Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week 2

AK Homeschool Adventure
Week 2

     After Colleen returned from the East Coast I had another week’s worth of assignments prepared in The Notebook.  I had met with a Connections advisor in the meantime and they approved my curriculum and gave me a stack of French textbooks to go along with our Rosetta Stone program.  I procured a Saxon Math 8/7 Homeschool edition and I found an old “Introduction to Literature” text for her to use.  I had decided to evaluate her work in Science and Social Studies via her Language Arts spelling and vocabulary test along with going over her reading notes and grading her projects.  Also, I decided to leave words that she either spelled or defined incorrectly on the list until she got them right.

     Her Week 2 Curricula was as follows:

Spelling and Vocabulary
     By Wednesday define, study for test on Friday

Homo sapiens
Homo habilis
Homo erectus
Multiregional model
Replacement model
Civil Rights Movement
pH scale
Ionic bond
Covalent bond

Social Studies
     By Wednesday
     Read pgs 23-48 in text, take notes
     CD-ROM “Meet the Scientists- Dr. Jonathan Marks” & Chapter 2 photo essay.
     Look up and read Wikipedia entries for Martin Luther King Jr. and The United States Civil Rights Movement.

     By Wednesday
     Read and take notes for Chapter 2, pgs 16-31.
     Do Chapter Review in your notebook.

Life Skills
     By Friday
     Research Social Security on the internet.
     Find out what you need to do to apply for a new card.
     Fill out and application for a new card and get it in the mail.

     By Friday:
Correct lessons 1 & 2
Do lessons 3-8.

Language Arts
     By Friday:
     Spelling- Chapter 1
     Grammar- pgs 23-66
     Writing- pgs 27-32
     Read and do “Brain Ticklers.”

Creative Writing
     By Friday:
     Read pgs 12-51
     Do “Try This” on page 47

     By Friday:
     Read and take notes on pgs 3-16
     In your notebook define “Literature” in a couple of paragraphs.
     Read “To Build a Fire” by Jack London.
     Write a 5 paragraph essay explaining why “To Build a Fire” is or is not literature.

     Practice 15 min per day.

     By Friday
     Rosetta Stone Chapter 2 Guided Practice

     It must be said, in Colleen’s defense, that she spent a couple of hours Monday, Tuesday at the school taking her Analytical Writing Assessment tests and all day Wednesday taking the test and participating in her “in building” classes.

     It must also be said that I took a very hands off stance monitoring her progress due to her outstanding performance during week one.

     HOWEVER, come to find out, the fancy Toshiba laptop that John got her for Christmas came fully loaded with some art shop software and a Lego Batman adventure game.  And I, being heavily pregnant, take naps with my toddler in the afternoon.  Woops.

     Colleen’s grades are currently rendering her ineligible to play in her Volleyball games.  Hopefully she’s able to bring them up before any games are actually scheduled.

Week 1

AK Homeschool Adventure
Week 1

     Colleen was scheduled to spend from December 27th to January 7th back East with her grandmother.  Had she been returning to Chapman, she would have missed the first week of school after the end of Christmas vacation and I was concerned about not falling behind in her schooling right off the bat.  Before we were formally registered with Connections Home School I printed off the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s curriculum standards and ransacked my bookcases for old college textbooks.  I threw together a system of reading, note-taking, discussion and projects that would cover the appropriate materials and put off worrying about grading until after I’d had a sit-down with our Connections advisor.

I wrote the following in a spiral bound notebook and purchased a quantity of composition books in which she was to do the majority of her work.

Social Studies
     Read pgs 2-21 in Nanda & Warm’s Cultural Anthropology.  Read the accompanying CD-ROM photo essay.  Take notes as you read.

     In your notebook answer the following questions in paragraph form.  Use your best grammar, handwriting, etc.
1.  What is cultural relativism?  Where are some good things AND some bad things about it?
2. Who are the Nacerima (pgs 16 & 17)?  They are a real culture.  How are they alike our own culture?  How are they different?
3. Design an anthropologist’s toolkit.  Make a museum quality visual with labels explaining each item and why you chose to incorporate it.  Your toolkit can look however you want but there must be at least 10 items in it.

