Written on July 16, 2014 at 4:41 pm , by Paula Chin
It’s the kind of news that makes moms shudder. Jada, a Houston 16-year-old, was drugged and raped at a party with fellow high-schoolers, but didn’t even know it until the video of the assault went viral. But it gets worse: Peers started mocking her online, posting images of themselves—under a hashtag that won’t be repeated here—unconscious on the floor in the same pose as Jada. It’s incomprehensible how cruel people can be, how cavalier, and how little they think about the consequences. After Jada told her story to the Houston press, they contacted one of the posers, who said he didn’t know Jada but was bored and wanted to wake up his Twitter feed. But here’s the good news: Jada’s supporters created a hashtag of their own, #jadacounterpose, tweeting images protesting the alarming, persistent problem of campus rape. No one should suffer what Jada did. And all of us should stand behind her.
Written on May 22, 2014 at 4:17 pm , by Paula Chin
“One of these days, Alice—pow! Straight to the moon!”
I know, I know, the Jackie Gleason line dates me, but it kept running through my head last weekend when my 13-year-old and I were lucky enough to be invited on a two-day tour of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In a word, spectacular. We saw the launchpads and the ginormous vehicle assembly building. We witnessed an actual launch (unmanned), met and dined with astronauts (really nice guys), and peppered them with questions. (Nat’s comment afterward: “I will never forget this!”) We clambered through a model of the International Space Station, saw the Atlantis shuttle with its charred, atmosphere-reentry scars, and experienced the face-stretching g-force of the orbiter rocketing into space. We saw an amazing iMax movie about the last-ditch attempt to repair the Hubble telescope, with actual footage of space walks, and the impossibly awesome photos it captured of distant galaxies, mist-shrouded nebulae and dying stars. At times it was so moving I cried.
Plus we took an airboat ride along the St. John River with an outfit called Midway and saw gators up close!
If you can get down to Orlando, don’t just head for Disney World and Universal Studios (though Nat was disappointed we didn’t have time to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter). Take a detour to Florida’s Space Coast and give your teen the best STEM lesson ever. My girl now wants to be an astronaut. One of these days, Nat…
Written on May 13, 2014 at 5:29 pm , by Paula Chin
I’m a Louis C.K. fan—and now an even bigger one after his Twitter rant blasting the confounding math homework his third-grader was bringing home, and bashing Common Core and standardized testing to boot. “The teachers are great. But it’s changed in recent years, ” he tweeted. “It’s all about these tests. It feels like a dark time.”
It is. My daughter’s in seventh grade, which, as any New York City parent can tell you, is a fraught year. She just finished the state math and language arts tests that will determine what high school she gets into come 2015. But wait, there’s more. There are eight so-called specialized high schools requiring their own admission test (SHSAT) in October (they ignore the state exams). My buddy Lisa, whose son went through the ordeal last year, just informed me that if Nat is gonna take the SHSAT, she’s gotta do test prep, mainly because everybody else is and she’ll get blown out of the water otherwise. So she just started weekly two-hour sessions with five other 13-year-olds, half this spring, the rest in the fall.
Ouch. And I’m not just talking about my pocketbook. We all want the best for our kids, and I don’t want her excluded from a great school when she’s plenty smart just because she didn’t keep up with the test-prep Joneses. But I’m a huge believer in public schools and equal opportunity, and I feel like a hypocrite for shelling out beaucoup bucks to boost her scores. It sucks. Or, as Louis put it, schooling and testing have become a “massive stressball.” You agree?
Written on April 9, 2014 at 1:40 pm , by Paula Chin
Yet another horrible and heartbreaking attack on campus—this time, at Franklin Regional High outside Pittsburgh, where a 16-year-old sophomore went on a violent stabbing spree, injuring at least 20 teens and adults in classrooms and a hallway before he was subdued and handcuffed by a courageous principal and a school resource officer. Somehow, amid the chaos and terror, everyone kept their wits about them—a fire alarm pulled during the attack helped get more people out of the school, and a female student applied pressure to the wounds of one male victim, possibly saving his life. We don’t yet know what prompted the attacks, but there are rumors that the assailant was a victim of bullying. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. I’ll be hugging my teen a little harder tonight.
