Liberalism and Social Justice Warriors have ruined children’s literature.

A while back, some guy said:

Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.

Liberals take this very seriously.  That is why children’s literature now sucks so bad.

Evolutiontheorist left a humorous and insightful comment on my post about the children’s book The Tooth:

“I’ve noticed that the children’s book world is full of sentimental/boring works that only adults would be interested in. Every time I go to the library, it seems like I come home with at least one book that looked good, but turns out to be about a kid who’s pet died or a bird whose best friend turned out to be a snowball and then melted. Or about how the author grew up in poverty but it’s okay because they liked eating paint. (I am not making that up.)

Kids like books about cheeky toy trains, hoppy bunnies, funny superheroes, or grand adventures. They like rainbows and unicorns and swashbuckling pirates. They do not want to hear about how if you eat too much candy, you might have to go to the dentist and get a tooth pulled, for goodness’s sakes.”

If you don’t think that there is any particular agenda behind this, listen to the following children’s story.

Moral of the story: It’s fun being married to a cross-dresser!

But it isn’t (just) the liberal/SJW agenda that I’m objecting to.  If the story is well-crafted, I could talk through with my kids why I don’t agree with whatever political or “social justice” point the author was trying to make.  Kids’ books have always been a bit preachy in their own way, it’s just that back in the day the preachiness was aimed at getting kids to behave and be good and now it’s aimed at getting them to tear down Western civilization faster, faster, faster.  But the craft aspect to it is TERRIBLE now.  Thornton W. Burgess was a preachy conservationist, but my children loved hearing his stories about Reddy Fox and Lightfoot the Deer (you can listen to his stories being read by non-professional readers here).  He was a fine children’s literature writer despite his tendency to anthropomorphize deer and his inability to comprehend that slow death by starvation due to overpopulation is not kinder than a quick death by a hunter’s gun.

Several years ago on another blog I wrote a post entitled What is happening to children’s literature?  I think we understand now exactly what is happening to it, but I am going to repost that essay here since it seems relevant.

What is happening to children’s literature?  

Posted on 03/09/2014

Painting by Emil Rau | Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons

If you have children, you probably already know that March is National Reading Month.

Because we don’t watch television, our family listens to a lot of audio books.  We try to choose ones that we all enjoy listening to and which will appeal to a range of ages.  A typical evening in our house finds us gathered in the living room, the children drawing or writing and me working on a blog post, while listening to stories on the CD player.  Because of this, I have listened to quite a number of both classic and modern children’s stories, and I have concluded that the modern ones are largely unimpressive.

Surely I am not the only parent who has noticed the startling decline in the quality of children’s literature?  I first began thinking about this about ten years ago, when my husband and I noticed that many of the picture story books that had the Caldecott Medal Winner sticker on them were so…weird.  The books were uninteresting to children and sometimes even frightened them, but I’m sure they were intriguing to the highly-educated, liberal parents of our generation who were raised to see things that are “alternative” as superior.  This is the basic ethos of progressivism; anything new and strange, no matter how objectively crappy, is better than what came before.  Weird, disturbing children’s books must be better than the simple, charming types of stories that came before, right?

We have continued to notice this trend as our children have gotten older.  One year awhile back, we joined a mother-daughter book club at the library.  One of the first books that was assigned to us was called The Higher Power of Lucky.  We were given a free copy of the book to read, and let me tell you, it was dreadful.  It was equal parts morbid and boring.  The ten-year-old main character is a girl named Lucky whose mother died from being electrocuted during a storm; her father is unaccounted for and she lives with her father’s first ex-wife in an old trailer in a depressing desert town.  She is obsessed with Charles Darwin for some reason and the primary adventure in the story seems to center around Lucky eavesdropping outside AA meetings and worrying that her guardian will abandon her.

