It’s only been a month and a half since my son Jonah returned from sleep-away camp and I’m already feeling nostalgic for that brief August interlude when he was on his own and my wife Cynthia and I were on our own. Not just because it was a break for us from the rigors of parenting a child with autism, but it was a break for Jonah from the rigors of being parented by the parents of a child with autism. We can make for a tense trio at times. It’s not just that we all worry about one another; it’s that we all feel the weight of being worried about. In any case, Jonah thoroughly enjoyed his eleven summer days – and ten nights – away as did his mother and I. We’re all especially grateful for how wholeheartedly Jonah was accepted into his summer camp community.
But the summer is over. Fall is here and with it comes a whole new set of worries. After thoroughly enjoying camp, Jonah, who’s 14, is back at school and enjoying it a lot less. Jonah attends a special needs school, here, in Montreal and for most of the last month we have been receiving reports expressing concern about some of the problems he’s having re-adjusting to the routines and pressures of the day. What has followed is what seems like a daily series of phone calls, emails, and texts back and forth and, along with it, an escalation of worrying.
Then, the other day, Cynthia and I arranged to meet with Jonah’s teacher, his psychologist, his social worker, his behavioral technician, the school’s educational consultant, and the principal. A lot of good will and hard work went into this get-together. There were reassurances the school would keep trying to figure out what was going wrong and what could be done to address making Jonah feel better about his environment. There was also a willingness to hear whatever feedback my wife and I had to offer about what might work best with Jonah. Even so, I confess I was only listening half the time. The rest of the time I was thinking about how much I hated these meetings, all these meeting we’ve had over the years to try to help Jonah fit in, be accepted, flourish. It’s one of the things parents of so-called neurotypical children don’t always understand about being the parent of a child with autism: it seems like you can never make a decision or solve a problem without consulting a dismaying array of experts, often experts who, when it comes to the mysteries of autism, are just guessing. It’s no wonder there are times you don’t feel like a family so much as a lab experiment.
I don’t know about Cynthia but I always end up feeling the same way at these meetings: like I’m the one back in school, experiencing that familiar back to school dread, the troublemaker about to be called on the carpet for whatever it is I’ve done wrong.
What have I done wrong? And what should I have done differently? When you are the child of a parent with autism or any special needs you spend a lot of time asking yourself some variation and combination of these questions. It’s no wonder I find myself missing those relatively worry-free days Jonah spent at camp. This October, they seem so long ago.
Why does it sometimes feel almost counter-cultural to pack your kids off to camp? Maybe because we’re living in a time that thinks kids are unsafe all the time, unless a parent or bodyguard hovering directly over them, preferably at home. And anyone who questions that model gets shot down.
Is there anyone in any position of authority who EVER says, “Well, the chances are not 100% that your kid will be safe if you do X, but they’re close enough not to worry about them”? Not yet. In the meantime, I present what passes for wisdom and rationality in modern day America — this “advice” column. Sigh.
This might sound like a crazy question, but at what age do you think a 14-year-old student should be allowed to stay home alone? I am an only child who is going into 10th grade (I turn 15 over the summer), and my parents are still married. I know that is a miracle, because at least 60 percent of my friends have divorced parents. One of my parents works outside the house at a regular job, and the other parent has a home business where she makes and sells crafts over the Internet. It is pretty successful and together they make good money.
So at least one of my parents is always home. And even though I am 14, if they do go out, they still get me a baby sitter. They say that it is similar to an insurance policy to have a college student at the house – no need for the student until there’s a huge demand, and then they will be glad he or she is there. For example, if I get really sick and must immediately go to the hospital. If my parents go to the city or to a play, they want someone at the house who has a car and is old enough to drive.
Cherie, I don’t want to do illegal stuff, but it is humiliating when the baby sitter comes and I am almost as tall as he is. Can you convince my parents to stop this stupidity? I am old enough to be home alone. – Home Alone
To Which Cheri Replied:
I owe you one. You gave me a great reminder why it’s important to have a baby sitter with a car when Jeff and I go out at night. We also have a teen who doesn’t drive, and now that I think about it, there are many reasons for him not to be home alone.
You have good parents when they realize that it is not an issue for you to be home by yourself until it becomes a big problem.
It is just better to have an adult who has a car as well as a little bit more of the good judgment that should come with experience. The chances of a catastrophic event occurring are small, but you never know. They are only covering their bases by having a baby sitter there for you, and I think it is smart.
Someday, you may be that baby sitter for someone else. I hope you don’t have to drive a child to the hospital, or call the parent to say the kid broke an arm; however, it could happen.
