kottke.org posts about parenting

Dr. Becky on the Huberman Lab Podcast

Here’s some parenting content on which I clicked quickly: neuroscientist Andrew Huberman interviewing parenting author and psychologist Becky Kennedy (a.k.a. DrBeckyatGoodInside). In the three-hour episode, they…

explain how to respond to emotional outbursts, rudeness, [and] entitlement, and how to repair fractured relationships, build self-confidence, and improve interpersonal connections with empathy, while also maintaining healthy boundaries.

Sign me up! There’s nothing I need more right now. Here’s a snippet on Instagram, about confidence.

Pairs well with a new Atlantic article investigating whether Montessori teaching is as much of a “prescription for idyllic family life” as social media can make it out to be. (Short answer: Not necessarily, but it offers a pretty good set of tools.) I also learned that the reason so many kids’ toys on Amazon are labeled as “Montessori” is in part because the name was never trademarked.

Meanwhile, The Marginalian resurfaced an old post featuring some of Mr. Rogers’ parenting advice, and while it’s not exactly actionable, it’s still comforting (“we always cared and always tried to do our best”). Can you tell I have a toddler at home?

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Raising Artificial Intelligences Like Children

Over the weekend, I listened to this podcast conversation between the psychologist & philosopher Alison Gopnik and writer Ted Chiang about using children’s learning as a model for developing AI systems. Around the 23-minute mark, Gopnik observes that care relationships (child care, elder care, etc.) are extremely important to people but is nearly invisible in economics. And then Chiang replies:

One of the ways that conventional economics sort of ignores care is that for every employee that you hire, there was an incredible amount of labor that went into that employee. That’s a person! And how do you make a person? Well, for one thing, you need several hundred thousand hours of effort to make a person. And every employee that any company hires is the product of hundreds of thousands of hours of effort. Which, companies… they don’t have to pay for that!

They are reaping the benefits of an incredible amount of labor. And if you imagine, in some weird kind of theoretical sense, if you had to actually pay for the raising of everyone that you would eventually employ, what would that look like?

It’s an interesting conversation throughout — recommended!

Chiang has written some of my favorite things on AI in recent months/years, including this line that’s become one of my guiding principles in thinking about AI: “I tend to think that most fears about A.I. are best understood as fears about capitalism.”

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Millennial Mom-hood

“I know some women who have decided to forgo motherhood altogether — not out of an empowered certainty that they want to remain child-free, but because the alternative seems impossibly daunting. Others are still choosing motherhood, but with profound apprehension that it will require them to sacrifice everything that brings them pleasure.” In Vox, Rachel M. Cohen writes about “How Millennials Learned to Dread Motherhood.”

As an old millennial, I feel compelled to say that being a mom is awesome and easily one of the most interesting and meaningful things that’s ever happened to me. But talking about how great it is can feel like tempting the gods. As Cohen notes in her piece, “When I started asking women about their experiences as mothers, I was startled by the number who sheepishly admitted, and only after being pressed, that they had pretty equitable arrangements with their partners, and even loved being moms, but were unlikely to say any of that publicly.”

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The Joy of Fortnite

This was me a couple of years ago when I first started playing Fortnite, as satirized by Adam Driver and the SNL gang:

I found this sketch via a piece that Tom Vanderbilt wrote about playing Fortnite with his daughter (and her friends).

It’s not as though Sylvie and I discussed the problem of free will as we dodged RPG rounds. For the most part, our interactions weren’t nearly so high-minded. We stole each other’s kills and squabbled over loot. She badgered me for V-Bucks so she could buy her character new baubles in the Item Shop. But sometimes, after playing, we’d go for a walk and analyze how we were able to notch a dub — Fortnite-speak for a win — or how we might have done better. We’d assess the quality of newly introduced weapons. (The best were OP, for “overpowering,” but often the makers of Fortnite would later “nerf” them for being too OP.) She’d chide me for trying to improve by battling more, rather than by practicing in Creative mode — which suddenly made her open to hearing about the late Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson’s theories of “deliberate practice.” (Like many kids, she had a built-in filter against my teachable moments.) We actually were, per Adam Driver’s character, bonding.