Language Arts
     Painless Spelling pgs vii-xv
     Painless Grammar pgs vii-22
     Painless Writing pgs vii-26

     Read and complete the “Brain Ticklers” in the above sections in your notebook.

Creative Writing
     In Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind, read the Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2.  In your notebook do a ten minute free write on the prompt “I remember.”

     Read Chapter 1 in the Biology textbook.  In your notebook complete the chapter review on pages 13 & 14 then choose from among the following activities:
1.  Using the view from our living room, draw a “web of interactions” (pg 10) with at least 10 features.  Label and describe the function of each.
2. Be a photon of energy from the sun.  In your notebook describe your journey into the Earth’s biosphere.  The Earth recycles energy fairly well so you should be able to write at least a page before you disappear into entropy.
3. Design and create an organism that would be uniquely suited to our household’s ecosystem.  Label and explain all of its specialized features and how they are good adaptations to our house.

     Study Chapter 1 on the CD-ROM “Pre-Algebra.”  Take Quiz.

     Read Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”  In your notebook, answer the following questions:
1.  Give three examples from the text where the author uses descriptive language to make the reader feel good about Omelas.
2. What does “The Child” represent?
3. Would you choose to stay in Omelas?
Choose one of your answers and write a five paragraph essay using quotes from the text to back up your opinion.

Life Skills
     Complete the “Who am I?-Learning about me” section online at Alaska Career Information System Jr.  Take the Career Cluster Inventory and write down the top four results in your folder.

Vocabulary and Spelling:
     In your Language Arts notebook, look up the following words and terms and be prepared to spell and define them correctly in a test:
     Cultural relativism
     Controlled experiment

     Colleen’s week went by very quickly.  I felt a little bad about having her work an extra week during the holidays but I reminded myself that it would be movies, malls and cousins galore while her classmates were back to the old grind.  She worked from Sunday to Wednesday on her readings and notebook work.  On Wednesday we went over her work, especially her science and social studies as she was using college texts that were somewhat challenging for her.  

     Wednesday to Friday she had a grand time working on her Anthropologist’s toolkit (she’d decided on a forensic anthropologist looking for Paleolithic human remains) and her “Yepi” a small creature that had evolved to clean up messes and take care of babies in our closet.  I was thrilled with her accomplishments and enthusiasm although I was a little disturbed when she asked me how comfortable I felt with another species breastfeeding my infant.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Breaking the News

     Our area has the Connections Homeschool Program that works with local principals and staff to allow students to take certain classes “in building” and participate in co-curricular/extra-curricular activities like sports.  After speaking with one of the advisors at Connections I’d decided that Colleen would do the majority of her academic activities at home with me and be at school every afternoon for the last hour to take music, P.E. and, one day a week, band.  She would also be after school participating in volleyball.

     The advisor was very concerned about my “punitive” attitude toward homeschooling and felt that I might be creating a “reluctant learner” by pulling Colleen out of her social world so abruptly.  While, in a way, this decision was partially punitive and I was sure that Colleen was going to see it that way, I wanted the experience as a whole to be a positive one.  And I couldn’t see me teaching music or P.E. effectively.

     So with all these calls made and schedules lined out and facts checked I felt that I was in a position to break the news to the girl. 

     Do I do it before Christmas, potentially ruining her entire holiday?  Wait until after in the interest of allowing her a good time?  But that felt a little like a lie and she was leaving on the 28th for ten days to visit her family in Maryland.  John suggested I wait until after he got home because he was worried I wouldn’t hear her creeping up the steps in the middle of the night with a filet knife.  In the end I decided to tell her after the last day of school before the beginning of Christmas break.

     The conversation went something like this:

ME:       “Colleen, I need to talk to you about something.”

COLLEEN:  “Yeah, Mom?”

ME:       “I’m not happy with how things have been going around here.  Basically, our relationship sucks and I’m tired of it.  I spend all of our time together yelling at you and I can’t imagine you like it either.”

COLLEEN:  “No.  Not really.”

ME:       “Well, you know why I’m always yelling at you, right?”

COLLEEN:  “Because I don’t pay attention and I don’t get things done?”

