Bad Hair Days by childgrower A. Woz

Have you read about the Mesquite School District school board decision? As reported in the Dallas news Taylor Pugh, a four-year old pre-kindergarten boy has been told to braid and pin up his long hair or he will continue to be separated from his classmates for not following the school dress code. The dress code prohibits long haired boys from disrupting classrooms.

Taylor, in pre-school, has been hanging out in the library with an aide since November and will continue to remain there until his parents cut his hair or the board changes the 40 year old dress code policy.

According to the district dress code, all boys’ hair must be kept out of the eyes and cannot extend below the bottom of earlobes or over the collar of a dress shirt.  “Fads in hairstyles designed to attract attention to the individual or to disrupt the orderly conduct of the classroom or campus is not permitted,” the policy states. http://www.mesquiteisd.org/students/policies/dresscode.asp

It seems like a stretch to declare that a ponytail or long hair is an inappropriate fad for men when our founding fathers wore powdered wigs and pony tails.  Wigs aside, after an appeals process, a compromise offered by the school board allows Taylor to return to school in braids.  This compromise seems absurd and contradictory to it’s own policy.

Worse, the parents plan to bring him to school, hair in a ponytail, even after the ruling. They declare he doesn’t want to cut his hair or they would. Remember, Taylor is four.  A hair cut might make him cry but he’ll adjust. Kids are resilient. The parents may take the longest to adjust. How much longer will they hide their child in the library while their egos heal?

It’s not the dress code or the definition of a fad in the dress code, no,  it’s not even the underlying gender bias or even the poorly written policy that bothers me so much as a child put in the middle while the school board and the parents duke it out in meetings and a media circus.

  • His parents have not accepted the dress code and elevate the value of hair length to be above education and socialization for their son.
  • The school board upon appeal adjusts the dress code and ignores their own policy- Why have one!
  • The 4-year old has been separated from his peers and his optimal leaning environment for almost three months.
  • The inconsistency of the decisions made by the adults in Taylor’s life  send some serious mixed messages.

Come to think of it, he might be learning a whole lot about how the world really works!

My point is, neither the school board or the parent put the kid’s education ahead of the control issue. The adults are squabbling for control over hair.

Meanwhile education remains under-funded, learning environments are less safe and more chaotic and yet parents and federal standards expect kids to be taught and teachers to be teaching.

What students learn from parents and educators in this situation and similar battles between school boards and communities playing out across the classrooms of America, remains to be measured.  Our future leaders are the products of this system, our social norms and culture defined by each graduating generation.

Policy, parents, appeals aside, those trusted to educate our children will get right on that important job of teaching reading, writing and the basics- just as soon as they deal with all the extraneous responsibilities of schools today like cutting budgets,  massaging parents and policy holder’s egos, and those darn bad hair days.

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Avatar Movie Review by an Overprotective Parent, ChildGrower A. Woz.

Our children may have just graduated from  sheltered status.

Last night we took our three children (ages 6, 10 and 11) to see the blockbuster movie Avatar. We intended to see the movie in 3D and on the Imax screen where it is larger and louder than life and and worried some about the kids getting motion sickness and spending more than sixty dollars on tickets. Another twenty dollars later for popcorn and giant corn syrup filled drinks added to some concern about disturbing other viewers while leaving multiple time to relieve little bladders.

Primarily though, we were worried about content.

Friends had warned us of the military might used to secure resources without respect for life or land.  We assumed this would lead to a good discussion of history repeating itself and felt our kids could benefit from that awareness.

Friends had warned us about some sexual content but we found the one scene about the lifelong unification of two consenting adults to be artful and honest.

The attire of the creatures, which in movies is something which seems to be more a part of sexual expression than a need to protect a body from the elements,  is more colorful than an issue of National Geographic- providing cultural perspective on how clothing is a necessity reflecting a clan’s geography and climate.

There was one scene where the good guys were released after a heroine exposed a little too much cleavage to gain access beyond security and we covered that topic in an after-movie discussion over pizza.

While standing in line there were a few families with children around age 10 and older and one father took a minute to comment that he was happy to see us there with our brood. He asked his daughter if she could handle the action in the show and she replied, “Yes!” and added an eye roll for good measure. We don’t usually take the word of other parents on movie appropriateness unless we know they have the same standards we have.

I am not new to being hesitant.  Ours haven’t seen much of the following shows.

