When Parents SHOULDN’T Put Down the Phone

When my son Ian was small, whenever he talked to me he craved my undivided attention, with unbroken eye contact, preferably accompanied by head nods and verbal acknowledgement.

If I was half-listening, like I often did while reading the paper over breakfast, he’d get up, stand next to me and grab my face with both hands, turning me so we were eye-to-eye, our faces inches apart. Then he’d repeat whatever pressing thought was tumbling from his mouth.

For a while I found it funny and he found it effective. Most of the time I stopped what I was doing and focused completely on him, but not always.

This memory has sprung to mind a lot lately as I keep seeing memes and articles and blog posts admonishing parents to put down the phone. The parenting pundits and child-rearing reviewers have been shaking fingers at smartphone use, which has apparently turned into abuse, obsession and addiction that’s impeding our ability to properly parent or be present with the people we love.

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Parenting Boys to Prevent Sexual Assault

Last week when I read the article in Sunday’s paper about Idaho campuses targeting sexual assault, I held my breath for a moment, the way I always do when I read statistics about assault. I have a daughter.

The article by Idaho Statesman reporter Katy Moeller repeats a statistic I’ve heard before: “One in five women will be sexually assaulted during college and it’s most likely to happen during their freshman or sophomore years.”

My daughter moves back into the dorm in less than two weeks. She’s a sophomore. That statistic makes me sick.

We haven’t talked about sexual assault much, but I remember broaching the subject when she was about 11. We’d gone away for a girls-only weekend that sandwiched good food and fun activities with some preadolescent education, woman-to-woman.

We had long conversations about some of the stuff she’d face in her teenage years, most of it good but some of it bad. Some of it downright ugly. Growing up is mostly a wonderful thing. But it has some hard parts, and I wanted Emily to know she could talk to me about anything and I’d answer her questions honestly.

My mom did the same thing with me at that age and it acted like a block in the doorjamb, keeping an avenue of communication open, if only a crack.

The short conversation we had about sexual assault was hard. I cried. Those statistics have faces that belong to real people, people who should never have been touched or treated the way they were, often by someone they knew and trusted.

And so I told my daughter that her body was hers to control. No one else had a right to touch her without her permission, whether it was a hug or something more. And she had the power to give or deny that permission for her entire life, at any point.

Emily doesn’t remember that conversation, though she remembers us talking about boy-girl relationships and peer pressure when we weren’t swimming in the hotel pool or hitting the shops for souvenirs.

When I asked her about what she does to stay safe on campus she had good answers, like walking in groups, checking in with friends and trusting her gut about who she spends time with.

“One guy I met, I liked for a couple days,” she recalled.

But something about him unsettled her and she chose not to hang out with him again. “I found out later he was a player. It made me glad I trusted my gut,” she said.

I’d want every girl going off to college to trust her gut. I’d also want her to have a solid plan about what she’ll do when there’s alcohol, because that’s a huge factor in many assaults. But sometimes those precautions aren’t enough and the assault happens anyway. That isn’t the girls’ fault.

It bears repeating. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter how she dresses, if she flirts, if she consents to some physical activity or in any way implies that she’s open to furthering a physical encounter. The moment she says “no” is the moment the encounter needs to stop.

As much as I want my daughter to know this to her core, I want my sons to know it, too.

That ugly statistic isn’t just about assaulted women. It’s about the men who assault them.

While we’re raising our daughters to think about how to keep themselves safe, we should be raising our sons to be a source of safety.

I didn’t do a preadolescent trip with my boys. They each had a fun weekend with Curtis, bonding over water slides, go-carts and laser tag with a little bit of talking man-to-man. But I’m still making an effort to broach the hard topics. That includes sexual assault.

Our boys need to know, long before they pack their bags for college, that they have a responsibility to respect a woman’s “no.”

I don’t want my sons to believe the oft-told lie that a girl could “ask for it” by how she dresses, talks or acts. Or the lie that they’re a victim to their own desires and once they pass a certain point they can’t stop.

They can stop. They have the character, the will and the capability to stop. They’re in charge of their own bodies.

If we have a hope of changing that disheartening sexual assault statistic, it’s time our prevention strategies include how we raise our sons. Our daughters’ safety depends on it.

This column originally appeared Aug 21, 2015 in The Spokesman Review.

What do you think boys should be taught about sexual assault?

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Behind the Book Review

Today, my friend Cindy Hval blogged about the first bad review she’s received for her book, War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.

In one scathing sentence on Goodreads a woman named Frances Fuller claimed that the book bored her so much she didn’t finish it.

