password, and sat down. Game. Set. Match. I don’t need to spank his body. I spanked his inner soul.

NPR recently produced a segment in favor of spanking. It’s a three-minute testimonial by a young man recalling his childhood–thanking his dad for the whoopings, going so far as to discuss this by ethnicity. He stated he can tell the consequences of misbehavior by race. When kids act like lunatics in the mall, he said, a black mother issues physical discipline while a white mother tries “to hold a conversation with her semi-lunatic child.” He must have seen me in the mall. Is there something to this?

I asked teens. I picked some challenging teens, the type that might have something to say on this issue of discipline. They all came out in favor of spanking. Frankly, I was pretty shocked.

“My mom never hit me. She should have. I was bad. If parents take care of this stuff when kids are little they grow up with respect. Now we don’t because we know. You can’t do anything.” Another teen seconded it.

It’s true. I watched a kid tell a parent once, “You can’t ground me, I’ll call DCYF.” That parent, without a blink, picked up her phone, and Googled the number, handing it to the kid. “Make sure they get you a good judge and group home.” Brilliant. Is the flip side of society’s kindness this sense of entitlement that is seeping into every aspect of the American fabric? Into colleges, the work force, into society?

“Are you saying,” I asked the teens for clarification, “that spanking is for little kids who don’t understand reason, or it should be for older kids, too?” They clarified. Older kids too.

It was a great conversation. I asked if they’d spank their kids, “I’m waiting to have kids,” said one teen. “But I’ll spank them.” I spoke to teens of a few different races to be sure. Most of them agreed with spanking, stating they didn’t like it but it works. That it’s not abuse. Abuse is raising bad children. This…is…deep. I love talking to teens. I learn a lot.

This turns everything the professionals have taught me upside-down. I’m not making a judgement on this controversial subject, but listening to the perception of teens teaches me a lot. I usually consider teens my experts on anything involving pop culture, technology, or deviousness, which I like to call “innovation.” Because what it is when used for good.

I’m going to have to think about this. As teachers, we’re always taught to talk respectfully, reward good behavior, and use the positive. That’s in my nature. It’s what I do. Positive, layered with a healthy dose of humor, which builds the best relationships of them all. But this brings up the larger question–not necessarily about spanking but about codling. Are we coddling kids too much? We’ve banned dodgeball, have produced an education nation where the number one stat we have is that we lead the world in self-esteem, have kids who say “you can’t/won’t hit me.”

Secretly kids are asking for discipline. Admitting to their transgressions and saying, in private, that they want me to catch them. Even my little boy wiggles his hiney in my face and saying “You won’t spank me.” No. Probably not. I’m a Gandhi-loving pacifist and I prefer to outwit kids instead.

That NPR article, the voice of a teen who’s “grown up to be a respectable young man,” refuses to be ignored. Maybe it’ll spark the conversation about how we solve the problems of education and society. Who knows. Maybe I’ll just look up from my Kindle and find another hiney in my face.


[image: hartsbeat.com . Great post on this issue]

Don’t Need to “Get a Sweater”

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 5.40.37 AMThe wood stove is on. Rural New England’s got “the-leaves-have-turned” chill that sparks my competitive spirit. It’s five degrees colder than urban New England where the collective effects of the sun beating off the black pavement and all the car exhaust produces heat.

Growing up, leaving off the heat was a triumph. “I didn’t turn my heat on until November 17th,” one person bragged. My dad tried to trump it, like when I try to outrun the guy next to me on the treadmill. Every year he said, “I’ll give everyone heat for Christmas,” and “Get a sweater.” We wouldn’t think of touching the thermostat. It was relegated to the male head of household, like hooking up stereo parts or packing the trunk for vacation. There are just things women don’t do. Even in modern times.

When I got my own apartment, my first thought was, “Who’s going to turn on the heat?” I pondered from the first chilly day in September all the way through the fall. I wondered “What day can the heat go on? November 17th? Christmas? Or should I try to knock this out of the park and go for Groundhog Day? I can WIN this!”

There are things a person can do to avoid turning on heat. Wear many sweaters…but there are only so many layers one can wear before resembling the inside of a padded room. Baking works, too. But that’s cheating, because the energy that runs the stove–gas, electric, or propane isn’t free.

What is the reason for the “Get a sweater” anyway?  Why avoid heat, historically?

