Seven year olds are great. Of course, I seem to say that about every age for the past two or three years. But I’m in the sweet spot when it comes to childhood. I was not my best self as the parent of a baby and toddler. I didn’t take a lot of it in stride, at least not as much as I had hoped I could. That just might be my nature though, at any age.
But seven? So lovely. They carry on conversations at length and ask the deep questions. They are silly and hold hands with you. They can go off on their own at a large family party and you pretty much know they are not going to eat marbles while holding a lit candle or run into traffic. They are pressedupthisclosetoyou and suddenly go “missing” for an hour or two, absorbed in some other world, all in the same day. They want to read on their own and want you to read to them. They leave their socks lying around but then leave little “I love you” notes on your pillow. They know what they like, know what they don’t, and yet can still be persuaded to try new things.
At the same time, it also feels like the age where the door to the outside world—the stuff that you’ve worked so hard to keep from their view—is now permanently ajar, even if it’s just a crack. I knew it was coming and yet I didn’t quite expect some of it so soon. Hearing about things like cancer, illicit drug use, or September 11th for the first time ever. Coming to understand that some people she meets might express themselves in ways that she might not understand or be comfortable with at first. Being able to understand, or at least register for later contemplation, off-handed and unfriendly comments by friends and family about body image, race, or sexual preferences. Detecting differences, big and small, in the current and historical treatment between and of males and females.
These little glimpses into the wider world leave me stumbling some of the time. How do I reconcile being honest with her without scaring or discouraging her? How do I temper something that I fundamentally disagree with that was said by someone she loves or admires, all without necessarily skewing her ability to form her own opinion (either about the issue or the person who said it)? How do I protect the innocence that I think that seven year olds (and beyond) should still be able to have, even if the rest of the world is not as protective of it as I am? How do I allow her to become literate and confident in the social, technological, and cultural world without showing her too much too soon? Do I even know where that line is anymore?
Many of the speed bumps that we encounter in the early part of their lives are driven by forces that are not beyond the child or home itself. Though they might be challenging, they are generally manageable because they don’t result in the finer chiseling of the individual or her understanding of the rest of the world. At that stage, we are giving general shape to the individual we hope they become, whether it be kind-heartedness, respect for others, or learning to say “excuse me” at the dinner table.
But now? There are certainly some “outside” influences getting in, and being digested by her (somewhat), that I stumble sometimes. I’m not sure if she senses it yet. While we (as her parents) still do and should give the lion’s share of guidance in helping her understand the world, she has to also be aware of some of the world in order to have some context, and also so she can develop preferences for and positions about things in due course. It’s the chicken and egg conundrum. How much should I be proactive about and control the information (at least before her peers chime in), and how much do I deal with reactively?
A perfect example happened last month on September 11th. Her teacher read a book to the class (this one) that only very subtly dealt with the terrible acts that occurred on that day. Before this book (and the brief discussion that took place after it was read), the importance of this day was completely off of her radar. She had absolutely no knowledge of it. When I picked her up from school, she seemed a bit melancholy and had a hundred questions about the Twin Towers, most importantly, about why they were knocked down. The range of emotions that flew threw me in that car ride home left me in tears by the time we got to the driveway just three minutes later. Had I failed as a parent by not bringing up this subject beforehand? Why didn’t I think that this might come up at school, if not by the teacher then at least perhaps some of the older students? But, wait a minute, why did the teacher even go down this road? They are six and seven these children. “Bad men did this” doesn’t seem to cover it (and certainly not with my probing daughter) and yet getting into the fine detail of radical religiously-focused terrorists doesn’t either. Where’s the line? If September 11th is fair game for a first-grader, then why not all of the other tragedies? Do I need to tell her about all the wars in history as we get close to Veterans’ Day? Was she thinking about her grandfather who was flying here that very same day?
This is a mere glimpse of my thought process in the hours after she told me about the book. This is the kind of thought process I have as the mother of a seven year old. I’m stumbling and fumbling. Though aren’t we all?
I know that it’s OK to tell her when I do not know something (which I do all the time), but I struggle with what about when I do? That seems to be where I get tripped up. I imagine it will eventually get easier when she has the capacity to rationalize and process some of the things we continue to keep at bay, but in the interim? I expect to be falling down a little more than usual.
And so that I can end on a silly note, in honor of my seven year old’s very nature, here is what had her in stitches last night. STITCHES. I give you the P-mate (scroll down for video link).