ME:       “Right.  And part of that is your fault and part of that isn’t your fault.  It isn’t your fault that you weren’t taught from the time you were your sister’s age to do the stuff I want you to do.  And it isn’t your fault that you haven’t been around me long enough to learn how.  So, I’ve decided that we need to spend more time together so I can teach you this stuff and so I don’t have to spend all of our time together yelling at you.”

COLLEEN:  “Okay.”

ME:      “So I’m going to homeschool you next semester and    possibly the first semester of next year, too.”


ME:       “You’ll be at school pretty much every day, anyway, for P.E. and music.  You’ll still do your flute with Ms. Simondsen.”

COLLEEN:  “Will I still be in volleyball?”

ME:       “Yes.”

COLLEEN:  “What about Battle of the Books?”

ME:       “Yes.”

COLLEEN:  “Okay.”

ME:       “Okay?  Do you have anything else to say about it?  Thoughts, questions, observations?”

COLLEEN:  “Well, I mean, my social life is going to be reduced to you, Morgan and the dogs.”

ME:       “Don’t forget about Princess.” (Our pony.)

COLLEEN:  “Yeah, but she doesn’t like me.”

ME:       “Well, you’re taking this all really well.”

COLLEEN:  “What were you expecting?”

ME:       “Hysterics.”

COLLEEN:  “Well, Mom, I could say a lot of other things about this but it wouldn’t do me any good.

ME:       “Ah!  You’re learning already!”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Breaking it down

     Once I’d sifted through the morass of outrage, impatience and pregnancy hormones to identify why, exactly, I wanted to throttle my beautiful, brilliant firstborn and then discussed the issue ad nauseum with my partner, family and friends (several of whom are teachers, one of which has actually had Colleen in the classroom), I came to the brilliant decision to home school her.  And the more I thought about it, the more the idea made sense.  It boils down to a couple very basic truths.

1)  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results.

     Regardless of the particulars, whether the issue is her homework, her sugar intake, keeping her room clean or doing her chores, Colleen will casually acquiesce to every request, feign agreeability and cooperation and continue to do what she wants, when she wants and how.  Meanwhile, I take it on trust that my sweet, good kid is toeing the line and I forget about the issue.  Later, I discover that our previous conversation about whatever, was totally ignored and the unwanted behavior has continued and/or the wanted behavior had never been accomplished.  So not only have I been ignored and defied but, basically LIED TO!

     For instance, Sweet Colleen is too sweet for her own good.  She is borderline hyperglycemic, almost an insulin dependant diabetic.  She reacts to refined sugar, candy, soda like an alcoholic reacts to booze.  She craves it, given the opportunity she will gorge herself on it and, when under the influence, she morphs from a smart, conscientious young woman into a ravening 4-year-old.  The kind you see at a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party after the cake and presents have been ripped apart.

     Colleen and I have discussed this issue with our doctor.  We’ve talked about insulin injections and pancreas pumps.  I’ve pointed out family members who are at risk for blindness and amputation.  I even had a dear friend die in a diabetic coma while this little power struggle was taking place.  She nodded solemnly and promised she wouldn’t eat candy or drink soda while she was with relatives, that she would confine her sweets intake to desserts after dinner and she absolutely would NOT eat candy or drink soda at school.

     Well, I popped into the school one morning before classes started and the kids were gathered in the gymnasium.  And there sits my Sweet Colleen hunched over a bag of Skittles given to her by a classmate.  As it turns out, our School District has a policy of not interfering with what children are eating and drinking.  The teacher supervising morning breakfast couldn’t tell Colleen not to eat the candy despite knowing, in a general way, my feelings about her sugar intake and knowing, in a very concrete way, her erratic behavior afterwards.

     I was livid.  I could have drug her out of that gym by the collar.  She gave me a smirk and tried to hide the candy with her hand.  I gathered up the candy, threw it away and said, “Be prepared to discuss this when you get home this evening,” and walked out of the school before someone got hurt or I got arrested.

     At home, after much deep breathing, I had myself almost convinced that my daughter wasn’t a sociopath and that she simply lacked an internal locus of control.  She had spent seven years in an environment, after all, that encouraged her sugar intake and it wasn’t as if she’d had many good examples of self-control in her life.  And she was ten-years-old.  When I was ten I lived off Starbursts and Hawaiian Punch.  All of this was normal, I told myself.  But, considering her reaction and statistics on the diabetes epidemic in this country, “normal” wasn’t going to cut it.

