Monday, July 30, 2007

Starting School Today

We started school today. Hopefully I will be able to keep up the posts. Here is a pic I took of our school room before the kids woke-up this morning.

Out of the Pool and Into the Frying Pan

When looking back at childhood, I think that every memory tends to take-on a particular slant. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative, these memories are forever painted in dramatically vivid colors that tend to outshine the more recent additions to your biographical record.

Childhood sports and activities distinctly stand-out in my mind as completely positive, fun, and exciting experiences. Some of my most fun times were on summer swim team; perhaps that is why it was so important to get our kids into the pool as soon as possible.

This is Elora's second year being on the Madison Dolphins summer swim team (incidentally, this is the exact same team that I swam on in high school, with the same head coach that coached me, believe it or not!). This is the first year that she qualified for the state swim meet which was held this past weekend. We were very lucky that this statewide competition was hosted by our home team this year; last year it was a 6 hour drive away in Dothan!

It has been a fun summer watching Elora improve and compete, but I have also learned that being a swim parent is not the completely positive, fun, and exciting experience from childhood; it is much harder, maybe even borderline grueling!

The state meet takes place over two days. An ample amount of time to provide many stressful experiences!

On Friday Corby couldn't come because, duh, it was a work day, so I had bad odds to begin with. The first dramatic development reared its head in the afternoon. Our medley relay was grouped together outside the bullpen, unfortunately, too close to a fire-ant hill; their butterfly swimmer was stung nearly 20 times. Elora was only stung twice, but made-up for it with an extreme amount of complaining. Despite her itchy wounds, she was still able to swim her lap and their relay finished second overall.

Afterward, the process of trying to get out was a nightmare. It would be easy if it weren't for all the stuff (you have to bring the stuff...chairs, cooler, blankets, towels, toys, games plus I had a stroller with baby included).

So, while I struggled with the folding chairs in a sea of mini-camps and swim squatters, Jacob decided to wander away. When I turned around to look for him, I could see that he was crying amidst a crowd of friendly fellow parents who were trying to help him. I finally reached him and I asked why he had walked away. He told me he had lost his sock. I looked down and noticed that he had taken off his shoes and was carrying one sock, after pointing out that the other was still on his foot, he brightened and came along. He walked all the way to the car wearing only that one sock.

Calm relief eased its way into me as we crossed the threshold of the parking area, only to be shattered when Elora declared that she had left her flip-flops behind and we would have to go look for them. Glancing back at the hordes of tents, concession stands, parents and swimmers, I informed her that nothing could drag me back in there, especially not a $4 pair of very worn and dirty blue flip-flops, that no one would ever take home with them!

Saturday was easier. Corby there to help, and after finding those lost flip-flops the day seemed to be rolling along nicely. If only it weren't 98 degrees outside with 85% humidity!

By the end of the meet, as the free relay neared, dark storm clouds began to roll-in. I crossed my fingers and said many a prayer to forestall disastrous thunder and lightening, in which case the meet would be paused for a half-hour. Much to our relief, the 8 and under relays were completed right before someone heard thunder and we were able to scramble for the car with smiles on our faces despite the fact that we were being drenched in a summer downpour.

Oh, how I felt sorry for the parents that we hurriedly left behind! I try to ignore the little voice in my head telling me that as the kids grow and move up in age groups, that will surely someday be me waiting. Whatever happened to the good ol' days when I got to be the swimmer and the whole world revolved around me? Swim team certainly looks different from this side of the pool deck.

Link to results.

Elora after warm-ups.

Elora watching from the coach's table.

Elora's 25yd butterfly (she is in the farthest lane on the left, she finished 9th overall)

Girls 8 and under medley relay, Elora swam the final lap of free, they were in lane 6 and finished second. You can't really see anything, but you can get a feeling for the hysteria.

(Actually I found out later that they finished third because another team had a soft touch. Also, looking at this video objectively, most of the people watching look pretty sedate, not at all hysteric. I guess my feeling of roaring chaos came from a combination of being in such a big crowd and feeling very stressed.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Poisoning Our Kids? Thanks, President Bush.

