In Memorium

It just came to my attention that William F. Buckley, author, thinker, and conservative icon, has passed away.  I know this is a little unusual, since I don’t ordinarily use this space for such reflections, but I just wanted to take a moment to pay my respects to one of the world’s great gentlemen.

I first came across Mr. Buckley’s writings during my college years, when I was immersed in my semi-lefty politics of trendiness.  (To my everlasting embarrassment, I did things like vote for fringe third-party candidates and may have even used the term, “the man,” in all seriousness.)  In this situation, to encounter Buckley’s depth of thought and witty eloquence was . . .well . . .a little frustrating frankly.  It gave me the sinking feeling that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that I was expressing myself poorly to boot.

Since that time, I’ve recognized the shallowness of many of my former positions and started treating politics and issues of policy with the seriousness they deserve.  (That is, sometimes they deserve to be taken utterly seriously, and sometimes they deserved to be laughed at until they collapse.)  I may not always have agreed with Mr. Buckley’s positions–though over time I found myself increasingly influenced by his arguments.  I somehow doubt that this reflects him becoming considerably more liberal.  Regardless, I have always admired the principle and rigorous thought that went into his arguments.

Most of all, however, I admired his writing.  To some extent it may be a matter of taste, but one can go a long time before finding another author with such a strong and precise command of the language.  I was forever in awe of the craftsmanship that seemed evident in his sentences–in his honor, I’d really have to describe his writing as lapidary.  (A word a learned from one of his articles and never thought I’d get the chance to use in real life.)

I did not know Mr. Buckley or his family, but I offer them my deepest condolences.  We have lost a great man, and our country and our language is poorer for it.

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This Just In….Teens Are Moody and Tweens Swear!

From the files of “tell me something I don’t already know”, comes this study. The headline is sure to catch the attention of every parent of a teen, or tween for that matter: “Teen Brain May Be Wired for Moodiness”.

I could have told them that! In fact, they could have videotaped my morning today for a wonderful example. One minute we are happily eating breakfast and the next my 13 year old is grabbing her backpack and huffing out the door as her friend arrived to walk to school. The instigating event: her sister had asked her to move her backpack from the breakfast bar so she could have room to eat, and my 13 year old felt that request was “inconvenient”. It was a lovely family moment.

Softpedia has a great summary of other brain changes in teenagers that explain just about every behavior we’ve all seen in teens from poor judgment to impulsiveness. The part you’ll love the most is this:

“It is not known exactly what marks the transition from adolescence to adulthood. The end of puberty, or sexual maturation, is well defined. It is the point when bones stop growing, at around age 16 for girls and 17.5 for boys. But for adolescence, the transition from childhood to adulthood, there is no clear endpoint.”

Following close behind in teen news, is this posted on MomLogic today. This may surprise you, that tween swearing is on the rise. Keep in mind that tweens are 8-12 year olds. Having a tween at home and a very new teen, who only months ago was a tween, I can attest to the validity of this observation. Keep in mind that kids are sponges for what their peers do so even if you have the cleanest language at home, they will talk the talk of their buds at school. Kids this age want to fit in and to fit in means to sound the right way.

So, what’s a mom and dad to do? Help them develop a filter so that the potty mouth doesn’t become a bad habit. Do so by example but also by pointing out to them how other kids sound when they talk that way. Perhaps allow some “safe” words once in a while but draw the line on words that are clearly dirty, degrading or just down and out evil.

By the way, there are role models in pop culture for some rather funny ways to let off steam without cursing. In Hannah Montana they say “sweet niblets” instead of curses and all of us have started saying that in lieu of more colorful words.