Librarians are obsessed with this book.  It is everywhere; it is one of their most highly recommended books.  Just now we have returned from the library and there were five copies of the audio book on the shelf.  Five copies!  Audio books are expensive, and it always takes them ages to order the classic ones that I request, but somehow we have money for five copies of this book.  No one ever checks them out, but I’m sure it makes the librarians feel very cheerful and progressive to see them on the shelf.

There were several other books that we read for that book club, all equally strange and uninspiring.  Modern children’s books usually have main characters who are female, have an intense grrrll power message, and often involve scenes in which girls behave unethically to get what they want.  I allowed our girls to listen to a modern story called The Callahan Cousins on audio book last summer about three cousins (all girls) who stay with their grandmother for the summer.  The girls – all grrrl-powered up of course – lie, steal, gossip, sneak out, sneak around, and none of this is portrayed in the story as a negative thing.

I can’t imagine what kind of literature is out there for boys now.  I rarely see much of anything geared at boys on the shelves, other than stories based on movies, video games, and TV shows.  Classic literature isn’t used much anymore, but the new literature is mostly badly written, dull, upsetting, and uninteresting, mostly progressivist propaganda.  Virtually every book for girls in the age range of 7 to 12 seems to include some kind of self-conscious gender-bending or gender “stereotype” smashing theme.

I know that many of my readers are parents and would probably like to know of good books for children between the ages of 7 and 15.  I will start by recommending the following five books, none of which are Christian books.

All of these stories are available on audio book at our library, but even if you can’t get the audio version, I think your children would enjoy reading these stories:

The Miracles on Maple Hill  (1956) by Virginia Sorensen:

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1939) by Margaret Sydney:

Rascal (1963) by Sterling North:

Larklight (2006) by Philip Reeve:


The Mistmantle Chronicles – start with Urchin of the Riding Stars (2005) by M. I. McAllister:

And our family’s FAVORITE series of audiobooks ever, Hank the Cowdog.

These are perfect for young boys as well as girls.  You can buy the books, but I very strongly recommended springing for the extra few dollars to buy the audio books.  The author reads them himself and includes songs, and his delivery is just so entertaining.  I recommend Hank the Cowdog very highly.  We have almost the entire series on audio book now (we’ve been purchasing them slowly over the past decade); also, check your library’s children’s audio book collection because they very well may have some of these or may be willing to purchase them.

Here is a YouTube clip of the author, John Erickson, giving a reading (he’s a much in-demand speaker and lecturer and is a salt-of-the earth Texan Christian sort.)

Hey feminists, I know you are but what am I?

That moment when I realize I am far less sexist than feminists…

If I had a nickel for every time I was taken to task by some internet feminist for being allegedly sexist back when I used to run my anti-feminism blog, I would be writing this post from my Northern Michigan hunting preserve with luxury cabins and on-site deer processing facility.  But it turns out, feminists are the real sexists:

In Karen Keller’s kindergarten classroom, boys can’t play with Legos.

They can have their pick of Tinkertoys and marble tracks, but the colorful bricks are “girls only.”

“I always tell the boys, ‘You’re going to have a turn’ — and I’m like, ‘Yeah, when hell freezes over’ in my head,” she said. “I tell them, ‘You’ll have a turn’ because I don’t want them to feel bad.”

Although her approach might anger some parents, Keller is sticking to her guns: It’s all part of a plan to get girls building during “free choice,” the 40 minutes of unstructured play time embedded at the end of every school day.

Huh.  Sex-segregated play?  Tell me the one about gender being just a social construct, feminists.

I know I said I wasn’t going to write about the idiocy of feminism much anymore, but this story hit close to home.  As you may know, I am a speech-language pathologist.  I have worked in private practice and out-patient med rehab, but currently I work in a public school.  It’s a nice school.  The teachers are good, it’s a semi-rural setting, the kids are progressing well…no OMG aren’t the public schools so awful! stories to share about the building I work in.  The Kindergarten teachers there, who are not to my knowledge sexist feminists, all have tubs of Legos in their rooms for the children to use during choice time, and I have never ever seen them restrict use to one sex or the other.

