How High Are the Stakes in Kindergarten?

It seems as if everyday, newspapers, magazines, television report cutting edge research which is destined to make modern parents worry, second-guess themselves, hyper-ventilate. Take a recent New York Time article, The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers, which relates economic research showing that the caliber of a child’s kindergarten teacher can have effects lasting well into adulthood: the “better” the teacher (measured by class test averages), the better the outcome: higher adult earning, higher rates of college completion, lower rates of single parenthood, across all socioeconomic groups

Typical fuel for hyper-parenting, fodder for parents driven to ensure their offspring’s future success, results that may even make reasonable parents a bit anxious. How do you know if your child has a “good” teacher? What can you actually do to ensure your child gets one?  And, what if your child has already completed kindergarten, under the tutelage of a horrendous wretch of a teacher?

We’re no experts in bringing up “successful” children. (We’re just trying to successfully bring some up.)  But we do like to offer thoughts on keeping the business of mothering in perspective, so here are three thoughts about the Kindergarten teacher study.  

First, common sense dictates that a single teacher does not make, or break, a child's school experience.  While the role of the teachers makes the headlines, the Times coverage mentions that smaller class size and peer group also contribute to kindergarten and later success. 

Second, who are “the best” teachers? Some parents might attempt to curry favor with school administrators in hope of requesting a specific teacher, but how have they identified which teacher to request? Conspiratorial whispering of fellow mothers? A wise modern mother will shut her ears to schoolyard chatter, and rely on her own judgement. If you think your child has a good relationship with her teacher, she probably does. If you actually have a child starting Kindergarten, here's some more thorough and expert advice

Finally, large studies of means and averages are meant to inform public policy (e.g., increasing wages for Kindergarten teachers) not individual parenting strategies.  So by all means go advocate for smaller class sizes, and higher teacher pay, but don't sit around worrying about your child's kindergarten teacher, past, present or future. The last thing we want to instill in a child is the idea that her lifetime success depends on a specific teacher.  

It's Not Polite to Stare

But really, given the dashing looks of Don and Roger and the downright demented behavior of Betty in the Season 4 premier of Mad Men last night, what else can a well mannered modern mother do?  Apparently, quite a bit.  She could catch up on seasons 1-3 in no time via this link.  See what Don's head shot would look like in the Wall Street Journal circa 1964 or better yet Mad Men Herself and create her own Mad Men character (avatar) for home and social networking.  She could buy the kiddies the soon to be limited edition Mad Men Barbies or simply sit back and revel in Peggy's new hairdo.  Whatever you do, have fun, stay calm, and remember that a) Betty Draper is no maternal role model and b) the well mannered modern mother would never start a fight over a ham in the grocery store.

Are We Really All Miserable?

Modern mothers, are we really all miserable? Or does parental woe just make a good story? Earlier this month, the blogospere was atwitter, responding to New York Magazine’s, “All Joy and No Fun” by Jennifer Senior. Featuring lamenting, handwringing, and copious social science, the article presents modern parenthood as a relentless grind, a bore, a source of anxiety and discontent. Colored with anecdotes of parental unhappiness, the article contains study after study showing that parents are “less happy” or have lower “life satisfaction” than their childless counterparts.   

Much like watching “Real Housewives” shows, the appeal of this article may lie in comparing oneself to the poor “miserable” parents in the article and finding oneself comparatively happy. Yet, while the title  of the article may beckon in a supermarket tabloid sort of way, the content, well, seems like complaining about lives that are fundamentally pleasant -- champagne problems.  Or perhaps “media –generated” problems.

These are the news stories that perpetuate stero-types of privileged, competitive and neurotic mothers. Do modern parents wait too long for, look for too much out of parenthood? Do they view children as a project to be tackled, another accomplishment, and another prize to garner? Are they so worried about perfecting their children that they fail to enjoy them? And so on. It’s hard not to feel like we’ve heard this before (think Judith Warner) and that complaining about modern parenthood is as popular a sport as lamenting the “kids these days!”

So no, bringing up children is not a picnic, a joy ride, a trip to the spa, but it can be rewarding, especially for those who remember how to keep things in perspective, maintain some semblance of an adult life, and steer clear of such perfect storms of social science, quotable parents, and a good journalist. 

Etipedia - here at last!

True etiquette devotees across the land have something new about which to rejoice. If you, Dear Reader,  read this blog because you have an interest in the mannerly conduct of mothers and not just because you are our friends or family, this exciting NEW product is for YOU.  The Emily Post Institute, that bastion of propriety and decorum that has managed to monetize the writings of Emily Post for the better part of a century, has just relaunched its website with the added feature and benefit of Etipedia (Etiquette + Encyclopedia = Etipedia).  No more wandering over to the bookshelf, calling your mother or contemplating the answer to a delicate etiquette problem over a cup of coffee with a friend.  Right Now!  This very minute.  The answers to all your pressing and not so pressing etiquette questions await.  Go ahead:  click away.  Don't worry. You won't hurt our feelings.  After all, who ever heard of anyone being put out of business by a search engine?

The Un-Popularity Contest

“Thomas, be careful!” calls a mother and another mother asks, “Oh, is your toddler named Thomas?” After an affirmative response, she may continue, “My 11 year old is named Thomas.” And her eyes mist over as she recalls her own son as a toddler.
“I guess it’s getting popular,” replies the first mother. 

