Father’s Day x 10


Today I officially celebrate my tenth Father’s Day. My oldest child is only 8 1/2, so you may wonder how that’s possible, but in June of 2007 when my wife was five months pregnant she presented me with this on Father’s Day. So that makes this my tenth celebration of Father’s Day as a father.

I have two children now and neither one of them has ever declared their delight in my library profession (or in archives and records management, where I’ve worked since 2008). This is okay as that’s probably not going to win them many cool points.  I do love Father’s Day though.  As someone with a birthday in late autumn it’s nice to have a summery day to celebrate on,  and my children always make me feel special.

Before I had children, I was concerned that I might not be a good father. This is partially because I’m an anxious person in general and partially because I did not have the best example in my own father. He was prone to anger and was abusive. He worked long hours and traveled a lot, so as a child I could go long hours without seeing him. When I was 8 my parents separated permanently and then were divorced. Around the same time my dad began suffering the effects of a particularly debilitating version of multiple sclerosis and so in my later childhood my sister and I would visit him in the nursing home and need to help him with simple tasks. He died when I was 17.


I do have good memories of my father. While its cliche, we watched sports together on tv and he took us to many games and it formed a nice bond. He also took us on trips to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and California and helped spur my love of travel and visiting museums and historic sites. Despite being a Nixon Republican, he got us the Free to Be .. You and Me album, which probably informed my young political identity. Most importantly, he wasn’t one of those men who couldn’t express their emotions and frequently told me “I love you.”

So in November 2007, this happened

and now I was a dad!  There have been some challenges – lack of sleep, a constantly messy house, a near end to “alone time,” and temper tantrums – but being a father is overwhelmingly positive

 

Since it’s my tenth Father’s Day, here are ten great things about being a father:

  • Hugs – there is no shortage of physical affection for a dad, and my kids are some of the best huggers around
  • Shared interests – it’s fun to see the kids taking an interest in doing things I love to do like watching sports and visiting historic sites (just like my dad!) or riding bikes and visiting zoos
  • Their interests – it’s also fun to see what the kids become passionate about.  My son became a fan of Magic 106.7 and thus I learned that Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, and Pitbul actually have some good songs.  My daughter likes comic book heroes and movies and thus I’ve caught up with the rest of the world a bit on what this whole Avengers thing is about.

  • Children’s books – name a classic children’s book and there’s a good chance I didn’t read it as a child, because even though I was a bookish nerd, I focused on history and biography. Fatherhood has given me a second chance to read for the first time Goodnight Moon,Where the Wild Things AreHarold and the Purple CrayonThe Snowy DayAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and a whole bunch of Beverly Cleary books, plus many more.
  • Children’s tv – don’t tell the Gen Xers who share memes about how great childhood was in the 70s and 80s, but children’s tv is a lot better today than it was then.  I’ve enjoyed watching many shows with my kids including Bob the Builder, Curious George, Shaun the Sheep, Dinosaur Train, Paw Patrol, The Magic School Bus, Clifford, Thomas and Friends, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Mighty Machines, Doc McStuffins, and that old standby Sesame Street. Plus, my kids have shown only a passing interest in the annoying Dora and Diego shows, so we dodged that bullet.
  • Kid’s eye view – it’s wonderful to see things from a new perspective where things like riding the MBTA can be an adventure.  Plus, on a recent visit to the zoo, I literally got down to my daughter’s eye level and saw some birds I wouldn’t have seen from my tall daddy perspective. They also can bring a spectacular imagination to the mundane.

 

  • Play – oh the kids love to play, and while I may complain of being tired and achy, I love to play with them.  In backyard baseball, I discovered I was suddenly able to throw and catch a ball, at least with a small child.  And bathtime can be an adventure involving the activities of many toy sea creatures.  Pretty much anything can become a game. And when I’m really tired, climbing on a prone daddy can still be fun, so I can still be involved.
  • The introvert advantage – so get this, I go to a social function and I don’t have to talk about myself or justify my existence to anyone, I can just talk about the kids.  And when I’ve had enough of the adults, I can just leave them and go play with the kids!  Who knew that being a father could be an antidote to social anxiety?
  • Watching them grow up – every age has its wonders and both kids were unspeakably cute as babies, and while I miss a lot of what they were like when they were little, I continue to be amazed by watching them grow and learn and create identities for themselves.  I think it will only get better.
  • Kindness – at a baby shower someone asked me what I hoped for my son and I replied “I hope he is kind.”  I stand by this, and it warms my heart when I see my kids helping out at home, school, or church, when they try to take care of us when we’re down, when they show concern for the less advantaged, and especially when they are kind to one another, overcoming that sibling rivalry.

So that’s my tenth Father’s Day post, and I’m looking forward to many more.  To all the dad’s out there, as Ralph Kiner would say, Happy Birthday.  And to all of those who are missing their dads or never had dads they could miss, you’re in my thoughts.