What age made it hard for you to know whether to spill the beans or bite your tongue? Does it get easier as the child gets older, or do the problems and issues just become more complex? What topics have you deliberately held off discussing for as long as possible?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I don’t remember watching a lot of movies when I was a child. That’s probably mostly because a VCR wasn’t even in our household until the early 1980s, and we didn’t go to the movies very often. Suffice it to say, there are plenty more options for all of us today.
I do remember going to the drive-in a few times. Going anywhere in the car while in your PJs was always a fun adventure as a child. The double feature usually played the G/PG movie first, then the R rated one after the kids were (hopefully) asleep in the back seat. Sadly, I forget what the movies were for my brother and me, but I remember seeing parts of the movies my parents were there to see: Arthur (1981) with Dudley Moore, and Tootsie (1982) with Dustin Hoffman. I think they might have also seen An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) with Richard Gere, and possibly Private Benjamin (1980) with Goldie Hawn, but I haven’t verified that yet. My mom used to make a huge brown paper bag of popcorn for us all to share. That was the best part. I hope it’s an experience that I can give to M someday, though it’s becoming harder as drive-ins disappear.
E.T. was the only movie that I can distinctly remember seeing in a theater. Since it was released in 1982, I must have been around eight years old, and I’m pretty certain I saw it at a theater while we were visiting relatives in Ohio. I was utterly wowed and moved to tears by the story. Still am. Oh, how I loved Gertie.
We didn’t see a lot of Disney movies growing up. I used to jokingly give my mom a hard time about that later on. Honestly, I think it’s part of the reason I am not as fired up about Disney as some other folks might be. It just wasn’t a big portion of my childhood, and certainly nothing like it is for today’s children. One Disney movie I do clearly remember is Jungle Book. I remember loving it very much. We bought a copy for M a year ago. She wasn’t impressed. The only other two that come to mind are 101 Dalmatians and The Rescuers, which I recall as being kind of scary.
Once my parents purchased the VCR, it was a game changer. I remember going to the movie rental store quite a bit and that sense of anticipation of what we might walk out with. It just felt so incredibly awesome to say your family had a VCR and talk about movies that you rented. Only a few movies come to mind from that time period (say ages 7-10) though. Annie (1982), Mr. Mom (1983), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), War Games (1983), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and certainly the various Superman and Star Wars movies.
I’m not even sure if all of these were viewed on the VCR, but they certainly standout out as the seminal movies of my childhood. They are, in my mind, the classics. And between you and me, they just don’t make them like they used to.
M has not had a very robust movie watching experience so far, though granted she will only be seven in September. But it’s not for lack of movies or attempts at trying. To be honest, until Frozen came along, she just wasn’t that interested in and/or too afraid of most movies, with one huge exception: Gnomeo and Juliet. That was last summer, when she was about to turn six. We bought the DVD because we had heard it was cute (though I know plenty of people who think it’s lame; I really like it, actually). To say she was obsessed with that movie (as well as the soundtrack) is an understatement. She learned every single song in under a week. Elton John was in heavy rotation last year.
The same thing happened with Frozen this year, times infinity.
Speaking of infinity (and beyond), she didn’t finish Toy Story. She found it creepy. Right at the same part I did: that weird doll head on spider legs/wheels. Yeesh—that thing creeps me out just thinking about it!
Her first movie theater movie was Winnie the Pooh (2011) when she was weeks shy of four years old. The only reason we even went to the movies was because we were on vacation in Rhode Island during an unusual heat wave; being in 103 degrees was not fun and we were desperate to find cool. I remember that she wasn’t even heavy enough to keep the seat down by herself. Her next movie theater experience wasn’t until Frozen came out.
As I mentioned above, she didn’t like Jungle Book either, though now as an adult I can see why it might not be that interesting to a young child who is aware of the more flashier graphics and story lines these days. She only liked Annie, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid. We didn’t get very far into Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which I chose because she seems to like movies with a lot of singing) before calling it quits. She has no desire to see Despicable Me or Cars, so we’re the last people on the planet to have not seen those. She still hasn’t seen Brave, but she has recently said that she wants to, so we might make that a movie day during summer vacation. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast? Hasn’t watched, could care less.
