Monday, August 25, 2014

Holding Back: Why Our Five-Year-Old Isn't Going to Kindergarten

Monday was a big "first day of school" picture day on Facebook. We did not participate. We did celebrate a "first day of second grade," with photo documents and colorful signage as proof; we just didn't post them anywhere. Not because we're that worried about our daughter's privacy or believe that she is now fodder for a new wave of cyber terrorism. We may have just forgotten, or maybe it will be part of a "can't believe how she grew in just 9 months" montage come early June. Or because her brother isn't going to kindergarten this year and we don't want to draw his attention to it.

There were decidedly fewer "Held out of kindergarten this year" signs showing up on my feed today, though if we were so inclined, we could have pulled one off. We held our middle child-- all 5 years, 1 month of him-- out of kindergarten this year. It was not a frivolous decision-- this is one we struggled with for a while, back and forth, over and over. Right or wrong?

His July birthday puts him at the younger edge of the kindergarten class of 2014-15. In our opinion, this would put him at a disadvantage compared to his other classmates. Not for his entire academic career, but for the all-important first 3-4 years, up to third grade, when students generally get frustrated easier and begin to hate school.

The disadvantages aren't severe. Intellectually, he probably could handle the workload. And if they've added recognizing state shapes or translating hideous Curious George bleats into English to the kindergarten curriculum, he may have graduated this year with honors. He passed the 10-minute test administered to him at registration in March, even though his drawing of "Daddy playing baseball" looks exactly like his printed capital R. But there are other, less discernible factors weighing into the decision...areas that are often overlooked when green
lighting kids for kindergarten that won't show up in a 10-minute registration session.

  • Social and Emotional Factors -- He gets frustrated easily when things aren't going his way, or when things aren't perfect, to which the dent in the wall after a third-place finish in a family game of Trouble will attest. Poor sportsmanship aside, he also gets frustrated when he can't do things and, as we'll see in a second, there are quite a few things he can't do. In Day Care, he also tended to play with the younger kids anyway. Why throw him in with a bunch of older kids then and let him feel like the low man on the totem pole?
  • Physical Factors -- As we found out in a well visit to the doctor a month ago, this kid has inherited all of his father's physical shortcomings. He's on pace to learn how to tie his shoes in 4th grade. More importantly, at his first Occupational Therapy visit, a test of hand strength revealed he actually has no muscles in his arms. (Not really, but he scored a 0, whatever that means.) He has been working with his Occupation Therapist to build hand strength by threading beads with one hand, lacing string through cardboard, and pulling small tiles and lining them up with weights tied to his hand. Watching him struggle makes me physically uncomfortable, but watching him eventually succeed gives me hope. Hope that he continues to build this strength so that when he's asked to write 5 sentences by the end of kindergarten, he'll at least be able to hold the pencil.
          Also, after his first day of Day Care, one which involved a two-hour nap, he came home and nearly passed out in his spaghetti. He's not ready for full-day kindergarten.

None of this is done with sports on our mind. Our genealogy has made it quite clear we do not have the next Babe Ruth, Peyton Manning, or Larry Bird on our hands. We don't even have the next Rafael Belliard, my all-time least favorite baseball player. Fear not, fellow Delaware parents...our son will not enjoy any distinct athletic advantages over your kid and will not be awarded athletic scholarships at yours' expense because he's months older than your child. (Though if he did, it would in a very small way make up for my district's 6th-grade Track Meet, where we all lost to some kid who looked like '70s Ted Nugent. Digressing.) Talent determines worth in sports, not a few extra months of age. 

There are many, many reasons to simply forget all this and enroll him in kindergarten. One reason for every dollar we'll pay in Day Care costs this year, in fact. Plus we'll be delaying his earning potential on the other end when he graduates school, as people have noted. But he'll be working into his seventies anyway, plenty of time to get beaten down by the man. This will afford him another year to just be a kid.  One more stress-free year, with the hope of more stress-free years in the future.

How much would you pay today to have another year of your childhood back? This is in some ways a gift to him, one that he will never quite understand and certainly will not be able to justify or quantify when we can't buy him a car on his 16th birthday. Or even his 21st. But a gift nonetheless.

I come from a family of teachers. My parents, step-parents, brother, sister-in-law, step-sister-in-law, aunts, they are all over the family. I married a teacher. Probably close to 200 years of teaching experience at our fingertips and not once has any of them heard someone say, "I really regret not pushing Johnny through." You hear plenty of the reverse, however. But each child is different. Many with July birthdays are ready. My son would definitely survive.

But would he thrive?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Champions, All! 17 Kids Who Should Get Trophies NOW.

As we sort out who deserves trophies and when, and what the trophies are even intended for, here are 17 kids who are the exception to whatever arbitrary rules exist and should receive trophies tomorrow, no questions asked.

(Note: This covers only the 2-7 age bracket. If you are the parent of a 16-year-old who has accomplished any of the below tasks, congratulations, give everyone involved a pat on the back, but do NOT, under any circumstances, give them a trophy.)

Please hold your applause to the end. And before it's over go visit Me, Myself, and Kids, whose owner, Larry Bernstein, unwittingly put this idea in my head. So if you like it, give him the credit. If it's terrible, you can blame me.

Our trophy winners are:

We really need Pop Tart minis.
1. The one kid with the patience and appetite to eat an entire Pop Tart in one sitting - Raleigh, NC*

2. The one kid who is unable to finish the Pop Tart but has the presence of mind to either wrap it up in a baggie or just throw the damn thing away before ants literally the size of carpenters carry it off to the bottom of the magazine rack -- Grand Rapids, MI*

3. The one kid who is able to predict, within 1.5, the number of hot dogs he'll eat when dinner starts in 10 minutes -- Ogden, UT*

4. The one kid who is able to sense when her younger siblings are angry or upset and has the courtesy and restraint to shut up and silently revel in the fact that she's not the one in trouble this time -- Omaha, NE*

5. The one kid who shows genuine compassion and remorse for wrongdoing by artculating the words, "I'm sorry" without sounding like Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes -- Youngstown, OH*

6. The one kid who is able to sit through an entire meal in a restaurant without asking to go to the bathroom -- Des Moines, IA*

7. The one kid who can limit himself to one bottle of body wash per shower -- Boise, ID*

8.  The one kid who can properly put away a CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray without handling it like it's a ham sandwich -- Wilkes-Barre, PA*

9. The one kid who realizes that, although you may not have directly acknowledged it, you did hear him ask for milk, and does not repeat "I want milk. I want milk. I want milk. I want milk. I want milk. I WANT MIIIILK!!" -- Cincinnati, OH*

10. The one kid who understands telephone etiquette and sarcasm enough to laugh when Dad tugs on her little brother's pant leg and screams "AHHHHHHHH!" directly in his ear when he's pretending to talk to his grandmother on the Fisher Price phone -- Provo, UT*

* - These are the 10 best cities to raise a family, at least according to Forbes. (Are the Rust and Wheat Belts making comebacks?)

11. The one kid who understands syrup is not a finger food -- Pittsboro, NC**

12. The one kid who understands a nose bleed is not the sign of the devil incarnate -- Findlay, OH**

13. The one kid who understands vomiting is not the sign of the devil incarnate -- Nashua, NH**

14. The one kid who can encounter a cheap set of plastic cymbals and not frenetically bang them together -- Pierre, SD**
Note: I am ALL in favor of music lessons at a very young age. And I am in favor of all sorts of developmental milestones for young kids. But show me a cymbal player in a marching band playing them like one of those stupid wind-up monkeys, and I'll soon show you a former member of the marching band.

15. The one kid who resists the urge to talk like Curious George -- Bremerton, WA**

16. The one kid who can take a perfectly gender-neutral task like wiping a child's butt or reaching the shampoo and call for help from both Mom and Dad equally, rather than requesting a certain parent ("I want Mom") when that parent is currently bent over carrying a bowling ball out of the back corner of the attic -- Los Angeles, CA**

** - These are just random cities that have called my cell phone recently.

17. And of course, the one kid who listens to everything you say the first time-- No qualifiers

There you have them. Look at the parents, so proud. And they should be! Their kids are one of a kind. Give them all a trophy.

Got a kid who you think deserves a trophy? Nominate your bundle of joy in the Comments section!

Then visit the Facebook page: 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Trophies for Everybody? Or Nobody?

If you pay attention to the Intrawebs these days and have kids, no doubt you are aware of the tedious "Everyone Gets a Trophy" debate.

If you've somehow missed this debate, consider yourself lucky. Basically, the question revolves around whether awarding participation trophies to all members of a league or organization teaches kids that losing is ok (or worse, that nobody ever loses in a world of rainbows and unicorns, leading to a sense of entitlement later in life) or whether it establishes self-esteem in kids that they at least completed a task, even if they weren't the best.