Book Review: Up : a mother and daughter’s peakbagging adventure by Patricia Ellis Herr


Author: Patricia Ellis Herr
TitleUp : a mother and daughter’s peakbagging adventure
Publication Info: New York : Broadway Paperbacks, c2012.
Summary/Review:

This book is the author’s story of taking up hiking with her 5-year-old daughter Alex and deciding to hike to the top of all 48 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Herr relates some of her early mistakes and some unexpected dangers (a sudden thunderstorm on an exposed peak or a violent bird on a trail).  On and off the trail, Herr must face the judgment of others who think that Alex is too young to be participating in White Mountain Hikes. But she also receives a lot of support, including from a kilted hiker who goes by the name MadRiver, who becomes their greatest ally despite claiming not to like children. Alex troops onwards and upwards and in less than two years becomes one of the youngest people to ever summit all 48 peaks (although Herr is never specific about whether Alex is the actual youngest).  The message is that anyone can do it, although in my most cynical moments reading this book I’d have to append that anyone can do it if they’re prosperous enough to home school, buy a second home in New Hampshire, and acquire thousands of dollars of hiking gear and clothing (the author is positively steeped in privilege and doesn’t seem to be aware of it).  That being said, the heart of this book is the story of a mother and a daughter enjoying themselves outdoors in one of my favorite places, and the blessings of experiencing things through young eyes.

Recommended booksGrandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery, The Appalachian Trail Reader by David Emblidge, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: How To Raise a Wild Child by Scott D. Sampson


Author: Scott D. Sampson
TitleHow To Raise a Wild Child
Publication Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Summary/Review:

Dr. Scott of Dinosaur Train fame wrote this book about how parents and other concerned adults can inspire children to “Get up, get outside, and get into nature.”  This grew from the concern over the increasing disconnect of children from nature – known as “nature deficit disorder” – that has negative consequences both for children’s development and for the environment.  Sampson writes of his philosophy and gives tips on how parents can share their love of nature, mentor them, and help them tell their own stories.  It’s a great book, probably worth a reread to distill the advice to practical everyday use.
Favorite Passages:

“Our present dysfunctional worldview is founded on an erroneous perception: the existence of humanity outside nature. Despite the fact that nature provides the raw materials for our economy and that we clearly live on a finite planet, economists continue to regard the natural world as a subset of the economy, and speak of limitless growth. Yet the opposite is clearly true: our economy is a part of nature, as evidenced by the dramatic economic effects caused by topping ecological limits. A second, closely related perception is human dominion over the natural world. Seeing ourselves as external and superior to nature, we feel entitled to exploit natural “resources” at will. Adrift in a sea of objects, we’re left without any meaningful home, let alone a desire to protect and nurture the places we live.”

 

“In this book, my use of the term wild child refers to something entirely different—a child sharing deep connections with nature and people. Both kinds of connections are literally impossible without healthy mentoring from adults. We are social beings and, as we’ll see, connections with the natural world are strongest when a youngster has multiple mentors. Nature connection thrives alongside people connection.”

 

“Among mammals, only the Norwegian rat even approaches the global range of humans, co-occurring with us on every continent except Antarctica (though, it must be added, rats accomplished this feat by hitching a ride on our ships).”

 

“When many people think about helping children to connect with nature, they imagine themselves striding purposefully out into the wild, child in tow, to teach the youngster how to chop wood or use a GPS or go fishing or whatever. Certainly some elements of mentoring entail exactly this kind of one-on-one instruction. But the vast majority of the time, it’s best to follow the child’s lead. Kids of every age have innate longings that manifest themselves outdoors. Your job is to determine what those longings are and feed them. So, difficult though it may be, the better option most of the time is to push gently from behind rather than to pull from in front. Take your cue from the original Mentor, guiding from the back of the boat. Your reward will be watching the child’s eyes light up with curiosity, propelling him to the next mystery.”

 

“In the end, nature mentors take on three distinct roles. First is the Teacher, the person who conveys information. Second is the Questioner, the one always seeking to ask that next query to pique curiosity and engagement. Third is the Trickster, the clever Coyote who hides in plain sight, able to leverage a child’s longings to stretch edges. The most effective mentors limit their role as Teacher, focusing instead on embodying both Questioner and Trickster. The great news here is that you don’t need to be an expert. The bad news is that you’ll often need to stifle the urge to offer answers and think instead about how you can extend the learning experience with a provocative question.”

 

“But here’s the most important thing. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will spark your child’s passion for nature more than your own embodied passion for the natural world.”

 

“So if we continually exchange matter with the outside world and if each of us is a walking colony of trillions of largely symbiotic life forms, exactly what is this self that we view as separate? You’re more bipedal colony or superorganism than isolated being. Metaphorically, to follow current bias and think of your body as a machine is not only inaccurate but destructive. Each of us is far more akin to a whirlpool, a brief, ever-shifting concentration of energy in a vast river that’s been flowing for billions of years. You’re not merely connected to nature through the web of life. You’re interwoven with it, living in constant exchange with the natural world through your skin, your breath, your food, and the countless microbes on and in your body.”

 

“Consider this thought experiment. If you were tasked with designing the ideal learning environment for children, do you think you would ultimately opt for four-walled rooms where students are required to sit quietly for long periods, ingest streams of facts in one-hour gulps, and endure incessant testing in hopes of receiving good grades? Whatever your answer, I’m quite certain that few kids would vote for such a system.”