As readers of my old blog may recall, I am a huge proponent of using Legos or other such bricks during therapy.  A typical therapy session for me is as follows:

I go to pick up Bobby (not his name) from Mrs. Smith’s (not her name) Kindergarten room.  He is building with Legos but doesn’t mind stopping to come to the speech room to work on his /s/ sound.  We sit at the table and I open up my large totebag filled with ziploc bags.  In the bags are various small sets of Legos, including the Friend Legos that are marketed toward girls, with their instruction booklets.  There are also large ziploc bags full of Snap-N-Style dolls.  He may choose any of these items.  Bobby always chooses the Legos, and he never chooses the Friend Legos.  Girls almost always choose the dolls or sometimes the Friend Legos.  Hey folks, I don’t make the biological sex roles!  But neither do I fight against them…

“Bobby, let’s go through your words now.  For /s/, keep your teeth together, put your tongue on the ‘T’ spot, and blow.  Ready?  Repeat after me.”

After 5 words, Bobby gets the blocks he needs to complete step 1.  He then uses the words in sentences and gets the blocks for step 2.  He continues working dilligently on his speech work with pauses to build.  At the end of the session, he has built this:

“Great job on your speech sounds, Bobby.  You may have 2 minutes to play with what you built.”

“Can we make a video?” he asks.

Yes, I say, smiling to myself because Bobby doesn’t know that making Lego videos is my trick for getting him to practice narrative language skills.  Bobby proceeds to narrate a brief story about a bad thief and a good cop while I record it with my school iPad.  While he watches the video happily, I tell him to check to make sure his story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  He says it does.  He gets his sticker (he can choose from a wide variety of stickers but almost always chooses a super hero sticker – hey folks, I don’t make the biological sex roles).   He leaves.

Bobby returns to class happy and sits down for read-to-self time.  When Suzy (not her name) comes to speech, she gets to choose from the same totebag.  She almost always chooses the Snap-N-Style dolls, which stimulate her spatial reasoning skills and develop her fine motor abilities just like Legos do.  Her narrative video shows a girl doll feeding the Snap-N-Style puppy and brushing its fancy fur.

Oh, curse you, you persistent biological sex roles!

Naturally Bobby and Suzy are free to choose to play with whatever they find in the totebag.  Boys who play with dolls and girls who build motorcycle cops are A-okay by me; my therapy goals for them will be achieved either way.

In other words, I don’t have to be sexist like feminists are to use Legos at school.

Now, let us contemplate the school district’s response to noted sexist Kindergarten teacher Karen Keller:

“Following the release of a recent news article, the Bainbridge Island School District (BISD) has received inquiries that reflect inaccurate perceptions about student access to Legos in Karen Keller’s kindergarten classroom at Blakely Elementary School,” wrote district spokeswoman Galen Crawford.

“In keeping with a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education grant, Ms. Keller gave girls a designated time to play with the building toys during a 30-minute ‘free-choice’ time block in September 2015. This isolated, short-term practice ended in October. All students in all classrooms have and will continue to have access to all instructional and noninstructional materials.”

Hey Bainbridge Island School District administrators, here is a protip from me: if you refuse to call out isolated incidents of terrible and probably illegal behavior by one of your teachers, you feed the fire of public perception of our schools being evil dens of ultra left-wing idealogues who want to brainwash and indoctrinate little children to their personal political agenda by all means possible, including using discriminatory classroom practices.  Those of us who are down here in the trenches know that most teachers aren’t like that, so why do you throw them under the bus by defending bad apples like Karen Keller?   It’s hardly a mystery why homeschooling is increasing by seven to fifteen percent per year when certain school administrators won’t police their own.

Luckily for me, this kind of crap would never fly in the district I work in.  I wouldn’t work there if it did since speech therapists are highly in demand and I could choose to work in a variety of schools, therapy clinics, hospitals, or skilled nursing facilities instead.  I will never silently acquiesce to sexual discrimination against boys no matter where I work.

