Sunday, July 31, 2011

Parenting Experts?

I have been parenting since before that was even a verb. We didn't parent 20 years ago, we just had kids and took care of them. Parent was a noun. Because we had no internet and no cell phones when my daughter was born, I relied on plenty of experts when I faced troubles. Baby couldn't sleep? Read T. Berry Brazelton. Nursing troubles? Call the hospital's nursery hotline. Locating an expert often involved a trip to the library, questions of the research librarian, perusal of periodicals and sometimes long distance phone calls. It sounds so romantic and quaint now but it was terribly time consuming.

With newer and faster technology came the ability to retrieve information instantly. And there were loads of people lined up to provide this information. Gone were the days of requiring old-fashioned things like "credentials" and "education." The anonymity of the internet, and the change from books to inexpensive e-publishing contributed to today's new parenting experts. Today, anyone with a keyboard and internet access can call himself an expert. Turning expertise completely upside down, it is the act of writing a book which creates an expert, rather than the other way around.

Among some of the newest experts on the topic of raising children are Alex and Simon (Silex) of Real Housewives of New York infamy. According to Simon's website, their brand new book is a he said/she said look at how these Brooklyn parents are raising their two boys. I have seen several episodes of this reality television show and not once have I thought to myself "Wow, those two are super parents. I hope they write a book." Watch for yourself and see. Never mind that neither parent has any background in child development, yet they published with confidence a book about raising children. In an interview with Time Out magazine, Alex was quoted as saying,

"I don’t think anyone out there is a parenting expert. Nobody’s got all the answers and it’s silly to pretend that anyone does."

Just because someone doesn't believe in experts doesn't mean they don't exist. To paraphrase a line from the film The Santa Clause, you may never have seen a million dollars but you know that it exists. Of course, I don't pretend to be a million dollars just because you may not know what it looks like. defines expert as "a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority." The term expert does not imply that one possesses all of the answers to life's questions. Skills, knowledge, and even experience used to contribute to expertise. Is this no longer true? I long for the days when authorities read books and studied a topic.

I recently attended a workshop about parenting vegan kids, which was right up my alley! I hoped to pick up some tips, ideas, new recipes for my 12 and 15 year olds. The two sweet and lovely speakers each had only one child: one four year old and one infant! A parent of one breastfeeding baby was acting as an authority on vegan parenting. One year olds can't even say no. I actually found the advice adorable, in the same way I chuckled when I heard the mom of a toddler exasperatedly sigh "Potty training is the hardest part of parenting." Any parent who has raised children through best friend breakups, first loves, learning to drive, and college admission may think that bigger challenges lie ahead.

And while I'm on the subject of parenting challenges, I am wary of mommies carrying babes-in-slings spouting their homeschool philosophies. Not that they aren't entitled to have such philosophies, but until their children reach (at minimum) school age, their opinions are best kept quiet. As a homeschooler of 4 entering my 15th year, I just roll my eyes childishly when I hear a mom of a toddler lecture others about the best educational method.

Ah, but those good old days. Just remembering all those quaint styles of the late last century, such as grunge music, Thelma and Louise, and Bruce Willis with hair makes me nostalgic. But I suppose there's no turning back time. Just this week, scientists (experts in the field of science) proved that time travel is in fact impossible. So I must learn to live in this century of self-proclaimed parenting experts who have almost ONE entire year of experience. I can only hope that I don't run into any parenting issues more difficult than potty training.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vegetables You May As Well... Keep Eating

While waiting for my tea to steep several mornings ago, I like millions of others, turned to the internet. On Yahoo's homepage, I saw a headline, "Vegetables You May As Well Skip" (Amy Paturel, Self magazine, July 13, 2011). Wow, I thought. That is a bold headline at a time with record-breaking obesity rates and new governmental guidelines recommending more fruits and vegetables in the daily diet. I clicked on the headline and was directed to the article in Self Magazine.