 

“In contrast to the careerism (“learn to earn”) model of schooling currently dominant, place-based education is grounded in values such as community, sustainability, and beauty—promoting exactly the kind of radical shift required if we are to renew the human-nature bond and preserve a viable planetary ecology and economy. Innovative educators have shown again and again that local surroundings provide an engaging context to communicate virtually any topic, from history and math to reading and science.”

 

“One of Sobel’s mantras is “No tragedies before fourth grade.” Too often we teach young children about climate change, species extinctions, and vanishing habitats before they’ve even had a chance to connect with the natural world. Rather than engagement, the result is often alienation, with children feeling a great sense of loss and pessimism about the future. So, before we burden kids with the crises of our time, let them establish a bond with nature. Once they care, protection will follow.”

 

“Seek out stories from the lore of indigenous peoples native to where you live. These tales are frequently grounded in local nature: plants, animals, and landforms. They often convey memorable narratives of how particular animals got their names, of plants used for medicinal purposes, and of places held sacred. And they typically embody a spirit of deep nature connection, with humans fully embedded in the web of life. One example is North American Indian Tales, by W. T. Larned. Think about using stories like these as an entry point to understanding the native peoples that lived in your region prior to the arrival of Europeans.”

 

“Several years ago, I received a phone call from an executive at the Hollywood-based Jim Henson Company. She told me that they were creating a new educational television series aimed at preschoolers, with dinosaurs as the main hook, and she asked if I’d like to get involved. The ensuing conversation went something like this: “What’s it going to be called?” I asked. “Dinosaur Train,” she replied. “What?” I stammered. “You can’t call it that.” “Why not?” she asked calmly. “Because dinosaur paleontologists like me have to remind people regularly that humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time. Sticking them together on a train just perpetuates the myth.” “No problem,” she said. “We’re only going to put dinosaurs on the train.” I paused, took a deep breath, and blurted out, “Well, that’s just brilliant.”

 

Recommended booksFifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids by Rebecca Cohen, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv,  Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn


Author: Alfie Kohn
TitleThe Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting
NarratorAlfie Kohn
Publication Info:Tantor Audio (2014)
Summary/Review: The current generation of children are often described by the media, politicians, and even parents as entitled and narcissistic.  Alfie Kohn shows through his research that 1. similar statements have been applied to children for centuries, 2. there’s no evidence to show that these statements are true for any generation, and 3. strategies and policies for parenting and education formed by a belief that children are particularly “spoiled” today are actually harmful to children.  This is a fascinating book that offers a lot of research that shows that parents and teachers are actually too controlling.  There’s an idea that life is all about competition and the kids “better get used to it now” which forces children to experience everything as a competition rather than a learning experience.  As Kohn succinctly states “Competition undermines achievement,” which is something our leaders and policy makers fail to understand especially when it comes to children.  Definitely a must-read book!
Recommended booksReign of Error by Diane Ravitch,  Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood by Steven Mintz, and Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Fifteen Minutes Outside by Rebecca P. Cohen


AuthorRebecca P. Cohen
TitleFifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids
Publication Info: Sourcebooks (2011)
Summary/Review:

This book exists because parent Rebecca Cohen asked herself: “What if I got outside every single day, and what if I could get my kids to come along? It would be easier to pull this off in the middle of summer, but what if we did it all year round, no matter what the weather was like?”

This book provides a different activity for children and parents to do outdoors for each day of the year.  The book presumes one has a large yard and a mild climate (the author lives in Virginia), so one may have to adapt a few things to one’s own circumstances.  Cohen is also really into gardening so probably about a quarter of the suggestion have to do with planting, weeding, and harvesting vegetables.  Nevertheless, this book is chock full of creative suggestions to make spending time outdoors a fun daily activity varying by season.  As a parent, it’s good to have a reference to help get started because sometimes you just can’t think of a convincing reason to go outside, especially when it’s too cold or too hot.

I listed some of my favorite suggestions below.  One may also download  “50 Outdoor Activities for Busy Families” from Cohen’s website (email required).

Cohen also provides a number of websites to go to for more ideas:

Favorite Passages:

“While your kids are outside enjoying sunshine and physical exercise, why not have them exercise their imaginations as well? Encourage them to climb a hill and pretend it’s Mount Everest, build a fort with tree branches, or prepare a pretend feast using leaves as plates and wild berries as the main course. Ask them about stories they are reading at school and at home, and join them in acting out their favorite parts. Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series is perfect for this, but there are hundreds—even thousands—of great children’s books (and movies and even video games) to draw on. Folk tales like “The Three Little Pigs,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” and “The Gingerbread Man,” or children’s favorite board books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury are a great place to start.”

“Close your eyes and have your child lead you to a tree. Use your senses—touch, smell, and hearing—to learn all you can about your tree. The bark will have its own texture, tiny buds may be forming on branches, and the trunk will be easy or hard to get your arms around. With your eyes still closed, have your child lead you back to where you started. Open your eyes and try to find your tree. Now it’s your child’s turn!”

“A female entrepreneur once told me that when she was a kid, her mom would tell her to sit under a small tree and have small thoughts, and then sit under a big tree and think big thoughts. Try it with your kids, and have fun discovering what each of you thinks about.”