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Taking On the School

Working with parents–mostly moms, actually–who are concerned about their son’s school performance, it has become increasingly clear to me that one of the biggest hurdles that parents face when trying to improve their son’s grades comes in communicating with teachers and school officials.  Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t bad teachers or apathetic principals out there, but the vast majority of teachers and education professionals that I’ve met have been dedicated and concerned about helping their struggling students.  Now, there’s probably a bit of a reporting bias at work here, since teachers who contact me or come to one of our presentations are probably inclined to be concerned about boys issues.  And yes, my own sister is a teacher, and having seen her try to balance her concern for at-risk kids and her many responsibilities to the school, so I like to give most educators the benefit of the doubt–that they are usually concerned but overwhelmed and not necessarily in possession of the tools or flexibility to change their classroom.

So one of the first questions I always ask when people come to us for help is what happened when the talked to their school.  Unfortunately, had the early conversations with the school gone well, there wouldn’t have been much need to contact us.  That’s why I have to stress that when you go to speak with the school about your son’s educational difficulties, it pays to be prepared.  Take examples of ways that they can help make their classroom more boy-friendly.  (For example, ask about opportunities for your sons to release restless energy or what kind of reading content they’re working on.)

And, if your complaints aren’t getting through, remember that there is power in numbers.  Unite with other parents who have similar concerns and go to the administrators with the changes you’d like to see, whether it be an improved mentoring program, the introduction of some single-sex classes or programs, etc.  (As a side note, it helps if you’re willing to support and help the school in these objectives.)  It’s a lot harder to ignore a coalition of local parents than just one.

But remember, the point here is to ally with the educators in helping boys do better, not treat them as obstacles.  Unless you get one of the few bad apples, of course.  Incidentally, we’ve been getting so many requests for help with this situation that I’m attempting to put together an introductory “help kit” for parents with suggestions on how to approach educators and tips on creating boy-friendly classrooms.  As always, we can use your help, and a donation to assist in the creation of these kits (as well as any pointers or advice from educators or experienced parents), would be greatly appreciated.

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Betrayed by BPA (Bisphenol-A) containing Nalgene Bottles

Ever since I headed off to college, and started hiking out west, I have been drinking from my Nalgene bottle. All through college, schlepping a bottle to class and on countless backpacking and camping trips, my trusted Nalgene was there. I even remember one very cold, long backpacking trip where I filled a Nalgene with hot water, and slept holding it in an attempt to stay warm.

Then they came out with the lovely skinny necked bottles. I used those all through grad school and in my first years of teaching. I used them until a few years ago when I first heard about Bisphenol-A in polycarbonate (#7) plastics. When I searched for a new water bottle, I was surprised to learn that our local sports store still only carried the colorful new (although toxic) bottles. And I was seeing toddlers using the smaller, equally snazzy ones everywhere.

I thought at least the BPA would only leech out into water at high temperatures. Then I read this post by Enviroblog, citing a study that showed BPA (an endocrine system disrupting chemical, linked to cancer and brain development problems) leeching into water at room temperature.

I felt betrayed. All those years. I guess I am mostly a lost cause, growing up in the 80s with all our Velveeta and Steak-ums (sorry, mom), I am probably full of preservatives and chemicals. But at least we can limit our kids’ exposure to BPA, and hopefully it will be banned for use in plastics that come into contact with humans soon.

Despite mounting research to the contrary, Nalgene insists their products are safe. They even cite the American Plastics Council as a reliable resource (no conflict of interest, there–).

For more information see the other BPA articles listed under Labels.

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Tell Corporations How you Feel about Recalled Toys and Product Safety (and reform the CPSC while we’re at it)!

I recently discovered a fantastic non-profit group called Parents for Ethical Marketing. According to their website, PEM is…” is a new grassroots organization of parents and others concerned about corporate marketing practices directed at young children.” They have some sobering statistics about the media and raising kids on their homepage, and they have an exciting opportunity for parents to give their feedback to companies who make, sell and market products to our children.

Apparently, PEM was contacted by a representative from Vision Conscious Brands, which represents corporations who are interested in having a positive social impact. They want to hear from parents about product safety, toy recalls, and other environmental, social and economic issues we are concerned about.

To read the call to action on PEM’s website, . You’ll see questions from Shari Aaron of Vision Conscious Brands, and at the bottom you can write your answers as comments on the blog, or email them at lisa (at) parentsforethicalmarketing.org.