And in our Fortnite games I saw her cultivate prowess. I’m not talking merely about the widely discussed perceptual and cognitive benefits of video games, which include an improved ability to track objects in space and tune out cognitive “distractors.” I’m talking about that suite of abilities sometimes referred to as “21st-century skills”: imaginatively solving open-ended problems, working collaboratively in teams, synthesizing complex information streams. “Unfortunately, in most formal education settings, we’re not emphasizing those very much,” argues Eric Klopfer, who directs the Education Arcade at MIT. “Just playing Fortnite doesn’t necessarily give you those skills — but playing Fortnite in the right way, with the right people, is certainly a good step in that direction.”

This is the plain and perhaps embarrassing truth: During my sabbatical, I didn’t pursue any activity (with the possible exception of mountain biking) as diligently as I did playing Fortnite. My kids have been playing it for awhile, both together and separately, and it was fun to watch them working together to complete quests and sometimes even win. I tried playing with them a few times the previous year, but the last shooter game I played was Quake III in the late 90s and so I was comically bad, running around firing my weapon into the sky or the ground and generally just embarrassing my kids, who left my reboot card where it landed after I’d died more often than not.

Early last year, even before I left on my sabbatical, I decided I wanted to learn how to play properly, so that I could do something with my kids on their turf. I played mostly by myself at first — and poorly. Slowly I figured out the rules of the game and how to move and shoot. I played online with my friend David, who was forgiving of my deficiencies, and we caught up while he explained how the game worked and we explored the island together. I finally got a kill and a win, in the same match — I’d found a good hiding place in a bush and then emerged when it was down to me and some other hapless fool (who was probably 8 years old or a bot) and I somehow got them. A friend who had arrived for dinner mid-game was very surprised when I started yelling my head off and running around the house.

Over the summer after I started the sabbatical, I played most days for at least 30 minutes. I got better and was having more fun. I won some matches and bought the Battle Pass so I could get some different skins and emotes. Even though I got a late start in the season, I grinded on quests to get the Darth Vader skin, which is amusing to wear while you’re trying out different emotes. (You haven’t lived until you’ve watched Vader do the death drop or dance to My Money Don’t Jiggle Jiggle, It Folds.1) When the kids got back from camp, I was good enough to at least not slow them down too much and get a couple of kills in the meantime. I learned the lingo and how to work as a team, with my kids leading the way.1 I’m still not great, but it’s become one of our favorite things to do together and I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

  1. I am surprised but delighted that a huge media conglomerate like Disney allows their character/intellectual property (e.g. Vader) to perform the signature move of another character (Trinity’s slow-motion spin kick from The Matrix) owned by a competing media conglomerate (Warner Bros. Discovery), and vice versa.

  1. I know some parents have a hard time with this, but after having been surpassed by my kids several years ago in skiing prowess and now basically being a lowly private in their Fortnite squad, I am a firm believer that every parent should experience, as early as they can, the sensation of your kids doing something much better, like an order of magnitude better, than you can and then letting them lead the way with it. It will change your relationship with them for the better, remind you that you are not “in charge” (and never really were), and reveal that kids are often much more capable than we give them credit for.


Won’t Someone Think of the Actual Children?

For her Culture Study newsletter, Anne Helen Petersen listed a few themes she’d identified over the past year. The first one is something I’ve noticed people talking a lot about too:

1) Our society values parenting, not parents; it honors “work ethic,” not workers; we cherish children in the abstract, but not actual children themselves.

To me, these ideas are borne out in the contrasts between the rhetoric of who and what we value (Moms! Kids’ futures! ESSENTIAL WORKERS!) and actual policy and behaviors. I mean that in terms of Covid, of course, but also in terms of labor protections for workers, the safety nets we provide for parents (and single parents in particular) and general actions and policy in regards to the future of the planet. We don’t value people, just generally. We value capital.

The Christian nationalists — who, despite ostensible Democratic control of the Senate, the House, and the presidency, nonetheless command the vision and future of the country — dress up obsession with controlling women’s bodies and freedom in the wardrobe of “the rights of the fetus,” but then allow that fetus, once it turns into an actual child, to go hungry, to live in fear of violence in their schools, to go unhoused or deal with housing insecurity, to endure the effects of environmental racism, and to grow into an adult indelibly marked by all of those experiences.

Bingo. This is also true to varying degrees for education (not teachers), art (not artists), and the troops (not individual soldiers that we send to incur PTSD, injury, and death).

BTW, Petersen has a new book out with her partner Charlie Warzel called Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home, which relates to another of her yearly themes: “Work is miserable on so many levels — but it’s so hard to imagine a different way forward.”


