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Misery Index: 6/27/10

June 27, 2010

Welcome to this week’s Misery Index, the rock bottom of parenting.

If your kids are looking for cancer, I guess they’ll have to take up smoking, like they did in the old days.

Michael Jackson’s kids are off to school for the first time. That should fix them right up.

Experts are puzzling over why so many more women don’t have kids by the time they’re in their 40s now as compared to the 1970s. It could be because kids are wicked annoying.

Barack Obama hates cheap blueberries.

If you use a backless booster seat, you may as well feed your kid into a wood chipper. Dick.

Being trapped in a hot car in the summertime is bad for candy bars, electronics, and children, just FYI.

A new study “hints” that having multiple children increases a woman’s risk of stroke. Studies are so coy.

Target wants you to know that one of the zillion cheap-ass accessories that find their way from their store into your home, like the grains of sand that get into your car seats when you go to the beach no matter how careful you are, might contain an unfortunate amount of lead. Good luck figuring out of you own one of these.

Some hardcore Jews in Israel went all Orval Faubus and refused to allow Sephardic girls into their school. They want you to know it’s not at all like racism, though.

A bunch of parents in California decided a kindergarten graduation would be a great place to crack some skulls.

Top five signs you’re a failure

June 25, 2010

For as long as there have been parents, there have been assholes standing around telling them they’re doing it all wrong. I have no doubt that at the dawn of mankind some jerk Neanderthal rolled his eyes when the guy in the next cave let his son ride a brontosaurus without a helmet. Of course, the methods of failure change with the times, and what’s a no-no to one generation is totally expected with the next. But I thought it might be interesting to consider the top five current signifiers that no matter what else you might be doing right, at the end of the day, you’re doing it all wrong. [Note: These apply to affluent Northeastern suburbs and, I would imagine, other places as well, but certainly they aren’t universal.]

  1. Cavities. There was a time when cavities were allowed to happen. No one wanted them to happen, of course, but they did. No longer. If your kid gets a cavity, expect looks from the hygienist. Expect a tone from the dentist, the one most people use to talk to their dog after it’s taken a shit on the sofa. Expect anyone you tell (not that you’ll tell anyone, because allowing your child to get a cavity will deal you a crushing sense of shame) to recoil slightly and lose his or her train of thought.
  2. Sunburn. This might be worse than a cavity. This is cancer. If you aren’t applying the 97 sunblock with a hose on an hourly basis, you might as well let your kid smoke two packs a day. The fact is that if your kid has so much as a faint pinkishness across the shoulders, you’re a monster.
  3. Obesity. This is the mother of all failures. You don’t have to let your kids get so big Dateline starts calling, either–if they’re even slightly chubby, the tiniest bit stout, then the pediatrician is liable to hand you a pamphlet and ask if you’re familiar with a family of foods known as vegetables. I’m not suggesting that childhood obesity isn’t a serious problem (pleasedon’tstonemeinthestreet), but the days of children simply going through physical phases is over. Your kids’ weight is a report card on your parenting skill.
  4. Television. You know what’s awesome? A box that, when you turn it on, makes your kids shut up, stop fighting, and be still long enough that you can catch your breath, maybe put in a load of laundry, make a meal, or just fantasize about the day they want nothing to do with you. But if you even think about liking that, you suck. Because letting your kids watch TV is like admitting you never loved them. Instead of letting them watch TV, you should engage them with a fun craft project, encourage them to plan and stage a play for the family’s enjoyment, or just put your head under the tire of a large truck.
  5. Independence. The quality of your parenting in general can be measured in the distance you let your kids wander from your physical person–the further away you let them get, the more you’re failing. I’ve had people see my kids running 30 or 40 feet ahead me on the sidewalk spot them, freeze, and begin to look around frantically for the parent. WHERE’S THE PARENT?! This child is running wild and free and surely had only just now managed to escape from the filthy van of his abductor! WHERE! IS! THE! PARENT??! It usually takes them several moments to spot me, because it’s inconceivable that I could be beyond a 10-foot radius. But by then, it’s too late. I’ve failed again.

Junk food wrap-up

June 24, 2010

My four-year-old daughter would kill this child and eat his heart for a single one of those Hello Kitties

Well, it’s been a busy few days for me, and the junk food stories are piling up like pork chops on I-55 (or cars before the Naked Jesus, if you prefer), so I thought what the hay, I’ll lump them in together.