Unfortunately, like any social discourse these days, there is either a Wrong/Right, Black/White, My Way/Highway resolution that involves no room for nuance or discussion. (Otherwise, who would continue to click on the links?) And since very few issues outside of slavery have boiled down to Wrong/Right, we never fully reach a fully vetted conclusion and just let the wind take us to where the people speak the loudest.

And the wind in this case has led us to say NO to participation trophies. Fine by me, but (and close your ears if you hate participation trophies) my kid got a participation trophy. And I LIKED it.

He was four years old when he entered his second season if T-Ball this spring. The goal of the league was to teach 4- and 5-year-olds how to throw, catch, hit, run bases, and most importantly, pay attention when somebody is talking to them. In other words, what we as parents can never seem to do.

Everybody batted each inning. Each hitter got one base whether the ball went to the outfield or trickled out to the pitcher's mound. The last hitter each inning hit a grand slam, driving in the remaining baserunners. Nobody kept score, and each game lasted one hour.

For the folks bemoaning those rules, consider that over the course of a 12-game season, we saw a total of two "outs" recorded. One of those came when the batter hit the ball and ran a third of the way to first base, then immediately veered and ran to second base, so technically he was out of the baseline.

The second out came when the batter hit the ball and walked toward first base but then stopped to write his name in the dirt. This allowed the players on our team to flock to the ball like seagulls to a discarded bread bowl, fight over the ball, drop the ball, pick the ball up, drop it again, pick it up, throw it over the first baseman's head, watch the first baseman retrieve it, then tag the base for the out.

If we were playing "real" rules, by the end of the season, we still would have been in the top of the first inning of the first game. And we're worried that these kids get trophies? Every single person involved, parents included, deserved an award for sitting through that. (Baseball purists would argue that nobody gets a trophy.)

Running hard...the ball is somewhere over the first baseman's head.
If the goal is to light competitive fires under the losers, an end-of-year ceremony to dole out trophies only to the deserving would require two things: (1) That kids get the dandelions out of their ears and actually pay attention, and (2) An understanding that 5-year-olds are going to sweep the awards in a 4-5-year-old league unless a 4-year-old is the next Barry Bonds. "Congratulations, Owen, for being the oldest and biggest kid on the team. The rest of ya, eat your veggies, your Wheaties, your beans and weenies and try again next year." Most kids I know just aren't that competitive.

Or are they? My son developed his own competitive fire, asking me after the last several games if his team won. I told him that it was a tie, and he acted as if I had asked him to go give his sister a big smooch on the lips. (What, you wanted me to artificially inflate his ego by saying he "won" when his team couldn't even record an out?)

So there has to be an age when we start awarding trophies only to winners...but if each participant develops a sense of competition at a different age, where do we start?

We start at age 9. Sounds arbitrary enough, but most 9-year-olds are in third grade, and third grade is when we start to see the physical advantages of age and development begin to disappear...we'll never have the perfect age because each child is different. Plus it was at that age that I flung my baseball glove across the outfield during another losing baseball game, one where we allowed 14 runs in the last inning to lose a very winnable game, 17-6.

Therefore, my alternative to the polarizing yes/no question of participation trophies for all kids...yes until age nine, after that you're going to have to show us something to bring home the hardware, if trophies are your thing. I'll be honest, I can't find a single one of mine, big or small. My dad gave me one he brought home after winning a 10K 35 years ago, not sure where that one is either.

Wait, do we even need trophies at all?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

10 Weeks 'til Halloween

From Left: Michael Angela, Raphael. Not Pictured: Elsa
Not long ago, I checked in with my two-year-old son and told him I loved him. He quickly told me "No" and changed the subject to one of the more pressing issues of the day, the status of his stuffed ninja turtle, "Michael Angela."

"He seepin'."

You probably thought when you saw the words "pressing issues of the day" that we would discuss public breastfeeding, play dates, or sex in the delivery room. But no. Those were soooo last week. This week the focus in this household is solely on Halloween...and why not? It's only 10 weeks away, the kids already have their costumes (Michael Angela, Raphael, and Elsa, for the record.) And even though the radio stations aren't playing their favorite Halloween music yet, thankfully the card stores have their stuff out. So we're in good stead.

Halloween is a big deal in our house for reasons that aren't supported by biology. My wife has officially named it her "least favorite" holiday, and I was never one to dress up for fun myself, especially in 4th grade when I went to school as a pirate and had to wear my great-aunt's winter boots. Still, our kids rigorously scan the catalogs and select their timely, topical costumes three months in advance without regard for whether they'll remain timely and topical on the day they show up on other people's doorsteps for candy. But really, how could they not be timely? Everyone knows who the Ninja Turtles and Elsa are, and everyone will still know them on October 31, unless they suffer a horrific head injury between now and then.