The Parents Are Not Alright

Dan Sinker writes for The Atlantic about how navigating Covid risks, politically motivated bullshit, and America’s failing infrastructure has broken parents during the pandemic: Parents Are Not Okay.

Instead it was a year in limbo: school on stuttering Zoom, school in person and then back home again for quarantine, school all the time and none of the time. No part of it was good, for kids or parents, but most parts of it were safe, and somehow, impossibly, we made it through a full year. It was hell, but we did it. We did it.

Time collapsed and it was summer again, and, briefly, things looked better. We began to dream of normalcy, of trips and jobs and school. But 2021’s hot vax summer only truly delivered on the hot part, as vaccination rates slowed and the Delta variant cut through some states with the brutal efficiency of the wildfires that decimated others. It happened in a flash: It was good, then it was bad, then we were right back in the same nightmare we’d been living in for 18 months.

And suddenly now it’s back to school while cases are rising, back to school while masks are a battleground, back to school while everyone under 12 is still unvaccinated. Parents are living a repeat of the worst year of their lives-except this time, no matter what, kids are going back.

Almost every parent I know is struggling with exactly this: trying to keep their kids (and family and friends) safe from Covid-19 while balancing the social & emotional wellbeing of everyone concerned and not getting a lot of help from their governments or communities. Remote school is no longer an option, few infrastructure upgrades have been made to improve ventilation in schools, no vaccine mandates for teachers or staff, parents fighting administrators about vaccine & mask mandates, and everyone is trying to do complex risk calculations about sending their can’t-yet-be-vaccinated kids into buildings with other kids whose parents, you suspect, are not vaccinated and aren’t taking any precautions in states where Delta is endemic. All while trying to work and remain sane somehow? And most of the parents I know have resources — they have steady income & savings, live in safe communities, and have friends & family to fall back on when times get tough. Those who don’t? I truly do not know how they are doing any of this without incurring significant, long-term trauma for parents and kids. We, inasmuch as we’re still a “we” in America, are failing them all.


100 Visions of Fatherhood

a small child dancing in the street surrounded by loving adults

a small girl snuggles with her napping dad on the sofa

”a

Just as they did last month in capturing motherhood, The Luupe has curated a collection of photos taken by women and non-binary photographers called 100 Visions of Fatherhood. Photos above by Amanda Addison, Kari Grimsby, and Hanifa Haris.


What It’s Like to Be a Transgender Dad

In a TEDx Talk from 2017, LB Hannahs talks about their experience as a transgender dad, comfort vs authenticity, and the collision of theoretical gender roles & identities with the practicalities of parenthood.

Now, for most people, what their child will call them is not something that they give much thought to outside of culturally specific words or variations on a gendered theme like “mama,” “mommy,” or “daddy,” “papa.” But for me, the possibility is what this child, who will grow to be a teenager and then a real-life adult, will call me for the rest of our lives, was both extremely scary and exciting. And I spent nine months wrestling with the reality that being called “mama” or something like it didn’t feel like me at all. And no matter how many times or versions of “mom” I tried, it always felt forced and deeply uncomfortable. I knew being called “mom” or “mommy” would be easier to digest for most people. The idea of having two moms is not super novel, especially where we live.

So I tried other words. And when I played around with “daddy,” it felt better. Better, but not perfect. It felt like a pair of shoes that you really liked but you needed to wear and break in. And I knew the idea of being a female-born person being called “daddy” was going to be a harder road with a lot more uncomfortable moments. But, before I knew it, the time had come and Elliot came screaming into the world, like most babies do, and my new identity as a parent began. I decided on becoming a daddy, and our new family faced the world.

(thx, megan)


Three Transgender Kids Share Their Stories

Over at A Cup of Jo, Joanna Goddard interviewed three kids who are transgender about their experiences. Here’s Violet, she/her, age 13:

What do you wish people knew about being trans?
The main thing is that it’s not a choice. It’s a choice to come out, but being trans is not a choice. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and felt the way the wind blew and wanted to be a girl. I ALWAYS knew I wasn’t a boy. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a girl; I WAS a girl. I just had to put that into words and explain that.

Aya, she/her, age 9:

How did you tell your parents?
There was one night when my sister was like, ‘So… Mommy’s a girl, I’m a girl, Daddy’s a boy, and you’re a boy.’ But I immediately was like, ‘No, no, I’m a girl.’ And that was the first time, but there was another time. We were driving back from Mommy’s school, and she was telling me about the different words like transgender and all different words and when she described transgender, I was like, that’s me. I was five.