     So I calmly composed an email explaining Colleen’s situation and my feelings about it, absolutely forbidding her candy and soda intake at school and giving the teachers and staff permission to correct her and/or call me about it if necessary.  I sent the email to the school principal, the lunch lady and several of her teachers.

     Colleen got home from school that afternoon expecting to get chewed-out, maybe grounded or given some heinous job to do like rolling stumps from one end of the property to the other.  Maybe she even expected a spanking.  What she got was only this, “I hate liars.  I won’t have one living in my house.  Since you obviously can’t control yourself I guess I have to do the controlling.”  She sniveled a bit, turned red, tried to pump out some tears, told me she was sorry and she’d never do it again.

     Then I read her the email.

     Sweet Colleen flared bright red and began screaming at me.  “You’re crazy!  Just crazy!  You had no right to do that!  No right!  How dare you!  You just want to ruin my whole life!”

     Up until that point I’d had a few nagging doubts about my response to her behavior.  After all, she was only ten and, as pointed out to me by friends and family, it WAS only Skittles.  But suddenly my ten-year-old was reacting over Skittles like a 16-year-old heroin addict.  It wasn’t just Skittles and I felt totally justified in clamping down the iron fist about it.

     The above scenario has been played out over candy, grades, getting on or staying off the bus as asked, studying spelling words and taking care of her chores.  After 2 ½ years the pattern has become exhaustingly predictable.  I “address” an “issue,” she verbally complies with everything I say then ignores it, she takes her punishment but continues to ignore my demands, my punishments escalate.  She will only really comply and internalize my demands when I have publicly humiliated her.

     It is always my hope that she’ll just say, “Yes, mom,” and be done with it or even argue with me about it up front instead of playing these little avoidance games.  But, alas, after 2 ½ years, that has not happened.  And it’s driving me insane.

2)  Respect is earned, not given.

     Lest anyone think that my decision to home school is only a desperate attempt to do anything to shake up the unhappy dynamic between my kid and I, I would like to use the above scenario to illuminate another facet of this issue.  A different kid might have complied with her parents out of fear of the consequences, either punishment from her parents or acquiring diabetes.  Most ten-year-olds have trouble grasping long-term consequences but they usually have no trouble at all having enough respect for their parents to take dire warnings on faith.  “I will not eat the candy because mom and dad will be really mad.”

     Not Colleen.  Sure, she doesn’t like it when I’m upset with her but when it comes right down to it even my wrath isn’t enough to convince her that I have her best interests at heart.  Again, normal for many children, I know, but “normal” children seem to at least have respect enough for their parents just to go with it.  Even though they disagree.  Or at least argue about it.  My child agrees with me just to keep me quiet, then does her own thing anyway.  As if I was some sort of senile old woman that she has to humor.

     Well, you say, she did spend seven years hearing that you were crazy and pretty much everything you’re telling her goes against what her father did and said.

     Yes, I reply, I know that.  She has only 2 ½ years of reasons to trust and respect me to counter-act 7 years of damage and disparagement.

     All that being said, what better way for us to build that trust and respect, counteract those 7 years of damage and disparagement, then spending high-quality, high-quantity time together?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Being a Hard-Ass Mommy Pt. 2 -OR- Adventures in Home Schooling... The Beginning

     My family does not go to church.  I do not feel that the public school system in general or our local school in particular stifles my child’s creative and/or earning potential.  I am not a member of cult or a coven or a commando survivalist group that stockpiles soup and weapons in anticipation of the end of the world.  I did, however, buy my partner a hand-crank coffee grinder for Christmas and I’ve also decided to home school my 12-year-old daughter.

     I’ve recently earned my Bachelor’s degree in History and am accepted into a Master’s program through University of Alaska Anchorage where I will get a degree in Secondary Education and a teaching certificate.  I meet the federal “Highly Qualified” standards for 7th-12th grade Social Studies and am just a few classes shy of meeting the Language Arts standards.  I am mostly a stay-at-home mother, although up until recently I was a substitute teacher for the various schools in the area.  I am also a Girl Scout Troop Leader.

