September 17, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
September 16, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
Our local newspaper has a charming, small-town feature called “Kisses & Disses” where you can write in and compliment – or complain about – a local experience, person, or business. (My one beef is that they redact the business names if you write in with a “Dis,” taking some of the bite out of your gripe.)
In any event, today the lead Dis was from a local mom who was unhappy about the fact that Portsmouth no longer has “at least one municipal worker who is certified to inspect and help install infant and toddler car seats so that we can keep our children safe…I am sure with over 21,000 residents living here it would be worth the expense to provide for the certification considering that most parenting articles state that parents usually do not install car seats correctly.”
(The woman had a Kiss for the aptly-named Chuck Gallant in the next town over, who was able to “provide me the help I needed.”)
Now, don’t get me wrong: It’s great when towns can provide this service for residents, and more care rather than less is obviously a good thing whenever you’re dealing with kids’ safety.
But ultimately it’s not the town’s job to ensure your kid’s car seat is installed correctly – it’s yours. And while car seat installation is not a fun process (or a graceful one, especially if you’re pregnant with a subsequent kid – been there), it’s not rocket science, either. Take your time, follow the directions, and you’ll be fine.
And who knows? Portsmouth may well have made the conscious decision to invest its finite resources in something like speed limit enforcement – something it is directly responsible for that has a huge impact on children’s safety and well-being.
This woman’s complaint strikes me as part of a troubling larger movement towards hands-off parenting. “Hands-off” not in the sense of letting kids explore the world and make their own mistakes (we’re unfortunately moving farther away from this every day), but “hands-off” in the sense that this important issue involving my child really has very little to do with me and my own accountability.
Take, for instance, that public service announcement I’ve seen several times now where the mom wants her son and his friends – deeply engrossed in a video game – to get off their butts and play outside. Rather than saying, “Hey, guys – I’m turning off the TV now. Get off your butts and go play outside,” Mom sneakily throws a circuit breaker and cuts off the power to the living room.
The boys, bewildered and annoyed, decide they may as well go outside and shoot hoops. Mom is portrayed in the commercial as a clever kind of parenting hero, but Eric and I both thought it was a lame way for her to avoid being the bad guy.
If we as parents aren’t willing to accept the responsibility for our actions and decisions, how the heck can we expect our kids to be accountable for theirs?
September 14, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
I’m not a mom. I’m not even a parent.
What I am is a clueless 26-year-old guy who happens to interact with a bunch of two- and three-year-olds on a regular basis due to my job. I’m a teacher. I can’t say that I’m a good teacher, but I do make a solid effort every day. Oh, yeah – one more thing: I’m an English teacher in Vietnam.
Vietnam?! Isn’t it dangerous there? Won’t the communist government think you are a spy? Why would you go there?
No, it’s not dangerous here (the general levels of punishment for crime are extreme enough to deter violence). And, yes, the communist government does think I’m a spy; they have video cameras installed at my school and a direct wiretap on my Internet. It’s actually kinda fun randomly saying trigger words like “government” during Skype conversations…until you hear the little click signifying the beginning of their eavesdropping.
Why am I here? It’s simple, really. I was working in the States a few years back and my little sister said, “John, I’m going to teach English in Vietnam.” I replied, “Can I come?”
A few years later, here I am sitting in class with 20 little Vietnamese faces staring at me, and only one thought is going through my head: How in the heck am I gonna get through another 40 minute lesson?
The students don’t understand English, I don’t understand Vietnamese, my assistants are sitting in the corner playing on their cellphones, and two of my youngest students are kissing in the corner. AHHH! I jump out of my chair to stop Tom (two years old) from fully frenching Sandy (three years old).
Too late. The kiss has already gone on for several seconds by the time I get there. Tom is pretty pleased with himself. This is gonna be a long 40 minutes.
After attempting some failed “listen and repeat” drills, I have all the kids stand up to sing the song “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” The kids are more than happy to be out of their chairs, but somehow in the excitement, Brian loses all his clothes. And I do mean ALL his clothes. Bless his heart, he’s still participating by doing the actions to the song – much to the bewilderment of the little girl behind him.
A typical class consists of the above-mentioned “listen and repeat” drills for about 10 minutes, coloring or some other activity for 15 minutes, then listening to songs for the final 15 minutes. After the nude head-and-shoulders incident I was more than happy to move into coloring time. Upon receiving his customary blue and green crayons, Jerry begins scribbling all over the tile floors as is his wont. I ignore it.