But let’s end on a positive note, shall we?  Let’s talk about why I use Legos in my therapy plans so often.  It isn’t solely because Legos are fun and children love them.  There is actually a plethora of research that demonstrates the cognitive, fine motor, linguistic, social and academic benefits of playing with bricks such as Legos.  I use them as reinforcers for speech sound articulation therapy, for building narrative language skills, and for improving social pragmatic language skills for children on the autism spectrum.  I’ve used them with kids who stutter to practice fluency techniques.  I’m even considering starting a second blog on which I post all my therapy lesson plans involving Legos or other building blocks since I’ve seen so much improvement in the children with whom I use them.

For those who are interested, here are a handful of studies, but there are many more:

  • Caldera YM, Culp AM, O’Brien M, Truglio RT, Alvarez M, and Huston AC. 1999. Children’s Play Preferences, Construction Play with Blocks, and Visual-spatial Skills: Are they Related? International Journal of Behavioral Development; 23 (4): 855-872.
  • Casey BM, Andrews N, Schindler H, Kersh JE, Samper A and Copley J. 2008. The development of spatial skills through interventions involving block building activities. Cognition and Instruction (26): 269-309.
  • Christakis DA, Zimmerman FJ, and Garrison MM. 2007. Effect of block play on language acquisition and attention in toddlers: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 161(10):967-71.
  • Heisner J. 2005. Telling Stories with Blocks: Encouraging Language in the Block Center Early Childhood Research and Practice 7(2).
  • Ferrara K, Hirsch-Pasek K, Newcombe NS, Golinkoff RM and Shallcross Lam W. 2011. Block talk: Spatial language during block play. Mind, Brain, and Education (5): 143-151.
  • Kamii C, Miyakawa Y and Kato Y. 2004. The development of logico-mathematical knowledge in a block-building activity at ages 1-4. Journal of Research in Childhood19: 44-57.
  • Keen R. 2011. The development of problem solving in young children: a critical cognitive skill. Annu Rev Psychol.62:1-21.
  • Legoff DB and Sherman M. 2006. Long-term outcome of social skills intervention based on interactive LEGO play. Autism. 10(4):317-29.
  • Oostermeijer M, Boonen JH and Jolles J. 2014. The relation between children’s constructive play activities, spatial ability, and mathematical word problem-soving performance: a mediation analysis in sixth-grade students. Frontiers in Psychology 5 Article 782.
  • Pepler DJ and Ross HS. 1981. The effects of play on convergent and divergent problem solving. Child Development 52(4): 1202-1210.
  • Richardson M, Hunt TE, and Richardson C. 2014. Children’s construction task performance and spatial ability: Controlling task complexity and predicting mathematics performance. Percept Mot Skills. 2014 Nov 11. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Roseth CJ, Johnson DW, and Johnson RT. 2008. Promoting Early Adolescents’ Achievement and Peer Relationships: the Effects of Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic Goal Structures. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 134, No. 2: 223-246.
  • Sprafkin C, Serbin LA, Denier C and Connor JM. 1983. Sex-differentiated play: Cognitive consequences and early interventions. In MB Liss (ed), Social and cognitive skills: Sex roles and child’s play. New York: Academic Press.
  • Stiles J and Stern C. 2009. Developmental change in young children’s spatial cognitive processing: Complexity effects and block construction performance in preschool children. Journal of Cognition and Development (2): 157-187.
  • Verdine BN, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek K, Newcombe NS, Filipowicz AT, Chang A. 2013. Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematical Skills. Child Dev. 2013 Sep 23. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12165. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Wolfgang CH, Stannard LL, and Jones I. 2003. Advanced constructional play with LEGOs among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Early Child Development and Care 173(5): 467-475.
  • Wolfgang, Charles H.; Stannard, Laura L.; & Jones, Ithel. 2001. Block play performance among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15(2), 173-180.