This made me ponder the nature of book reviews and the people who write them. I wondered what kind of women decides to read a book filled with World War II love stories then puts it down. Love isn’t boring. War isn’t boring. This book is far from boring.


Disclaimer: I’m admittedly biased because I loved the War Bonds stories back when they were story babies getting a work-over in writer’s group. Cindy makes the featured couples come alive on the pages. You feel like you know them. The book is funny. It’s heart-rending. It’s real. It’s moving.


 

As any loyal friend might, I immediately internet stalked Frances Fuller. There’re a lot of women with that name so I’ll stick to three facts and some conjecture based on her Goodreads profile.

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Long, rich love affair with Joe

coffeeI love coffee.

My affair with java began as unrequited longing during childhood. My dad made it black every morning as he headed to his home office, its aroma a gentle wake-up that wafted into my room.

But I wasn’t allowed to drink more than a sip or two. Coffee would stunt my growth, my parents joked. That only made me desire it more. I didn’t like being one of the tall girls who got her growth spurt in grade school and then had to wait years before the boys caught up.

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Teenager isn’t a Dirty Word

This week my youngest turns 13. He’s my third child to enter the teenage years, dropping the dependence of childhood like a coat that chafes at the collar and strains at the seams. With only a few glances back, he’ll race ahead, anxious to reach adulthood, independence and an unknown future.

It’s an exciting time. So please don’t offer me condolences.

Don’t look at me with wide, horrified eyes while whispering the word “teenager” as if it weren’t suitable for small, listening ears.

Don’t groan and shake your head, then recount a cautionary tale about your teen, your neighbor’s teen or a teen you read about in the paper.

Don’t issue warnings as if you were a flight attendant preparing the cabin for turbulence. “Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy seven-year ride. Just you wait.”

Maybe it is. Or maybe not.

I’ve heard similar admonitions before.

“Just you wait. Marriage isn’t all love and roses.”

“Just you wait. Babies don’t sleep through the night.”

“Just you wait, for the teething, the tantrums, the puking, the back-talking, the staying up all night waiting for them to come home.”

The admonitions of impending doom are endless if you listen, especially if you have a teenager.

Everyone has a horror story of survival, it seems. They’re as common as labor and delivery anecdotes, but with gory details that span years rather than hours. Spare me.

Yes, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. That’s called life, with or without teenagers under the roof.

I don’t mean to sugarcoat the challenges of parenting teens, or pretend there won’t be times of worry, tears, anger and frustration. This is my third teen and I remember being a teen myself. The water under the bridge hasn’t all been smooth.

But challenges shouldn’t steal the anticipation and joy that comes with having a teen in the house. Instead of condolences, here’s what I’d offer to myself and any parent approaching the teen years.

“Teenager” isn’t a curse word. Yes, some teens expand and test their vocabularies with colorful language they could barely reference with single letters just a few years earlier. But they’re also expanding and testing their intellect, ability to reason and sense of humor.

Just you wait, to become the student rather than the teacher, to have your teen know more than you about a subject, in depth and beautiful detail. Prepare to be fascinated by things you never thought you’d learn but do, because your teen finds it interesting.

Just you wait, for thoughtful conversations about politics, religion and morality. Teens are watching, listening and learning but they aren’t waiting to be spoon fed an opinion about anything. They’re figuring it out for themselves, which is thought-provoking and inspiring. It’s worth listening to their ideas and perspectives.

Just you wait, for your teen to “get” the jokes that used to go over their heads. Whether you’re watching a movie, talking over dinner or driving in the car, you’ll have opportunity to laugh long and loud together. It’s a new connection that feels like they figured out the password to get into the clubhouse and they are welcome.

Just you wait, to be seen as a person and not just a parent. Yes, they may suddenly see your imperfections in magnified detail and find you embarrassing. But they’ll also notice your successes and failures with perceptive eyes. They’ll see you struggle and offer to help. They’ll express appreciation for things they used to take for granted. Sometimes they’ll even ask for advice.

Day-to-day life with a teen has its perks, as well.

Just you wait, for the free labor. Teens are big and strong enough to pitch in as well as an adult, whether they’re mowing the lawn, carrying in groceries or moving a sofa.

Just you wait, for the freedom. You can leave them home for hours on end while rediscovering hobbies and passions. They can dress themselves, feed themselves and entertain themselves quite well without you. And you can do the same without them.

The teenage years build independence, for the teen and for the parents.

Yes, this can be bittersweet, especially since it’s my last child entering the teenage years. Of course I’m wistful for the unfiltered exuberance and hugs that came without censor, no matter who was watching. There are many things I miss about having a baby, toddler or child at home. But not enough to miss the fun that’s still to come.