And this:

Also, fun fact: When we were watching a Mo Willems episode about drawing, he told us that his child is transgender — the one from Knuffle Bunny. Trixie is now Trix!

The comments on the post are worth reading as well — CoJ has the best comments section on the internet, quite a feat for 2021.


100 Visions of Motherhood

a woman raises a smiling child in the air

a woman carrying two children

”a

Curated by The Luupe, this is “a collection of photographs and words celebrating the complexities of motherhood”. And somehow even 100 photographs don’t adequately capture the vast experience of motherhood around the world. Photos above by Dee Williams, Brittany Marcoux, Diane Allford (via storythings)


Kids Talk About Gaming During the Pandemic

Concerned that recent articles like this one about screen time panic were not adequately capturing the perspective of the kids themselves, Anne Helen Petersen asked a group of parents and caregivers to conduct interviews with kids about gaming and screen time.

So I wanted to hear them talk about their own relationship to the games they play: what they like about it, when they like to play, how games make them feel, who they like to play with, and how they respond to anxiety about their gaming/screen time.

I pulled out a few quotes from the kids but the whole thing is worth a read.

When people say that screentime is bad, I want to say, hey, I want to be more social at the moment and it’s hard to do that right now and I can only do it with technology.

I feel annoyed and angry with the “too much time playing video games argument,” because people don’t really understand. They don’t play these games. They don’t have any experience themselves, and they’re judging what we do based on what they’ve heard or read. Gaming is so new that there’s no conclusive evidence yet to prove if it’s actually harmful. It feels like they’re just trying to control us and tell us what to do.

When adults say that kids play too many video games it makes me kinda angry and confused. We’re already stuck at home and it feels like they’re trying to cut us off from our friends even more. So it’s kinda annoying.

Honestly I don’t really worry about spending too much time game at all. I already spend almost all my time on there anyway and it doesn’t seem to have any negative side effects. Key word “seem.” People need to make sure they don’t get correlation and causation mixed together.

Like many other parents, we’ve been struggling mightily with games, devices, and screen time during the pandemic (although for us this is an issue that carried over from The Before Times). As Petersen says, this is a complicated challenge and I am sympathetic to both the arguments these kids make (which mirror what I’ve heard from my kids) and parental concerns about too much time on devices (the effects of which I’ve seen in my kids).

What we’ve done, imperfectly, is prioritize the social aspect of gaming time — playing with friends, gaming clubs, playing together in the living room — over manically grinding away for hours on end in a dark room. We try to meet them on their terms — ask them what they did today in Minecraft or Among Us, show real interest about their progress, etc. I empathize and commiserate when I can — I grew up playing video games and I still get a little too into them on my phone or iPad sometimes. But we also encourage them to get outside and move their bodies, find ways to connect with friends that don’t involve killing virtual people, and try to get them to recognize some of the worst effects of too much screen time (they do, if you catch them at the right moment about it). Keeping a good connection with your kids around gaming & screens is the key bit, I think. With that in hand, in theory it’s at least possible to keep kids and parents alike safe and sane during all of this.


Biden/Harris Inauguration Livestream for Kids

Today beginning at 10am ET as part of the official inauguration festivities, Keke Palmer will host a special livestream geared toward kids (embedded above).

The livestream, hosted by award-winning entertainer and advocate Keke Palmer, will feature a special message from Dr. Jill Biden; commentary from historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Erica Armstrong Dunbar; a segment on presidential pets produced by Nickelodeon; excerpts of student voices from PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs “We the Young People” programming; trivia questions, including some asked by Doug Emhoff; segments produced by the Library of Congress; and other special features.

This sounds way better than whatever the talking heads on CNN will be going on about. For more information on the inauguration, check out the official site.


Dad, How Do I…?

When he was a kid, Rob Kenney had a rough family life and grew up without stable parents around to teach him how to do common household chores. He and his wife successfully raised two children and Kenney decided to use his parenting experience to help those who may be lacking parental guidance. He’s started a YouTube channel called “Dad, how do I?” that offers “practical ‘dadvice’ for every day tasks” like how to fix a running toilet, how to check the oil in your car, and how to shave your face.

My god, the dad joke he tells at the beginning of the running toilet video is just *chef’s kiss* perfect.


