Restraining Order Against Barbie

I’ve just filed a restraining order, and I’ll admit I got some odd looks when I handed in a form with:

First Name: Barbie

Last Name: Doll

Last Known Address: ToysRUs.com

Sure, it was awkward to serve papers to an 11.5″ plastic doll, but I had to take steps to protect my daughter.

It was bad enough when Barbie was whispering little gems like:

“Try Bulimia. It makes people love you.”

and

“Empty-headedness is an aphrodisiac (giggle, giggle).”

The last straw was her new book about software engineering. It was originally entitled “I Can Sleep My Way to the Top”, but when a test group complained it was unclear which industry she was sleeping her way to the top of, Mattel renamed it “I Can Be a Software Engineer” .

Here’s a brief synopsis of the plot:

  • Barbie tries to design a computer game and ends up destroying 2 laptops by downloading viruses (Women are so adorably incompetent.)
  • Barbie realizes she needs the help of her 2 guy friends because all she can do is design the game. She needs real programmers (men, of course) to do the actual programming.
  • Barbie’s male friends fix the laptops and the game, and Barbie takes all the credit!
  • Barbie eats a banana, to fill in the blanks for adults who are wondering why no one called her out on taking credit for other people’s accomplishments.

barbie2

Programmers and parents quickly recognized the stupidity of the book’s message.

What they didn’t realize was that the book is just a decoy, meant to distract us from the equally harmful message of the accompanying doll.

barbie

At $135, that doll is designed to reinforce the message that “You can be a programmer, too! ….. (If you’re an upper middle class white person who can afford expensive gadgets.)”  They didn’t bother to release the non-white versions of that doll, since it would undermine their bigotry.

Barbie, I sentence you to no less than 200 hours of community service teaching Scratch to underprivileged youth, plus a fine equal to the cost of providing one Raspberry Pi computer to every low income girl in the United States who has ever played with a Barbie doll.

Lick-and-Go-Seek and other Kidventures

I’m not embarrassed to admit that if I didn’t have kids, I probably would have spent the entire day on the internet. I would have started off tying to do something productive, and ended up reading about Honey-Boo-Boo’s mother.

My monkey-brain just cannot resist the temptation of clicking to enlarge the image of a woman with 7 chins.

As I was working through a Project Euler problem (yes, I’m sticking to that story), my children were plotting against me.

My daughter’s strategy was the classic Guilt Trip.

“Mommy, can you play with us?” (puppy dog eyes)

“Mommy, I have to tell you something.” (sign language: “I” + “Love” + “You”)

“Mommy, can you play with us now?”

My counter-attack of “Sure. Just 10 more minutes…Almost done…. Give me another 10 minutes” was working pretty well on Cece, but Daniel wasn’t fooled. He knows a stall tactic when he sees one.

Daniel is a little less risk-averse, and doesn’t mind doing a stretch in Time Out for a good cause. His tactic was to push my computer out of the way, climb on my lap, and attempt to lick me in the face.

That boy knows my weakness.

Two minutes later I was tearing around the corner, dodging stuffed animals lobbed at my head, tongue wagging out of my mouth, screaming “I’m going to lick you!!!!”

Lick Tag quickly evolved into Lick-and-Go-Seek, followed by Swiffer-The-Floor-by-Wearing-My-Children-Like-Snow-Shoes, and finally Dissolve-Into-a-Pile-of-Giggles.

Swiffer Child

Swiffer Child

If the downside of having kids is that you don’t always have the freedom to do what you want to do, the upside is that sometimes what they wanted to do is more fun anyway.

Welcome to Kindergarten and Congratulations! You’re the Dumb Kid.

“Welcome to Kindergarten. You’ll be playing the role of the Dumb Kid. Give it a few weeks, and you’ll have built a life-long hatred of learning.”

Yep, that’s what’s happening every August in a public school near you.

Little Jimmy’s parents thought he’d learn his ABC’s in Kindergarten, so it never occurred to them to teach him.

20 years ago, kids were carried into their first day of school in traveling pet cages. Kindergarten consisted of teaching us not to bite each other or throw feces. First grade was for learning one’s own name.

Kids in Kennel

Kindergarten Circa 1995

Then educated parents began to realize that learning shouldn’t wait until the age of 5, and more and more kids started showing up in Kindergarten having already read Moby Dick in the original French (“Le pénis de Mobois”).