Just like my son, I’m looking forward to his teenage years.

This column originally appeared Aug 16, 2014 in The Spokesman Review.

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Why so Many Youth Sports Officials Quit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Come on, ref.” The parent on the sideline threw his hands up in frustration. “That wasn’t a foul!” A few minutes later the complaint flipped, like a coin. “Come on, ref. Call that!”

It’s a soundtrack that could have come from any number of games in a variety of sports across the country. Much like a burger comes with a side of fries, most youth sports are served with a sideline of emotionally invested fans. After all, their progeny is on the field.

As a parent of active, athletic kids, I can relate. In full disclosure, I’ve been known to yell while watching my favorite team on television. It follows that I’ll hoot and holler while watching my favorite people compete live right in front of me.

But sometimes it seems as if the sidelines are on steroids.

This fall, for example, two parents in Renton, Washington, were cited for assault after a sideline brawl during a youth football game. The children playing were 9 and 10 years old.

While I’ve thankfully never seen a fistfight break out, I’ve seen the appetizer to that meal.

At a recent soccer game of 12- and 13-year-olds, supportive sideline cheers of “good job” and “nice pass” quickly shifted to stock complaints that ping-ponged between what was called and what wasn’t. The ref couldn’t win. Neither could the assistant referee on the spectators’ sideline. She was about 15.

As she ran up and down, her back to the parents and eyes on the field of play, a few adrenaline-fueled fans turned their frustrations on her. Their comments crossed a line because soon her shoulders shook with soft sobs. Still she continued, completing her job with more self-control and maturity than the adults behind her.

I didn’t hear the specific words that reduced her to tears but the tone was clear and angry. Since I don’t know those parents, rather than address them and risk escalating their overcharged emotions, I spoke to the young girl in front of me, encouraging her to keep her chin up and ignore the sidelines.

I hope she heard me. I hope she didn’t quit.

Sideline behavior has gotten so bad, many youth officials quit soon after they’re certified, compounding a statewide soccer referee shortage.

Of the 166 new officials certified last spring, the Inland Empire Soccer Referee Association reported only 84 of them were still working games.

“Attrition is at an all-time high,” said IESRA President Debora Brock, describing how spectators have yelled at teenage referees, used profanity, grabbed their arms and prevented them from leaving the field or parking lot.

“People aren’t willing to take that kind of abuse and nobody should,” she said. “We need to do something before we lose the game. Without officials it’s hard to have a soccer game.”

In response, last month IESRA released a zero-tolerance policy, aimed at curtailing inappropriate behavior directed at youth officials.

It’s a pervasive problem. The Puget Sound Premier League estimates 40 percent of youth officials quit this season across the state. This week the PSPL also sent a letter to its member clubs announcing a new initiative to address sideline behavior and the referee shortage, including a lack of experienced, well-educated officials.

“We need better refs, and we need more refs,” said PSPL President Stanley Holmes, noting that the problem is cyclical.

New officials make mistakes, sometimes costing games, he said. When the sideline response makes them quit before they can learn from those mistakes and gain experience, it compounds the referee shortage.

“The youth official is learning to officiate. They’re going to make mistakes. We’re trying to train them and make them better. If every year we start with new youth officials we’ll never have officials that have experience to move up the following year,” explained Brock.

Meanwhile, the pool of experienced officials tends to choose high school and college games over youth games because they pay more and have less sideline stress.

“We need to better educate refs. They need experience. We have to do this together,” said Holmes, adding that they’re addressing the problem by sponsoring entry-level referee training while raising awareness and working with clubs to recruit more referees. Parents are encouraged to join the pool.

It’s time for me and my fellow parents of youth athletes to self-assess and see how we can help, starting with some perspective.

Why are we so emotionally invested in the outcome of a game played by children and teens? Why are we checking our self-control at the car? If someone filmed the sidelines and played it for our employers, would we be embarrassed?

Just because I didn’t swear or throw a punch doesn’t mean I’m not part of the problem. Anytime I yell at an official, I’m a contributor.

In all the years I’ve watched my children play soccer, basketball, football or baseball I’ve yet to see an official’s calls improve because someone yelled in frustration from the sidelines. Clearly, that approach isn’t working.

I’m only one mom, and I have no desire to officiate, but I hope other parents will join me by pledging to keep our mouths shut on the sidelines unless we have something positive to say. If I slip up, feel free to offer me a lollipop. And if I offer you one, please take the hint.

This column originally appeared Nov 7, 2014 in The Spokesman Review where Jill writes her “That’s Life” twice a month.

