Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Good morning fellow moms, dads and caregivers!

How are you this morning? I am fried. I managed to fill out and send out approximately 80 holiday cards, buy, wrap and mail out gifts this week. On the flipside, we did not put up lights or a Christmas tree this year as we will be out of the country, visiting my mother-in-law and husband’s family.

Where are you in the Christmas and new year countdown? Not surprisingly, we had a lot of holiday stories this week on MotherTalkers.

Sue in Queens wrote a fun diary asking us what our favorite Christmas decorations were. Also, we exchanged butternut squash recipes for the holiday. Plus, Katy over at Non-Toxic Kids listed five ways to teach children how to give.

We discussed a Washington Post story on the death of the office holiday party. Did your company have one this year? Was it any different from previous years? The Washington Post also ran a financial story on when it is time to cut the pursestrings of dependent adult children.

We had a fascinating discussion on how much academic freedom a middle school should have. A Virginia principal canceled a mock UN debate after some parents complained that it was “inappropriate” for their children to represent the views of the Taliban.

We had a discussion on merit pay for teachers. There is a bill moving through Congress that would award the highest performing teachers in the country, according to the Washington Post. (As you can tell, I read the Post a lot!)

In medical news, here is a story in the New York Times about postpartum depression in fathers. Do you know of men who suffered from the baby blues?

The life of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar’s 19th baby hangs in the balance, according to CNN. Baby Josie Brooklyn was born three months early on December 10, weighing only 1 lb., 6 oz.. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time.

A group of us got together for an informal MotherTalkers meet-up in San Francisco. Here is a pic!

My husband will be on Meet the Press tomorrow morning to discuss healthcare reform. I believe it airs 9 a.m. ET.  

Sorry for the monstrous column today, but it will be on short hiatus. I will be out of the country for almost two weeks and will resume Weekly Parenting News Roundup on Saturday, January 9, 2010. Happy new year everybody and I wish you safe travels!


The Censors Next Door

There is a sweet 15yr old girl next door (I’ll call her Mary), who has always seemed a bit young for her age.  We’ve been neighbors with her, her father, and adoptive mother for four years.  She has always been VERY chatty with DH and I, often begging to help us with yardwork.  Once, a couple of years ago, she half invited herself to stay the night!  I swiftly but gently discouraged that line of thought.  It’s a good thing we’re good people… .. .

The other day we were talking across the fence and Mary (an average student) mentioned that she’s failing English…  she said she’s failing because her mom won’t let her read To Kill a Mockingbird with the rest of the class.  She was assigned to read a different book instead, and was required to take a different test. But, she says the teacher isn’t helping her as much as everyone else because she’s on a different book.  


I really don’t know the reasons behind her mom’s decision.  Is it a sexuality thing? A racism thing? Has she even read the book? I didn’t pry Mary for that information, I’m not sure she would know if I had.  I’m not sure knowing the reason would make me feel any differently about it anyway.

I’m not sure if this is relevant but… Mary’s mom has always seemed to have a heavier hand with Mary than her own bio daughter (a couple of years younger).  I’ve heard tidbits from Mary suggesting that her bio mom has had a troubled life of some sort, but I don’t know the details.  She has come across like the quintessential red-headed stepchild.

I find myself feeling protective of her, but having nowhere to put those feelings.  There’s probably nothing I can or should do aside from being a friendly ear to the girl. But, it angers/saddens me nonetheless.  She has taken babysitting classes and really hopes to babysit for us someday.  That might help us keep a friendship going.  

If nothing else the whole experience has helped DH and I cement our hopes to parent with guidance vs censorship.


Tango Gets a Reprieve

The guinea pigs have had the spotlight this year, as picture book Uncle Bobby’s Wedding has faced several attempted challenges from library patrons who wanted to remove or reshelve it. The penguins of And Tango Makes Three are not out of danger yet, however, as a school board meeting in Ankeny, Iowa made clear.

Cindy Dacus, one of the parents challenging Tango, told the board last month that Tango should not be allowed in the East Elementary School library because it attempts “to ‘normalize’ homosexuality to children who are too young to understand the ‘risky lifestyle.'”

Superintendent Matthew Wendt has now recommended that members not vote on the request, but suggested instead “that the board consider adopting a new selection process for library materials, and that any new process take into consideration age-appropriateness of materials. He also suggested that while new procedures are being discussed, all books and other materials should remain in place and not be restricted in any way.”

I have to sigh. Wendt is balancing competing viewpoints here, and I can’t blame him for hedging a bit. He doesn’t seem like he’s caving to pressure from Dacus and her husband. The board’s attorney seems to be hinting that such acts would face a tough battle.

But still . . . . Do we really have to go through this again? My son, and every other young child of LGBT parents, has known about same-sex relationships from day one, and it hasn’t harmed him a bit. As I’ve said many times before, too, banning books is one thing. Stopping our children from talking about their families is the next step—and we can’t let it get to that.

Moreover, as many of you know, Tango is based on a true story. Just this week, too, we learned of another real-life same-sex penguin pair. Normalize that. (Not that reality should be the measure of all children’s stories. I rather like Uncle Bobby’s anthropomorphic guinea pigs.)

Besides, the most risky behavior I’ve engaged in recently is hanging a glass Santa Claus near the top of our Christmas tree while balanced on a stool. Frankly, I think the right-wing should encourage children to read stories of LGBT parents. Between doing our laundry and fighting for our civil rights, we’re usually too tired for anything more salacious.

