A for Effort?

 

 

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Every parent eventually faces the fact that nobody, including their children, are perfect. They each have their own set of strengths and weaknesses to be encouraged, nurtured or overcome. When presented with life’s challenges all that we can ask of them is to always do their best, to meet these challenges with their feet set and head held high. But what do we do when they don’t?

Last year the teenager had a horribly disappointing first year of high school. There was conflict with her peers, arguments with teachers, and nine months of nagging from her parents about her grades. She fell behind early, made minimal effort to catch up, and ended the year without fully meeting the requirements to advance to the next grade.

Obviously, we were very concerned. Even though we live in a very rural part of the state and our town boasts a brand new, absurdly expensive high school, its drop out rate still sits around 6%. I don’t believe that standardized testing should be used as the sole barometer of a school’s success, but ranking 130th out of 156 public high schools paints a pretty poor picture.

This year we opted for a fresh start and sent her to an alternative magnet school. Our hope was that a higher teacher to pupil ratio and the advertised “personalized learning experience” would lead to a more fully realized potential.

I still have reservations, but it appears that this was the correct decision. She’s much happier, more socially mature, and more receptive to instruction. Other than a C in Biology she achieved all As and Bs, earned several college credits, and is now back on pace to graduate on time.

I’m very proud of how far she has come in a year’s time, but wish I could feel stronger about her having “earned” these grades. I’m not implying that she paid off her teachers or hacked the school’s grading records, but there was no homework, no term papers, and only a few scattered projects. I can’t comment towards what went on during class time, but her Biology grade was accompanied by a note that said Kayla’s “phone was a large distraction this last semester”, a problem I hold the teacher responsible for. I’ve ranted about this issue before .

I’m probably just falling into the “back in my day” trap. We had several hours of homework a night, never would have dreamed of calling our teachers by their first names, and certainly wouldn’t have brought our Walkmans to class. A high school diploma was something more than a certificate of participation.

But the bottom line is that she is on track to earn one, and the chances of her advancing her education past that seem significantly higher. Her self-confidence is up and she is rightfully proud of her accomplishments. Her school established a set of expectations that she successfully achieved.

It leads me back to a question I haven’t yet been able to answer. What is more important for our children’s development? Being ultimately successful, or the effort that they put forth to get there?

 

 

 

New Holiday Proposal

In my last post, I may have given the impression that I am anti-Fathers Day.  I’m really not. I’m pretty much against all the current holidays. There are too many of them, nobody knows or cares what they mean anymore, and they are all too commercialized.  President’s Day is now about selling cars. Do you know how many American Presidents my daughter in high school can name? Obama and George Washington.  I’m afraid to ask her what the 4th of July is really about.

My pre-schooler knows what holidays are about. Presents. She was ticked off all Father’s Day because she was told there is no such thing as “Kid’s Day.”

Fortunately, I’m pretty convinced that within the next fifty years she will be running at least this country, if not the whole world.  As her chief adviser, one of the first things I plan to propose is a complete overhaul of the holiday system.  All “obligation” holidays like Valentine’s day will be gone. Religious holidays will be left to the people that actually practice religion.  We’ll leave Independence Day alone, and four new holidays will be created. Three day weekends will be increased to four.

 

1. In February of 1678, Boston became the first city in America to institute a paid fire company. On March 1st, 1961,  John F Kennedy established the Peace Corps. I propose the last Friday in February be called Public Service Day.  We don’t need to celebrate the birthdays of dead presidents or guilt anyone into buying roses or chocolates. We need to appreciate our police officers and everyone else that devotes their lives to our public safety and the improvement of the lives of others.

2.  Armed Forces Day will be moved to June 6, in honor of the thousands of lives lost during the Normandy landing in 1944. I don’t think we need separate Memorial and Veterans Days. Every man and woman that dons the uniform knows that they could potentially be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  We should be honoring our dead, but also should be doing more to honor and respect all those that serve.

3. There are no harvests to be celebrated anymore, and no factual basis for the Pilgrim – Native American dinner story that we all know, so I’m moving the entire Thanksgiving holiday to September 11. I can think of no better day to gather with family and friends to celebrate all of life’s blessings.  This is day when we are reminded that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. I’m keeping a day set aside for appreciation.

4. On November 19, 1963, Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, one of the greatest and most important speeches in American history. He talked about a “new birth of freedom” and re-affirmed the principle that America was built on the proposition of “all men created equal.” Our last holiday of the year should be Diversity Day.

 

What do you think? Five holidays spread out throughout the year. Four days off from work for each one.

Remember, vote Alaina for president 2044.

 

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Not Another Fathers Day Post

 

I’ve been asked multiple times over the past few days how my Father’s Day was.  It was good.  I slept until 10:00, probably the latest in at least a year, woke up to find some bacon waiting for me, and did a whole lot of nothing most of the day except drink a few beers and watch golf on television. That night I finally got to watch the new Godzilla movie.  I liked it.  It reminded me a lot of the old school Godzilla movies I enjoyed as a child.

I also had several people tell me they were surprised I didn’t write a Father’s Day blog post.  Well, here’s why.  I don’t particularly like Father’s Day, for multiple reasons.

 

 

1.   I don’t like to be told what I have to do.  Father’s Day, like Mother’s and Valentine’s Day, is what I call an “obligation” holiday.  I love and appreciate my father and all the sacrifices he made for me growing up.  He was there for me in ways that I never even realized until I had children of my own. I don’t know how many times I’ve told him that over the past forty years, but if he didn’t know how I felt prior to this past weekend, my failings as a son  have gone much further than if I hadn’t bothered to call him.