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Researching College Running Programs

Now that our son is a junior in high school and receiving recruiting letters, he’s started looking into college running programs. Like most competitive athletes, he wants to run for one of the best programs where he can make the team.

But his education is of paramount importance, so he wants to make sure he attends a university with an accredited degree program in his area of interest, just one with a good XC and track program.

Here’s what we did so he has a lot of information to make an informed decision when choosing where to send applications.

Quick Research

  1. First, we looked up some of the highest ranked mechanical and aerospace engineering programs, based on several third-party website reviews.
  2. Then, we went to the NCAA XC Rankings page, where you can filter the top programs for each division, just to see which schools are fastest this year in each division.
  3. Only a few colleges made both lists, so we went to their websites to look up their XC rosters.
  4. On each roster page we picked a few freshman and sophomores and looked up their high school times. (See stats for high school and collegiate runners.) After doing this for a few schools in each division, my son had a good idea of where he might stack up.

NOTE  This may seem time consuming but it wasn’t. The time consuming part came next.

More Thorough Research

  1. First, I looked up accredited mechanical engineering programs at ABET as well accredited aerospace engineering programs, copying the results into tabs on an Excel spreadsheet.
  2. Next, I went to an NCAA query page to find every division I cross country program in the country. You can search for any sport or division. In the results, it also lists state, region and whether the school has been reclassified. Each school name is actually a hyperlink to that school’s website, which is pretty cool. We copied that list into another tab in his spreadsheet.
  3. With all that information we cross-referenced the accredited engineering programs with the XC programs. We also used the team and program rankings we found earlier to further whittle the results into the best combined programs in the country for his interests and competitive desires.

This information helped him whittle the list down considerably and should be quite useful as he starts contacting department heads and coaches for more information about their engineering AND running programs. It also eliminated a ton of schools that aren’t competitive enough or don’t have the right degree program.

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Stats for High School and Collegiate Runners

Statistics for cross country and track athletes are pretty simple. They measure distance and time. How fast can the athlete run from start to finish line?

For the casual athlete, like me, a running spreadsheet or social media site like dailymile is a great way to keep track of mileage and PRs. But what if you’re a competitive high school or collegiate runner, or the parent of one?

My oldest son runs high school cross country and track. He (and his parents) want to know more than how far or fast he’s run. He also wants to know how he stacks up against the competition and research college running programs.

Look up Times, PRs and the Competition

Several online sites are jostling to provide this information. I’d rank the top three as:

  1. athletic.net
  2. dyestate.com
  3. milesplit.com

1 Athletic.net depends on coaches and meet hosts to upload race results for track and cross country athletes at both the high school and collegiate level. Participation varies by geography and program but it lists most of the meets in our area, so it has a lot of useful information. A big bonus: it’s free for most functionality.

Each athlete has one or more profile pages. The collegiate and high school pages aren’t linked but the track and cross country pages are and they show multiple years with times listed and seasonal and personal records highlighted.

One of the site’s strengths is robust cross-referencing and an excellent search engine. On my son’s profile page I can click a meet link and see that meet’s results. From a meet page I can click an athlete’s name and see their profile. I can also click a school name and see their roster with best times.

This is a great way to compare the competition.

The site also has athletes ranked by seasonal bests locally, regionally, at the state and national levels as well as filters for 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, etc.,

You can also filter results by grade or distance and look up a hypothetical meet to see how a team compares on paper.

One caveat there is the hypothetical meet function doesn’t follow XC point scoring. Rather, it adds the five fastest times for a team at a particular distance and adds them, then ranks teams based on those cumulative fastest times. Close enough and since XC scoring is pretty easy, you can quickly figure out the points in a hypothetical meet from that information.

2 dyestat.com  I haven’t used this one much because the user interface is clunky and the meet results are less complete for our area. It does rank athletes and teams as well as lists the number of elite athletes next to meet names, which is kind of fun. Hopefully they’ll continue improving the site.

3 milesplit.com Again, I haven’t used this one much because it isn’t as complete or as easy to use as athletic.net. It also has had my son’s name misspelled, a major pet peeve. Since I’m writing this post I decided I should probably ask them to fix that and it was easy to find a contact form. I did get an immediate email that they have “Premium Service Ninjas” working on it. Update: they fixed his name in less than two hours. That’s good customer service.

 

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Every dog needs his day – for Tippy

TippyCanoe

Tippy

When my friend and fellow Spokesman-Review columnist Cindy Hval wrote a couple columns from the perspective of her cats, Thor and Milo, I laughed. They were fun columns with the facts filtered through artistic license. (You can read them here and here.)

