Introducing the Birds and the Bees

This all happened much sooner than I had anticipated. I thought I’d have at least one more year, till my oldest would be in fifth grade. But over the past few months, my kids – independent of one another – started asking questions. My son had read stuff about DNA in one of his science books and was curious (“Look it’s so cool, the woman’s DNA is in an egg and it mixes with a man’s DNA which is in sperms.”) My daughter had overheard discussions about young teenagers becoming mothers (“Mama, can girls have babies?”) and also wanted the nitty-gritty details about how dogs breed (“But how do they mix the two dog breeds? I mean how?”) I’d done a fairly good job up until this point deflecting their questions or giving them just enough information to be satisfied with the answer but not enough to spark further curiosity.

But based on the frequency of their questions, it felt like the time had come to reveal all.

My kids are now armed with new knowledge and vocabulary. To all my parent friends, my kids’ teachers, their classmates and classmates’ parents, I apologize should you hear words – like scrotum – uttered by my otherwise sweet seven year-old. For some reason, she has latched on to the word scrotum. Go figure.

It’s not that I was trying to keep any of this a secret. It’s just once you breach this milestone, there’s no turning back. Not that it’s a bad thing to equip them with this information. But while you are filling in the gory details about how babies are made and how they come out, you may as well open the kimono on Santa, the tooth fairy and all that. Suddenly, all that is magical evaporates replaced with science and biology. Where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, I decided to buy books. I ordered two different books and read them cover to cover before handing them over to the kids, ever so casual. “Hey, you’ve been wondering so here’s something to read, and papa and I can answer any questions you might have.” No biggie, right? (“JUST DON’T DO THIS UNTIL YOU ARE AT LEAST 30, my brain screamed.”)

For the seven year-old, I selected the book It’s Not The Stork. All the basics are there, presented in very accessible cartoon format. She dug right in and has enjoyed it as much as reading her Magic Tree House or Pokemon books. No questions asked.

For the ten year-old, I bought It’s Perfectly Normal. To say it’s comprehensive is an understatement. The book covers a lot of territory, much of which makes little sense right now to him (sexting, gender identity, birth control … etc.) What I appreciated most about this book was how everything was presented in the context of acceptance, love and respect.

When I first gave him the book, he was mortified. he sat on the floor, head in his hands and said “I can’t believe you gave me a book about sex: it’s so inappropriate!” So I explained he could treat it like a reference book, dip into it every now and then whenever he had questions. I told him it wouldn’t all make sense now and that was OK. Needless to say, he has actually read it cover to cover. Also no questions have been asked though we have made it very clear that if and when he wants to talk, we are here.

Whether or not I’ve handled this right, I have no clue. It’s part and parcel of the whole operating without a handbook thing. And we are only at the beginning of this journey.

Still, there have been several hysterical moments. My daughter apparently lectured her grandparents over breakfast one morning about the two different ways babies are born. I’m not sure if they were horrified or amused. She also recently used the phrase “pretend he just sucked his testicles in” while her Hero Factory/Chima Lego creatures were play-battling in the back seat of the car. I almost drove off the road. She was also overheard explaining to her best friend about how a girl’s private parts are inside, while a boy’s hang out. Which, I guess, is correct. Not sure how that came up in their conversation.

And then there was the evening when I was telling the kids about how on that very night, 14 years earlier, their papa and I had met on our first date. I thought it was going to be a sweet conversation about falling in love and romance and all that.

However my son looked at me with a knowing look on his face: “Oh, I’ve read all about dates,” he said, eyeing me suspiciously. “And love. And penises.”

Ah well. This should be fun.

My Inevitable Back to School Blog Post

My favorite part of back to school – other than, you know, the obvious – is prepping all their supplies and backing them into fresh, crisp, clean new backpacks. Pencils have been deftly sharpened. Labels have been lovingly affixed. Everything is neat and organized.

For now. Because we all know that these backpacks will only stay fresh, crisp and clean for a few days. They will soon enough transform into disorganized, sticky receptacles that you are scared to dip your hands into for fear of yuck.

But today, I smile. Because they look like this. Ready to accompany my little darlings back into the land of academics, structure and the inevitable social nirvana/angst.

photo 2 (1) photo 1 (1)

Now, this wouldn’t be a self-respecting back to school blog post without some photos of the little darlings, heading off to seize the day. I’ve used the Shuttersong app to embed their voices into the images and really capture and save the memories of their enthusiasm for school at ages 7 and 9!

You can check them out here:

http://a.sso.ng/1/704494ea4ec2

http://a.sso.ng/1/da50e6a02a16

http://a.sso.ng/1/d2043325aa90

Happy Back to School!