Like me, she, at least right now, seems to likes shorter and more predictable (read: safe, formulaic) visual stories, like those that are found in television shows rather than movies, or repeat viewings (ad nauseam) of the movies she already knows. Maybe it’s an attention span thing too (for both of us). That’s not to say that I don’t like movies, but just ask my husband how painfully long it takes for me to finally agree to watch a movie with him. Our dusty Netflix pile would also give you an idea. I also, honestly, don’t find a lot of the movies today all that compelling or interesting, save for a very few. Which is why, I suppose, I turn to my “safe” movies, like Legally Blonde. I just can’t seem to let it go.
What movies do you remember first seeing as a child? Have you shown them to your children? Were they totally bored out of their minds?
Next week in Me + Her, Then + Now: Telephones and communication
And, last but certainly not least, HAPPY FATHERS DAY to all those fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and father figures out there. You’re doing a great job. Thank you.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
When I think about my parents reading books when I was young, I seem to recall my father with a book in his hands more so than my mother. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening on her end, I just have more vivid memories of him reading books versus the magazines I remember her reading.
I don’t remember a bookshelf in the house, but I’m sure a few were stacked here and there. I remember paperbacks in their bedroom and in the family room, though not always certain who was actually reading a particular one. Robin Cook novels especially come to mind, with their vividly colored (or morbid) covers. The more graphic portions of Looking for Mr. Goodbar were the source of much tween curiosity when I happened to stumble upon that book one time. I don’t recall going to any bookstores, either for my parents or for my brother and me, though we must have because we certainly had our own books around the house.
We did, however, frequent the local library a lot, especially in upstate New York when we lived there. I was an early reader and craved books, but more than that, I think we went often because it was something for my mother (a stay-at-home mom most of my childhood) to do with us.
I remember two children’s books in particular so very well. They were, I dare say, the catalysts that likely solidified my love for reading and books. The first, I took out from the Kingston Public Library—and, I’m ashamed to admit, is still with us to this day, unearthed long ago during packing for a move. It was a lovely but sad story that moved me very deeply: Stories From A Snowy Meadow, written by Carla Stevens and illustrated by Eve Rice. I think it’s out of print now, sadly. It was the first book that ever made me cry. That a story can move a child like that, and still be prominent in the mind of the 40 year old version of the same person, is nothing short of extraordinary to me.
The second book that I remember is more for the conditions I read it under—sweltering hot summer spent mostly in my parents’ bedroom, the only room with air conditioning—as well as the immediacy with which it sucked me in: Konrad: The Factory Made Boy, written by Christine Nostlinger. I didn’t know this at the time, but (thank you, Internet) it was initially a German book translated into English. Sadly, it too seems to be out of print (both in its first 1976 version “Konrad”, and in the later 1999 “Conrad” version), and since I did return this one to the West Hurley Library, I don’t have a copy to read to M. But, that story. Man, I remember just being so consumed by what was essentially my first unputdownable book. Exhilarating and memorable to say the least.
I think the primary thing I am most grateful for from my parents is their teaching me how to read (and by age 4 at that) and giving me the love of books. It is probably the singular thing I am most eager to impress upon my own daughter, above all else. It doesn’t matter what life path you take. If you learn to read and love books, you can go anywhere.
When I think of the similarities and differences between books in my childhood home and what M observes around here, I tick off quite a few differences. First, the sheer number of books in this house is far greater than what was around growing up. Any horizontal surface that has bookshelf potential has become one, and baskets do double duty in more than one room for the overflow. Even M’s own collection is bursting at the seams of her built-in book shelves in her room. I am constantly conjuring up plans for my own set of built-ins in the living room (and it’s gonna happen!). This is all because I have somewhat of a problem with buying books. I can’t stop. My “to-read” and “am reading” pile contains, no joke, 27 books right now, and that doesn’t even count the four I just brought home from the library the other day.
Here’s just what’s in my bedroom at the moment:
Another big difference is that we seem to buy a lot more books than I did growing up. I would much rather spend money on books than toys, and that’s largely what we’ve done for the past 6+ years; most of her toys, save for a few at her birthday and Christmas, are from family and friends. Instead, “treats” from us throughout the year are books. We are fortunate to be able to do this, and I do it because I know that many are going downhill to cousins and such in the coming years. But I also want to build a small collection of “keepsake” books for M to hold on to for as long as she wants, and so there are plenty that are given special storage status. That’s something that I wish I had from my childhood. Whatever books I did own are long gone.