Thanks to Parents for Ethical Marketing for this opportunity. I hope you will join me in adding your 2 cents.

And- I just noticed on their blog a way to take action in support of the CPSC reform act, from Consumer’s Union.

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Forgetfulness in Expecting Mothers

With each pregnancy I found myself getting more and more forgetful.  Having a baby meant losing very vital brain cells, and after each baby it seemed to get worse.  I am not sure if sure if I ever regained my memory completely, but I think after several years I am almost back to normal, unless I just forgot what normal was.

Luckily, I am not alone.  At least 80% of all women say that they become more forgetful during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester and that it continues even after delivery.  According to a recent study in Australia expectant mothers probably are more forgetful.  Based on their research, pregnancy turns pregnant mothers into 60 year olds, at least when it comes to their memories.  They say that women can become impaired for at least a year after giving birth.  Researches do not know why this happens.

If you are pregnant and forgetful, just keep in mind that you are normal, and that some day along with your body, you may get your mind back.

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Tell me Your Stories about Lead in Children’s Products (and I’ll share it with people who can do something about it!

I just got an email this morning from Elliot Burg, Vermont’s assistant Attorney General, about testifying in support of a bill that would prevent lead poisoning of children by exposure to lead in consumer products. It would be the toughest anti-lead bill in the nation, and in the absence of federal legislation limiting lead exposure, the states are left to go it alone to protect their kids. It’s a great bill that would significantly reduce the exposure of kids to lead from consumer products we all know are still out there, on store shelves. I’m thrilled to support it and hope I can help.

His email motivated me to do some more research about lead in children’s products to prepare for my testimony. I found some fantastic resources, I wanted to share with you. If you know of any others, please post a comment and link. I will be testifying at the end of next week, and will keep you all posted.

Also, do you have a personal story about lead poisoning from consumer products you could share with me? It would help if I shared some stories from parents who have a personal experience about the problem of lead in toys, bibs, and other items we use with our kids. Sharing a personal story or perspective would make this issue more real and pressing for lawmakers. Please forward this to anyone you know who has had experience with this issue, and I can share their story with the legislature. Thanks in advance!

I found these great resources:

Made in Deadly China This is a website all about our dysfunctional and highly suspect relationship with China and the many problems with the health and safety of consumer products and food.

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Sick, Twisted and Cruel, and Putting Your Kids at Risk

Meghan Goss over at the Humane Society of the United States shared with me a horrifying undercover video detailing the outrageously cruel treatment of sick and weak cattle in the Hallmark Meat Packing Plant in Chino, CA. These already sick and dying cattle were forced to stand, so they could be “processed” meaning, slaughtered, by torturing them in myriad ways. According to the video (which I could not bear to watch) and Goss, this included “shocking the cows with electric prods, jabbing them in the eyes, shackling and dragging the cattle, ramming them with blades of a forklift, and spraying high pressure water into the cows’ mouth and nose” to simulate drowning. Now this is shocking, unethical, appalling and must be stopped. Read the full story from the Humane Society of the United States here. But it doesn’t end there–

It turns out that this plant is a major supplier of for the National School Lunch Program. That means the meat in your child’s school, that is supplied by the government (which is most of it) could be from this very plant. Why might this put your child at risk? Downed cattle (cows too sick or weak to stand) are 58 times more likely to carry Mad Cow disease, according to the USDA. Yes, you read that right– 58 times more likely. And, these cows are more likely to carry pathogens such as E.coli and Salmonella, which kill hundreds of Americans each year.

If that wasn’t enough, the meat from this plant is also most likely to reach the most vulnerable among us. The Hallmark Plant supplies meat for other federal programs that benefit the poor and elderly who could be exposed to harmful pathogens and disease from consuming this meat.

After yesterday’s release of this footage, the USDA banned the Westland Meat Co. (who apparently owns and operates this plant) from supplying meat to the National School Lunch Program. The Humane Society encourages the USDA to go farther and shut down the plant until it passes a through inspection for safety (and humanity, I hope–). I couldn’t agree more. Here is the link to that story.