An odd response, in an awkward situation. “I guess it’s getting popular?” Yes, an odd response to be sure, but one overheard by this author more than a few times. With the internet, of course, the popularity of a name can be easily assessed and undoubtedly, many parents did check the lists of popular baby names upon naming their child. So why, then, do so many of them appear uncomfortable with the idea that they may have chosen a “popular” name for their bundle of joy? Has the naming of a child become a contest whereby parents vie to select the most un-popular name

Our well mannered readers doubtless avoid all parental contests of one-upmanship, yet we do recognize that the mention of another child with an identical name can sometimes be an awkward bump in conversation. How, exactly, does one respond to an idle comment like, "Oh, my cousin's baby is named Abigail, too!" It helps to recognize that an acquaintance may mention a child of the same name out of fondness or lack of anything else to say. A friendly nod and something a simple as, “Well, we certainly like the name!” or, “That’s nice.” should suffice. Remember, you chose a name you love, and now you love the child even more, popular name, or not.  

Short, Sweet and Sparkly!

This mostly mannerly authoress has a few blogs she likes to check in with on a regular basis.  One that never fails to entertain, delight or cause one to reach for her credit card is Sparkle Inc.

Two recent posts I particularly enjoyed are those regarding lunchskins and friends.  Hope you like it!

Mommy's feeding her broccoli to the dog. Why can't I?

Children are notoriously picky eaters. So, too, are some parents, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, "No Age Limit on Picky Eating." Plain pasta, french fries, pizza, and cookies without nuts - is this the diet of a 5 year-old or a 35 year-old? The best quote from this story may be: "For reasons that aren't clear, almost all adult picky eaters like French fries and often chicken fingers, health experts say." Dear health experts, are the reasons really not clear? Maybe its because those foods are fatty, fried, salty and yes, sometimes, delicious? Don't forget that they're almost universally available in the U.S.

Modern mothers of picky eaters, don't despair! Your gentle authoress is one of the unmentioned majority of childhood picky eaters, having emerged from a childhood eating plain pasta, hotdogs, carrots, and cookies, to become an adult with an approximately normal diet. (Thanks, Mom!) Use this story as motivation to keep trying, fixing asparagus when the chances of your children eating it are almost non-existent, and helping your children stay relaxed and open to the possibility that someday, they may in fact like something new. Once your children are grown, one thing you don't want them to contend with is deflecting dinner invitations because of a fear of frisee.

A new kind of baby blues

Well mannered mothers lucky enough have all of their children out of diapers can count themselves doubly lucky for having likely missed this cringe-inducing product for the parents of very young children: the denim diaper. When introduced last spring, we tried to ignore these shocking contraptions, but we can’t hold our silence any longer, or maybe we just can't bring ourselves to tackle the big parenting issues, like whether or not having children makes you unhappy.

Whatever the reason, with regards to the denim diapers, we have ask, why? If a 40-year-old dressed like a teenager is just wrong, babies dressed like tiny adults are worse. Downright disturbing. Should we also buy our baby boys a a trucker hat, a plaid shirt with the sleeves cut off and a pack of smokes? Or a faux wallet chain? (It doubles as a plastic teether, BPA free, of course!) Or maybe a baby girl would prefer to style her denim diaper with a gingham shirt, knotted at the chest to better bare her midriff, pigtails, and a straw hat jauntily set to the side.

Why, oh, why do people like to miniaturize adult clothes for babies? Babies have years ahead of them to wear actual denim, rather than paper diapers printed to look like denim. Or they may, in the future, choose to festoon themselves in feathers, mix stripes with plaids, don spandex, or invent all manner of disturbing clothing combinations. Why not let them look like babies until, say, they’re old enough to have some opinion about their attire? As any mother of a 3-year-old can attest, it’s not a very long wait. 

Renters Remorse

There comes a time in every well mannered married couple's life when they are no longer "that delightful young couple" frequently invited to  beach/lake/ country houses.  Sadly - at least with regard to the carefree issuance of summer invitations - they are now the parents of one or more small children, the delight of whom as vacation guests can only be embraced by blood relations and then for no more than a couple of hours.  So where does this leave the modern well mannered family?  The economics of it all suggest that renting a house is probably the best way to go.  And here is were the well mannered young mother must pay close attention.  Below you will find a few pitfalls to avoid when renting a house for the first time as well as some helpful suggestions. 

Do not, as we once did, simply type in the name of a town on an island that you have heard nice things about, find a house that has photos of an attractive exterior and idyllic hammock in the back yard, call up and rent it from the owner for the market rate.   For you might arrive after an exhaustive day of car and ferry travel to discover the owner is there to greet you because he is busy removing some of his belongings from the master bedroom so you can have some closet space.  He also may have meant to change the sheets for you but hadn't expected you so soon.   You might then learn that this attractive three-bedroom house is in fact his primary (and only) residence and part of a commune that does not even allow renters ("if anyone asks just say you're friends staying with me - I'll be sleeping in the community center down the road")  nor does it allow toilets.  Or at least not the indoor flushing kind.  This salient fact may have been left off the internet listing.   Your young children might at this point be wondering why there are all the naked Barbie dolls on the walls and sculptures of women missing body parts and heads.  'It's art, Darling.'  You might be surprised when you come back from the beach the first day to discover your landlord enjoying your/his outdoor shower.  You might be even more surprised to find, when you come back two hours early from a dinner out because you are so exhausted from your "vacation", that your babysitter is standing uncomfortably on one side of the kitchen counter and the owner is on the other with two beer cans a shot glass and a bottle of Jack Daniels chatting away about his divorce (these things actually happened). 

All of which is why, when it comes time for the well mannered modern family to consider renting a house for the first time please apply the following approach:  Talk to as many people as possible who live in or frequent the location you wish to visit.  If at all possible, visit the house you wish to rent or have friends check it our for you.  Use the internet, but go through a Realtor so that if the rental is not quite 'as advertised' you have a means of recourse.  Only rent from an individual if that person is known to you.  Because, as this authoress' well mannered mother often said  'Not everyone is like us, Dear.'   Good luck and bon vacance!

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