For starters, that smug little bilingual overenunciator Dora the Explorer is intent not just on teaching your kids the most insipid songs this side of Raffi, but also on making them fat:

Popular cartoon characters are influencing the taste preferences of very young children, and not in a positive way, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that the branding of American food product packaging with characters such as Dora the Explorer drives preschoolers to choose higher-calorie, less healthful foods over more nutritious options.

“The bottom line is that when kids are presented with a choice of graham crackers, fruit snacks or carrots, and the only difference is that one package has a licensed character on it, they actually think that the food with the character tastes better,” said study author Christina Roberto, a doctoral student working at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

It’s tempting to demonize networks like the loathsome and Viacom-owned Nickelodeon for this sort of thing, but of course children’s show characters turn up everywhere hawking all manner of stomach-turning and obesity-inducing soylents (including, but not limited to, characters from some of our most cherished shows). It turns out the people behind children’s programming care more about money than your kids–surprise!

Which is a good thing to keep in mind when considering the bad week for McDonalds, which was the subject of a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that showed, shockingly, that the mumbling degenerates McDonald’s employs don’t give a shit whether your kid gets the fries or the apple slices:

McDonald’s restaurant staffs automatically serve french fries with kids’ Happy Meals and don’t mention the healthier choice of apple slices to their customers, a new study shows.

–snip–

•93% of the time, employees served french fries as the side without asking if customers would prefer Apple Dippers.

•84% of the time, the sales clerks offered a beverage choice. Soda was usually the first option mentioned.

•More than 75% of the stores had toy displays for the Happy Meals

That last bit rankled CSPI to enough that they also sent Ronald a letter threatening lawsuit if they didn’t quit it with the toys in the Happy Meals.

I’m about the last person who would ever defend McDonald’s, but I feel safe in saying that no McDonald’s executive sits up nights plotting ways to make your kids fat. What they do sit up thinking about is ways of making themselves rich, and toys happen to sell Happy Meals (which is no surprise; I have to say we’ve gotten some serious mileage out of some of the toys we’ve gotten in Happy Meals–Speed Racer car? More than a year and counting on that one). Interestingly, no one in this whole debate ever mentions the option of just, you know, not buying the Happy Meal. As the parent, you’re sort of in charge of that decision.

Practically perfect in every way

June 23, 2010

Supercalafragalisticexpialafuckyou

Ever wonder why children everywhere love Mary Poppins so much, when she’s such a buzzkill? Me, too. I wrote an essay about this fascinating, complex film over at The Rumpus, and I think you’ll like it. If you don’t, I’ll come to your house and wax your car.

Misery Index: 6/20/10

June 20, 2010

Well, it’s Father’s Day, the holiday when mothers everywhere wonder awkwardly whether their husbands want to spend it with or without their kids, and what better time to take stock of the week’s awfulness in parenting? None.

A county prosecutor in Detroit thinks the best way to get parents involved in their children’s education is to pass a law that makes it a crime to skip your parent-teacher conference. Because what Detroit needs is more ways for its denizens to be criminals.

More than 100 children who died in Nigeria were apparently poisoned by lead from illegal gold mining. Because what Africa needs is more ways to be the biggest shitshow on the planet.

The International Labor Organization says nobody cares about child labor. Is it wrong that the picture accompanying this story made me realize I could teach my six-year-old to shine my shoes?

Two Ugandan children died in a fire while their parents were off watching the World Cup. Left to the end of the story is the detail that the fire was started when a rat knocked over a candle, which somehow just sums it all up for me.

93 people, mostly kids, got E. coli from a petting zoo.

Murder makes your kids stupid. Stupid murder.

You should be teaching your kids about sex from the age of five, say a bunch of British people. Seriously, I don’t need to add sex to the list of things my son knows more about than me.

Recruiting child soldiers is wrong, and only primitive, backward nations practice it. Primitive, backward nations like the US, apparently.

Speaking of which, Somalia’s president is determined to get to the bottom of all this child soldier stuff.

If you’re a teen and you plan to make out on someone’s front lawn, watch out for the Google car.

The iron grip grows tighter

June 18, 2010

Pretty...

It’s become fashionable to pine for the days when children could run around outside alone, make their own decisions, and come home when their mothers called out across the neighborhood that dinner was ready. Personally, I distrust all such rosy generalizations, and although I have fond memories of my own childhood–many of them centering on just this sort of independence–my gut tells me that things were never as good as people pretend, because things are never as good as they pretend. We have a tendency to always think everything sucks now and always used to better, but the truth is that everything is always the same–kinda sucky, kinda not too bad. Anyway, if anyone was really serious about returning to these supposed glory days, would this kind of ulcer-causing insanity even be possible?