  • Transformers 2 was absolutely inappropriate even though we knew several young boys who had seen it at home on video. The language was foul, plenty of inappropriate references to private parts, and the movie was thirty minutes too long in shooting and repetitive bombing and explosions.
  • Children with older siblings have been incrementally exposed to more and more violence, inappropriate language, nudity and not so subtle sexual overtones in movies like the latest Indiana Jones sequel. When you see the lubed up lips and legs of the lead female you might imagine you are in the pages of Penthouse.
  • Taking mine to see Alvin and the Chipmunks Squeaquel, makes me groan because it is about boys chasing girls. We haven’t decided on that one yet.
  • The Harry Potter series, filmed with such grey colors and dark buildings,  did not have enough fantasy to let my kids separate a movie character from a real creature.  At this age, movies full of common creatures and insects, like giant man-eating spiders and growling wolves invokes nightmares rather than leading to discussions of good vs. evil.
  • Twilight, full of enough sexual tension to enthrall already angst ridden teens,  lends itself well to a discussion of life after death and does have a fair amount of special powers interest, but it is best left as a great read for daughters who are thinking about boy/girl situations.  Mine aren’t even interested in the opposite sex other than to fill a soccer team roster, so I see no reason to take them to see it or to encourage them to read it, until they ask.

Sigh.

Here I am standing in line with about 100 other people, one hour before the show, ticket stubs in hand so as not to be accused of sneaking in the line. Filing past the added security hired to keep the lines moving and the patrons in line, we remark to the kids that this movie is something they should remember as not just a movie, but as an event.  We know the animation, the colors, the story is worth seeing and hearing. And we prepare the kids for the story by sharing the reviews and planning to de-brief after the show.

My husband is the science fiction fan who loves action and mind-bending situation in books, movies and music.   I love science fiction because it allows me to explore current social issues in a fantastical manner making learning more of a discussion of opinion than a matter of right vs. wrong.

My husband really encouraged me to say yes to taking all the kids and I was reluctant knowing it had an abundance of war scenes. To me, fight scenes are fight scenes. War is violent.  I don’t find war scenes entertaining, but neither are they entirely truthful. And thank goodness. Defending people or property with physical force, right or wrong, is still a violent action. Killing someone in 3-D is likely as bad or worse than seeing it in cartoon format.  At 2 hours and 40 minutes, I worried the prolonged exposure to any of the elements – sexual innuendo, violence, foul language or war scenes – seemed like risky business.  And given the price we pay for theatre tix, we hoped we wouldn’t have to pull them out of it if it crossed one of these lines into unredeemability.

As parents we know our kids and we know we are the ultimate decision makers in what they see.  That is the beauty of parenting and of knowing our children. We also believe we can help them understand what they see and hear through discussion.  Left alone, without some guidance, I’m thinking most Disney movies would not even be appropriate given that most begin with the mother dying or some evil person who is going to control the world! Am I right?

We do use a couple of tools whenever our kids are using media (and that includes music videos, seeing billboards and posters, consuming television, radio or electronic games, viewing movies, plays or live bands, etc.) ProjectGirl.org is a wonderful organization that teaches teens and parents to critically view what they are seeing in the media and deconstruct it so that they can decipher the mixed messages of advertising and media content.

As parents we have cobbled together a similar strategy:

  • We interject comments all through the movie about how make up was used to create an injured body part or how computer animation is used to morph two different animals into a fantasy creature.
  • We prepared them by talking about the premise and they had already seen commercials and advertisements to the point where they knew quite a few details without the benefit of talking with a parent.
  • We cover their eyes if it goes too far (if they haven’t already done that)
  • We listen to them if they want to leave or are not enjoying the story.
  • We turn it off or leave if the content is beyond redemption
  • We discuss what they saw, heard and thought during and after the movie.
  • We control the remote/choice at all times, sometimes we preview movies alone before we ok a family viewing.
  • We admit to making mistakes in appropriateness sometimes and chalk it up to an opportunity for our kids to be part of the real world, not sheltered to the point where they can not branch out of our overprotective methods to learn a little something about how this kooky world works.
  • We don’t just let them see whatever their friends are seeing. After they are 18, they can go and see whatever they want, hoping they don’t develop a curiosity for examining the horror genre. (SAW I, II, or III and the like, is not fit for human consumption besides we get enough of that on the evening news.)

Avatar was a terrific movie. My husband said he didn’t enjoy it as much as he thought but that wasn’t because it was a bad story. It was fantastic, especially in 3D.   For him, the enjoyment factor had been reduced because he put protecting his children before his desire to see the movie that has been earning billions at the box office.  With his kids he was half-entertained and half-scared out of his mind for his three youngsters’ mental safety and emotional development.

Sometimes responsible parenting does this to us.

#### by A. Woz. For Childgrower Blog.

Minivan Timeouts by ChildGrower A. Woz.

Driving in the car with two children seated too closely to each other is like listening to fingernails on chalkboards for a few too many miles.

Why do we do it to ourselves? Distance the two youngest. Parents: Save Your Sanity!