We’d like to know:
1. How much do you worry about violence at your teen’s school (not much, somewhat, a lot)?
2. Have violent attacks occurred at your kid’s school (yes, no)?
3. Do you think enough safety measures are being taken (yes, no)?
Written on March 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm , by Paula Chin
So the kids are all right. That, at least, is the conclusion of a new study on homework by the Brookings Institution, which says that the average homework load for 9- to 17-year-olds has pretty much stayed the same over the last 30 years. This, of course, flies in the face of all the horror stories we’ve heard about kids drowning in nightly homework, of exhausted parents who can’t cope, and of families fraying at the seams because of it all.
So what to think? My own experience, or I should say that of my 12-year-old, is that she consistently has at least 2 or 3 hours every night—about double what the Brookings study found. She’s not suffering under the load—I half-jokingly describe it as “only mildly soul-crushing”—and our family isn’t falling apart, though it’s still too much. Then again, she’s in an honors program at a public school that’s something of a learning factory, but that was the choice we made, since the alternative was a school that wouldn’t have challenged her enough.
I’m grateful for the excellent education she’s getting. And the homework isn’t busywork. It does what I believe take-home assignments are supposed to do: that is, reinforce the lessons learned in class. So I gripe a little, but not too much. At the same time, I don’t dismiss the complainers as whiners. But here’s the thing—the gap between the homework horror stories and what the study found is a pretty big one, which says plenty about the inequality of education nationwide. That’s a much bigger problem, and one that won’t be easily solved.
Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Written on January 23, 2014 at 2:05 pm , by Paula Chin
Oops. He did it again. Justin Bieber was just busted for drunk driving and drag racing at 4 a.m. after leaving a Miami Beach strip club (where he allegedly spent tens of thousands of dollars!). He didn’t take it well. Resisting attempts to pat him down, he shouted, “I ain’t got no f—ing weapons. Why do you have to search me? What the f— is this about?” and “What the f— are you doing?”
All of it, of course, captured on cell phones and posted online—from videos of his arrest to his mug shot (he’s smiling!). It’s just the latest instance of the once-sweet teenybopper breaking bad (sneaking out of a Brazilian brothel, illegally spray painting a hotel wall, urinating into a mop bucket while yelling “F— Bill Clinton” and desecrating a photo of the former president). Age-old tragedy of a child star growing up and going off the rails? Or, as cynics say, an orchestrated train wreck to turn him into a sexy, dangerous but very adult superstar? It makes for great headlines, snares lots of eyeballs, but frankly, I don’t care. My 12-year-old daughter could care less. Do you? Does anyone?
How would you handle this behavior if it was your teen?
Written on October 31, 2013 at 3:13 pm , by Paula Chin
This morning I put the finishing touches on a set of wings for my 12-year-old, who will be trick-or-treating as an angel alongside her BFF, the devil. [Note: The wings were made out of cardboard covered with folded flat-bottomed coffee filters, which look amazingly featherlike.] I’m lucky that she’s a good kid—sweet, smart and so far immune to the usual tween-teen problems. She’s no mean girl, nor is she bullied. Her good friends include boys as well as girls. She doesn’t obsess over clothes, hair or having a thigh gap. She thinks Miley Cyrus is silly and kind of dumb.
Which brings me to the latest Halloween costume outrages of 2013. That is, Julianne Hough partying in blackface as Crazy Eyes from Orange Is the New Black and Florida dudes Greg Cimeno and William Filene, who decided it would be “f—ing hilarious” to dress up as George Zimmerman and a murdered Trayvon Martin, then posted pics of themselves on Facebook. Julianne was needlessly insensitive and racist—and she’s since apologized. The other two went way beyond that, making a mockery out of a profound tragedy, and they still don’t get it.
I don’t know whether I’m going to talk about this with my daughter tonight as we plow through her chocolate stash. She doesn’t need the ethics lesson, and it all seems so obvious. Blackface, or yellow or brown, is never okay. Making fun of someone’s death, not to mention one so fraught and controversial as Trayvon’s, is never okay. But clearly there are folks who haven’t gotten the memo, and I’ll probably drive home the point to her anyway. Are you in with me?