SNL’s Honest Kids Clothing Ad

This Saturday Night Live mock TV commercial for a Macy’s holiday sale cuts right to the truth about buying clothes for kids that aren’t right for them or their parents.

Some of their deals include “40% off cozy corduroys that’ll pinch his little nuts”, “kids jackets that are so big & thick they won’t fit in their carseat anymore”, and “everyday savings on mittens they’ll lose, shirts with the wrong Frozen princess, sweaters that make them hot”.


An Animated Version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was one of my absolute favorite books as a kid and one of first books that we read to our kids (and that they read back to us). I didn’t know this animated version existed until I ran across it on YouTube just now. I just went into the kids’ room to look for the book on the shelf and got a little teary as I searched.

My kids are 12 & 10 now and in an in-between phase of reading. They occasionally still pick up the picture books they loved as little kids but mostly are into graphic novels and chapter books now — Ollie just read Ready Player One and they’ve both been through all 7 Harry Potter books more times than I can count. We haven’t read a picture book together in months and I really miss snuggling up with them and reading Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, Oh Say Can You Say?, or In the Night Kitchen. We’ll likely never read any of those books together again. It reminds me of one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard about parenting: one day you’ll pick up your kid, put them down, and never pick them up again…and you won’t remember it happening. *sobs*


How To Talk To Kids About Climate Change

NPR’s Anya Kamenetz shares six tips on how to talk to your kids about the climate crisis. Step 1 is to break the silence:

He says, despite the fact that the climate crisis literally affects everyone on earth, too many of us are sitting alone with our worries, our faces lit by our phone screens in the middle of the night. “We seem to be more scared of upsetting the conversation than we are scared about climate change.”

Mary DeMocker, an activist and artist in Eugene, Ore., is the author of The Parents’ Guide To Climate Revolution, a book focusing on simple actions families can take both personally and collectively. “The emotional aspect is actually, I think, one of the biggest aspects of climate work right now,” she says.

Asked what feelings parents tell her they are grappling with, she ticks off guilt, distraction, confusion. And the big one: fear.

See also 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroom.


“My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes”

Filmmaker Charlie Tyrell’s father passed away when Charlie was in film school. Feeling like he never really knew his father all that well, he went through his stuff after he died, looking for clues as to who he really was. His tools, his police uniform, his cancer diagnosis. Charlie made a short film about his dad: My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes.

We hold onto our loved ones when they pass. Objects can become talismans, and memories become mythic. Some objects become sacred for no reason and are just as impenetrable as the people who left them. I came to a conclusion during my process: You can’t take it with you, but you can pass it on.

The tapes mentioned in the title don’t feature all that much in the film; it’s actually about family secrets, breaking a generational cycle of abuse, and parenting. In talking about her husband’s difficulty connecting with his children, Charlie’s mom says: “you bring what you know to parenting”. As someone who often struggles as a parent, that line hit me hard. From a post I wrote a few years ago:

I worry about my children, about my relationships with them. I worry about being a good parent, about being a good parenting partner with their mom. How much of me do I really want to impart to them? I want them to be better than me, but I can’t tell them or show them how to do that because I’m me. I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with. What if I’m just giving them the bad parts, without even realizing it?

And from Madeline Miller’s Circe:

Two children he had had and he had not seen either clearly. But perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.


Building Belonging at Summer Camp

”Ollie

My kids are lucky enough to be at sleep-away summer camp this year. It’s their fourth year, and I was a little skeptical about this at first. Sleep-away camps weren’t really a thing in Wisconsin when I was a kid and schlepping out to the East Coast was not going to happen, financially speaking. But their mom went to camp and it had a big impact on her life and the kids wanted to go, so I went along.

I’m really glad I did. I miss them while they’re gone, but they have such an amazing time there, away from their parents, figuring out what kind of humans they are going to be. The staff at Ollie’s camp (an all-boys camp for grades 3-8 — Minna goes to an affiliated camp for girls) sent the parents a letter about some of the principles they use in supporting their campers by building “a feeling of profound belonging”. They are super thoughtful in their approach and none of it is mere lip-service. I thought a few of their principles were worth sharing with you. From a section that starts “We shape our program and culture to build belonging by…”:

…embodying our belief that there are many ways to be a man. We give boys a diverse array of role models — men and women in whom campers can see aspects of the selves they seek to develop. When the people around us model the same humility, humor, talent, and compassion that we seek to develop in ourselves, they help us to recognize the sturdy roots of those same virtues within us. In such moments, we know that we are in a place where we belong.