I didn't intend on blogging about Bush so soon after last week, but I must make an exception.

Bush is soon expected to veto a ban on mercury in vaccinations.

Mercury is poison. If you ever broke a mercury thermometer as a child you might recall how much fun it was to watch the tiny, liquid-metal droplets roll across the floor. Perhaps you even played with them, allowing them to separate and then forcing the drops to jump back together. All of it was fun until you mother found you and harshly lectured about the toxicity of mercury, after which you would forever look apprehensively at any mercury thermometer placed in your mouth.

Recently mercury has been linked to brain damage and learning disabilities including autism.

Parents have been warned to limit the frequency in which they allow their children to eat fish because it contains traces of mercury. (By-the-way, mercury does not occur naturally in fish. Mercury pollutants released into the environment by factories and power plants filter into our water and then leach into the fish that live there. Read more about mercury pollution here.)

With this knowledge, you may wonder why drug companies continue to use mercury as an ingredient in thimerosal, a preservative used in immunizations. This chemical variant is outlawed in most countries, but not the United States. And, to add insult to injury, in 2002, a mysterious piggyback on the 2002 Homeland Security bill freed drug companies of liability in lawsuits regarding thimerosal.

To any parent this is disturbing news, especially to those who feel a pang of guilt when forcing their cheery, trusting, unsuspecting baby into a position to feel the painful prick of a shot. Now there is the additional worry of unintentionally poisoning our children.

Although our pediatrician assures me that all the shots given to our toddler are mercury-free, it just makes me wonder, "Why wouldn't Bush make sure that all parents have the same assurance?." Especially since there are certainly families that do not have the awareness to inquire about such a thing, or the means to find alternative health resources.

Is there any way to tell Bush that we value our health and the health of our children? Does he care that most Americans no longer support him and view his policies as outrageously foul?

Monday, July 23, 2007

You Know You're a Parent When...

You feel relief for your 3-year-old after learning from Poison Control which "DO NOT EAT" preservative packets are dangerous.

The ones with clear, kosher salt-like contents are O.K.; the ones that are darker and packaged with beef jerky are dangerous (they have iron in them).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Staying Up Late with Harry Potter

Last Friday our family adventured the the land of Barnes & Noble for a magical Harry Potter: Deathly Hollows book release party. Elora, who is eight, has read the entire series but we have never participated in one of the all night events. Since this is the last book, and thus our last chance, we decided to take all of the kids.

Around 7:00pm Corby arrived at the store straight from work and stood in line to receive a bracelet. Each bracelet would designate the order in which you could go to the register at midnight and buy the book. The line stretched from the front door of the bookstore and far around the side of the store.

I didn't arrive with the kids until 8:00pm. We had strategically planned to drive two cars and all the kids were showered and ready for bed (they youngest two wore their P.J.s).

At the party there was a costume contest and although we didn't participate, we enjoyed seeing children and adults dressed as the various characters from the book. Surprisingly, there were not that many dressed as the namesake, Harry Potter. Here are a few favorites.

The kids were all able to enjoy activities including: hatching dragon eggs, making their own wands, a puppet show and trivia. At 10:00pm I brought all of the boys home and Corby and Elora stayed to be sorted into their "houses" and mix their own potion (with colored sand).

At 1:00am father and daughter arrived home with the new book in hand.

Elora fell promptly to sleep, but read the first chapter before she got out of bed the next morning. She is currently on chapter 9 and is very proud to have stayed up so late with all the die-hard fans.

I am so glad that the kids had an opportunity to see so many people enthusiastic about a book.

I don't have a single memory from my childhood to compare it to! I can vaguely recall reading Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary books as a child. Back then, many girls were really into The Babysitter's Club series, while most of the boys preferred the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. There was no literary achievement that transcended so many lines as the Harry Potter series.

My mother compared the book fans to the late 70's early 80's fervor associated with the Star Wars movies, but then again, the whole point is that this is a book. Hopefully this excitement about reading will make an impression on the boys, even though they have only seen the movies and haven't read the books for themselves. Eventually, I hope they will read all the books and perhaps they will remember that they were there that night.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why'd Ya Do It George? Say It Ain't So!