Then there are the other kids– the kids with immigrant parents, uneducated parents, or parents who just didn’t get the memo entitled “You are a Complete Failure if You Don’t Produce a Child-Genius”.

Those kids show up on the first day of school, sit next to the kid who’s writing an orchestra in pink crayon, and wonder why they’re so stupid.

Meanwhile, the school labels those kids “ADHD”, slaps a muzzle on them, and goes on celebrating the accomplishments of the so-called “smart kids”.

In my daughter’s school, they placed each child’s picture next to the number of sight words they know. There’s a small cluster in the “less than 5” group, a huge cluster in the “20-50” group, and a small cluster in the 200+ group. It’s all about how many words they ALREADY know–not how many they have LEARNED.

You probably think I’m whining because my kid is on the “less than 5” board. Nope. Just the opposite.

I have to admit, my first reaction was, “Yay! She’s on the 200 board!”….and then I met the mother of one of the kids on the under 5 board. She hates school. She thinks she’s dumb. Actually, she’s a really smart kid, but good luck convincing her now.

The thing is…I’m not sure what’s happening to my daughter is any better.

My daughter gets praised for knowing things that she knows only because I’ve been teaching her since she was 2. She ends up loving school, which is great, but also being terrified of doing anything she’s “not good at” (a.k.a not experienced with).

I don’t have a solution. Educated parents will always give their kids an edge, but I do know that schools need to start listening to the science and start praising kids for what they have learned instead of what they already know.

Your Tax Dollars at Work Putting Native-English-Speakers in ESL

I have chosen to keep my daughter in ESL (English as a Second Language), despite the fact that English is her first language. I apologize for the fact that your tax dollars will be paying for that, but as you will see, I had very little choice about it.

First, let me explain how a native English-speaker ended up in ESL:

My husband is Mexican-American, and speaks both English and Spanish at a native level. I was born here, but am nosey and stubborn, and when I was 16 I decided that I didn’t want anyone ever to have to translate for me. Within a few years, I was also speaking Spanish at a native level.

When we had children, we were determined to raise them bilingual. The catch was this: my husband and I were accustomed to speaking only English to each other, and habits are hard to break.

As awkward as it felt, from the first day of my daughter’s life, we spoke Spanish to her. I remember speaking to her in Spanish the first time I held her in my arms. It felt forced and unnatural. I continued to do it anyway.

We knew that she would be surrounded by English, and the risk of her English crowding out her Spanish was very real. Seeing our nieces and nephews, who looked Hispanic but would go cross-eyed the minute you said “Hola”, kept us motivated.

Eventually we relaxed and let the English slowly creep in.

My daughter’s linguistic evolution has been fascinating to watch:

1 yr old: Completely mixes the languages, doesn’t realize that some people only speak one language, composes sentences such as “Esta es una bird.”

1-1/2 yrs old: Still mixing languages mid-sentence, but reacts with surprise when an English-speaker talks to her in Spanish, or vice-versa.

2 yrs old: Monolingual sentences, speaking to people in the correct language

3-5 yrs old: English gradually dominates, Spanish stagnates. Can translate effectively from Spanish to English, but struggles with the reverse. Reads well, but only in English.

Up until she was about 2, I wondered if her English would be good enough for Kindergarten. By the time she was 3, it was clear her English was as strong as that of any monolingual child her age.

That was why I was surprised when, one month into Kindergarten, I received a note from the school. The note–written only in Spanish–said they had tested my daughter and determined she needed ESL.

What???!!

I completely hit the roof. Who told them to test her anyway? Did they just look at her say, “Well, her last name is Torres. We should probably put her in ESL.”

When I spoke to the school, I discovered that:

  1. They are legally required to test the English level of any child who speaks another language
  2. My daughter didn’t pass because her listening skills were just below the mark (Kindergarteners are known for their listening skills.)
  3. Regardless of what I say, do, or throw at them, they will continue to test my child yearly and harass me about putting her in ESL
  4. If I do nothing, she will not be taken out of class, but will have a teacher sent into her class who will give her individualized attention
  5. I can sign a waiver to keep her out of ESL, but the only thing that will accomplish is to prevent her from getting some extra attention in a sea of anonymous students.

I don’t want my child in ESL. I’m quite unhappy that she has been inappropriately classified without my consent. I am also too busy to take on the entire school system right now, and I don’t see the point of depriving her of some extra (if completely unnecessary) attention.