…focusing on what is personal, real, and lasting. Too often children learn to gauge belonging through external signals: the music they listen to, the brands they wear, the devices they own. The result can be toxic, especially for boys, who learn to measure themselves against dangerously narrow standards of masculinity. By embracing simplicity — in the uniforms we wear, the music we make, the technology we leave at home — we foster deeper connections with each other and even with ourselves.

…emphasizing honesty as the most direct path towards a life of substance and meaning. Ultimately, belonging is not an external validation, but an authentic way of being. Honesty — and its companion, vulnerability — are signs of strength and signals of openness. Honesty elevates relationships beyond the superficial, and invites us towards friendships in which we have the courage to be imperfect and the compassion to accept ourselves anyway. At camp, as in life, there is no more powerful belonging than to each other.

I don’t mind telling you that I teared up reading through these. That there are many ways to be a man, that masculinity can be toxic, that vulnerability is strength…hearing these ideas more often would have benefited an adolescent Jason, a shy and sometimes bullied small-town kid who didn’t feel like he belonged, truly belonged, anywhere until he went off to college and discovered that the world was full of weirdos just like, and also very unlike, himself. I still feel that little kid’s pain, and it makes me very happy that my kids are lucky enough to spend significant time in a place where those ideas take center stage.

Excerpts above are from Building Belonging from the staff at Camp Lanakila.


That’s My Jazz

That’s My Jazz is a short documentary by Ben Proudfoot about world class pastry chef Milton Abel II, who reminisces about his father, Milton Abel Sr., a world class Kansas City jazz musician. The film is a tender and moving rumination on their relationship and the balance between achieving greatness in the world and being present in the lives of your loved ones.


The Layers of Motherhood

In what she calls a “time-tunnel artwork”, photographer Annie Wang has been taking a periodic photo of herself and her son over the past 18 years, each time with the previous photo in the background.

Different layers of my son and I emerge on the same surface after a lengthy accumulation of detail and texture. Different stages of my son and I are overlaid; and from the different pictures we have created dialogue with each other in this dimension upon compressed dimension. From within these dimensions will emerge a new depiction/visualization of Motherhood.

Here are two consecutive photos in the series from when her son was young.

Annie Wang

Annie Wang

(via swissmiss)


How a Six-Year-Old Kid Saved Himself from Being Lost in the Woods

When he was six years old, Cody Sheehy got lost in the woods near his home in Oregon. Rather than panic or hunkering down to await rescue, Sheehy hiked more than 15 miles over 18 hours to a nearby town, finding himself in the process.

Cody believes that he was changed by getting lost. “Over the course of your life, you push through a lot of physical barriers,” he says. “As you grow older, your first coach helps you break through barriers, and maybe in the military you learn to push through barriers or maybe in your first hard job. As a little kid, I had this opportunity to be tested and learn that there really aren’t any barriers. I think a lot of people figure that out. They just might not figure it out at six.”

It’s a great story and a sharp rebuke of today’s helicopter parenting, not letting kids do their own thing, etc. I wonder about something though. We would think a lot differently about this tale if he hadn’t survived. If it had been a couple of degrees colder or if those coyotes had been a big hungrier or if he’d have turned a different way on that road, he might have died. Sheehy’s story is an example of survivorship bias. We hear of his adventure and how it transformed his life only because he survived, but it’s possible that nine out of ten kids in similar situations don’t survive…and we hear those tales only briefly and locally, not as features in national magazines.


Here comes the sunscreen

Apply Sunscreen

Apply Sunscreen

The three toughest things about being a parent are the sleep deprivation, knowing when to let kids push their boundaries vs keeping them safe, and applying sunscreen to a toddler. The NY Times has a slideshow of parents applying sunscreen to their kids and the struggle is real!

The good news for you parents of young children is that eventually they learn how to apply their own sunscreen. The bad news? They still would rather have a finger lopped off than to do it without complaining Every. Single. Freaking. Time.


The Design of Childhood

C&C Brooklyn Bridge

Design? Parenting? Playgrounds? iPads? Architecture? Toys? Probably Lego? Alexandra Lange's upcoming book about "how children's playthings and physical surroundings affect their development", The Design of Childhood, is firmly in my wheelhouse.