(Thanks to PageOneQ for the book news.)


And the Banned Played On

It’s Banned Books Week once again, the American Library Association’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. As you might imagine, LGBT-inclusive children’s books are high on the list of works that have people have tried to have removed from libraries and schools across the country.

Each year, the ALA tracks the books that have garnered such challenges. And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins who raise a chick together, has topped the list in both 2006 and 2007.

Other LGBT-inclusive works among the 100 most-challenged books between 2000 and 2007 include Heather Has Two Mommies, King & King, and, for older readers, The Color Purple and Rainbow Boys.

Not yet on the list, but sure to be included when the 2008 challenges are totaled after the end of the year, is Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, about two gay guinea pigs and their niece. I’ve written about this book and its challenges several times before.

Uncle Bobby can at least take comfort that he is not the first furry creature to face controversy over his nuptials. The Rabbits’ Wedding, Garth Williams’ 1958 story of a black and a white rabbit who marry, caused something of an uproar in the South at the time, where it was removed from libraries or transferred to reserve shelves because people saw it as promoting interracial marriage.

Plus ça change. . . .

What are your favorite challenged books? Does Harry Potter really make you want to abandon a mainstream faith and turn to witchcraft? If so, is that really such a bad thing?


Massachusetts: Ban Video Games!

The Bay State doesn’t want to ban all video games — just the ones “harmful to minors.”

If Boston Mayor Tom Menino and other prominent state legislators have their way, Gov. Deval Patrick will sign into law House Bill 1423, which would prohibit the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to anyone under the age of 18.

“Harmful to minors“, matter is harmful to minors if it is obscene or, if taken as a whole, it (1) describes or represents nudity, sexual conduct or sexual excitement, so as to appeal predominantly to the prurient interest of minors; (2) depicts violence in a manner patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community, so as to appeal predominantly to the morbid interest in violence of minors; (3) is patently contrary to prevailing standards of adults in the county where the offense was committed as to suitable material for such minors; and (4) lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.“

As Stephen King, an author not short on R-Rated material himself, pointed out in an Entertainment Weekly column, politicians usually scapegoat violent video games, movies, music — popular culture, if you will — to score cheap political points. Even though King himself is not a gamer, he reprimanded Massachusetts legislators for attempting to play “surrogate parents.”

One of HB 1423’s cosponsors is Rep. Christine E. Canavan, of Brockton. ”I think this legislation is a good idea,” she told the Boston Herald. ”I don’t want this constant barrage of violence on young minds and for them to think it is all right.” It’s a good point…except that it seems to me that the games only reflect a violence that already exists in the society.

Nor will I argue for the artistic value of stuff like God of War, or 50 Cent: Bulletproof, where looting the victims of gang violence is part of the game (players use the money to buy new Fiddy tunes and music videos — classy). I do, however, want to point out that videogames, like movies, have a ratings system, and ones with the big M or A on the box mean ”Not for you, baby brother.”

And if there’s violence to be had, the kids are gonna find a way to get it, just as they’ll find a way to get all-day shooters like No Country for Old Men from cable if they want. Or Girls Gone Wild, for that matter. Can parents block that stuff? You bet. But most never do. The most effective bar against what was called ”the seduction of the innocent” when this hot-button issue centered on violent comic books 60 years ago is still parents who know and care not just about what their kids are watching and reading, but what they’re doing and who they’re hanging with. Parents need to have the guts to forbid material they find objectionable…and then explain why it’s being forbidden. They also need to monitor their children’s lives in the pop culture — which means a lot more than seeing what games they’re renting down the street.

If HB 1423 becomes law, will it remain law? Doubtful. Similar legislation has been declared unconstitutional in several states. Could Massachusetts legislators find better ways to watch out for the kiddies? Man, I sure hope so, because there’s a lot more to America’s culture of violence than Resident Evil 4.

Of course, not all parents are as fortunate as King to have two work-at-home parents and probably a barrage of paid help. A little help from the state would be welcomed by many working families struggling to raise children under the weight of bills and a cacophony of violent media.

But it does seem to be a slippery slope for the state to decipher what material has “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.” Also, as King pointed out, how come minors are allowed to watch R Rated movies at 17, but not play Grand Theft Auto? The law would not apply to all media — just video games.

At the same time, I completely sympathize with mothers afraid of their young children playing video games. The games themselves have become so much more graphic and violent than my Nintendo Mario Brothers-playing days. Ari does have a Transformers game on his handheld Play Station that is violent, but we closely monitor and restrict his playing. If it were up to me, he would not play at all. But my husband who grew up playing video games and is aching to buy a Wii, sees nothing wrong with it (in doses). Because he knows more about the games than I do, I have let him set limits on video game playing in our household. For that, I am grateful as it takes the pressure off of me.


Penguins Threaten Traditional Family Values

And Tango Makes Three, the children’s book based on a true story about two male penguins who adopt an abandoned egg, tops the American Library Association’s list of “10 Most Challenged Books of 2006,” “for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group.” A challenge, according to the ALA, is “a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school, requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.” Other books on the list include Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved, based on “sexual content and offensive language.”

As I’ve said before, it seems the right has felt particularly sensitive about penguins ever since they claimed March of the Penguins as an example of “traditional family values.”

Personally, I think it’s time for a March of the Penguins on Washington.

What’s your favorite book from the ALA list, this year or in the past?