Lately though, we have bought fewer and increased our time at the library because she likes to read the longer books just once and then move on to something else. Obviously, that gets expensive if you’re buying, and so we go at least once a week and take out a big pile of books. She’s usually read all of the picture books and easy readers before we get dinner on the table, and leaves the longer chapter books for us to read to her at night. Here’s this week’s haul:
Also, M has a much greater chance of seeing me reading around the house rather than her dad. This is the opposite of what I remember for myself. My husband does read, but it’s primarily on the T to work when he’s out of sight (and occasionally on vacation). I, on the other hand, will usually grab a book or magazine in any free moments when she’s around doing something else. I’m also the one, through default of being with her more, that tends to read to her during the day and take her to the library. We both read to her at night before bed though. I know that my parents obviously must have read to me a lot when I was younger, but I cannot recall specific rituals about it. For M, since the time she was about a month or two old, both of us take turns reading to her before bed literally every single night (unless one of us is out for a meeting or traveling). It is sacred to her and us. I really hope she remembers that time as much as I will when she’s older.
The last difference that I have noticed is when I am on an iPad to read. Obviously that was not an option for my parents. And, quite frankly, I’m not entirely excited about it now. I don’t read all of my books on the iPad (maybe only 30-40%, if that), but the bottom line is that it looks identical to the times when I am using it for Twitter or Internet research. This bothers me a bit. There is something to be said for seeing your parents, who are your first role models, holding an actual book. This is where I struggle with the advent of technology that is clearly not going away. Maybe she will read all of her books as an adult (or even parent perhaps) on a device. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know but it’s a thing, for sure, and I’m not clear about its implications in the context of teaching and modeling a love for books and reading to children. It’s why I’ve made a more conscious effort lately for these early years to try and limit my iPad reading (and use) to when she’s not around. We also have not entered device reading territory for her yet, though I imagine those days will cease at some point.
But the one thing that is the same is the love for books. She has it already, especially now that she’s discovered chapter books that come in a series. She gets quite attached to the characters. When she was a little younger, she got really attached to certain authors, like Kevin Henkes and Cynthia Rylant. I like that. Currently she is zipping through the Ivy+Bean series, and we’ve started a few new series this week. It reminds me of when I loved virtually everything that Judy Blume wrote, the only author I can specifically recall reading as a child (somehow the Beverly Cleary books did not enter my radar screen).
She knows already that books can take you places and help you make sense of the world, in many cases when you are not able to do that entirely yourself. They make great travel companions and excuses to stay in. They keep you company when your bucket of friends is empty. They become social currency that allow us to engage with other like minded bibliophiles. I hope this is what she takes away from books, just like I did.
What about you? Did you see a lot of books and reading when you were growing up? Do you recall a childhood favorite? How do you incorporate books into your daily life with your own children now? Do you, or they, read on a device, and how’s that going?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
In honor of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I’ve come up with a blog miniseries. Each Friday in May and June, I’ll briefly explore a different facet of media or pop culture that I witnessed at home during my childhood, and compare it to what’s happening at my home now with my daughter.
I wonder: how does our parents’ consumption/appreciation/indifference toward certain bits of culture ultimately shape us? What gets carried forward to the new generation? That is, what do we present to our own children? Will we distill, dilute, or design anew these parts of who we are?
More on the miniseries in a minute. First, let me tell you how I came up with the idea.
My mother watched M overnight a few weekends ago while E and I carved out some much needed “us time” in Boston. Great hotel, food and drinks that we did not have to prepare, some interesting art (seriously, Boston folks, go check out the current exhibit of William Kentridge, The Refusal of Time—it is quite mesmerizing, and that’s coming from an admittedly tentative modern art neophyte), uninterrupted sleep . . . the works. Truth be told, it was hard to come home. But when we did, I noticed (after my mother had left) this magazine in the canvas bin of books next to my side of the bed where she must have slept:
I flipped through it briefly. Although there are seemingly more pages dedicated to pharmaceutical ads than the latest fad in buttercream frostings, I was immediately thrust back into my childhood. It’s not the kind of magazine that I would now buy myself, but it reminded me of how this magazine and Woman’s Day were staples in my mother’s reading arsenal. Maybe there were others too, perhaps Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens, but these two stick way out in my memory. I don’t think my mother subscribed, but picked them up at the grocery store instead. They were constantly around for our reading consumption, and, I think, the reason that I have always loved reading magazines my whole life too.