Written on October 18, 2013 at 3:27 pm , by Paula Chin
It’s an absolutely heartbreaking story—yet another youth, in this case 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Winter Haven, Florida, commits suicide after being relentlessly bullied online for months by her classmates.
But this time there’s a new twist to the lurid headlines: The local sheriff arrested two girls, ages 14 and 12, charging them with felony aggravated stalking after a message appeared in the Facebook feed of the older girl that read, “Yes Ik I bullied RECECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF” [translation: “I don’t give a (expletive)”]. The girl’s parents said someone had hacked into her FB account, but the sheriff isn’t buying it. In fact, he says he’d put them in jail if he could for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
You may think he’s gone way too far. Or you may feel he’s right on the mark. Either way, the sheriff has turned the spotlight and focused it on parents and their culpability when it comes to cyberbullying. When you stop and think about it, this has been the elephant in the room, the unspoken, taboo topic amid all the tragic teen suicides in the news: To what degree are parents to blame when their children become taunters, tormentors, emotional abusers and worse?
Normally in this space we chat about things moms should discuss with their children. Perhaps this is a topic we should start talking about with each other.
Written on June 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm , by Paula Chin
Like many grownups, I loved Sesame St. as much as my kid did, especially the adorable Mr. Noodle—that bumbling, rubber-limbed sweetheart of a clown, living in his own little world-within-Elmo’s World (accessible only by the window shade), trying so hard with his supremely silly process of trial and error to figure out how life—and its dizzying assortment of gizmos and gadgets—works. (“No, Mr. Noodle! Put your feet on the pedals!”)
I’ve followed the supremely multi-talented Bill Irwin in the years since—Tony-award winning Broadway performances (both as mime and dramatic actor), movie and TV roles (Rachel Getting Married, CSI serial killer)—and still love him. So did my daughter Natalie, now 12; she just didn’t know it.
That’s why I took her to see his recent stage show, Old Hats, a vaudeville variety mash-up of clowning, comedy, music, theater and dance. There were floppy shoes and baggy pants, spaghetti-wrestling and hobo pathos, a live band with subversively witty tunes. And, after all these years, Mr. Noodle in person! Nat loved it all.
Art at its most creative and ebullient. Something you and your kid can never get too much of. Something you never outgrow.
Old Hats Irwin (right) and David Shiner.
Written on May 31, 2013 at 3:57 pm , by Paula Chin
There was recently a blessed event in our family—the wee hours arrival, several weeks overdue, of a healthy baby girl. Big brown eyes, hair on the wavy side. Mother doing fine. When we got the news, my daughter Nat was so overjoyed she ran through the house jumping and shouting, “A girl! I knew it! I’m naming her Cookie!”
We drove to Pennsylvania that night and headed straight for the barn. Not yet 24 hours in the world, the foal was adorable, impossibly leggy, sweetly fawnlike. That is, when we could steal a glimpse of her. Shortcake, being a good mom, kept shifting around uneasily, placing her big old self between us and her baby, nickering softly in protest. In the glow of the flashlight, I saw a ginormous smile on Nat’s face, a look of pure, radiant joy. Her dad and I had to drag her back to the house and to bed, where she blissfully nodded off as John told her about the birth—how it happened overnight, as it usually does, how he found the foal that morning, standing wobbily as she nursed, her coat fluffed and dry.
In the morning we slipped into the stall and put a halter on Shortcake so John could steady her while we cuddled with Cookie. So soft and plush, like a puppy! Nuzzling her forehead, she smelled faintly of fresh hay. While touching her is delightful, it’s also a job someone’s got to do; foals are skittish, wild things, and they have to get accustomed to being handled before they get too big and strong. Nat eagerly signed on, hugging, kissing, and stroking Cookie head to hoof every chance she got.
Nature is a great teacher, but her lessons have been harsh as well as happy. At 12, Nat has already had to say goodbye to three horses—Ramona the Appaloosa; Peaches, the palomino she used to ride with cousin Mandy; Charlie, the pony she learned to canter on. All had to be put down because of age, illness or injury, and all are buried on the farm, on a gentle rise by one of the trails, deep in the ochre-colored earth. We pass them every time we go riding, as we did that afternoon, and I always get a bit sad—and worry that Nat does too. (Then again, when she was little I used to run to the pet store to buy a lookalike Betta fish so she wouldn’t know hers had died.) When I asked her about it the other day, she said that while their deaths were hard at first, it’s not so much anymore. She does know, though, that when the time comes for Nina, the black Lab she loves more than anything, she will cry her heart out for a long, long while. But for now Nat has Nina, she’ll watch Cookie gambol and grow, and all is well. Matters of life and death—my not-so-little girl is learning them, just as she should be.