Who says George Bush isn't trying to cut federal spending?

On Wednesday Ol' George showed his frugal side with his plan to cut the $420 million federal subsidiary for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes federal subsidies to PBS, National Public Radio and hundreds of public radio and television stations.

Cookie Monster and Barney needn't worry though, the house voted down the bill, 357-72.

We don't have cable and rarely watch television, but when we do, PBS is our channel. Personally, I think it is the only channel worth watching. NPR is also one of our favorite, although I rarely get to listen nowadays because the kids prefer Jack Johnson's Curious George Soundtrack (which, I must admit is great).

Well, this certainly doesn't help my (dis) approval rating toward the Prez.

I was glad to see that all of the Alabama representatives voted against this bill. You can check to see who voted to kill Elmo and Big Bird here.

It is also worth noting that PBS now has one of the best
shows I have ever seen for elementary age children called Fetch!, but our kids call it Ruff-Ruff. They absolutely love this show. It airs at 4:30pm in Huntsville and is sort-of an amazing race premise geared toward children, where the challenges are educational. Take a look, it is really neat.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Stop Looking in Caves and Under Bridges, Trolls Are Everywhere

In my last post there were a few people who commented on the story about the mother and toddler who were thrown off an airplane. The original article is here and Grandma Bettyanne provided a link to the article's comments here.

If you glance at the story's comments you will notice that many people applauded the flight attendant's actions. For example:
If this person sues it will be in federal court. She and her lawyer should pray that I do not sit upon the jury. Bratty kids should be quiet but, as is obvious here, the parents are the ones responsible for their continued unacceptable behavior.
But one particular comment, noted by Anonymous, really stands out for its idiocy:
God Bless this flight attendant. This mother sickens me. Take the child away from her before more damage is done. And put the the little brat on Ritalin. It is SO CLEAR that he has a behavior problem and guess who is to blame. This pathetic excuse for a mother. GOD BLESS AIRLINE ATTENDANTS. AND GOD BLESS GEORGE W. BUSH.
Now, as you may know, I am a very skeptical person, and I have a hunch that this is not even a real comment.

Let me introduce you to the idea of trolling.

A troll is a person who gets their kicks from scouring the internet for controversial topics, and then posting outlandish things in order to cause a stir. Often these people post a view that they heartily disagree with, but by arguing the point in a pig-headed, outrageous and ignorant manner, they are able to do more damage to the position than good. For more information on trolling, read Wiki here.

I have a suspicion that the above comment was written by a troll.

You might think that my suspicious assumption is unfounded. Perhaps you believe that everyone on the Internet is honest when they present a point of view, and for the most part I want to believe this too, but, when viewing comments or other information on the internet something should be kept in mind.

People have been using various traditional media to spread disinformation for a long time.

Read here about
Black Propaganda.

It seems that the idea of misrepresenting the source of information is a classic strategy used by governments or other organizations when trying to manipulate a group of people. The internet is only the most recent avenue used to influence public opinion, and this time anyone and everyone can participate.

Now, I must admit that my stomach begins to sickly, churn when I think of George W. Bush, but I find it hard to believe that anyone would post such an idiotic comment. I would bet that the person who posted this feels the exact opposite of what they wrote. When confronted with so many of the other heart-felt, moderately stupid, negative comments toward the mother, they probably decided take the point-of-view to an extreme plus throw in a little stab at Bush.

I certainly don't know this for sure, and there are very likely many people who wouldn't hesitate from writing something as absurd as this, with full belief that they are right, but trolling is real so we shouldn't take every comment at face value.

By-the-way, I know someone who likes to do this, and that is proof enough to me that this is a factual activity for some people's amusement.
If you are reading this now, my trolling friend, make sure you don't leave any of those troll comments here!!!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Another Place Where Kids Are Not Allowed? How Inconvenient! It Makes You Wonder Why People Even Bother Having Children.