“Some days are so dreary, you find yourself wishing for even a little brightness and beauty. Trust me, even in February, it’s out there—but sometimes your family has to work together to find it. Bring in everyone’s perspectives and head out to find something that is beautiful. Each person’s job is to look until they find something in nature that they like and to share why.”

“Red-tailed hawks mate in March and April and usually make their nests in the tallest trees, and they might even take over a nest that a great horned owl used in January and February. I learned this tip from David Mizejewski, naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. And sure enough, for several days in March I heard loud and unusual birdcalls. When I looked up, there were hawks locking talons in flight. Find out from your local nature center when to look for hawks.”

“As the leaves fill the trees, it may not be as obvious that there are large sections or large branches that have fallen from trees. As you walk, notice fallen branches; see if your child (perhaps with your help) can find which tree a specific branch fell from by looking.”

“A cousin in France once said that she did a sociology experiment in college and asked people to purposefully look up and around for a day. What she found was that it not only opened people’s perspective to the physical beauty around them, but also to a more psychological openness of possibilities. Take this idea into play with your child when you walk outside and start looking at what is above your eye level, and take turns pointing out what you see.”

“This one is adapted from a tennis camp game, and it works whether you have two people or ten. The “coach” throws a tennis ball across an imaginary line to each person standing and lined up in a row facing the coach. If you do not catch the ball each time the coach throws it to you, you lose a limb (e.g., put an arm behind your back, then stand on one foot or sit down, until finally you have no limbs left and are out). The last person left wins and becomes the coach.”

“Pick a day every week to go out to the same spot with a notepad and pencil and write about or draw the changes you notice that are taking place in nature. Or keep a notepad and colored pencils in the car for your child to sketch the changing landscape as you travel around. Have them present their art to you, and write down their story beside their art if they can’t do it themselves.”

Recommended booksGet Out!: 150 Easy Ways for Kids & Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland
Rating: **

Book Review: Get Out!: 150 Easy Ways for Kids & Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland


Author:  Judy Molland
Title: Get Out!: 150 Easy Ways for Kids & Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland
Publication Info:  Minneapolis, MN : Free Spirit Pub., 2009.
ISBN: 9781575423357
Summary/Review:  This book is a short reference book with a list of 150 suggestions of what children and families can do to experience nature and participate in environmental conservation.  I was a bit disappointed that the book is literally a list with just a few paragraphs per item and that it is less about “what kids can do outdoors” than “things you can do to save the Earth.”   Not that that is a bad thing, it’s just there are many other books on that topic.  Still, this could be a good reference to keep on hand for parenting ideas regarding nature and the environment.
Rating: **

Lilac Sunday


Jamaica Plain continued welcoming in the spring with Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum.  We took some time to pedal our bikes and sniff the petals.  Here are a few photos.

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Related Posts:

Concert Review: Alastair Moock


Today my family & I attended a special performance by singer/songwriter/folk troubadour Alastair Moock at the Children’s Music Center of Jamaica Plain.  Moock, himself a father of four-year-old twins, entertained both his young audience and their parents with selections from his album A Cow Says Moock, some new songs, and some timeless children’s classics.

I have some of Moock’s albums and from his gravelly voice I imagined he would be a grizzly, gruff-looking type, not the clean-cut man we saw before this.  His voice is still pretty incredible though with a lot of expression.  He an easy manner performing for the children and did some clever tricks like singing “The Alphabet Song” backwards.  He was very receptive to his audience whether it be the boy who asked him to play a song on the banjo next or my own son’s insistence that there be a kitty cat on the bus saying “meow, meow, meow!”  Moock’s original songs are folk ditties with clever word play.  Highlights include a song about “Belly Buttons” set to a Latin beat and a song about “Spaghetti in My Shoe” that name checks various forms of pasta and footware and then is repeated as Ramones-style rave-up.

The audience was up and dancing for the most part.  My son chose to quietly contemplate the music but sang along with the familiar standards like “Old McDonald’s Farm,” “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad,” “The Wheels on the Bus,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and “You Are My Sunshine.”  Moock fit a lot of music and a lot fun into a one-hour show.

Related Posts:

Book Review: Young Children and Spirituality by Barbara Kimes Myers


Author: Barbara Kimes Myers
Title: Young Children and Spirituality
Publication Info: New York : Routledge, 1997.
ISBN: 0415916550

Summary/Review:

This book disappointed me mostly because it was not what I expected – namely a book that would help me as a parent understand my child’s spiritual needs.  This book is more of a psychology and childhood development book.  Kimes Myers has a broad definition of spirituality within the realms of family life, community, school and multicularism.  It’s an interesting book, but not being in the author’s intended audience I didn’t find it easy to comprehend or apply to real life.

Rating: **

Sesame Street at 40


Today is the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street which debuted on November 10, 1969.  I’m dedicating my posts for the rest of this week in tribute to this pioneering children’s show that is one of my all time favorite television programs of any genre.  I was part of the first generation to watch Sesame Street back in the 70’s and now I’m watching it again with my son.  The show has changed much over 40 years as has the way we watch it.  Peter & I have never watched an actual full episode together but rely on clips from the Sesame Street website and YouTube as well as Sesame Street DVD’s.