For now, set up some ground rules about the baby sitter leaving you pretty much alone, and I think you’ll be OK. Thoughtful letter. Thanks!
Thoughtful letter it may have been. Thoughtful reply? Not. – L
This past Sunday I convinced my sons to join me out back to put up our Sukkah, ritual dwelling for Sukkot, arguing that it was just a really big Lego set. They were happy to build and play until we got to the s’chach, the cut organic material used as the roof of the sukkah. The boys just did not understand it. The s’chach, as compared to all of the other Lego pieces, did not click or tie into place. So I went on to explain that while it needs to be porous enough so that we can see the stars, minimally the s’chach must be thick enough so that it provides more shade then sun light in the Sukkah. Of course they asked why?
Just five days after the solemn day of Yom Kippur, we are off to one of the most joyous holidays of the year. Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, is commonly referred to in our liturgy and literature as Zman Simchateinu, the time of our happiness. I began thinking and questioning the so-called happiness of Sukkot. Traditionally on this holiday we read the book of Kohelet. The author of this book retells his investigation of the meaning of life and the best way to live your life. Kohelet proclaims all the actions of humanity to be inherently fleeting, futile, empty, meaningless, temporary, and done in vain. This sentiment is well-said in the most quoted line from Kohelet which reads:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Kohelet 1:9)
Learning that life is senseless seems like a real downer for a holiday of happiness. This juxtaposition is only highlighted in that we read this just after Yom Kippur, a day during which we appealed that mercy would win out over justice. If Kohelet is correct, we will never be able to change. Despite our best efforts to repent and atone, we are stuck and should be judged in light of the fact that will never be able to renew ourselves.
Then it all came together for me.
Kohelet is right; nothing is new under the sun. The difference is that just after Yom Kippur we escape the sun under the shade of the Sukkah. There we find shelter from the harsh judgment of the world. If we spend a serious amount of time practicing being the people we aspire to be, we might be able to achieve it throughout the rest of the year. We see a similar dynamic in the shelter of summer camp. There we are able to immerse ourselves in an Eden of our own design. Is there any greater joy then the promise of a better future?
By now you’ve hopefully eaten a good Rosh Hashana meal, had a meaningful Yom Kippur fast, looked at your watch countless times in services, and found numerous ways to entertain the kids throughout this marathon of Jewish practice. Now its time for some good old-fashioned fun- Sukkot! On Sukkot we literally pitch a tent in which we are supposed to eat and sleep for eight days. If that doesn’t bring up thoughts of Jewish camp, I don’t know what does.
There are two main reasons given for why we are commanded to sleep and eat in the sukkah. One reason is that the sukkah reminds us about the time the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, sleeping in temporary dwellings like sukkot. The sukkah also serves to remind us of the rich, agricultural history of the Israelites. Sukkot is a harvest holiday, and in Ancient Israel the people would build huts similar to sukkot at the edges of the field in order to maximize their work time (and minimize their commute!). On Sukkot we have the chance to give up some of the comforts of heated homes and cushiony beds to live like the Israelites lived. In many cases, this is similar to how the less fortunate, particularly farm workers, live in our country today. Sukkot is the perfect opportunity to discuss the less fortunate among us. More specifically, you can educate yourself and your family on the treatment of farm workers in America to truly bring new meaning to an ancient tradition.
Try this: Build a sukkah and chose one night to both eat and sleep under the stars. Make one of the tasty recipes below, bring out some sleeping bags, ask your kids to teach you a few camp songs, and have a dialogue about the treatment of farm workers in this country and how it relates Sukkot and to you and your family.
For midnight snack…
Homemade Cheese Crackers
Makes about 30 crackers
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cups whole grain spelt flour or while whole wheat flour
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon onion or garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk, plus more for brushing
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Combine the cheese, butter, flours, onion or garlic powder, salt and 2 tablespoons of milk into the bowl of a food processor or mixer. Pulse or mix until the dough forms a ball.
- Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface. Roll it out until it is a square about 1/8 of an inch thick (or a bit thinner). Brush the dough with additional milk.
- Using a pizza wheel or knife, cut the dough into 30 squares. Using a toothpick, prick a hole in the center of each square.
- Place the squares on the baking sheets, leaving about ½ an inch between crackers.
- Bake about 15 minutes until the crackers are just slightly brown around the edges.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
1 ½ cups skim or 1% milk
½ cup quinoa
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons amber agave nectar
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup dried fruit and nuts
- Bring milk to a boil over medium high heat- be careful not to let it boil over!
- Add the quinoa the salt, stir once, cover and turn the heat down to very low.
- