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Reading List: Five Great Parenting Articles

When I saw this New Yorker story, I laughed out loud in my very cluttered home office, because I swear they must be spying on me. Or perhaps their writers in recent days have fallen down the same rabbit hole of thought-provoking parenting stories that I have. In case you missed them, here they are:

1. NYT: Homework’s Emotional Toll on Students and Families

There are parenting strategies available to deal with those struggles, certainly — but when, and why, did our evenings at home become so dedicated to that particular interaction?

Ah, homework. One of the things that struck me while I was reporting this Arlington Magazine story on homework was how many families with homework challenges thought they were the only ones struggling with the volume or quantity of schoolwork that their children were bringing home. They were wrong. Parents, kids, teachers, and administrators all over Arlington County and the country are wondering how to manage the issue of homework.


2. The Atlantic: What Applying to Charter Schools Showed Me About Inequality

At another open house I attended (for a different charter school), a mother was incredulous to hear that the school anticipated having zero open slots for new kindergartners. They expected their already admitted pre-K students to fully fill those classrooms.

Gen X parents (including myself) are often criticized for being helicopter parents, for enrolling their kids in organized activities or preschool too early, for worrying too much. Well, folks, here’s what happens when you think you’re opting out of the madness: You show up at an information meeting at a public charter school in your community, only to learn that if you really wanted your5-year-old kid to have any chance of attending that school as a kindergartner, you apparently should have applied two years ago.


3. The Atlantic: The Overprotected Kid

The playgrounds were novel, but they were in tune with the cultural expectations of London in the aftermath of World War II. Children who might grow up to fight wars were not shielded from danger; they were expected to meet it with assertiveness and even bravado. Today, these playgrounds are so out of sync with affluent and middle-class parenting norms that when I showed fellow parents back home a video of kids crouched in the dark lighting fires, the most common sentence I heard from them was “This is insane.”

I too remember exploring my Minneapolis neighborhood on my own—riding my bike to my best friends’ house, selling Girl Scout cookies door to door, hitting tennis balls against the wall of an office building across the street from our house. Would I let my kids do the same today? I don’t know. When we’re at the playground, I scan for them constantly, like a well-trained lifeguard at pool, making sure they are in sight. When we listened to the Ramona and Beezus books last summer, my jaw dropped when we heard the chapter where Ramona, then in kindergarten, walks herself to school. (!) If you did that in Arlington today, you’d probably find yourself having an unexpected conversation with the nice people from social services about supervising your child more appropriately—or else. Has our level of concern gone too far? Hanna Rosin seems to think so, and in some cases, she’s probably right. But I’m not sure providing a playground where kids can play with fire is really the answer either.


4. New Yorker: The Reckoning: The father of the Sandy Hook killer searches for answers.

All parenting involves choosing between the day (why have another argument at dinner?) and the years (the child must learn to eat vegetables). Nancy’s error seems to have been that she always focused on the day, in a ceaseless quest to keep peace in the home she shared with the hypersensitive, controlling, increasingly hostile stranger who was her son. She thought that she could keep the years at bay by making each day as good as possible, but her willingness to indulge his isolation may well have exacerbated the problems it was intended to ameliorate.

I still feel ill when I think of Sandy Hook. It fills me with sorrow. But so did this story of Peter Lanza and his fruitless attempts to connect with his increasingly troubled and unreachable son.


5. NYT: Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney

As Cornelia and I return to the kitchen, Owen walks in right behind us.

He looks intently at us, one, then the other. “Walter doesn’t want to grow up,” he says evenly, “like Mowgli or Peter Pan.”

We nod, dumbly, looking down at him. He nods back and then vanishes into some private reverie.

It’s as if a thunderbolt just passed through the kitchen. A full sentence, and not just an “I want this” or “Give me that.” No, a complex sentence, the likes of which he’d not uttered in four years. Actually, ever.

Years ago I read Ron Suskind’s A Hope in the Unseen, which followed the difficult journey of Cedric Jennings, a student at Ballou High in Southeast D.C., to a summer program at MIT and college at Brown University. Simultaneously inspiring and heart-breaking, the book was no academic Cinderella story; Cedric struggled mightily, both academically and culturally, at the Ivies. Now Suskind has written a new book—Life, Animated--about unexpected power of Disney to open a window into the mind of his autistic son Owen. But Owen clearly knew that already. "Ohana means family," Lilo says in the 2002 Disney movie "Lilo and Stitch." "Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten."

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