He shoves his books towards her so they are touching the edge of her car seat.

She shoves them back with a stern, “Get your stuff away from me.”

He counters with drawing an imaginary line between them and then dares her to cross it. She crosses her legs and uses her foot to deliberately cross into the neutral zone and “accidentally” brushes the side of his leg. He wails and kicks her foot away and then she tattles and tells me that he hurt her.

My neck is on swivel mode and I’ve used up all my nice words.

Dad reminds me that they should NEVER be seated next to each other.

I crank my head around and take my boy’s books and tell him that if he doesn’t apologize to his sister I am going to keep his books. The little guy tells me that I took his books just to be mean. I fire back, “I’ll show you I mean business!” similar to the kind of commentary that my father gave me before the spanking ensued.

Lucky for them, we don’t spank.

My husband says again, “They should not be sitting by each other.”

I’m in my mad zone and use the same voice I just used on my six year old and tell my husband, “If we let them sit apart they will never learn to sit side by side. I’m not giving in to this bad behavior.”

Whoops! I just spoke to my life partner like he was three and I yelled at him in front of the kids. Right idea, wrong tone.

I make amends- also in front of the kids- and we both listen to the irritating sounds of two children crying because they are both very mad that I didn’t fix anything but instead, I just added to the yelling.

What kind of example am I giving when I yell at them during an argument? I have just modeled the exact opposite of what I want them to do when they are faced with a conflict.  I take a deep breath and tell the two that we will talk about this when we get home.

That gives me a bit of time to figure out how I can teach them to avoid touching another person whenever they are angry. I’m finding that this has quickly become my newest goal when teaching them to deal with conflict.

Do not touch someone else when angry. Walk away! Hard to do in a car…

Good Grief! This parenting business is real W O R K.

Ok, when in a place where we can’t walk away ( a car, grocery shopping, in the line at the theatre) what can we do?

Later, when the two of them are sitting in the kitchen on stools placed less than an inch apart,  we try and recreate the scene and come up with some ideas to make the next van ride more peaceful.

Rule 1: Are both people are having fun?

Rule 2: What can I do differently so that both of us have fun?

How does this work? We don’t know. We just made it up. Just like parents do every day. We try new things, we read a new book, we know our child and we try something. We know they like to have fun. And we know from all the bickering that the race to have the most fun is a part of how kids operate. They want to be first, they want to win, they don’t necessarily want the other person to have fun unless they are having fun. So we decide that two people having fun is better.

And we cross our fingers. And toes. And hope for the best- or at least a really good radio that we can crank up very very loud.

### by Annita Woz, January 7, 2010 for Childgrower Blog and EP.

Mommy Overboard

As usual I have done it again.

Over the holiday, we signed up as a family to go to the local food pantry and sort cans and stock shelves and organize the donations that the community generously rounds up through food drives and fundraising events.

I’m ashamed to admit this is the first time we have done anything like this. Sheltered in the comfort of our neighborhood we have gone about our days oblivious to the real needs that exist just around the corner.

Determined to give my kids a dose of reality, I take my two daughters and each brings a friend to spend a sunny Saturday morning working together at the local food pantry.

I am hoping to simultaneously do some good and teach my kids to be grateful for all that they have.

Together with about 25 volunteers, we lug boxes filled with canned goods and stack all sorts of beans and soups and fruits for a solid ninety minutes. The work goes fast, spirits are light, the sense of community feels really strong. We see other families from our school and we see strangers, but we all feel like we have important work to do and we are happy to lend the muscle to do it.

As soon as we leave the pantry, one of the youngest announces that she is really, really hungry and wants to go get something to eat.

In typical mommy overboard fashion I have to push the limits of this teachable moment and get on the “be grateful”  soapbox.  To make sure to drive home the importance of taking care of the hungry in our community, I respond immediately with, “YES, go with that. You are hungry. Imagine waking up every day and going to bed every night hungry, just like you are now…really feel that hunger so you know what other people are feeling…”

Oh, yes. That is what I said.

My two girls roll their eyes, used to my dramatics, but their two friends are staring with disbelief – alternating looks of anger at their buddies who have gotten them into this-  and all look at me to see if I am joking.

No, not me.

I can’t simply focus on the good part of volunteering…the part about helping and how good that felt.

Oh, nooo.

Instead of choosing to cement volunteering with the good feelings I choose instead to link it solidly to this life lesson, in a fashion likely to turn them off to doing anything good ever again!

This is what mothers do.

Yup, I link the whole morning with growling stomachs instead of with what we can do to help keep tummies from rumbling.

Do I then reign myself in and find the hard workers a quick snack?  No. I do not even dig for a cough drop from the bottom of my purse. Instead, I proceed to drive a few miles and drop off some of the clothes and toys mine have outgrown at the Salvation Army donation center.