Happy building!

The Worst Mother-in-Law

I’ve just finished reading Mychael’s post Monster-in-law at Scott’s new blog, Morally Contextualized Romance, and skimming through the comments.  There are several good stories there about the positive role a mother-in-law can play in her daughter-in-law’s life, but the question asked was how to avoid becoming a MONSTER-in-law to your (potential) daughter-in-law.  I’ll never have a daughter-in-law since we have only daughters and no sons, and (despite some tensions early in our relationship) my own mother-in-law is not a monster, but I do have a thought on what would make a terrible mother-in-law.

I think a terrible mother-in-law is someone who seeks to influence important decisions in her son’s and daughter-in-law’s life according to her own agenda.  Equally important would be the problem of the son who seeks to involve his mama in marital decisions overly much.  Allow me to provide an example that I have mulled over for years.

Two years ago, the self-help author Susan Jeffers, a not-infrequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, passed away.  She was born Susan Gildenberg, got married young, had two children, and decided that she was meant for “more” than “just” raising a family (her words).  So she went back to school, biding her time until her husband was making enough money to afford daycare, and then divorced him, giving him full custody of the children so she could pursue a full-time career as a psychologist and self-help author.

After getting divorced, she changed her name to “Jeffers” because she liked the way it sounded.  Among her many words of bad advice for women, one of them is that as soon as they are old enough, women should randomly pick a surname of someone they don’t know and change their name to that because to keep their fathers’ names or take their husbands’ names is sexist and implies that the woman is owned by the men in her life.  In her view it is better if the woman is just disconnected from everything and everyone, I guess.

“Jeffers” first popped on my radar one morning back in the early 2000s when I was watching the Today! show (back when we still had TV) while feeding one of our daughters.  There was some segment on the Mommy Wars with careerists squared off against the stay-home mom crowd.  I’ve always found that debate tiresome, but I watched it idly.  Jeffers asserted that women should NOT have children but if they are stupid enough to have them, they should never, ever have more than one, because it would limit their career success, and their careers should be the most important thing in the world to them. I thought, “What an awful woman.”

But a week or so later I was at the library when I saw a book she’d published in 2000 entitled, I’m Okay, You’re a Brat.  The book claimed that it would debunk harmful myths about raising children, so on a whim I grabbed it and read it.  It was an absolutely disgusting piece of trash, it turns out.  The book grumbles over all the challenges of raising children, but the real gist is that “Jeffers” did not like being a mother and therefore believed that most women probably dislike being mothers and instead should devote their entire lives to their “careers”.

But one anecdote she told in the book horrified and disgusted me at the time and has stuck with me these some ten years or so.  At one point, Jeffers’ son came to her and told her that he and his wife were thinking about having a child and asked her if they should do it.  I wish I could find the direct quote of what she said to him, but the gist of it was that she told him that he and his wife were fools to even consider having children, that they absolutely should not, that they would hate every minute of it, and if they had children, to understand that they should never imagine that she would want to take care of their child for them for even a moment.

Now, I don’t know why a man would go to his mama to ask her whether or not he ought to have kids; one would hope that by the time he is a husband, he is a big enough boy to make decisions like that for himself.  But for heaven’s sake, what kind of mother would give that kind of advice to her son?  It’s none of her business whether her son and his wife have children or not!  I felt sorry for Jeffers’ daughter-in-law, and I would say Jeffers epitomized the Monster-in-law in that example.

My advice to young single women would be Don’t marry a man who can’t seem to make decisions without asking his mommy first.  My advice to mothers would be Don’t raise your son to be the kind of man who runs to Mommy for advice before he makes decisions for his family.  And my advice to wives would be Don’t set yourself up as some kind of authority over your husband such that he feels like he needs to get female permission before he makes decisions for his family (go to Dalrock’s blog and search “mother-in-law” for a good post on that topic).