I thought that nothing could top our grueling air travel experience from earlier this week, until I read this article about about a mother and her toddler getting kicked-off an airline for the 19-month-old's incessant baby talk. In contrast, on our flight, our toddler was not repeating the cute "bye-bye plane" baby-talk, our baby was repeatedly screaming at the top of his lungs.

I'm so glad that our attendant only went as far as indignant complaints and dirty looks.

All of this got me to thinking...

Is it just me or does it seem that more people are becoming increasingly intolerant of the needs and behaviors of children?

Could this be a symptom of a society that marginalizes children and exiles them from reality?

Daycare services admit children as young as 6-weeks-old and from that point on there are an amplitude of services that allow parents to temporarily free themselves from their burdens. When children turn 5 (and in some areas 4), public education devours kids and institutionalizes them until they are of competent working age.

As a homeschooling parent I can attest to the fact that many adults are visibly uncomfortable with the mere presence of a child. I have endured many hostile glares when I have occasionally ventured out with my school age children before 3 pm.

Why does our society treat children like an inconvenient necessary evil, only to be pacified and occasionally praised when they make their adult counterparts feel good about themselves?

Perhaps we have forgotten that children are people who are capable of more than we give them credit for. Our ancestors were thankful for each new little human being that was added to their family because they knew that they had worth and could contribute to the livelihood of a household even at a very early age. (Even a toddler can be taught how to snap beans and carry a bucket!)

Awaiting the day when they can flip-a-burger or open a checking account, American kids are locked away from the rest of society, placated with toys and electronics.

It is no wonder that once out of their parents house they find themselves ill-equipped for reality, in a downward spiral of partying and debt; never truly becoming well rounded adults until their late 20s or early 30s...

or never at all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

My Family Spent The Night in Reagan Int'l And All I Got Was This Lousy Blanket!

Well folks, we are finally home!

As always, our yearly vacation to New Hampshire was a wonderful retreat. Despite very little swimming weather, we still managed to have fun canoeing, kayaking, hiking, jet skiing and (of course) cooking s'mores by the campfire.

But our time spent in transit was far from pleasant, and kicked hard against the border of misery.

On our flight out we connected in Charlotte, NC. Although the first flight from Nashville was easy, the connection flight trapped everyone helplessly on-board only to alert us minutes before departing that we would be taxiing back to the runway for maintenance. Seems that one of the engines wouldn't start and it would be 45 minutes to install a new starter. I balked at the idea of waiting a extra 45 minutes in a plane with four children. How horrible!!! I was more than a little steamed when we arrived, but was able begin our vacation in fairly good spirits.

Little did I know that this was just a small, dainty appetizer of discomfort preceding the gut wrenching experience of our returning flight home.

Yesterday, we boarded our return flight in Boston aimed at our connection in Washington D.C. at Reagan International. I should have guessed bad things were ahead when the flight attendant rudely commented that my baby was disturbing too many passengers. I must admit that our 18-month-old only has 2 volume settings, quiet and spine-tingling, shrill scream, but honestly, what did she suggest I do? So I asked her "What do you suggest I do?", I think that this response took the young, obviously childless, woman back and her smug look melted into defenseless puzzlement. A few moments later we had an ample supply of airplane snacks and thus, he was much quieter.

Nearer to Reagan, we were informed that lightening had struck the building and their communications were out. No alarm, the pilot planned to just circle the airport patiently until....

We ran out of fuel.

(Or at least we nearly did.) We had to leave Washington to fly to our back-up landing location for a refill. I still don't understand why, but our designated back-up was in New York at Laguardia Airport. This was going from bad to worse! This airport is notorious for delays.

Refueled and ready to fly, we quickly proceeded to the tarmac to begin our three hour wait for take-off. The pilot informed us that the weather had prevented a slew of flights from taking off and landing. I imagine our plane was of little overall significance, but it sure felt significant to us and to every other traveler within earshot of the screaming, whining, jumping, arguing and crying of our four tired, hungry and trapped children!