What’s not to love about a magazine? Glossy photos of fun things, educational (usually) or helpful in some regard, the varied voices of the writers, easy to consume in intervals, and no long-term commitment needed considering the usual length of the articles. My favorite thing to do at the airport is to go to the newsstand and figure out which one(s) to take on board. It’s why I must avoid walking down the magazine aisle at the pharmacy, because I know they are hard to resist. I think it’s also why I favor the essay format of writing above all else.
I used to read one magazine (Orion) electronically, but there was something about that format that didn’t work for me. I like the tangible aspects of paper magazines (however, I feel differently about books; I probably read about 30-40% of them electronically these days). So, like my childhood home, there are plenty of magazines scattered about.
What struck me though, the more I thought about it, is that the magazines that I currently read and subscribe to are vastly different than the kinds of magazines that were in my home growing up. The ones my mother read were full of ideas to implement around the home, whether it be a fun craft do with us or a new chicken recipe to try. Sure, there were inevitably “it happened to me” kinds of features too, but on the whole these magazines were filled with things to make our home life even more wonderful! colorful! tasty! and fun! than it already was. To me, that almost seems like too much pressure. But you know what? I also remember those coconut bunny cakes she used to make too, probably inspired by the very magazines that I tend to reject. This is where I revere my mother—the parts of her that I am not.
Notably, I think it’s telling that the periodicals I presently peruse do not suggest any kind of domestic improvements (with the exception, perhaps, of the one gardening magazine I receive). I used to subscribe to two cooking magazines, but after years of clipping recipes and never trying a single one, I felt like an unambitious failure in the face of those dusty paper squares sitting on the shelf. Not surprisingly, I cancelled those subscriptions.
Right now I subscribe to these:*
Each of these magazines is largely about what other people are doing; there is very little in the way of practical, “use it at home” advice. I almost never watch the news anymore. I like in-depth journalism and so magazines (and a good does of NPR) satisfies that craving. Plus, two of these (Poets & Writers and Taproot) are decidedly read only to help me improve the writer me, myself, and I. Selfish? I don’t think so. But certainly not the kind of thing my mom was reading in her magazines, which was largely to improve our entire household, not just one of the inhabitants.
Moreover, another difference between what I read and what my mother did is that there is quite a range of material here. Not all of it, I’m now finding, is suitable to leave around with a 6.5 year old girl in the house. Not to mention, she is reading text more readily and easily without us these days, and will ask what some words are if she cannot decode them herself. In particular, I’ve had to make sure that TIME is not completely filled with graphic photos of bloody massacres or catastrophes that she is not ready to digest yet when she asks to flip through a copy. I’ve increasingly begun to question what effect, if any, the images in Vanity Fair might have on her body image and self-esteem, if not now then certainly as she gets older (her only interest in this one right now is those awful perfume samples…blech!). I don’t want to censor her reading, but it does still need to be age appropriate given how young she still is. Perhaps that is the biggest difference between the magazines that I was surrounded by, and the ones that my daughter sees on a regular basis: there was virtually no controversial or questionable content in the ones my mom read. I’d never really thought about that before until seeing that Family Circle in my book bin.
Even though the ones we each favor are vastly different, I see a similarity between my mother and me in that we both love reading magazines (then and now). Given that M seems to be like me in that she also constantly craves new information and reading material, I wonder if she will take to magazines like I did. If she does, I wonder whether she will favor the lighter, more practical pieces found in the ones my mom tends to favor, or the heavier, drier thinkpieces that I do? Will she focus on improving her own life and home, or will she want to learn more about the external world and its myriad viewpoints around her? Will she be more comfortable with electronic magazines than I currently am? It will be interesting to see as time marches on.
What about your home then and now—were there magazines? How does the availability of online content (vs. print material) change the dynamic of access for our children?
Now for the rest of May and June. Here’s what I plan to compare and contrast over the next several Fridays. I hope you will come back and chime in about what similarities/differences you see between your childhood home and the one you and/or your child is living in now.
May 9 – Books
May 16 – Music
May 23 – Sports/fitness
May 30 – Art
June 6 – Television
June 13 – Movies
June 20 – Telephones/communication with friends
June 27 – Hobbies/pastimes
* Full disclosure: I am a regular, paid contributor to Modern Farmer’s online magazine/website, but not its quarterly print version you see here. I subscribe to/personally pay for this magazine myself both for personal and professional interest alike because it is really well done.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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