Related post: Book Review: Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis

Here are some clips of Sesame Street’s finest moments:

An early opening with the famous theme song shows some distinctly urban scenes.  At a time when cities were falling to ruin and thought to be scary it was nice to see how fun they still were:

The Muppets are the stars of the show and some of the best segments are when they interact with ordinary kids.  Here is Herry Monster counting with John John:

Of course, the Muppets were great all on their own.  Grover teaches us the difference between near and far in this famous skit:

Sesame Street also is the source of many a memorable song.  My son & I sing Ernie’s “Rubber Duckie” pretty much every night at bath time:

When actor Will Lee died in 1983, Sesame Street acknowledged the death of his character Mr. Hooper in what may be the saddest six minutes in children’s television history:

Kids who grew up in my generation were endlessly frustrated that the adult characters on the show would never believe Big Bird when he talked about Mr. Snuffleupagus.  Snuffy was finally revealed in 1985 at a time when Elmo was first becoming a prominent character:

Speaking of Elmo, Big Bird, and Mr. Snuffleupagus, my son loves this song.  I admit it’s rather catchy:

More posts and more memories to come this weekend.

Alternate coverage on the Sesame Street anniversary:

Book Review: The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.


Author: Harvey Karp, M.D.
Title: The Happiest Toddler on the Block
Publication Info: New York, N.Y. : Bantam Books, 2008.
ISBN: 9780553805215

Summary/Review:

Karp’s follow-up to The Happiest Baby on the Block offers very practical advice to parents for dealing with the toddler years of 1 to 4 years old.  I think it’s an even better book partly because it avoids the “infomercial style” of writing and is a more practical manual.  The basic gist of the book is that when a child starts to throw a tantrum the parent should acknowledge what is upsetting by repeating back it back (“the fast food rule”) and to use a simple vocabulary of words called “toddlerese” that toddlers will understand most when they are upset.  This book doesn’t have all the answers, for example, what to say to your son when you have no idea what is making him upset.  Overall though I found it a book with useful advice and practically organized.

Rating: ****

Old MacDonald’s Farm


I often find myself idly surfing the net and making discoveries of something from my past. Recently, I became reacquainted with Old Macdonald’s Farm, a place in Norwalk, CT that I loved to visit when I was very young.  Before being closed and replaced by a corporate office park, Old Macdonald’s Farm had:

  • an old-fashioned country-style restaurant that looked like it was in a barn with the booths decorated as stables (complete with the names of horses on plaques over the booths)
  • a candy store with lots of different types of penny-candy including every imaginable flavor of candy sticks.
  • a petting zoo with goats, sheep, cows and other farm animals.
  • a small amusement park with a train ride and other rides that appealed to small children

When it closed, I was heart-broken, especially since a covered wooden bridge was preserved to connect the very modern office park to its parking lot.  My younger self cursed the corporate suits who destroyed this little bit of Americana every time I passed and saw that bridge.  Okay, maybe not, but it was some similar emotion.

There’s not about Old Macdonald’s Farm on the web, but I found a couple of photos.  I was awestruck by how the photos look just as I remember.  The first picture is of the restaurant from a website called Cardcow which collects old postcards.

Vintage Postcards from Cardcow.com
Wow! The pot-belly stove, the rafters, the farm implements, the barrels, the checkered table cloths -- all just as I remember!


Cardcow.com

The next picture is from a photo blog called Serendipitous by a woman named Kathy Chiapetta.  The photos appear to be scanned from a 2005 Darien Times article which is not available online.  The one thing I don’t see in any of the photos is a big waterwheel that impressed me as a child.

This picture looks like it was taken well before I was born, but otherwise it's pretty much how I remembered it. I was convinced that these stalls were actually once used by horses.

Thanks for indulging me. If you have memories and pictures of Old Macdonald’s Farm please let me know.
Previous Trips Down Memory Lane:

Arnold Arboretum’s Lilac Sunday


I hesistate to put “Lilac Sunday” into the title of this post since I didn’t see any lilacs on my visit.  Susan, Peter & I took a lovely Mother’s Day walk on a sunny, blustery day and arrived at Arnold Arboretum fairly early in the morning.  This is a good time to get there on Lilac Sunday before approximately 3.25 kajillion people descend on the Arbortetum.  Peter received a lovely tatoo of the Earth with flowers and a recycling logo and immediately set to work on removing it with his teeth.

Next we joined Arnold Arboretum curator Michael Dosmann lead an excellent tour to the lilacs (“just to the lilacs, not of the lilacs” he specified).  We learned fascinating things about maples, lindens and tulip trees.  After the tour I chose to luxuriate in the grass while Susan chased Peter up and down the hill to the lilacs.  So my family saw the lilacs on Lilac Sunday while I lay splayed in the grass photographing buttercups.

I will have to return on a less-crowded day this week to visit the lilacs.  Until then, here are my photos from Sunday, 100% lilac-free.

Previously: Lilac Sunday, YEAH!

Commuting with kids in Boston


I’ve hesitated to write anything on this blog from a parenting perspective since I’m such a novice parent, but after 17 months as Daddy I think there’s one issue I can write about and maybe actually be helpful:  commuting with kids.  Or one child at least.  My son Peter has been riding the T since he was three weeks old and for the past seven months he & I have made the daily commute from Jamaica Plain to Allston where he goes to child care and I go to work.

Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurence.
Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurrence.

Riding the subway to bring Peter to child care has many obvious advantages: save money, save gas, reduce auto exhaust pollution, et al.  Developmentally I think it is also much more interesting for Peter.  He could sit in a car seat in the back of a car (facing backward before he turned one) and have not much to do for half an hour, or ride the subway for 45 minutes where he gets to watch and interact with numerous people and read books and play with toys with Dad.   Turns out, Peter loves the T.  He loves to wave and say hi to people, and especially has fun making faces at other children on the T.  I find myself in conversations more often with my fellow passengers as well, who often seem delighted by a little boy in this grown-up world of commuters.  In fact, if I were a single dad I don’t think I’d be one for long because Peter particularly likes to flirt with women. Mostly, I enjoy the company.  It’s a lovely way to begin and end each work day spending time with my little boy.

Stroller vs. Carrier

One of the first things to consider when taking children on public transportation is how to carry the child.  A carrier of some sort – a sling, frontpack or backpack – can be a good option.  On a crowded subway it’s definitely the sleeker option less likely to create a hindrance for other passengers.  Plus one can take full advantage of the stairs and escalators instead of looking for the often hidden, sometimes broken elevators.

When Peter was very little my wife and I carried him in a Maya sling and it worked quite well.  When he got bigger I tried a backpack and liked it for all the reasons mentioned above.  One day I noticed women taking pictures of us with our cellphone as I stood hanging on to a strap with Peter on my back.  I turned my head and saw that Peter was also holding a strap which made us so photogenic.  Unfortunately there were downsides to the backpack as well.  Peter was constantly losing his hats, gloves, and shoes or his nose would get runny or some other problem that was difficult to address without taking off the pack.  And taking off and putting on the pack on a moving train is not a safe or easy thing to do.  I was also constantly afraid I was going to whack some other passenger and/or Peter when moving in tight spaces.  Throw in some back problems and the back pack was not for me.  A front pack of some sort may make a better option and will definitely be something to look into for a future child.

So I use a stroller, a sturdy not overly-large MacLaren.  The stroller takes a load off my back and makes it easier to see that Peter is all put-together as well as interact to play with toys, read books or just hold hands when we’re tired.  Unfortunately, the stroller can be a bit bulky and get in people’s way, and I’m afraid I’ve run over more than one set of toes trying to steer it in tight spaces.  Sometimes on the Red Line in the morning I have to let a train (or two!) pass by because they are just too crowded for me and a stroller to fit.  This is why I loved the Big Red seatless cars but apparently they’re not running them anymore.

Riding the elevators adds a bit of time to the commute and they’re  not always in the most intuitive locations.  For example, if riding the Red Line toward Ashmont/Braintree and wanting to transfer to the Orange Line to Forest Hills, one must get off at Park Street and walk down the pedestrian tunnel to the Orange Line platform at Downtown Crossing.  Heading the other way, one must exit the turnstiles at Downtown Crossing, walk down the Winter Street Concourse, reenter the turnstiles at the other end and take the elevator down to the Red Line (makes me wonder if a person in a wheelchair who doesn’t have a Charlie Card link pass to have to pay to get back in, which doesn’t seem to fair).  This actually isn’t all that inconvenient just not the most obvious route to make a transfer.

Overall, once I’ve learned where all the elevators are and the best spots in the car to go with the stroller (all the way at the end so I don’t get in the way of aisle) I think the stroller has been very positive for me and for Peter.  As I mentioned above most of the other passengers seem to be very welcoming to an infant on the T, and often people offer me a seat.  That’s one courtesy I never expected anyone to share with burly, 6’1″ man in the pink of health!

Problems and Potential Pitfalls

While my commuting experience with Peter has been overwhelmingly positive there are a few problems to watch out for:

  • Other passengers – My greatest fear going into this is that I would encounter people who would find Peter too noisy, too distracting, or otherwise too bothersome to their commute and they would let me know about it in no uncertain terms.  Blessedly this has not happen as people have been mostly friendly and helpful or at least hold their tongue.  One grandmotherly type actually read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to Peter and a young man told me Peter was the highlight of his day. There was one occasion when Peter was five months old when a woman told me that T was too dangerous and I should get a car (which defies logic since automobile crashes are a leading cause of death in the US).  Even though that was upsetting, she actually said it in a way that made it seem that she thought she was being helpful.  I’ve yet to meet the truly nasty person on the T which makes me more trustful of my fellow humans.  Still, I worry because of
  • Meltdowns – For whatever reason – because he likes other people, hanging out with Dad, or the soothing rhythm of the rails – Peter is usually pretty happy when we’re on the T.  But he has his bad days.  He particularly doesn’t like it when the subway car gets overly crowded and like many a commuter he complains when there are delays.  One morning he had a complete meltdown while we were stuck for an interminable amount of time between Central and Harvard and I had to contend with trying to soothe him and worrying about how he was affecting the other passengers.  Stressful to say the least. All babies cry, and there’s no foolproof way to prevent this, but I believe distraction is the key – have toys, teething rings, books, or anything the child loves on hand.  Sometimes with Peter it’s as simple as turning the stroller in a different direction so he has someone else to look.  Again, other passengers are my friends offering a silly face or a tissue during my times of need.
  • Buses – The subway is very workable for commuting with a stroller but I’ve all but given up on the bus.  The narrow aisle on the newer models leaves nowhere to put a stroller out of the way, and folding up the stroller and holding Peter isn’t very feasible either.  Perhaps with a less active child that might work.  Route 66 especially is a nightmare.  Route 39 has a nice spot for strollers in the bendy section, but there’s no guarantee that you can actually get down the aisle to that point when it’s crowded.