Flashback. My grandmother used to give the look when I put sugar in my tea. “Have some tea with your sugar.” Clear cut sarcasm. The best way to combat sarcasm, I’ve found, is to pretend to be too stupid to understand it.

“Okay. Thanks, Grandma.” In order for this to work, the response must be genuine and innocent. Any touch of return-volley sarcasm invites doom.

The point is, she remembered The Great Depression and World War II when ration cards restricted the amount of meat, sugar, eggs, and butter for her growing family. My uncle tells a story of losing the ration book on the way to the store. He didn’t go there straight away–he stopped to play with his friends. Everyone went out in the dark to hunt and luckily, it was found. They would’ve lost the food for the month, let alone the sugar.

“Have some sugar with your tea,” is a flashback to times of no sugar. Grandma also saved every plastic bag and odd gadgets before we recycled such things. Never know when they could be of use. We don’t have to worry about sugar now. There’s no need to ration it. It’s mass-produced in countries where people should get paid more, and it floods the nation. No shortage whatsoever.

Where did the “get a sweater,” originate? Where did freezing become a badge of honor? Growing up in the 70’s with electric heat–the type of heat that was supposed to end up cheaper and cleaner but really ended up making houses unsellable relics with bills that got up to 4-500/month…that’s where the sweater began for us. Then we lived in a large Victorian to start a group home that never quite got going, while my parents did about fifty things to make the world a better place–soup kitchens, grants, helping others in need. Meanwhile, they, themselves worried how to heat the large home they bought with the helping-others package. It had a wood stove that heated the center column of the house. The rest of the large house…got a sweater. Getting a sweater burrowed into two generations of psyche.

I don’t waste money. I can afford heat. Rusty gathered and chopped two years of wood himself, taking trees for people after the hurricane and turning them into round pieces then woodstove-sized logs. “It’s exercise.”

But here I sit, with the heat on early, toggling between guilty and defiant.  I’m drinking coffee enjoying the calm. I toss another log in the stove. The gloves cover my pajamas with soot. Forgot about that. That’s what you get for putting on the heat so early. I put the heat on because I can.

I remember times of need. I’ll see the faces of students and others this time of year–no coat, “Christmas sucks” (because I’m not going to get anything). Some have as much heat as they want in utilities-included apartments, others are “getting a sweater” too. And some remain blissfully unaffected by the needs around them. Innocent.

The winter and holidays are times of great compassion and generosity–food drives popping up everywhere, “Give a dollar for this cause,” in every grocery line.

I don’t need to “get a sweater” anymore, I’m blessed. I’ll joke about sweaters on Thanksgiving. But for a moment, I remember the times when I’ve needed them. And think about those who still do.


[image: tipsyelves.com . They have some cool sweaters. If you dare….]

Changing My Name to “Hey, Mom”

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 7.45.27 PM“Hey, Mom, are you late?”

He knows when to get up. He picks the precise moment that will disturb me the most. Not that I don’t love to cuddle, but it’s deliberate, and amazingly precise.