     My partner works on a drilling rig on the North Slope of Alaska and is away for two weeks at a time.  We have a 2 & 1/2–year-old daughter, Morgan, and I’m 34 weeks pregnant with a son, Quinn.  We also have two 5-month-old Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, an elderly pony and two cats who spend most of their time outside. We live comfortably but very carefully on a nice piece of property overlooking the Anchor River in a house which we are currently building ourselves and out-of-pocket.

     I tell you all of this to make it clear that right now I have the resources, ability and, most importantly, the time, to spend engaged in academic activities with my daughter, Colleen.  If I was in my Master’s program or employed full-time I wouldn’t have dreamed of home schooling as a possibility for us.  Because circumstances have aligned so perfectly, home schooling seems to be the best solution for a persistent and pervasive problem that we’ve been having with our dear girl.

     As the title of this piece implies, I am not an easy-going, “Can I get anything for you, Sweetheart,” wait hand-and-foot on my kids kind of soccer mom.  I expect my children, even the 2-year-old, to be assets to our family, not liabilities, as much as they are able.  In Colleen’s case, we expect her to get up in the morning, dress, pack her lunch, feed and water the animals, eat breakfast and take herself off to the bus in a timely fashion.  In the evenings, we expect her to care for the animals again, bring in firewood and complete her homework.  She is also expected to keep her room clean, her grades up and to do her own laundry at all times and to help me with her little sister and various housekeeping chores, when asked.

     She is not expected to do these things without help or guidance but she is  expected to do them without constant supervision or haranguing.  She is in the gifted program at her school, after all.  I do not feel I should have to tell her why hot, soapy water is best for washing dishes more than twice during any given week!  I also don’t expect, as I’ve often heard from other parents, that “it would be easier for me to just do it myself.”  If Colleen has been shown how to do something a couple of times, I expect her to be able to do it and do it well.  She’s twelve.  Not six. 

     Also, we aren’t talking about an allowance for chores type of exchange.  Since when does a person get paid for keeping themselves and their home tidy?  Since when does a person get paid for helping out their family?  Since never.  Colleen has opportunities to work for cash, here and there, but I don’t believe that earning money and its attendant lessons in fiscal responsibility (also an important part in raising a child) belong in the same realm as taking care of her person and being an asset to her household.  We are allowed to quit our jobs, after all, but quitting on ourselves and our families is more problematic.

     I’m sure that there are people out there who read this and think that I’m some kind of dragon or Mommy Dearest.  Oh, well.  Your loss.  And your child’s loss!  I’ve seen too many young adults not know a washer from a dryer or which end of a package of Ramen is up.  Fulfilling household expectations isn’t about slave labor (although there are days when I think about adopting half a dozen able-bodied yard hands) having household expectations is about learning life skills. 

     I used to take it for granted that parents taught their children basic cooking, cleaning and childcare procedures.  It’s how I was brought up and, in comparison to many of my peers, I wasn’t really expected to do all that much.  I never had to drive a tractor or a fishing boat, I wasn’t expected to do buy my own clothes or school supplies and I generally got some payment for babysitting.  I have found, however, that there’s a whole other end to the spectrum.  I have heard of people who never washed a dish, held a baby (Let’s not even talk about diapers!) or swept a floor during their childhood.  And it seems like that is becoming more and more “normal!”  At least it is among Colleen’s peers.

     When I hear these things I think about the poor beleaguered mothers and fathers who spend their days working to provide an income and their nights working to keep these kids clean and fed in a house that wouldn’t be condemned by a health inspector.  That’s a lot to ask, I think, in exchange for the pleasure of driving their ungrateful rear-ends to and from this practice and that game, for buying them their gizmos and gadgets, doo-hickies and doo-dads and for basically being someone’s emotional hostage for a lifetime.  I mean, sure, kids don’t ask to be born but my philosophy is they ought to be grateful for the opportunity at life!