So that is my experience commuting with a child on the T.  I hope the suggestions are useful to any other parents out there.  If you’re thinking about taking the T with your own children and wondering if it’s worth the hassle, I say go for it.  I find it rewarding in ways I never imagined.  If you have any questions or suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments or email me at liamothemts AT gmail DOT com.  I’d particularly like to hear from parents about their experiences with an older child or with multiple children on the T.

Concert Review: Tunes, Tales & Tricksters


On Sunday, the Forest Hills Educational Trust and Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston presented a family concert in the lovely Forsyth Chapel called Tunes, Tales & Tricksters. The theme of the concert was stories, conversations, and communication through music.

Hans Indigo Spencer narrated the event by telling stories about the pieces and involving the children through questions and answers. Spencer also composed a great piece about a lonely cello looking for a friend at school. The music was interesting and accessible to children — even my 7-month old boy who was rapt in attention by the drums during “She who sleeps on a small blanket” — without being too cutesy for adults (my son did get fussy during the narration parts though).

Another example of why Forest Hills Cemetery is one of the great venues for arts and culture in Boston

The program included:

Richard Strauss
Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders! for clarinet, bassoon, French horn, violin, and double bass

Martin Rokeach
Six Questions for violin and percussion

Ned Rorem
Katherine from “After Reading Shakespeare” for solo cello

Kevin Volans
“She who sleeps on a small blanket” for solo percussion

Jean Damase
Conversation for clarinet and bassoon

Hans Indigo Spencer
“Conversations with a Cellist” for cello solo
with clarinet, bassoon, French horn, violin, double bass, & percussion

Lilac Sunday, YEAH!


First, an explanation of the title. Lilac Sunday is an annual event at Arnold Arboretum celebrated this year for the 100th time. 8 years ago Susan and I were walking through Central Square in Cambridge talking about going to Lilac Sunday and maybe sending lilacs to our mothers for Mothers Day. At this point, the man walking in front of us turned around, looked right in my face and said “YEAH!” He then turned around and resumed his stride as if nothing happened. To this day I don’t know if he liked the idea or if lilacs didn’t agree with him. Regardless, neither of us can talk about Lilac Sunday without interjecting a random “YEAH!” here or there.

After 8 years of being typical Somervilleans who avoided long trips across the river, we could not avoid Lilac Sunday since the Arboretum is next door to our current residence. The first thing we noticed about Lilac Sunday is that it attracts a lot of people, especially babies, and dogs. I’ve grown accustomed to the solitude of walking Peter through the Arboretum on weekday mornings so the crowds were a bit overwhelming. Still it was a nice day to inspect the lilacs, sniff their aromas, and relax in the grass.

Peter checks out the lilacs.

Lilacs up close.

Another type of lilac. What do you want, I’m a librarian not a botanist!

This is not a lilac. It’s called Orange Quince, but we did not have runcible spoons.

This also is not a lilac, but it sure is pretty to see blossoms against the blue sky again.

People, people everywhere. And trees, yes there are lots of trees in the Arboretum.

Adam at Universal Hub posts links to other bloggers’ commentary on Lilac Sunday.

Book Review: The Happiest Baby on the Block


The Happiest Baby on the Block (2004) is a self-help book for new parents to help soothe fussy babies recommended to us by several of our fellow new parents. Harvey Karp, M.D., whom our pediatrician calls a “goofy genius,” puts together a package of skills to help calm even the fussiest of babies.  While he often refers to his methods as a “new way” they are rooted in ancient human traditions and the physiological needs of the infant.  The cumulative effect is to make the baby experience the feeling of a safe and comfortable womb.  This is due to the fact that due to evolutionary changes in the birth canal and the size of the baby’s head, human infants are actually born three months earlier than the ideal period of gestation (read Thumbs, Toes, and Tears to find out why).  Dr. Karp refers to the baby’s first three months as “the fourth trimester.”

The means of inducing the calming reflex in a fussy baby are the 5 S’s:

  • Swaddling – tightly wrapping the baby to replicate the womb and prevent him from upsetting himself.
  • Side/Stomach position – while holding the baby, not when putting the baby to bed.
  • Shushing sounds – a natural talent for a librarian that recreates the constant white noise in the womb.
  • Swinging – steady but vigorous jiggling that creates a soothing motion for the baby.
  • Sucking  – on a pacifier or a parent’s finger, soothing in the same way that he feeds.