How can a six-year old inflict such collateral damage on the morning schedule? He just knows.  Sometimes, he catches me working at 4AM. It’s my time of peace when the world can’t interrupt me. “Good morning!”  Other times, he waits till the last second, ambushing me when I’m stepping out the door. “Hey, Mom! “
“Yes, Declan? I’m leaving. Give me a kiss and a hug. “
“Hey, Mom. I’ve got a question.” It’s never “How are you?” or “What’s the weather?” It’s always something like, “Hey, Mom, why are the leading economic indicators two months old?”
“Not now, buddy. I’m getting ready for work.”
“Can you be absent?” A valid question.
“No, “I say, “I cannot be absent. I’m going to work. You need to go to school. “
“I can be absent,” he says. “I don’t mind… “
“Nobody is going to be absent. I have to go. Give me a kiss and a hug.”
“Hey, Mom!” he says.
“Yes, Declan. Make it quick, I’m leaving.” I have my bag and lunch in hand and I’m heading toward the door. I should make it to work if the lights are green.
“Can I have something to eat? “
This is the part where I usually toss a piece of fruit at him on my way out. Think fast. Catch.
“How about a fried egg? “ Not on your life.
“No. I have to leave right now. Have an apple.”
“Ummmmmmm….no… How about….” Very slowly, he puts his thinking finger to his chin like a modern-day Rodin. “Hmmmm…..” Intentional slowness?
“Decide. I’m leaving now. Have some bread. I just baked it. It’s warm and good. Your favorite.”
“Okay. You can toast and put jelly on it.” Under normal circumstances, I be proud to serve freshly baked bread toasted with homemade jelly to a smiling boy. But not three minutes after I needed to have left even if all the lights are green and the State Police at the base of the hill are otherwise engaged.
I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he’s really hungry not deliberately trying to make me late for work. But then I detect the slightest twinkle of a smile. A snide, crafty one at that. This assault of cute is well orchestrated and masterminded. It has been all along.
“Hey, Mom, are you late yet? Are you really, really late?” It is the look of a deliberate criminal. He is planned this. He has been planning this all along. In acting like a Dickensian six-year-old hoping for a scrap of bread, he has unraveled a sinister plot to make me late. He knows.
He makes me think working parents deserve a handicap just like bad golfers. All the single people in their 20s look like rock stars at work while we run late trying hard to raise the next generation to not suck. To add insult to injury, we must hide under tables at restaurants when they become mutants in public.
It’ll be tough to convince the 20-something single overachiever promotion getters to contribute to overpopulating the planet after they see me rush into work to greet the boss with a grape juice stain across the front of my shirt. The one the boy wiped on purpose giving me “one more kiss” on my way out the door. The one I didn’t notice until I was driving.
“Hey, Mom!”
“I love you.” And he smiles. The cute, innocent smile. And for the smallest particle of a second, I think he means it genuinely. Without an evil scheme.
[image: Matt Baumgartener–fridaypuppy.com]


Why You Should Buy Your Kids Whatever They Want

“MOM! Brittany’s got a gaming system!” Declan came running into the room. Here’s the part in the conversation where I’m supposed to be indignant.

“Yeah. She has a gaming system.”

“Why don’t I have a gaming system?”

“This is America, kid. You want to keep up with the neighbors, get a job and buy one.” There’s a Soviet joke that says that in America, you work hard to keep up w the Jones. If the Jones get a Caddy, you work hard and buy one. Equality.

In the Soviet Union if you want to stay on par with the Ivanovs and they get a Caddy, you sneak over and smash it. Voila. Equality.

I think the boy’s missing the essence of my political allegory, though.

“Brittany’s older than you. She can have a gaming system.”  Actually, I’m considering getting a gaming system for Christmas. There are several reasons for this, the first of which is that Declan keeps asking for things I don’t want in the house. He wants videos of which I don’t approve–cartoons that make kids fresh. He also wants a cat, of which I do approve. The dog disagrees.

“Too bad for YOU, Mommy. I’m skipping you. I’m asking Santa.” He wiggles his face and rear end in what I detect to be the touchdown dance of a kid who’s never watched football. I say that Santa passes his checklist by me. The boy doesn’t believe this. Santa is magic. He overrules moms and dogs.

The real reason I want to get a gaming system is that it’s something really cool I can take away. I’m running out of things that get his attention when I’m mad.

I’ve never had a gaming system. My dad got pong off the back of a truck, but I never had an Atari or Nintendo like my brother. When my mom punished me, she sent me to my room. I loved my room. All I wanted to do was read anyway. It was a victory. You can’t take literacy away from a kid. That’s why it’s important to embrace commercialism that can removed in the unfortunate case of punishment.

Last night, I discovered that Declan didn’t just make a pen mustache. “Mom, it’s my favorite pen mustache. I’m a man.”  He also used the Bic pen to draw his favorite alphabet letters across the screen of my iMac.

“Why did you do that?” Apparently, he “needed to write the letter F.”

“Big boys don’t write the letter F on things!” Except various walls, bathrooms, and subway stations. “You’re not big enough to share my computer!” I took it away. Already, he’s found other things to do. He’s not suffering enough. He’s happy as a clam ignoring my instructions to please pick up his puzzle pieces. So, I have to dig deeper for a punishment. Today, I might go to the farm without him. But if I had a gaming system to take away…that would be magic. Threatening to change the password on the computer worked for two months of behavior inspiration.

That is why I’m considering abandoning my attempts reduce material goods and joining the rest of the hypercommercialized West in buying everything the kid wants. I think it’s a great parenting strategy. I won’t have to teach about love, respect, deliberateness, and listening the first time, and I’ll no longer wonder if he needs ADHD meds. I’ll simply have more stuff to take away.