     To get back around to our problem with Colleen and the home schooling decision, our dear girl falls short of the above expectations and exhibits a low-level but near-constant attitude of contempt and defiance toward my partner and I.  I find myself sounding like a broken record, repeating the litany of chores that’s clearly posted where she can see it, right next to Bill Gates’ “Life isn’t fair, get over it” speech.  My partner and I find little undone surprises all day long and get cranky at each other over who should have checked to make sure that the horse had water.  I find myself avoiding looking at her room for fear it will turn out to be an “issue” that needs to be “addressed” which plain ruins an evening!  With her at school and involved with sports, Girl Scouts, art classes and all sorts of other activities what little time we do spend together is spent in a tense rehash of the responsibilities that she isn’t meeting.  In short, our relationship sucks and I’m tired of it!

     “Oh, that’s normal for a 12-year-old!” many of you will exclaim.  And I would agree with you.  Yes.  Her attitude and behavior does seem to be “normal” for your average American adolescent.  But “normal” isn’t acceptable to me or my partner, our household or our lifestyle.  Especially since she is patently capable of so much better.  So let’s all just agree that “normal” has no place in this argument or conversation.  I could show you what “normal” is in other places and times and they will have nothing to do with “normal” now.  As I tell Colleen, 12-year-olds are heads of households in some parts of the world.  She can get her chores done.

     I have to add here that Colleen spent 7 years between the ages of 3 and 10 in the primary custody of her father.  The situation was at best neglectful, at worst abusive and always chaotic.  The custody battle was lengthy and not pretty but she is now full-time with me and experiences very little and very restricted visitation with her father.  When she first came to live with my partner and I 2 & ½ years ago, she had the brains of an 18-year-old and the home habits of a toddler.  The discrepancy was very disconcerting. 

     It must be said that, compared with her first few months here, she has grown by leaps and bounds.  That first year we battled over losing things between home and school, last year we struggled over turning in homework assignments and maintaining A’s and B’s, this year we fight over the chore list.  When I’ve discussed these issues with friends and family and I complain about her flippant remarks, eye-rolling and seeming lack of concern the conversation has always come back to, “Well, you know, she did spend seven years away from you,” or “Well, you know, it isn’t as if she’s had all that long to get used to the way you want things.”  Basically, it seems, that our problem, Colleen and I, is that we haven’t had a lifetime of growing in one another’s company.  She hasn’t had the benefit of constant and quality time with her mother and evenings, week-ends and vacations aren’t making up for seven years of loss!

     Luckily, the stars have aligned and I hope, with this little experiment in home schooling, that Colleen and I can have some quality one-on-one experiences both with her academic work, living responsible and active lives and in keeping this house.  

     And, because home school is so… weird… I’ve decided to keep a blog about it.

Being a Hard-Ass Mommy Pt. 1

     There’s this part in the semi-digestible flick Raising Helen where the older, veteran mother, heavily pregnant sister gasps and presses her hand to her abdomen.  “Shush, mommy’s talking right now,” she says.  The younger, free-spirited sister says, “I can’t believe it!  You just bossed the unborn!”  It was the funniest scene in the whole damn movie. 

     When my daughter Colleen was little I thought I was a fairly lenient and indulgent mother.  She was the focus of my pretty much undivided attention for nearly three years.  I remembered my mother, grandmother and aunts juggling jobs and other kids when their own children were little.  I didn’t have any of those things to worry about.  It was just me and Colleen.  How could she be anything but spoiled?  It was something of a shock to learn otherwise.

     Colleen and I were always out and about.  We went hiking, met friends at restaurants and cafes, spent a lot of time on the boat with my mother or in the garden with my grandmother and she never seemed like that much of a hassle.  She crawled and later toddled happily after the grown-ups, quickly began to participate in conversations or entertained herself with what few toys or books I’d pack with us or, more often, with whatever was available.  She was a good baby, a perfect child.

     There’s all sorts of literature on raising well-behaved children.  There are “experts” and “theorists” out there to explain every whimper or snarl that emanates from the rose-bud lips of our babies and toddlers.  We are given complicated “time-out” formulas, so many seconds per month of age, we are given tips and pointers on “dealing” with “problem children.”  We are never, absolutely NEVER to correct or punish a young child for fear of permanently damaging their mental or emotional development.  It’s a giant, confusing morass of restrictions on Mommy and Daddy while Baby holds her world in the palm of her sticky little hand.  I was blessed with a perfect baby, but I realize now, eight or ten years later, her behavior was not an accident of genes or a blessing from the baby fairies.  Colleen was a good child because I expected her to be.