Over drinks Cindy and I decided I should respond by writing a column from the perspective of my border collie Tippy. I’d written about Tippy before but not from his point of view. Alas, when I submitted the column it was rejected with apologies from my editor.

I rewrote the column from my perspective (read the revision here), but have since received requests to share the original column. What’s the point of an oft-neglected blog if not to self-publish rejected columns written from the perspective of a dog?

So, here it is in Tippy’s words:

I’m Tippy, a border collie-Australian shepherd mix that lives in the Barville pack. I’m writing this column for Jill, my Alpha animal. I’d do anything for her. She’s the best, which I tell her all the time because when you love someone, you should tell them every time you see them.

Jill has written about me before but when I heard that Milo and Thor, columnist Cindy Hval’s cats, each wrote a column while she vacationed this summer, I barked.

It’s cute that a cat could write a column. But unlike a cat, I’m dependable, high energy, focused, and bred to work. Ever since she brought me home from the animal rescue place, I’ve told Jill that I’d like more responsibilities beyond managing house and yard security, entertaining the pack, and providing constant companionship to her no matter what room she’s in. I’d prefer to do more.

It took quite a bit of barking before she realized what I wanted. She’s smart but not border collie smart. When she finally said, “do you want to write a column too, Tippy?” I barked loud, perked my ears and jumped into the air, careful to not put my paws on her. She doesn’t like that.

Since I love her very much, I try hard to do things she likes and stop doing things she doesn’t like. I stopped barking at the aerosol cooking spray can and at the vacuum cleaner, because she asked me to, even though those things could hurt her.

I just wish she were smarter or could understand bark the way I understand English. Then I could reason with her and help her understand why I do some of the things I do.

When I bark at horses, dogs and other animals who’re approaching the big, black window, for example, it’s to keep them from jumping into our living room. The rest of the pack just stares at the black window, as if they don’t realize the animals on the other side aren’t safe. It’s up to me to keep the pack safe.

I also bark at the black window when Jill yells at it because some humans aren’t doing what she wants with a ball. They must be bad at fetching. I’m good at fetching. If she needs to throw a ball a bunch of times, I help by chasing it and bringing it back, no matter how hot or tired I am. I could do this all day.

In fact, I can do a lot more than she thinks I can. She shouldn’t have been so surprised last week, for example, when I went to visit my best friend Bear. He’s a golden retriever and not an actual bear. I’d seen Bear the night before when he visited after traveling in an RV for a month. We didn’t get to play long enough.

I thought when the other Alpha, Curtis, left the garage door open, it meant I was supposed to scout the neighborhood and make sure it was safe. It was and everyone was either asleep or in the shower so I didn’t have any other jobs to do so I ran the ¾ mile to Bear’s house. There’s only one busy street to cross and I’m faster than most cars anyway.

Speaking of speed, I’d like to clarify that I’m faster than most animals, including squirrels and especially cats. This is one of many reasons I’m so good at my job as chief security officer and pack protector.

I run at half speed while barking to ensure squirrels don’t violate our yard space. They’re stupid rodents who push the boundary by running along the top of the six foot fence, talking smack in those high pitched voices that sound like a squeaky toy.

This partially explains the squirrel incident last month. Jill isn’t the best communicator and hadn’t explained that I wasn’t authorized to use lethal force when enforcing our borders. So when that squirrel breached our yard space and squeaked, I did my job. I grabbed it with intent to toss it over the fence. It was still squeaking when she yelled at me to stop.

Her wish is my command so I dropped it instantly before running into the house with my tail down to show I was sorry my security measures had displeased her.

One of my prime responsibilities is to make sure she and the other pack humans are happy, a job I take seriously.

When the youngest human pup gets up, for example, I meet him on the stairs and bounce backward while barking as he stumbles up sleepily. This helps him wake up and arrive at the top safely. It also makes him feel loved and that is the most important job of all. Humans need to know they’re loved.

It also makes the young pup happy when I give him a high five, shake his hand or fetch the flying disc or ball, so I perform these tasks and eat the oat cereal he offers as payment. I love having a job and wish he and the other humans would give me more work.

I’m pretty sure I could learn how to do anything they do, only better, whether that’s fetching a sports drink from the refrigerator or writing this column twice a month.

If you read both versions, which is your preference? I promise to not take it personally.

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Spartan Race Giveaway Winner, 15% off for everyone else

Drum roll……. Alberto M. won the Spartan race entry. Aroo! But the rest of you can still get 15% off if you click here to register. So get out there and find your Spartan Strong.

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