More of that giving spirit and grand effort to get through to my kids.

Somehow I do not notice the sulking while rattling on about helping others and how good it feels.

Overlooking the two younger ones as they grow more pale and sort of glassy eyed I finish off my homegrown social studies unit and make them go in to the animal shelter and register for volunteer hours all the while wondering why they just don’t seem interested in petting the animals or enthusiastic about the opportunity.

I carry on with the “lesson” of how children have empty cupboards and attempt to connect them to the hungry feeling and really push it by making one more stop to get milk and a few things from from the local grocery store.

So lost in my effort to overdo a good thing, I refuse to buy any snacks, not even a donut hole.

While walking up and down the cart filled isles, they tell me how hard it is to look at the food all morning and the food pantry and to carry it around and stock the shelves.

They actually were thinking about food and not having it, for one entire morning.

Oddly enough, as I push my groceries around the salad dressing isle, I bump carts with another parent who was just at the pantry with us.  And across the bread isle, we recognize another person who spent the morning sorting the jars of spaghetti sauce from the jars of peanut butter.  And in the frozen food section another hungry helper fills her cart.

We all wave at each other and though we don’t know each other’s names, we make small talk and our children smile and wave goodbye after the grown ups move to the next item on our lists.

The volunteer families are still putting food on our tables the way we always have, but today, we are changed a little.  We don’t actually need to see the pantry shelves filling the carts of the families who have the empty cupboards. We don’t actually need to go hungry to understand how cupboards  get filled.

As we fill ours, I feel as though we have all gotten the message.

No lecture required. No need to go overboard, moms. We have all grasped the meaning of the morning and feel we are the ones who have been given more than we gave.

The lesson teaches itself.

### by Childgrower A. Woz for EP January 3, 2009.

everything is a performance

Why is it that everything kids do ends with a performance of some kind?

I  feel like we are creating a reality show at home every day, sans the cameras.

  • Weekly tennis lessons end in parent day where we clap and cheer that our child has learned what we paid to have them teach her.
  • Dance, good exercise and good fun, always requires a recital and forking over the fees for a sparkly costume.
  • I even catch myself encouraging my girl as she sings loudly to some pop song on the karaoke machine to keep singing and someday she might be on American Idol.

Since when did reality get to be so much like television?

And I’ve bought into it.  Bad.

Flipping through the registration catalog for winter offerings, I spend an hour comparing the family calendar and costs to see if I can fit in time for the art class, the six week long soccer foot skills clinic, and the lego club enrollment forms. Each notes a competitive event or parent night finale where the kids parade before adoring parents.

Sigh. What am I doing?

Not only does each activity have to fit in around homework and family time, but these events usually require parental presence, positive encouragement from the bleachers, spontaneous bursts of proud applause and the obligatory photo after completion.

Think back to a winter when you were eleven and dug out from under the basement stairs a pair of old skates, didn’t matter that they were two sizes too big, and you walked to the house next door to perform an ice skating show for the neighbor?

Never happened.

You know how it really went.  We put on our skates and shoveled the snow off the pond just so that we could be outside and feel the graceful gliding power of our blades…okay, until the weed sticking out tripped us up, true.

But the point is, we taught ourselves to skate because we didn’t want to sit around the house and be bored. Outside we went- where no one was clapping for us at each turn – and if we fell, we laughed and we picked ourselves up and we skated some more. We left when our friends were called home to dinner not when the instructor released us to our parents for a small reception with cookies in the lobby.

And we loved it!

We skated to learn not to earn anything but for the self-centered satisfaction of doing something as well as we could before our toes and fingers froze.

I’m sad to think that all the awards showered upon our kids by coaches and yes, from this mom, are making my kids people pleasers more than a proud persons.

Instead I should have stuck with the Yaay Me approach.

Some wise mom in a playgroup mentioned that kids should not be taught to do things to make parents proud.  She suggested that they don’t need to be constantly seeking approval from others.

I took her advice and started to teach my first born that she should reach around and pat herself on the back and say, “Yayy me ” after she had made a drawing or created a neat tower of blocks.  Yes,  she still wanted me to look at her creations,  but instead of filling her head with, “You are the next Michelangelo,” I smiled and encouraged her to applaud herself.

And this became her habit.

It created real confidence.  She believed herself more than she would ever believe me. Okay an audience of a thousand clapping parents might have made a difference, but then, where would the audience be when she needs it for important things like saying no to poor choices or speaking her truth when she is called on for an opinion…the audience of one is the only one who will be there.  I cannot be skating with her on every pond. I cannot be sweeping the pond and keeping her from tripping up.  I cannot always be there.

### by Child Grower A. Woz

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