In terms of how to treat a potential daughter-in-law when first meeting her, though, I think Mychael pretty much has it right when she says:

I have told Scott that what I would like to do is really pour on the sweetness and submissive attitude toward him, in the girls presence so she can internalize “this is what my guys mom treats his dad like. Does he expect that of me?”

And then maybe give the girl a chance to ponder that.  It may be the first time she’s seen a woman who treats her husband with a sweet, respectful attitude and she may very well be intrigued but unsure.  Gently influencing her (potential) future daughter-in-law with her good example is likely to be the most helpful thing a mother-in-law can do.

Remember to teach your children the home arts (plus a recipe for strawberry rhubarb jam)

One thing I sometimes forget in the busyness of life is how important it is to teach our children the home arts.  My kids can cook, but I haven’t taught them much about food preservation.  When I was in high school, I was instructed in canning quite regularly and spent many hours (grumbling in my head about the injustice of it all) in a steaming hot kitchen in July and August helping my parents can green beans, make jam and pickles, and shelling peas to freeze while my peers were swimming in the Thornapple River.

But now I’m glad I have these skills, and I was reminded recently about how important it is that we all teach the home arts to our sons and daughters. So when I had enough cucumbers for another batch of salt brine fermented pickles, I told one of our daughters how to do it and set her at it.  She did a good job, and I’ll be sure to praise her when we open that jar of pickles to eat them.


Later that day I decided to teach another child how to make and can strawberry rhubarb jam (if you’ve never canned anything before, you might find the Ball Jars website very helpful).  I found that at just shy of ten years of age, she was able to handle nearly the entire job from start to finish with some minor help and plenty of supervision.

Here is how to make a small batch of strawberry rhubarb jam for canning:


1. Pick (or buy) some stalks of fresh rhubarb and several cups of fresh strawberries.image

2. Assemble your ingredients:

  • 2 ½ c rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2 ½ c strawberries, washed/hulled/halved
  • the juice from one medium lemon
  • 2 ½ c white sugar (can use a bit more or less depending on how sweet you like your jam to be)
  • 4 8-ounce glass canning jars with lids and rings

3. Wash and slice rhubarb (Daughter did the washing and I did the slicing).


4. Put it into a heavy-bottomed pot and sprinkle sugar over the top; let stand at least one hour.


5. Wash, hull, and halve strawberries, then add to rhubarb.  Stir in lemon juice.image

6. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil and cook jam until thickened, stirring constantly, 20 to 25 minutes, then remove from heat and stir for three more minutes.


7. Because this recipe has to process in the water bath canner for ten minutes, you probably don’t have to sterilize the jars, but I did so anyway. Spoon the jam into a funnel to fill the jars to within 1/4 inch of the top, then run a knife around the inside of each jar to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars, then put on the lids and tops.


8. Place the jars on the rack in the bottom of the canner and fill it so that there are a couple of inches of water covering the tops of the jars.  Bring the water to a full boil, cover the pot, and process for 10 minutes.

9. Using a jar lifter, remove each jar and set it on a clean dish towel on the counter to cool for 24 hours, then check to make sure the seal has formed by pushing on the top with your finger.



I was surprised how well she did and I realized I need to spend more time teaching these skills to my children. They feel good about being able to do something helpful on their own, and I feel good knowing that I’ve taught them a useful skill.

At last there is a way to solve that pesky overpopulation problem!

Mrs. Laura Wood has the scoop on the latest Supreme Court Ruling: SCOTUS Rules for Children:

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT ruled today, in the landmark case Scarsbury v. Scarsbury, that under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, children are entitled to establish their own bedtimes and eat whatever they darn well please. The 5-4 ruling was the culmination of years of struggle by children’s rights advocates. It was widely hailed as a victory for equality.