How to Be a Stalker

Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 5.52.28 AMI’m about to teach a lesson about researching and connecting. Who wants to learn about researching? Exactly nobody. I survey my audience. Teenaged Facebook fiends drifting off into space. Think quick. We need excitement. The best theatre is performed live…on the spot. So it is with teaching.

“Pay attention,” I say. “You may want to take notes.” Notes. An offer no student can refuse. A few pens rise through the air. “Today, I’m going to teach you…stalking.”

Stalking? Fantastic! Undivided attention…

“Ima stalk that girl who likes my boyfriend…”  Don’t worry, kid, I’ll clarify later.

“We watched three experts in our documentary. We need to know if they’re credible. They might be stupid. I don’t know.” Puzzled looks. I continue, “You know how they always interview that dumb person on the news who says, ‘But he was such a good neighbor, never gave me any trouble…’” Students nod.

Random person yanked off the street, spun as the expert:

“Excuse me, sir, what do you think about the national deficit?” 

“I’m glad you asked. I do my part by buying two burgers at the dollar menu…”

“How do we know if these are the people making an impact in the world? Dig in. Investigate.”

Stalking interests students. There are a ton of Discovery Channel shows about crime and stalking. Stalkers get ratings. Researchers…do not. Unfortunate, because I think researchers do more good for humanity. It’s all in the spin.

“Not like crime-show stalking,” I clarify. “Nothing creepy. Research!” A few students look disappointed. They’ve been had. The bait and switch complete, I continue.

I show them how to connect with real people in real time. How to leverage their research skills, find interesting people in their field, and how to make real-life contact. How evaluate whether the person’s worth his or her weight in salt, and if so, how to reach out.

“Man, this guy’s important,” they say after checking into United Nations Food Guy. They decide running all agriculture grants for Gates is probably a big deal.

“Look! He even has a Twitter! I’m going to follow him!” I look over. Someone has reset the screen savers on the student computers to pictures of our experts. A very good sign.

“This girl invented a new kind of rice that feeds a ton of people. At 18!” Yes, she did. The message I want to send is, “And you can, too.” 

Eventually, they realize we’re not stalking. There’ll be no horse heads in beds, no string of Facebook messages. No cyberbullying. Maybe just an inspired tweet or two with a scientist.

The world is about connections. When we connect, we are unstoppable. It’s a skill no one can take away. It’s a skill I’ve never seen taught in a book.

The power of the world is in our hands with social media. We can research, email, and tweet. We can connect with our heroes. We can use our power to create change, we can be someone’s hero. There are no limits to what each individual can do because every single person holds the power of the world in their hand in a single phone, tablet, or device. Like any good hero, this superpower is limitless. Using “the force,” is such a simple lesson. Using it to be a force multiplier…that is where the true magic begins.

Students can do this.

I ask a question. “What’s the number one thing people love to talk about?”

One girl shouts out, “Themselves!”

“Exactly. You’re not stalking–you’re building relationships. You feel good when people get to know you. Being on the world stage is no different. You connect. You make real friends. And when you make friends with others who want to change the world…you change the world.”

And hopefully, inspire others to do the same.


[image: retroworks.blogspot.com. Peter Sellers as Det. Jacques Clouseau]

Looking into the Artists’ Eyes

It’s easy to give feedback. But there’s something about giving honest and genuine feedback while looking into the eyes of an artist that’s emotional, different.

View of the Congregational Church that started the festival in 1967.

View of the Congregational Church that started the festival in 1967.

The Scituate Art Festival is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the nation. We’ve been coming for years. It’s my husband Rusty’s hometown. He always wanted to move back here but the time was never right. I’ve found the time is never right for most big things in life–changing careers, having a baby, moving…making any life change, really. The time is never right.

Sometimes, the universe intervenes. Other times it sends people to drop kick me. This time, it was both. The airport began to swallow up homes behind our house threatening to take our last shred of value. Selling wasn’t easy–who wants to move into a neighborhood where the roofs are part of the tarmac? Moving is tough–stressful, expensive. It’s never time. We found this house in the woods in my husband’s hometown, the town with the huge art festival and postcard New England village, and a buyer who was grateful to get from an apartment to a house. We escaped. And now this art festival is our hometown event.