     There are few specific incidents from Colleen’s early childhood that I can recall needing to actively correct her behavior.  Breakfast cereal getting spit out and smeared around earned a frown and a stern, “No.”  Little fingers where they weren’t supposed to be got a “Colleen, that’s a no-no.”  Defiance was met with a spank on the diaper, a yelling fit was met with a “time-out” in her crib.  I didn’t get angry, I NEVER yelled, but I didn’t ignore inappropriate behavior or indulge temper tantrums, either.

     We seem to have developed a kind of “cult of the child” in our culture.  I’m not sure where I heard that phrase, but it seems to apply so perfectly in these cases where people want to revolve their entire world around a distractible, self-centered, morally apathetic being whose only goal is to meet its every need as quickly as possible by any means necessary.  Yes, parents, look long and hard into the beautiful eyes of your precious progeny and you, too, will come to that conclusion.  And, no, I don’t believe I’m being even the slightest bit unfair in my characterization.

     Children are little animals that must be molded and formed into loving, empathetic and civilized human beings.  They start off a bundle of nerves and instincts and slowly evolve the capacity to think and feel.  When we indulge their little chimpanzee selves by ignoring rude behavior (screaming, spitting, biting, breaking things, not listening, messiness, etc.) or, worse, smiling and thinking it cute, we are allowing that behavior to continue, possibly into adulthood.  Look at my ex-husband, for instance.

     No, I’m not saying that parents are responsible for every criminal activity that their offspring may pursue into adulthood.  What I am saying is that, when your darling little angel screams and bangs her milk glass repeatedly on the table after spitting soggy saltines onto the carpet of the restaurant, rather than smiling and shrugging at the annoyance of the wait-staff and your fellow patrons, take a look at how this behavior is going to translate when she is ten, or fifteen, or twenty.  It might be cute to you now, but when she finally says, “You clean it up!  You’re not the boss of me!  Fuck you!” and slams the door in your face don’t say you weren’t warned.

     When the “experts” tell you that spanking a child is wrong consider that, forty years ago, they were telling mothers not to hold their children more than absolutely necessary to care for their needs.  When the “experts” say that biting a child that has just tried to take a chunk out of you or a playmate is completely unacceptable, consider that these same “experts” will tell you that a child’s cognitive development at two precludes you from expecting anything resembling rational behavior from them.

     I say that they are right about at least the last part.  Young children cannot be expected to know right from wrong.  They can’t be expected to have empathy for others or anticipate negative consequences to impulsive actions.  They can be expected to quickly associate negative feed-back with certain behaviors, however.  If a bite to a playmate earns a bite from Mommy, bites will stop.  If a screaming fit earns time alone in one’s bed, the fits will stop.  If defiance earns a swat on the butt, defiance will stop.  I can promise you these things.  Young human children are not less intelligent than puppies.  I promise.
The best part about this approach is that behavior problems will, I swear, be nipped in the bud.  Tantrums, defiance and rudeness will not be an issue as the child gets older.  A child that learns, before the age of four, to listen to her parents, be kind to others, clean up after herself and use her words rather than her temper will continue to do so (with consistent reinforcement) when she is older.  A person who feels they need to constantly correct the rudeness of a ten-year-old should have been more diligent when that child was two.  And, like training an elephant, handling a misbehaving two-year-old is a heckuvalot easier than handling an angry and frustrated pre-teen.

So, while I would totally agree that they are only babies once and that babies need to be loved, I would remind parents that a frown to a twelve-month-old will equal a spank to a two-year-old will equal a month of being grounded to a twelve-year-old will equal six months in juvenile hall to a fifteen-year-old.  Figure that into your calculations while you’re trying to tally up seconds in “time-out” for your little one who has just broken your antique sugar bowl over the dog’s head.  And if these calculations are anywhere near accurate, which I believe they are, then I am indeed justified in bossing the unborn.

“Morgan, settle down, mommy is trying to type.”