There is no word yet as to when the multinational corporation-sponsored Children’s Liberation Pride parades will begin, but let me be the first to bravely face the applause for signalling my superior moral status compared to all the Children, honor your parents! plebes around me by extending a heartfelt and very public congratulations to brave little Zachary for his courageous fight against cruciferous vegetable oppression.  I think we can all agree that the world is a better place when parents have lots of responsibility but absolutely no authority.

In fact, as Dr. Pamela Steinem-Valenti and her wife Dr. Rachel Valenti-Steinem have so clearly demonstrated in their ground-breaking work, saddling parents with mountains of obligations while simultaneously removing from them any expectation that their children not behave like monstrous brats, er, I mean liberated autonomous beings has the happy secondary effect of controlling the runaway population growth that even the Pope is so concerned about, as married Christian couples will now choose to have puppies rather than children:
childless Christians

Life-long marriage is a gift you give your children.

Years ago my husband and I went and saw Adrian Belew from King Crimson play a solo acoustic concert at the Majestic Theater in Detroit.  One of my favorite songs he played was Old Fat Cadillac:

Philip and I were reminiscing about that concert late this evening out on the porch under a full moon.  Both of us are audiophiles – it was one of the first things that drew us to one another beyond just physical attraction all those years ago, just before my twenty-second birthday, and we’ve seen many, many concerts and shows together over the years, giving us fun memories to share...”Remember when we saw Elvis Costello at the Fox and the security guards let us move from the balcony to the front row because we were the only ones dancing?…Remember that time we saw the Dave Brubeck Quartet downtown at the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival?…Remember how much fun we had dancing all night at Frog Island when Buckwheat Zydeco played and then Terrance Simien showed him up?  Remember when…remember when?

Our children love, love, love to hear about the time before they were born, when these two people they call mom and dad were actually young and crazy and romantic and fun.  They can hardly believe it but they love to hear about it.  They will say to me, “Daddy says one time you guys saw the Grateful Dead in Chicago and someone stole your shoes and you had to go to the show the next night with bare feet.  Mom, is that true?”  They are filled with amazement that this person who is always barking commands and warnings about tedious things at them – Brush your teeth! Make your bed! Take your vitamins! Don’t do that foolish thing you were about to do! – used to dance barefoot, eyes closed, transported away by the pure joy of the music.  But I suspect they are also glad we aren’t still those people now.  Children need their parents to be grown ups.

Yet I think it is comforting to children to hear that their parents loved each other, loved just being together, loved having adventures and making a life together, before they ever had children and Serious Jobs and mortgage payments and greying hair.  I’m glad we can give that gift to our kids and that we can give them the gift of our having stayed together even through those times that were hard, when it wasn’t fun and romantic, when we didn’t feel like dancing barefoot together.

We don’t dance so much now; we sit on the porch together at night, my husband smoking, and we look at the stars and remember when.  It’s not crazy and adventurous but it is peaceful and warm.  I have spent well over half my life with him, through incredible highs and some pretty serious lows, and he’s still there and I’m still here and neither of us is going anywhere until one of us finally goes to meet our Lord.

No matter how badly we may have messed up in other areas as parents, at least we can give this to our children, the gift of our marriage, imperfect but permanent for as long as we both shall live.

The shame of victory, the social-appropriateness of defeat.

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat was an old slogan from ABC’s Wide World of Sports in the 1970s. A lot has changed in the 40 years since that slogan was popularized.

Earlier this week I overheard a boy holler, “I’m gonna win!  I’m gonna beat you!” and his mother immediately admonished him.  It caught my attention briefly because although it was just harmless kid-competition, it clearly embarrassed her, and my suspicion was that it embarrassed her because her son probably was going to win at the event in progress.  Of course, no one likes a braggart, but the kid wasn’t being over-the-top about it and it is normal for children, especially boys, to engage in the very human activity of competition and to take pleasure in winning.