Parents obsess over their children's playdates, kindergarten curriculum, and every bump and bruise, but the toys, classrooms, playgrounds, and neighborhoods little ones engage with are just as important. These objects and spaces encode decades, even centuries of changing ideas about what makes for good child-rearing — and what does not. Do you choose wooden toys, or plastic, or, increasingly, digital? What do youngsters lose when seesaws are deemed too dangerous and slides are designed primarily for safety? How can the built environment help children cultivate self-reliance? In these debates, parents, educators, and kids themselves are often caught in the middle.

It’s out in early June, but you can preorder it on Amazon.

P.S. That photo is a model of the Brooklyn Bridge built by 7-year-olds at City & Country School in NYC made almost entirely out of unit blocks.

In the 7s, children engage in a formal study of the infrastructure and geography of New York City. Through extended block work, they explore the relationships among city systems of government, transportation, communications, commerce, and utilities. New issues continually arise: Who makes the laws, and how are they carried out? How does traffic flow? Where does water come from? The city study culminates with the building of a permanent city, complete with running water and electricity, and an historical study of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The blocks all have official names (like pillar, double unit, cylinder, etc.) but the kids have their own names for them based on the shapes: squarie, roundie, brickie, buttery (because it’s shaped like a stick of butter), half buttery, archie, rampie, cubie, longie, middlie, and so on. So for example, if you’re constructing a model of the Empire State Building, that might call for several longies, a few middlies & squaries as you get closer to the top, a buttery + half buttery for the spire, and then several strategically placed colorful cubies for the nighttime lights.


Fathers, sons, and the lamp in the Pixar logo

”Luxo

Spencer Porter’s father works for Pixar and because of an impromptu office game of catch, the pair of them became the models for John Lasseter’s short film, Luxo Jr.

“Luxo Jr.” is, to me, a home movie. It’s me and my dad. Encouraging, comforting, energetic and kind, that big lamp, Luxo Sr., is as much my father as I am Luxo Jr. Every time I see my little lamp logo hop out in front of a Pixar movie, it’s not me I think about — it’s my dad. How he spent an afternoon hitting ground balls to me the day before my first Little League practice, and how proud I was when the other coach on my team said, “Well, I think we found our shortstop.” I must have been 7 years old, and I still remember that moment with such clarity. I can still feel the hard fabric on the bag of baseballs, the position of the sun in the sky.

Fair warning: this story takes a hard right turn midway through and you might find yourself in tears near the end.


Young Explorers

Young Explorers is a wonderful series of short films by Jacob Krupnick that follow toddlers who have recently mastered walking as they explore the wide world on their own. Fair warning: as a parent, the solo NYC street crossing scene gave me a heart attack!

Kids do not want to be contained — they are built for adventure. As a culture, we are wildly protective of our little ones, often to the point of protecting them from happy accidents and mistakes they might learn from. “Young Explorers” is a series of short films about what happens when you allow kids who are very young — who have just learned to walk by themselves — to explore the world completely on their own.

There are ten films in all so far, two of which are available on Vimeo (embedded above). They are on display outside the ICP Museum in NYC until July 23.

Update: Krupnik just added a new video to Young Explorers of his own daughter, Ada.

It must have been difficult to film her picking up random drinking straws and cups from the street without intervening.


How to raise a feminist son

For the NY Times, Claire Cain Miller asked a panel of experts (including neuroscientists and psychologists) how to raise feminist sons. From the introduction:

We’re now more likely to tell our daughters they can be anything they want to be — an astronaut and a mother, a tomboy and a girlie girl. But we don’t do the same for our sons.

Even as we’ve given girls more choices for the roles they play, boys’ worlds are still confined, social scientists say. They’re discouraged from having interests that are considered feminine. They’re told to be tough at all costs, or else to tamp down their so-called boy energy.

If we want to create an equitable society, one in which everyone can thrive, we need to also give boys more choices. As Gloria Steinem says, “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”

One piece of advice is to encourage friendships with girls:

Research at Arizona State University found that by the end of preschool, children start segregating by sex, and this reinforces gender stereotypes. But children who are encouraged to play with friends of the opposite sex learn better problem-solving and communication.

“The more obvious it is that gender is being used to categorize groups or activities, the more likely it is that gender stereotypes and bias are reinforced,” said Richard Fabes, director of the university’s Sanford School, which studies gender and education.

Organize coed birthday parties and sports teams for young children, so children don’t come to believe it’s acceptable to exclude a group on the basis of sex, said Christia Brown, a developmental psychologist at the University of Kentucky. Try not to differentiate in language, either: One study found that when preschool teachers said “boys and girls” instead of “children,” the students held more stereotypical beliefs about men’s and women’s roles and spent less time playing with one another.