Thankfully, several members of Congress were outraged and calling for action as well. Read some of their thoughts here (many of which I read and gave me information for this post).

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No Scents

Honestly, sometimes I feel like I could post every day about some ridiculous disciplinary overreaction, and that 90% of the time, the student victim of the zero-tolerance abuse would be a boy. Take for example the case of an unnamed 14 year-old from Lewisville, Texas, who recently had delinquency charges pressed against him–and then dropped–by local prosecutors for sniffing his teacher’s hand sanitizer. That’s right–this poor boy worked his way through school disciplinary action, a police investigation, and nearly to court before prosecutors decided that taking a big ol’ whiff of Purell may not be against the law.

Admit it, you think I’m exaggerating here. No one could possibly find something amiss in a kid’s smelling of hand gel, could they? (Well, I do find something a little amiss, inasmuch as hand sanitizer smells like drunk cartoon flowers, but some people like the smell of Axe Body Spray, so what do I know?) But no, that’s exactly what happened. The boy (whose name was withheld from news reports at his father’s request) used his teacher’s hand sanitizer, took a big sniff of his hands afterwards (because he liked the smell), and was disciplined for trying to “huff” the sanitizer fumes as intoxicant. No, I am not kidding. It was a drug charge. According to the local assistant police chief, all the kids are doing it nowadays, though apparently the National Institute of Drug Abuse in Washington, DC had never heard of abusing hand sanitizer as an inhalant–though there have been reports of people trying to drink it because of its high ethyl alcohol content. (Proving once again that there’s nothing too disgusting and stupid for someone somewhere to try to consume.)

In the interests of blogging integrity, I just took a big sniff of the bottle of Purell in my purse and can report that I now feel slightly nauseated, but am definitely not experiencing anything even close to drug-like exhiliration. Also please note–I am a trained professional at sniffing strange things from my purse, and you should not under any circumstances try this experiment at home.

Anyway, I do feel that while such ludicrous zero-tolerance policies are injurious to all students, they also tend to disproportionately affect boys. Why? Well, I think that the bias and inclination to view boys as troublemakers plays into it–so that some people are ready to interpret a boy’s innocent actions in the worst possible way. (Seriously? Sniffing one’s hands as drug abuse?) Moreover, I think that boys’ natural interests and energy , as well as the way that they tend to favor physical action also play into the problem. (As in the famous case of the boy who was disciplined for drawing a soldier with a gun.) And I definitely think that this undercurrent of suspicion contributes to the creation of the anti-boy school experience. Really, if you were a young boy, how enthusiastic would you be about learning in an environment where they call in the police and accuse you of doing drugs when all you did was indulge your appreciation for artificial scents?

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New Thimerosal Study Takes The Wind Out Of Eli Stone’s Sail

As a parent, what would you tell your children if they worked endlessly to justify a questionable action to you? You’d likely tell them, give it up. Sometimes we have to admit “we were wrong”. That is what ABC should have done at the very least. And, that’s what they should be doing today.

Their own website article says it all: “Disney’s television group provided copies of more than 230 angry letters from groups such as the American Medical Association to the first lady of Mexico. One family wrote that their child had died of the flu because she wasn’t vaccinated; another mother who had lost a son to meningitis urged ABC to cancel the show.” And still the show goes on.

As if the public and professional outcry was not enough, the AAP decided to release early the results of a study that demonstrate that thimerosal, the mercury preservative in flu shots at the heart of the Eli Stone episode, doesn’t even stay in infants bodies long enough to case any harm. This study is a nice addition to the vaccine safety landscape and directly addresses the heart of the lingering concerns many parents have had over vaccines.

I suppose if we really want to see what the hoopla is about we can watch the episode for ourselves. But, that just flames the fire and puts money into the hands of the people who created this mess to begin with. I feel to watch, is to indulge. Plus, we all have much more important uses for our time such as spending it with our families.

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