We arrived at Washington at a 7:50pm, seven hours after initially boarding the plane. For a few brief minutes when we entered the airport, I had hope that there might be a remaining flight out that we could catch, unfortunately the departure screen revealed nothing. We were stuck, along with hundreds of other travelers.

Because the kids had not had anything to eat since noon and because every vendor was beginning to close, we hastily found a restaurant and ate. Every US Airways ticket counter radiated lines of stranded businessmen, grandmothers, college students and families. Everyone was desperate to get where they were going. And, to top it all off, there would be no vouchers because all of this was attributed to weather.

We avoided the lines and called the 800 number, our flight would leave at 8:40 am and we would sleep at the airport until then.

Few people know that a magical thing happens in the middle of the night at an airport. When the clock strikes midnight a khaki-colored fairy driving an electrically powered cart visits the marooned travelers that are tucked into every chair and quiet corner. This fairy bestows blue bundled gifts that are unfolded to reveal the warmth and softness of polyester fleece. The piles of stranded sleepers become uniformed in their appearance of rolling mounds of new fallen snow.

Cuddly, bright blue polyester snow.


We made our morning flight and soon were home. We have 5 blue blankets to show from our journey, plus the miserable memories of heinous travel.


To end on a positive note, here are some pictures of the kids at the lake. (Click to enlarge)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Off to New Hampshire for a Much Needed Vacation!

We are leaving for our yearly visit to Bear Island on Lake Winnipesaukee. Don't expect any posts for a week or so. I should be very busy swimming, boating, hiking and keeping the kids from drowning!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

DVD Players in Cars May Be Leading Kids in the Wrong Direction

A few years ago a mommy friend of mine, lets call her Janice, purchased a brand-new Toyota Sienna. Complete with an "I'm a Soccer Mom" magnet, this gold colored van had the most luxurious trim package with leather seats, electric remote-controlled everything, and a DVD player for the kids in the backseat.

Standing in the parking lot after girl scouts, I would watch Janice as she would buckle in her four kids, carelessly flick on a video and peacefully pull away in the impenetrable silence of mesmerized children. Perhaps I was a bit envious as I drove home amongst the bickering and incessant whining that accompanies four children crammed into a 1990 MPV (probably the smallest minivan ever!).

Unfortunately our quaint little MPV met its ill-fated demise last fall and we decided to take the $380 per-month plunge into a new van. We went in knowing that we could only afford the very cheapest, most basic trim, and since the DVD combo was a $3000 add on only available in the highest trim, I resigned myself to more driving under the influence of frustration and aggravation due to travel-tired kids.

(Actually, I secretly enjoy our drives together, and traveling affords us more time to talk, play games, and sing together. It really isn't that bad.)

Video entertainment using VCRs was first installed in minivans in the late 90's and factory installed DVD players were released in 2002. Because of this, many kids are growing-up without experiencing the "Are we there yet?" blues, and most parents probably think that is a good thing,


On Friday one of my daughter's teenage swim coaches confided in me that she was nervous about getting her driver's license. She relayed countless horror stories experienced by many of her friends about getting dramatically lost (for example, trying to drive to the mall and ending up in TN). She said that she wasn't too worried though because she never had a DVD player in her parents' car. I asked her if that made a difference and she said "yeah" (as if!).

It seems that a whole generation of driving teenagers are emerging without any sense of direction. The car was always just an extension of the living room, a magical portal that somehow got them from here to there.

On heightened awareness of my kids' directional capabilities, I let them tell me which turns to make to get us home from Huntsville, and with the exception of our three-year-old who still doesn't know left from right, they knew the way perfectly.

(He actually knew the way home too, I just had to look in the rear-view mirror to tell which right his little finger was pointing toward.)

I guess those parents who are now appreciating peaceful driving thanks to a screen in the backseat are really only exchanging it for the peace of knowing that your teenage kids will be able to navigate their own car a few years later.

Perhaps it is just as well, the directionless children who are used to watching Sponge Bob while driving to the grocery store will have no problem watching a GPS direct them to that same grocery store when they are old enough to drive.

**I found the photo above online, none of the children are my kids or kids we know.