For years I have tried to hold the Halloween costume as a behavior control mechanism, much the way the famed child psychiatrist Santa Claus uses a lump of coal or dog poop. "If you're on the naughty list this Halloween, you have to go as grapes" I instruct my mortified kids, threatening to take away their princess and superhero turtle costumes and letting them know that their behavior won't be tolerated, lest the whole family dress up go out as the Fruit of the Loom gang.

You think I'm kidding...the youngest would go as a banana, the other two kids go as grapes, one purple and one green. My wife will be the leaves and I'm the big red apple. This is happening some day. And for their sake, they'd be better off if it happens some year sooner rather than later.

Usually our Halloweens involve both parents scurrying home from work just in time to jam some frozen fish sticks and french fries down before heading out with each child for some candy. Unfortunately, our neighborhood also participates in the Halloween dressing itself as Hell. No street lights, a darkening, foreboding sky, numerous houses with no lights on (don't worry, we weren't going to visit you anyway, don't flatter yourself), it looks like a setting more equipped for an ax murder than a benign holiday tradition.

This actually works to our advantage. Because neither I or my wife really enjoys Halloween, we can go to the 8 houses (of 75 in the development) that actually participate and rake in about 35 houses' worth of chocolate. Because we are apparently the only practicing Halloweeners in our demographic, we often are the only customers these eight houses see, and they just stuff entire candy bars and chip bags into our sacks. It makes for a short, efficient evening of groveling.

Sure, there are missteps. Last year, as my then year-old Mickey Mouse reached for a bag of Sour Cream and Onion potato chips and I reflexively blurted out "Yucccckkkk" to him like I did when he tried to eat lint out of the vacuum sweeper. I meant it as "you're never going to eat those, grab something you will eat" but it sounded totally ungrateful. Sometimes my mouth is better off duct-taped shut in all social situations.

But, um, yeah, we're all looking forward to Halloween already (half eye-roll). We've tried on our costumes, we've recited every line from the various pieces in which our characters have appeared ("it's heroes, not turtles in a half-shell) and, where applicable, we've practiced ninja moves on each other, mostly without incident. We'll store these costumes in a safe, dry place and pray to the Gods of All Hallows Eve that nobody grows much this fall, because if they do, then they may have to go as grapes.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Kids Against Humanity

Take a little breather today and play fill-in-the-blanks with Kids Against Humanity, the less raunchy, less offensive, younger sibling of Cards Against Humanity. Following are four sentences with some blanks. The Word List is found below. Use your experiences with children -- yours or someone else's -- to fill in the blanks with the best answers, then share them in the comments. Best answer wins...nothing, except our adulation. Then come up with some better questions and answers and we'll laugh together all the way to Poughkeespie.

1. Fine, go ahead and _________. But don't come crying to me when you ___________.

2. I can't believe you waited until ___________ to decide you were going to ____________ .

3. Who said it was ok to _____________ in the _______________?

you were naked after supper puke your brains out in the back seat
play Ninja turtles eat only ketchup underpants
try to burp the alphabet put your toys away fall down the stairs
church laundry hamper the fish tank
Bar Mitzvah high school graduation the back corner of the garage
cry all night put your clothes away suddenly lose your shit
3:15 AM the bathtub Prom Night
wake up your brother by banging pans together belly button fall asleep in the tanning booth
chase your sister with a fork have a blowout drink a half gallon of chocolate milk
your 16th birthday wear your Tim Tebow jersey swimming pool
the toilet wear deodorant the diaper genie
the baby's diaper expensive vase go swimming right after eating
pee parents get drunk on Zima
middle of November bedtime never eat again
sleep in your parents' bed have an epic meltdown poop your pants
shower get arrested leave the front door wide open
the end of 'Frozen' break curfew cheat at Candy Land
go to every bathroom in North America get beat up wear sunscreen
starve to death after dark Grandma came over
trip me while I carry a cup of hot chocolate dog end up in the emergency room
eat popcorn lose all your money gigantic fire
couch cushions McDonald's throw your sister's doll babies in the fire
eat glue the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl pick your nose
pack-and-play cat's butt shove M&M's up your nose
adolescence Yankee Candle store text your mother

Once again, those questions are:

1. Fine, go ahead and _________. But don't come crying to me when you ___________.

2. I can't believe you waited until ___________ to decide you were going to ____________ .

3. Who said it was ok to _____________ in the _______________?