I respect the author's good intentions, and concede that perhaps Self Magazine readers are the type who will accept her recommendations to eat the most nutrient-dense vegetables available. But I suspect that in the wider internet audience that there are more people: college students, people on low budgets, the unadventurous, and fast-food lovers, who will instead hear the advice as permission to stop eating pesky, worthless vegetables completely.

The first offender was celery. Its offense: low vitamin content. Its appeal: crunch, low calories, high water content. Celery is a convenient, high-fiber dip delivery system. Celery's crevice is the perfect place to fill with peanut butter. In soups, stews, and curries, celery is a flavor staple alongside onions and garlic. Yet the recommendation was to skip celery and eat carrots instead. True, carrots are loaded with beta-carotene. They are also tasty in dip. But carrots are higher in natural sugars than celery. Eating a variety of different colors is a healthy way of getting nutrients, and there is a reason dips are often served with both celery and carrots. They complement each other. Is there some reason we can't eat both?

The second offender: the cucumber. The offense: low vitamin content. The appeal: crunchy, refreshing, easy-to-find. The cucumber was the protagonist in a risque book comparing itself to a man (and coming out the winner). Though not as dark green as kale or nutrient-dense as spinach, cucumbers are not a waste of time. Their mild taste appeals to children. Spread with hummus or tossed into a salad, cucumbers add fiber and few calories. They are readily available, even found in convenience stores. People without access to whole natural food markets have no trouble buying them. As a snack, cucumbers are healthier than trans-fat laden crackers or chips. But the laughable alternative to cucumbers mentioned in this article was purslane. Go back and read that sentence again if you need to. Purslane.

Where cucumbers are abundant, purslane is the opposite. As an experiment, take a survey of the first five people you encounter, asking them to describe purslane. Could a majority correctly identify it as an exotic weed with smooth reddish stems, tiny alternate leaves and yellow flowers? I agree that purslane's omega 3's, Vitamin A and Vitamin C are superior. Realistically, the likelihood of my 18-year old son or his friends replacing cucumbers in their diets with purslane is nil. More than likely, he would eschew the cucumber at the salad bar and go for a bread stick instead.

The third, and perhaps least respected vegetable offender: iceberg lettuce. The offense: being the American cheese of vegetables, and maybe sinking the Titanic. The appeal: tasty on burgers and sandwiches, sold as salad in fast food joints and diners, recognizable. Ideally, Americans would all replace their iceberg lettuce with darker, healthier romaine. But I fear that after reading about iceberg's apparent lack of nutrients, Americans will choose a side of fries over a side salad. That is definitely not an improvement.

Advertising messages bombard us loudly and constantly to eat high-calorie, high-fat, salty, sugary, processed junk foods. My little blog voice is a whisper in comparison, but I would like to shout that EATING CELERY AND CUCUMBERS IS FINE!

Enjoy your celery, cucumbers and iceberg. Eat them with gusto as part of a diet rich in varied fruits and brightly colored vegetables. I am off to find a bunch (bushel? peck?) of purslane.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harry Potter and The End of An Era

Julia looked around her cleared out bedroom, threw an overstuffed plaid duffel bag over her shoulder, and grabbed the last book of the Harry Potter series to re-read in the car. This was the day we moved her into her dormitory at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst for the first time. She tossed her curly red hair and rushed past me. I said, "Jul, I haven't read that one yet." She responded, "Can't you read it on Kindle?" Biting my lip, I tried not to cry. I snuggled up to her face, standing on tiptoes, and instead of kissing her cheek, blew a raspberry on it like I did when she was a toddler. She scrunched her nose and giggled, like she did then. Only this time she was humoring me, knowing how dreadfully I would miss her. My firstborn was leaving home, taking with her a huge hunk of my life.

That was two years ago. Now Tommy, 18, is counting down the days until he moves across the country to begin work as a personal trainer.