 

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2. The marketing. I wasn’t expecting an actual gift from my wife, but I’m glad that she went with a simple shorts and T-shirt combo that I actually needed. Our insurance deductible and emergency room co-pay are much too high to buy me power tools, and she probably would have bought me the wrong golf equipment.  According to the television this past week, those are the only things that dads actually want.

3. Christopher Columbus.  Looking for a new trade route to the West Indies, Columbus instead landed on the Bahamas, the Antilles islands, and the Caribbean coasts of Venezuela and Central America. Never admitting to his mistake, he called the indigenous peoples “Indians”, initiated mass genocide, and founded the transatlantic slave trade before eventually being arrested and dismissed as governor by the Spanish government.  The anniversary of his arrival has been a “federal” holiday since 1937, with an accompanying day off from work and school for many people. In 1972, Father’s Day became a “national” holiday, meaning no day off.  I call bullshit on this.

4. It’s not a very happy day for a lot of people.  I have friends that grew up with crappy or abusive fathers. They hate Father’s day. There are also  those that have lost their children, those potentially great fathers that are medically unable to have children, and those that are not being allowed to be fathers to their children. There are no authoritative statistics on parental alienation, but I personally know several fathers that are being kept out of their children’s lives for no reasons except spite and hate.

 

Father’s Day was originally celebrated after a mining disaster in West Virginia killed three hundred and sixty-one men in 1908. Two hundred and fifty of the men were fathers so the town set aside a day to honor them. It was a commendable idea, but like many “holidays” of today, one that has run its course.

I’m very fortunate to have grown up with a great father and am now blessed with a happy, healthy family of my own.  My favorite part of the day Sunday was hearing my wife and children tell me that they loved and appreciated me.

It’s my favorite part of every day, obligated or not.

 

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Spirit Week

The school year is starting to wind down, and like most classrooms, Alaina’s pre-school has now abandoned their usual intellectual pursuits in favor of silliness and fun. Among the featured festivities was “spirit week”, where children are encouraged to dress according to a daily theme. She only goes three days a week, so my responsibilities were limited to  the “miss-match”, “crazy hair”, and “favorite sports team” days. Piece of cake,

Miss-Match Day was by far the easiest. When she gets up in the morning, the first thing Alaina does is change out of her PJs and into her idea of an outfit for the day. After breakfast and some play time comes a complex negotiation to determine what her actual outfit is going to be. She was excited that on this day she was able to keep her own ensemble.

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Crazy Hair Day was next. One of the bylaws of dad blogging is that every effort must be made to constantly debunk the notion of dad as “babysitter” and show the world that dads can be sensitive, competent caregivers. Unfortunately, I am stereo-typically  poor when it comes to doing anything with my kid’s hair.  Alaina wears a ponytail to school and a Red Sox hat everywhere else, just like her sister did when I was responsible for getting her ready for school in the morning.  Alaina was absolutely thrilled with the “wacky” idea of a ponytail that went straight up instead of the more traditional look we usually go with.

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Sports are kind of a big deal in our household, a close second to our children in conversation topics between my wife and I. The Red Sox are terrible this year, but our first over night escape of the summer was highlighted by watching a game from the Green Monster at Fenway Park. Within a few weeks I hope to get the girls to a minor league game or two and we’ve already started perusing the NFL schedule to plan which games we may attend this winter.

A quick glance into my closet shows that 80% of my non-work clothing is adorned with either the logo of a sports team or was a free gift with subscription renewals to Sports Illustrated or ESPN the Magazine. The number is lower for my wife’s wardrobe, but her collection of gear would still impress all but the most hard core fan.

So it was both shocking and completely unacceptable to find that my daughter had nothing that would fit her for Sports Team Day. She’s been wearing her colors proudly since the very beginning.

go sox

 

 

We really weren’t more than a few minutes late for school….

 

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J

 

Get over It!

Parenting is turning out to be an endless repudiation of my pre-conceived notions about parenting. I had assumed that as my daughter became a better communicator and further developed her reasoning skills that the “tantrum” stage would be fairly short-lived. This turned out to be true. Where I was wrong was in assuming that the worst was now over. Nobody ever talks about the even more terrible stage that comes next. The whining.

There seems to be very little that is not whine-worthy. Whether it be clothes not fitting particular dolls, her insistence on not liking jelly on bread ( really? ) or the news that she can’t go in the pool when it’s raining, Alaina had a lot to whine about today. I lost track of how many times I told her to “get over it.”

Here’s the nice thing though. She does. Almost every time there is something causing her distress, it doesn’t take much more than a redirection of attention and she’s on to the next thing. Chances are good that the new activity may at some point lead to whining, but at least she doesn’t dwell.

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It’s an important quality to have. I don’t claim to have any secret formula for happiness, but I can say that the people I know that are the most good-natured and satisfied with their lives are also the people that seem to be able to move past their disappointments and annoyances the fastest. It makes it possible to return to work with a good attitude after a crappy day, is necessary to maintain interpersonal relationships, and could just possibly be the most important element in keeping a marriage together.

It seems to be a lesson the teenager is learning also. After a less than ideal end to her Prom Night,  I fully expected at least a week of brooding, dirty looks, and under- the-breath comments. Like many, she has a bad habit of holding grudges and not being able to get past perceived injustices. I think it’s a big factor in why she had such a hard time finding success in her first year of high school.

To my pleasant surprise, that hasn’t been the case.  if she hasn’t exactly been gregarious over the past few days, we are at least back to base-line moodiness and the things that she is mad at us about are new things. Whether it’s puppy love or a new found maturity causing this change in attitude I can’t say for certain, but anything that lowers the quantity of whining in the house is going to be appreciated.

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Adventures with girls, from preschool to proms