“You’d better get rid of your hyphenation,” my husband said, “It’ll do you no good here.” This is his hometown. His last name gets nods. Mine, not so much. This is the type of town where people have lived for generations. I’ve been grandfathered in. “Oh, you have that house…” Everyone knows the house by description. People tell me stories of each generation who lived here, and the stonemason who built it. It’s the type of history I love.

As a real resident of this town, I pay attention to the festival. I listen to the old-timers, talking about the way the town was and used to be. The real history. The kind you can’t find in a book. The Greatest Generation telling the way things use to be, could have been, and sometimes still are.

The food court is everyone's favorite at festivals.

The food court is everyone’s favorite at festivals.

The Art Festival is the way it always is, a finely tuned operation that draws 2-300K people in a good year. Locals and people flock in for the artisans and the New England foliage alike.  We stop here and there for a small-town greeting or an apple dumpling–the type I eat every year, once a year, like clockwork. The civic organizations, school clubs, and people of the region set up booths and all the repeat revelers know how to find the best BBQ, the biggest sausage and peppers, the most perfect fries…and that apple dumpling.

And of course you can’t run a New England town without chowda and clam cakes.

Everyone in town bakes, mans a booth, volunteers or attends. Artists from all over the world show their crafts. As an outsider, I appreciate the variety and efficiency. As an insider, I see the community. I am starting to attach.

I see the antiques booths, the painters, the artisans. What started as a twelve-booth event in 1967 has expanded to pay for repairs to the Congregational Church has become something to behold.

But the best feature, by far, is the artists and artisans. I used to look at art through the eyes of a simpleton, an ignoramus.  Now, I look through the eyes of the creator. Just for an hour or two, I imagine myself painting, sculpting, bringing forth woodwork or pottery into the world, instead of writing, and showcasing my creations for the public. I look at the soul of the artist sitting, quietly showing his or her work. What courage to put oneself out there, in the middle of 300K people passing by casually, blending as people say things like “Beautiful,” or “Oh, no, that’s awful,” or worse yet, passing by without a single glance. The heart and soul of the artist unnoticed. Brilliance blending into the background of clamcakes and doughboys. There can be no greater insult than that.

I see the soul of the artist with the brush, crayon, typewriter, or lens. When possible, I talk to them. I appreciate them. We’re all the same, no matter the genre. We all put stuff out there, hoping someone will appreciate it. Or maybe, just maybe, that it’ll make a difference.

That’s what I see at the festival. Community, cohesion, and people making a difference. It’s the way every community should be, and can be, if we all just smile, create, and share. I’m grateful to be a part. Even if the screaming boy makes me leave early. Some day, this festival will be his.

No More “Cookie Mom”

I’m baking for the bake sale. Declan’s school has a table at the Scituate Art Festival. This is my first opportunity to raise money for the elementary school. I’m not good at fundraising but on days where I pay attention, I can cook. On days I don’t, I burn outlines of sandwiches on frying pans.

I planned ahead. Yesterday, I assembled my local butter, vegan sugar, and organic King Arthur all-purpose flour. I begin to bake. Declan helped. It’s stressful policing a six-year old baker who really only wants to double-dip his finger into the sugar.

“Go wash your hands again.” I told him. Don’t worry, he hasn’t slimed your cookie. I had to wash several spoons, though.

bake sale photoBaking cookies has taken me a total of two days. I was wise to have started yesterday. I figured I’d do the dough one day and the baking the next. What I didn’t know is that dough, it seems, evaporates in the refrigerator. Or maybe en route from the bowl to the Tupperware container. One particular handful didn’t evaporate, though. It was stolen. I caught the boy dough-handed.

“I used the spoon,” he said, hiding the half-tray of cookie sized ball. I took it. I threw it out. There’s a half-tray no one gets to sell. Then I burned a couple of trays when someone came to the door.  Those cookies are not for sale. I don’t have too many left. I repackaged the remaining cookies to get more bags of fewer cookies.

“Nice try,” I heard a cookie shout from the bag. The remaining burned cookies chuckled.

“Don’t laugh, you’ll be eaten first.” My husband walked by and picked up a couple. Crunch. “See?” I hate to say “I told you so.”

I could make another batch, but I’m not going to. I’m really, really tired. I’m wrapping up the cookies and hiding them so they don’t evaporate again. There won’t be any left.

Next time, I’m going to give ten or twenty bucks to the cause. I think it’ll work better that way.