[T]he classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

–snip–

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

So, just to summarize: In addition to no longer allowing kids to be fat even as a simple phase of physical development; no longer allowing them to suck at something at school without diagnosing it medically or psychologically; no longer allowing them to fail at competitive things; no longer criticizing them for fear of destroying their self-esteem; no longer letting them wend their way through life to find their true path; we’re now also managing their social relationships?

I’m sure Christine Laycob’s heart is in the right place, but as this whole micromanaging parenting movement grows ever-more insufferable, I become ever-more amazed that people take these sorts of things seriously. It seems unbelievable to me that while people are willing to fund and undertake studies that explore the complex issue of whether it costs money to raise children, we’re all still waiting for the one about what our kids are missing out on by not being allowed to figure out their own lives.

I can’t decide whether I dread or look forward to the day when a school administrator takes me aside and explains that my son or daughter has developed a best friend, and what are we going to do to correct this? On the one hand, it will be an awesome display of human inanity. I know this attitude exists, but I also know there are looners out there–knowing it’s out there isn’t the same as actually encountering it, and there’s a certain thrill in direct exposure. But on the other hand, it will be a sure sign that the Apocalypse is almost upon us. I imagine on that day I’ll know how the dinosaurs felt when they saw that asteroid streaking across the sky.

The solution to everything

June 14, 2010

None of their preschool teachers had college degrees

What’s better than an unfunded mandate? An unfunded mandate levied against people with no, you know, funding. Like pre-school teachers, for instance, who may now be required to have an undergraduate degree to work in the state of Massachusetts:

Once considered just places to play, preschools now sandwich science and math lessons in between naps and recess. To help teachers meet the new academic rigor and to reduce socioeconomic achievement gaps that start before kindergarten, the state wants more teachers to earn bachelor’s degrees.

Less than a third of early childhood educators who teach in private programs, where the vast majority of the state’s preschoolers are enrolled, hold bachelor’s degrees, and many are at education levels barely higher than a high school diploma, according to a report released this spring by Strategies for Children Inc., a nonprofit advocacy group in Boston.

Nationwide, the report found that 50 percent of early educators have a bachelor’s degree.

It must have given the education-obsessed legislators of this state the chills to think that we were below the national average in pre-school teacher degrees. I mean, my God, a national average must include places like Kansas and Tennessee, if those haven’t been folded into the Harvard University campus yet.

In my experience, pre-school teachers come in three basic varieties:

  1. Grad students. We probably have more of these than most cities, because we’re lousy with universities, but these are the fresh-faced 20-somethings earning real-life experience for some class called “Practicum in Spit Bubbles” or “Nutritional Elements of Play-Doh” so that he or she can go on to one day be not a pre-school teacher, but, say, a legislator who writes laws requiring pre-school teachers to have college degrees.
  2. Mid- to late-middle-age moms. These are generally folks who either studied early childhood education but never finished their degrees–often because they put it all on hold to raise their own kids–or moms whose experience raising their own kids is their only qualification. They tend to work in pre-schools because it’s a hell of a lot better then working at Starbucks.
  3. Immigrant moms. Same as above, but from a foreign country and not strictly qualified, often because of language barriers, to do many other kinds of work. If they can find work in a place where everyone speaks their native language, and at least a few of them also speak English, then they can get a paycheck every week and enjoy the good things in life.

I’m guessing that, generally, numbers two and three on this list probably aren’t in the best position to put their lives on hold, go into five- or six-figures of debt, and get college degrees. The state pushed through a scholarship program in 2005, the article explains, that provides teachers enrolled in community colleges (where you can’t get a bachelor’s degree, by the way) with $150 per credit, and those enrolled in private colleges with $400 per credit. So, let’s see, if you’re financially able to earn no income for a few years and go to school full-time, while also, let’s say, taking care of your two or three kids, you might be working on 16-20 credits, which comes out to $6,000-8,000 per semester. That should just about do it, right?

People in this state have such a hard-on for college that they generally assume it solves most any problem. Education gap? Make the teachers go to college! Dandruff? College! There’s probably a way to solve Islamic extremism if we can just get those assholes matriculated.

On my kids’ collective 10 years of life, they’ve gone to four different private pre-schools, and if a single one of those teachers had a college degree, I’d be shocked. But among those teachers, we’ve also had some of the most caring, nurturing, intelligent educators I’ve known yet, including the fine folks at the public pre-school my son went to, where higher education is required. Because unbeknownst to MA legislators, a college education doesn’t necessarily guarantee workplace competence or anything else.