I forgot about the incident until Friday when, during a speech therapy session that another mother was observing, one of the little boys in the group exclaimed, “I’m going to win!”  Since the task we were doing did not involve any competition, I started to tell him, “This is not a winning or losing activity, it’s an everybody-get-it-done activity” but his mother jumped in and corrected him before I could.  When we finished that task, the boys and I played a game to practice categorizing vocabulary items which involved competing to see who could be the first one to accumulate a word from each of five given categories.  I guess you could say everyone “wins” if they participate because they learn the words, but the actual game (and the only part the boys really cared about) involved someone winning by beating the other players and being first.

The boys tried to remind each other regularly about their individual imminent victory.  However, it was really stressing out the mother who was watching; whenever her son would get excited about acquiring another word and start to say “I’m about to win!” she’d jump in and say, “It’s not about winning; that’s not the point.”  I finally gently and respectfully pointed out that the game was in fact a competition and the object of the game was to win.

That was twice in one week that I had noticed the same thing from two different mothers, and I wondered what was going on with all this mother anxiety about children competing and getting excited about trying to win.  I decided I would explore the idea in a post when I had time and then forgot about it.

Until yesterday morning, when I had to take one of my daughters to run the Chelsea Heart and Sole 5K race. As I was sitting near the finish line waiting for my girl, I heard a boy say to his siblings, “I beat you!” as the family walked away from the finish line.  “It’s not about that!” his mother snapped at him.

OK, what?

Isn’t the point of a race to compete and hopefully win?  I think so and here is my evidence:


Why have a time clock and finish line if there is no goal to compete or to win?  Even if you know you will be bested by someone else, you are still racing against them because that is the point of a race.  If races are not about running to win, then why does the 5K website note:

Overall Male and Female winners in each event receive a trophy.

Now, there were certainly many people participating in the 5K who didn’t care about winning because they weren’t racing, they were participating.  Their goal wasn’t to race but to complete the course as a social event for some fresh air and exercise.  This is a small town and these kinds of events are also social gatherings. That’s why they brought over a van load of folks from the senior center and that’s why some special-needs high schoolers in wheel chairs were participating.

My nine-year-old daughter’s time was just shy of 40 minutes for the 5K; when it comes to running, she’s more enthusiastic than talented.  Her time put her across the finish line just barely ahead of the grannies in their motor scooters – and that is okay!  It is okay to run the race knowing that others are faster and will beat you.  What it is not okay to do is to conclude that because some people weren’t trying to win, therefore the point of a race isn’t for someone to win and that it’s wrong for others to try to win just because some people can’t.

But the boy who said this is in my daughter’s after-school running club.  These kids were there to race, to see who could run the fastest and win. It was a friendly competition, entirely normal and healthy.  The purpose of competitive games is to see who can win.  Why pathologize normal competition?  Why should people who win be ashamed of winning?

Of course, a humble attitude about winning is necessary, but that doesn’t mean that the point of a race isn’t still to compete and win.  The mothers I observed this week kept telling their sons that the point of a clearly competitive event wasn’t actually to compete.  If they thought their sons were being boastful, they might have corrected them by saying, “Don’t brag” or “Be humble.”  Instead they told them that they were wrong to think that the point of an obviously competitive event (whether it be a game or a race) was something other than competing.

Is this competition anxiety reserved for boys?  Particularly for white boys?  (I’m only using “white” here because those are the only kind of boys I routinely interact with because I live and work in a nearly mono-ethnic community.  Also, when I lived in a more diverse town, I never observed a non-white mother correct her son for trying to win in a competition.  Maybe if I have any non-white mothers reading, you can weigh in here and let me know if this happens in other ethnic/racial groups, too.)

I don’t think the mothers I observed admonishing their boys were bad mothers; in fact, I think they were very good mothers.  They were experiencing anxiety because they unconsciously perceived that their sons were violating an unspoken social norm and they were doing what they believed was right and moral for training their sons.  What I find interesting is that this social norm even exists: competing or winning or wanting to win or saying you want to win or noticing you won or expressing any pleasure in having won seems to be the new shame for (white?) boys.

 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control,[b] lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)