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Inspiring Innovations in Education

Today I had the unexpected good fortune to attend a TedX event focused on Education Innovation and, while in theory I was only there to support my cousin Jake who was speaking (and had flown in from the UK), in reality I found it incredibly inspiring. And intriguing because here were these people with fantastic ideas for challenging the status quo, advancing education and creating new generations of globally-minded, community-focused and technology-leveraged children and future leaders. Who wouldn’t be inspired?

Three talks stood out for me.

The first was by Julia de la Torre of Primary Source and focused on introducing global education into the curriculum as early as K-12. Empowering young, eager minds with a meaningful understanding of different cultures, not just through one-off International Days when they learn about one country’s food and history, but through new types of curricula, new models for learning, collaborations across classrooms, even countries. This really resonated for me: I’ve been fortunate enough to travel far and wide, to have lived in different countries, to speak different languages. As a European, this is not so unusual. I desperately want for my kids to have the same exposure, appreciation, challenges. I’m only just starting to experience the American Public School system and I sincerely hope my kids’ education and mindset are able to expand beyond Massachusetts. I know my husband and I play a large role in opening their eyes to the world beyond Framingham but I would love for their school to also forge a large part of this global education.

The second talk was by my cousin Jake Hayman of Future First. Jake created this organization to tackle the issue of social mobility and the reality that your family’s wealth – or not – foretells your future. Jake talked about how hard it is for lower-class kids to break out; that the cycle of poor education and poor jobs and poor prospects repeats itself. But that a solution lies in bringing these kids, hope, mentoring and financial support via their school’s alumni. Future First’s mission is to help schools make the most of their communities using the enthusiasm, experience, skills and talents of former students. To quote Jake, “We can flood schools with army of alumni ready to give back.” In the UK, more than 500 high schools have bought into this concept and have instituted powerful alumni networks. Now, Jake is bringing this to the US; and I wish him so much luck. This is not about innovating in education, but about creating meaningful bridges between classrooms and communities that can effect change and progression. I respect that.

The last talk that inspired me was by Eileen Rudden, who recently served as Chief Officer, College and Career Preparation at Chicago Public Schools. She presented some shocking facts about how US students might be making it to college but are increasingly dropping out; the root cause being that their high school education has not fully prepared them for college success. Eileen is creating a Massachusetts-based cluster of ed tech startups to challenge this, bringing together startup companies that are innovating across aspects of education. After all, Eileen said, “How come teachers do not have software solutions at their disposal, like almost any other profession?” Innovation in ed tech can not only improve kids’ ability to learn but also substantially improve teacher efficiencies.

Each of these topics hit home to me, as a parent, an expat, and a passionate follower of technology and innovation. I’m inspired. But I’m just not sure what to do with this inspiration, how to channel it. Still processing it all. There’s change needed. Ideas are a good start. But action is required.

Crossing My Fingers & Toes for Free, Full-Day Kindergarten

Like so many other local families, I’ve been watching the news out of each Framingham School Committee meeting as eagerly as episodes of Mad Men.

The good news is that it appears that everyone is in favor of implementing free, full-day kindergarten across Framingham’s elementary schools. The budgetary details have been worked out. All systems go?

But, wait, it still needs to be approved through the Town Meeting – and that meeting starts tonight!

Parents of five year olds across the town are waiting with baited breath.

Why does it matter so much to us? Here’s why it matters to me and my family:

  • Free – Who doesn’t like free? Truth is, we were prepared to pay for full-day as we did for our older son. In fact, the cost of full-day kindergarten felt like a huge discount compared to the cost of preschool. But for many, it’s not an option. Implementing free, full-day kindergarten will be a huge break for large numbers of families across town. Not just for their wallets but also for the two to three extra hours they’ll get (to work and/or organize busy lives) instead of having to pick up kids in the middle of the day.
  • Full-day – While we all acknowledge that “full” in this context is a misnomer, the fact is if we don’t get universal full-day, we get thrown into a lottery system and may end up with half-day. This element of uncertainty makes me very nervous. Having to wait till late May or even early June to find out makes me hyperventilate! If we don’t get full-day kindergarten, it will be a huge problem for our family. My husband and I both work full-time. Our son attends an after-school program that does not accommodate half-day kindergartners. Will we have to find separate transportation and care for our daugher? How will this all work logistically? How much extra will it cost? Is it even worth my working?

Of course, I’m coming at this from how this decision impacts me and my husband. But what about the kids? In my opinion, three hours of school barely counts as school, especially for those children that are already used to spending all day in a preschool setting.

So many questions, so much angst. I know I’m not alone in this. Please, Town Meeting people, do us all a favor and pass free, full-day kindergarten so we all know where we stand.

Yours with baited breath and clutching a brown paper bag,

One of Many Anxious Working Mothers

(This post originally appeared in the Framingham Patch.)

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