The burial ground, where Peaches, Charlie and Ramona rest in peace.
Written on May 17, 2013 at 10:51 am , by Paula Chin
Archie has been pretty quiet lately.
Archie is our magnificent 1897 Steinway upright, which I bought soon after my daughter started piano. Because I shared a sitter with a neighboring family, Nat would watch when their two kids had lessons; when she was 4, she asked if she could start them herself. I was delighted—I believe all kids should study piano and learn to read music, at least for a couple years. In elementary school, I took back-to-back piano and violin lessons (like Nat, it was my own choice; I didn’t have a Tiger Mom). And so it went—scales, chords, etudes, Ode to Joy, Fur Elise, Tarantella, Pachelbel, the standard child’s repertoire. Piano performances with other kids, where Nat and I sometimes played duets. I hadn’t touched the keys in decades, but once we got Archie I fell in love all over again (Chopin! Brahms! Beethoven! Joplin!) and connected with the joy and sorrow in the music in a way I never could as a tween.
It was hard work for Nat. It was also a wonderful process of discovery, accomplishment, pride. And it was fun. When we got the refurbished Steinway we learned the tradition was to name it after the model number—in our case, a Model R. We lived with it for a bit before we decided it was a He. But we couldn’t come up with a name that fit. The old guy wasn’t a Robert, Ricky, Raul, Reggie, Rocky or Rudy. Finally, one day in the car Nat piped up from the back seat. “I got it!” she said. “R-chie!” Brilliant, if I say so myself.
The pieces got longer and harder; so did Nat’s homework assignments. I had to cajole and nag her to play. Month after month, I could see her patience fading. She wanted to get practice over with rather than working on those difficult passages over and over until they flowed under her fingers. I gave her the option of quitting, no blame, no shame. She said no, but she never played on her own. So finally I made the decision for her, and after 7-plus years the lessons ended. Both of us were more than a little teary. We miss our wonderful teacher Elizabeth, (as do our cats, who would lay at her feet during lessons), but we are now dear friends and will stay in touch. I’m using the music money on concerts, plays and exhibits, exposing Nat to as much art as possible. And I’ve told her to take good care of dear old Archie after I’m gone, so he’ll be there for her kids—and for her to rediscover, just the way I did.
Written on May 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm , by Paula Chin
I spent the past couple months binge-watching Friday Night Lights—all 76 episodes of it. I’d heard how great it was, but c’mon—high testosterone teens playing football in Texas? Not my thing. But one cold winter night I called up the pilot on Netflix. I was smitten—with gruff, beleaguered coach Eric Taylor, his plucky, resilient wife Tami, the high school hijinks, the tragic accident at the big game. Never has small town life–in all its ordinariness and glory–been so wonderfully captured. FNL is about so many things—the bittersweetness of growing up, dreams fulfilled and shattered, the blessings and burdens of our loved ones, issues like class and race. It’s warm, funny, heartbreaking, exhilirating. Just like real life.
I felt only slightly guilty indulging myself night after night while my 12-year-old, Nat, slouched over her homework. Not that my addiction escaped her. One evening she asked what I was watching and why I loved it so much. Then, when I had finished the incredible 5th season finale (Kleenex pls!) she asked if I would rewatch it with her. We’re now finishing up the first magnificent season, and it’s been an amazing bonding experience. Not surprisingly, Nat’s big into the Taylor family drama. Mr. and Mrs. Coach bicker and fight, but their marriage is as solid as it gets. Daughter Julie is a smart, petulant 15-year-old in the throes of first love. No doubt Nat is watching Julie looking for clues and cues to her own future—and enviously eyeing Julie’s locker at Dillon High (Nat’s school doesn’t have them). Like me, she’s even grown to like football…well, kinda.
What shows have you and your tween bonded over? Do you have a huge crush on Coach, like me?