The next 15 minutes are filled with little voices saying over and over “lam sao” and “mau gi” – which roughly translate to, “I don’t know how to do this” and “What color should I use now?” I want to enjoy the calm before the upcoming song time storm, so I lie down on the ground with the students and help them color. It’s my favorite part of the day.
Sadly, the 15 minutes of bliss end all too soon and its time to power up YouTube for song time. The kids have assigned seats for song time, but they are largely ignored. Kids are constantly shoving and jostling in attempts to get closer to the screen, but that’s to be expected. All in all, it’s going pretty well.
I’m standing up there doing my best to maintain some kind of order when I see Tom (yes, Tom again) trying to grab the picture little Sue has colored. A small power struggle ensues which predictably results in Sue’s picture being torn in half. Tom triumphantly holds his torn half in the air and, with a flick of the wrist, sends it floating down to the floor behind him.
Sue doesn’t even see him. She is looking at the paper scrap in her hand, tears welling up in her eyes. I try my best to salvage her picture, but she’s not having any of it. Her little heart was torn just as much as her stick figure drawing. Maybe next class I’ll bring her a special piece of candy or something.
Chaos reigns every single moment of the class. Somehow, despite my best efforts, the little ones managed to learn exactly zero percent of the lesson. Tomorrow is another day…filled with Vietnamese toddlers trying to pull down my pants, smacking my butt, and doing the same to each other.
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September 11, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
Today, of course, is the 13th anniversary of September 11. Other than taking a moment to remember the horror and loss of that day, I won’t write about it here; that ground has already been covered so thoroughly – and well – by people far more eloquent than I am.
But I have been thinking about a brief exchange I had earlier this week with someone who’s been out of my life for a long time – someone for whom I once cared deeply and treated shabbily. I am not ashamed of much in my life, but this particular situation is an exception (though anyone who’s ever seen me dance at a wedding may reasonably feel I should be ashamed a little more often).
In any event, I recently found out that this guy’s mom – still a relatively young woman and someone I had gotten to know during my time with him – had passed away.
I debated for a long time about whether to reach out to him with condolences. Things had, as you’ve probably gathered, ended badly between us (100% my fault), and I didn’t know whether my sudden reappearance in his life might just be rubbing salt in an old wound at a particularly inopportune time.
(This is not to overstate my perceived importance in his current life, which I estimate as something below that of a gnat buzzing around his living room. I’m reasonably certain, however, that if I ever do cross his mind he’s not flooded with warm fuzzies.)
Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should say something, so I bit the bullet and sent him an email with my brief but sincere condolences. I thought it quite likely that I’d hear nothing back, but I did. He appreciated my reaching out. He also said he was grateful that he had nothing left unsaid with his mom.
Our exchange ends here, I think, but his point is a very apt one: If you’ve got something to say to someone, say it. Even if you’re not sure they want to hear it. Even if it doesn’t seem to be the best time, or if you don’t feel you’re the best person to do so. Even if you think you might get hung up on…or roundly ignored. Even if you feel silly.
Just say it. You never know when you might not get another chance.
September 10, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
September 4, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
Nicholas’s new passion in life is ice-cream sandwiches (or, as he likes to say, “ice keem sanwiches!”) – the old-school kind with the vanilla middle and the soft cookie/cakey outsides.
What he is generally less passionate about, however, is finishing up his meal so that he can earn said ice-cream sandwiches. Though he’s getting rather clever at hunting down workarounds.
Last week, when we told him he had to finish his meal in order to get dessert, he carefully moved everything over to the cup holder on the side of his tray. He then hopefully looked up and made one of those “all clean” hand-turning gestures you see blackjack dealers do before a shift change.
When that didn’t work, he moved his food back to the middle of his tray and balanced his plate on top of it, forming a visual shield between Nicholas and the remains of his dinner. You could almost read his mind: “Well, I can’t see it anymore – so we’re good, right?”
Needless to say, we will not be getting a dog anytime in the near future.
September 3, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
August 27, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
Happy second birthday, Bubba – we love you so much!
August 20, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
August 13, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen
Lorelei’s guiding philosophy: When life offers you props, use all the props.