I should mention that this has happened to at least 8 other families I know. Some of those cases are far more ridiculous than my own (some of the children only speak English.)

So again, I apologize. This is just one more way your tax dollars will go to waste.

Toddler Chess Part 2: The Balancing Act

Right now, I’m kicking myself, and hoping I haven’t killed my son’s interest in chess.

The irony is that earlier today I complained to my teacher that he was “teaching to the top of the class.” We have some students with heavy programming backgrounds, and those of us who don’t have technical backgrounds occasionally feel left in the dust.

I went home–a whole 3 hours after that conversation?—and proceeded to do exactly what I had just complained about….with my own children.

Kick–Kick–Kick!!!

Teaching my daughter is effortless and instantaneously rewarding. Two games ago, she learned to think one move ahead. Now she’s able to occasionally think 2 moves ahead. I don’t care who you are–that’s exciting to watch! (Shut up and agree.)

Cece Chess

Deep concentration.

While basking in the glory of that satisfying “my kid is a genius” delusion–I missed the cues that my son was getting bored.

I didn’t mean to play favorites. In general, I try to delude myself equally about the genius of both of my children.

Still, it’s infinitely more satisfying to teach a patient 5-year-old than a squirmy 2-year-old.

To quote my classmate Diego, “Don’t judge me.”

I love my little boy, but sometimes he can be a Wild Bohemian Land Shark. (You’ll understand when you meet him.)

DanielChess

Wild Bohemian Land Shark at play.

That being said, I meant to spend time with both of my children, and I’m not ready to give up on Daniel’s chess career just yet.

I’m declaring tomorrow Land Shark Day.

Tomorrow, I’m busting out the Knights and the sound effects, and hoping to get my son back on board.

(“Clickity clickity clack, red-hee-hee!”)

 

 

Teaching Toddlers Chess

I’ve just started teaching my kids, Cece (just turned 5) and Daniel (almost 3), to play chess. I decided to teach them after seeing how much Cece enjoyed an impromptu game of chess with her grandfather, (“Bito”).

I didn’t expect Daniel to take to anything that required sitting and following instructions, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Mommy’s attention is at a premium these days, and apparently it’s worth sitting for.

To keep things simple, we’re starting with just the pawns.

pawn

 

After about 6 games, I’ve set these goals:

Cece (5yrs):

Cece

  1. Learn that losing at chess is good (and not something to get upset about), because you learn more when you lose than when you win
  2. Learn to see all the available moves
  3. Learn to think one move ahead

Daniel (almost 3):

daniel

  1. Learn to only touch his own pieces, and not to purposely make illegal moves (yes, he does that)
  2. Learn how the pawns move and capture (Very hard to evaluate since he likes to pretend not to know things, just to be able to do the  opposite of what you want him to do)
  3. Learn to love chess, even if it requires following directions

Me (just barely 21–my license has a typo)

  1. Make it fun for everyone, including me

Cece just looked over my shoulder and asked,

“Why are you writing about ‘Teaching Toddlers Chess’? Oooh, look! My name! What are you writing about me?”

I should not have taught that child to read.

“Because I Said So”: 10 Alternatives We Wish We Could Use

“Put on your shoes.”

    Why?

“Stop picking your nose.”

   Why?

“Stop asking me why.”

   Why?

“Because I told you so!” 

 

The problem with “I told you so” is that it doesn’t satisfy anyone. The child doesn’t get to know why, and the parent doesn’t get to…well, to shut the kid up.

Here are 10 alternatives that could, perhaps, satisfy the child’s curiosity (or, at the very least, shut him up):

  1. “Because I’m going to lose my mind if you don’t.”
  2. “Because I’ve already lost my mind. I only sound normal because this answer was cued for output 10 minutes ago.”
  3. “Because Daddy said so. (You should probably ask him why).”
  4. “Because Natural Selection is real, and your chances aren’t looking so good.”
  5. “Because of the unicorns.”
  6. “Because, ‘LOOK! A balloon!’
  7. “Because ‘Why?’ is a naughty, naughty word.”
  8. “Because some species eat their offspring. I’ll just let that sink in.”
  9. “Two words: ‘Santa…..Claus’.”
  10. “Because, congratulations, you have reached the last sane response in cue.”

So, um…I’m going to let you try those out. Get back to me if anything works.