When Julia was 8 years old, Tommy was 6. We had been homeschooling for two years already. 3 year old Anthony and newborn Jack required most of my time and attention. So when I had heard about a book about a young wizard named Harry Potter, I splurged on the hardcover at once. Wanting to give attention to all four children, I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone aloud from the rocking glider while I nursed the baby each night. Julia and Tommy sat rapt as Harry learned that his parents who had been killed when he was an infant were both wizards. Potter was invited to attend Hogwarts, an academy for wizard children. Locked up under the stairs each night, Harry was unaware that an owl was delivering him invitation after invitation to attend the school. Despite his muggle (human) aunt and uncle's attempts to destroy every correspondence, Harry was personally visited by Headmaster Dumbledore and Hagrid, a sweet giant, who escorted him to Hogwarts. Julia and Tommy appreciated the story more than the little ones. Bravely, they did not fear the evil villain Voldemort as much as they did Harry's nasty aunt and uncle. On the rare night that I was too tired to read, Julia and Tommy refused to allow my husband to take over, because "Mommy knows how to do all the voices." Thankfully, this was before they had heard the audiobooks, which utilized authentic Scottish accents in addition to British. My Hagrid sounded slightly like he was from Alabama.

The following year, we took a family trip to Europe, traveling between countries European-style on the train. To pass the tedious hours and to keep everyone relatively quiet, I read aloud from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rowling's second book, while my husband walked the aisles with toddler Jack. Harry discovered his special talent of speaking with snakes when he communicated with a python through the glass in a zoo enclosure. Several days later during a visit to Paris' Parc Zoologique, Julia and Tommy whispered to the snakes through the glass, attempting to recreate the scene. To my immense relief, neither spoke parceltongue.

Book Three was released on the day we held a garage sale. Tommy and I took a break from haggling over prices to buy the book immediately. I started reading it as soon as the last customer had handed over their quarter. I read until I was hoarse. All of us worried together about the ominous Sirius Black hunting Harry, until we discovered that he was actually Harry's godfather, and we dreaded the dark, soul-sucking dementors. When playing together, Julia, Tommy and Anthony frequently called "Expelliarmus!" on each other, putting a spell on each other which caused them to drop their imaginary wands. We talked about the world of Harry and Hogwarts as if it were real, while going about our mundane muggle errands like food shopping.

Harry, and his friends Ron and Hermione became family friends. Harry's first girlfriend Cho coincided with Julia becoming a teenager. She was as interested in this new facet of Harry's life as she was in her own. Still children, the boys noticed a difference in their sister. Julia, Harry, and the Hogwarts gang were changing.

As each book came, even though the children were perfectly capable of reading it independently, they waited for me to read it to them aloud. Book 4 was long enough to keep everyone's interest during a 6-hour plane delay at a French airport. In fact, we even attracted other weary travelers who surrounded us as I read.

When she was fourteen, Julia picked up the original book and read it silently for the first time. It was the first book she ever actually enjoyed, she said. She devoured each successive book again and again, as did Tommy. By the time Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (6) arrived, I read the book to just Anthony each night. Tommy read it independently on the day of release. At the end of the book, when Dumbledore died, Anthony and I wept.

Book 7 arrived to much fanfare, as we all knew it was to be the final in the series. Harry Potter would graduate from Hogwarts and go off into the wide wizard world on his own. This was the last time we would spend with Harry, the Weasleys and beloved Hagrid. Julia finished the book first, then Tommy, then Anthony. I never read it. Reading it to myself seemed lonely. I was not ready to say goodbye to Harry and the gang.

Each of these books was turned into a film, and tomorrow night is the opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2, the very last one. As always, Julia, Tommy and Anthony have tickets to the 12:01 showing. For the first time, Jack and I will attend with them. As sad as I was to take Julia to college, and to say goodbye to Tommy, I actually read the book this past weekend. It was time for me to face it: this part of our lives is over. Like Harry, Tommy and Julia must go off to begin their own, independent lives. Even if I had destroyed their acceptance letters like Harry's aunt and uncle (why didn't I think of that???), Julia and Tommy would grow up. They wouldn't need me to homeschool them, or read aloud to them, forever. It is what I and my husband always wanted for them, and how it is supposed to be. I am proud that they are moving away from the tight homeschooling community into a larger world, but I am not ready to close the book on them, or Harry. I look forward to reading these books to my future grandchildren.