I’ve seen this segregation happen in school with both my kids and it drives me bananas.


Coming up short in pursuit of a SuperBaby

In SuperBabies Don’t Cry, Heather Kirn Lanier writes beautifully about the birth of her first daughter, disability, control, and acceptance.

By eight months Fiona developed a love for clapping. At nine months she had her first grand mal seizure. At eleven months she rolled from front to back. At one year old she weighed twelve pounds. During that first year, her syndrome revealed itself to be simultaneously life-altering and, in some strange way, just fine. A new normal. Her medical issues were manageable. The problem, it became clear, was mine: I wanted her different. The daily prayer inside me was an impossible wish to scrounge the earth and find that missing bit of her fourth chromosome. I imagined it was buried among fossils in an ancient, surreal sand dune.

Ten times this piece sent my thoughts spiraling out in all directions. I already know I’m gonna be thinking about this all week. (via @ftrain)


Black Parents Talk to Their Kids About the Police

Not going to say much about this one. Just watch it…especially if somehow, as a curious, thoughtful person who reads this site regularly, you are unaware of how many in the Black community feel about the police and that they have conversations like this with their children about those who are supposed to protect and serve people.


Finding yourself in fashion

”Abe

Michael Chabon has written a great non-traditional boy-coming-of-age story about his son Abe, who, at 13, is obsessed with fashion.

It takes a profound love of clothes, and some fairly decent luck, to stumble on somebody who wants to converse about cutting-edge men’s fashion at a Rush concert, and yet a year before his trip to Paris, in the aftermath of the Canadian band’s last show at Madison Square Garden, Abe had managed to stumble on John Varvatos. Abe had spent that day leading his bemused minder on a pilgrimage through SoHo, from Supreme to Bape to Saint Laurent to Y-3, and now, ears still ringing from the final encore (“Working Man”), Abe reported in detail to Varvatos, with annotations and commentary, on all the looks he had seen downtown. When he was through, Varvatos had turned to Abe’s minder — a major Rush fan who was, of course, also Abe’s father — and said, “Where’d you get this kid?”

Read this all the way to the end…the perfect coda to the story.


Limits are fun? Limits are fun!

”Play

Play Anything is a forthcoming book by game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost. The subtitle — The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games — provides a clue as to what it’s about. Here’s more from the book’s description:

Play is what happens when we accept these limitations, narrow our focus, and, consequently, have fun. Which is also how to live a good life. Manipulating a soccer ball into a goal is no different than treating ordinary circumstances — like grocery shopping, lawn mowing, and making PowerPoints — as sources for meaning and joy. We can “play anything” by filling our days with attention and discipline, devotion and love for the world as it really is, beyond our desires and fears.

Reading this little blurb, I immediately thought of two things:

1. One thing you hear from pediatricians and early childhood educators is: set limits. Children thrive on boundaries. There’s a certain sort of person for whom this appeals to their authoritarian nature, which is not the intended message. Then there are those who can’t abide by the thought of limiting their children in any way. But perhaps, per Bogost, the boundaries parents set for their children can be thought of as a series of games designed to keep their lives interesting and meaningful.1

2. This recent post about turning anxiety into excitement. Shifting from finding life’s limitations annoying to thinking of them as playable moments seems similar. Problems become opportunities, etc.

3. Ok, three things. I once wrote a post about bagging groceries and mowing the lawn as games.

Two chores I find extremely satisfying are bagging groceries and (especially) mowing the lawn. Getting all those different types of products — with their various shapes, sizes, weights, levels of fragility, temperatures — quickly into the least possible number of bags…quite pleasurable. Reminds me a little of Tetris. And mowing the lawn…making all the grass the same height, surrounding the remaining uncut lawn with concentric rectangles of freshly mowed grass.

What I’m saying is, I’m looking forward to reading this book. See also Steven Johnson’s forthcoming book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World.

  1. I don’t know about other parents, but 75% of my parental energy is taken up by thinking about what limits are appropriate for my kids. (The other 25% is meal-planning.) What do they need right now? What do they want? What can I give them? How do I balance all of those concerns? What makes it particularly difficult for me sometimes is that my instincts and my intellect are not always in agreement with what is appropriate. What is easiest for me is not always best for them. This shit keeps me up at night. :|


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