I’ve found this book very helpful with our baby, although sometimes you have to do the 5 S’s for a long time to prevent fussiness from returning.  While the content of the book is useful, the presentation needs work.  A lot of the book reads like an infomercial (“soon you’ll find out the NEW method that will calm your baby!”) complete with testimonials from happy customers (“I can’t believe our baby calmed down right away. Thank you Dr. Karp!”).  While some of the parents’ comments are useful as case studies much of that and the infomercial set up could be cut out and the whole thing could be made into more of a workbooks with lots of illustrations on how swaddle, swing, and otherwise soothe your baby.  We also have the DVD of Happiest Baby on the Block which is useful for seeing how to do it, but I think a workbook version of the book would be a great resource.

Book Review: The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn


Another book about babies. This one is thankfully free of gory details. Instead The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, & Patricia K. Kuhl examines developmental psychology in children. It turns out that babies are a lot like scientists in the ways they interact with their new world and test assumptions. Or maybe scientists are like babies because it is in our earliest years that we first develop our capacity for learning.

The authors examine how babies recognize other people and themselves, differentiate objects, and develop language. They also have instinctive means to train adults and older children to help in their development. This book is a lot of fun and a fascinating read.

Favorite Passages:

It may be some comfort to know that these toddlers don’t really want to drive us crazy, they just want to understand how we work. The tears that follow the blowup at the end of a terrible-twos confrontation are genuine. The terrible twos reflects a genuine clash between children’s need to understand other people and their need to live happily with them. Experimenting with conflict may be necessary if you want to understand what people will do, but it’s also dangerous. The terrible twos show how powerful and deep-seated the learning drive is in these young children. With these two-year olds, as with scientists, finding the truth is more than a profession — it’s a passion. And, as with scientists, that passion may sometimes make them sacrifice domestic happiness. – p. 38.

The two most successful examples of human learning turn out to be quite similar. Children and scientists are the best learners in the world, and they both operate in very similar, even identical ways, ways that are unlike even our best computers. They never start from scratch; instead, they modify and change what they already know to gain new knowledge. But they are also never permanently dogmatic — the things they know (or think they know) are always open to further revision.

While the idea that scientists are like children might seem surprising at first, it helps make sense of some otherwise puzzling facts. Scientists, after all, have the same brains as the rest of us. And science is convincing because, at some level, all of us can recognize the value of explaining what goes on around us and predicting what will happen in the future. … Why would we have such powerful learning abilities if we never even used them back in the Pleistocene? …

Our answer is that these abilities evolved for the use of babies and young children. – p. 156-7

Reviews:
BrainConnection by Anne Pycha

NEA by
Marcia D’Arcangelo and Andrew Meltzoff.
Science Blog

Somerville Works Together Against Child Obesity


My hometown made the front page of the Wall Street Journal on May 10, 2007 (As Child Obesity Surges, One Town Finds Way to Slim: Somerville, Mass Goes Beyond Schools to Push Exercise, Good Eating by Tara Parker-Pope). I do love how they characterize a densely-populated urban area as a town.

Anyhow, it’s good to learn things you don’t know about your own community from nationally-published media. It sounds like an intelligent program that’s achieving excellent results.

The Somerville study is believed to be the first controlled experiment demonstrating the value of a communitywide effort. It’s only a small dent, but slowing the pace of weight gain among kids is the key to conquering childhood obesity, says lead author Christina Economos, an assistant professor at Tufts University. “It could be the difference between graduating overweight and graduating at a normal weight,” she says. “We need to think about how it plays out long term.”

The Somerville program, designed primarily by Dr. Economos and fellow researchers at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, offers a surprising blueprint. It didn’t force schoolchildren to go on diets. Instead, the goal was to change their environment with small and inexpensive steps. Dr. Economos, a specialist in pediatric nutrition and the mother of two school-age children, has long believed that the battle against obesity can’t be fought at the dinner table alone but requires social and political changes.

For inspiration, she turned to other successful social movements of the past 40 years, analyzing tobacco control, seat-belt use and breastfeeding. All were thorny public-health problems lacking a quick fix, yet significant progress was made on each. In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded Dr. Economos a $1.5 million grant to find out whether the same social forces could work in nutrition.

The goal of the researchers’ Shape Up plan was to have Somerville children burn more calories through exercise and take in fewer with a healthier diet, for a total benefit of 125 calories a day.

I’m particularly pleased by the efforts to encourage walking to school. I live next to an elementary school, and each day a convoy of cars jam up the streets of our neighborhood as parents drop kids off. This bothers me for several reasons:

  1. All the wasted gas and emissions caused by driving kids to school when numerous other options are available. School buses, for one, would be more efficient. Walking and public transit are even better.
  2. The congestion caused by all those cars. Again school buses would reduce the traffic, but the roads are narrow so they still might cause obstructions. Thus walking and public transit are still better options.
  3. <cranky old man voice> When I was a boy I walked 3/4’s mile to elementary school every day! Why when I was in middle school I walked nearly a mile just to get to the bus stop. Kids these days! </cranky old man voice> A true cranky old man would add “And we liked it!” to the end, but I’m young enough to remember that I hated it, especially when it was cold. Still I do see parents walking their children to school and that looks like fun for everyone.

Anyhow, I need Mayor Joseph Curtatone to advocate for programs to help me lose weight too.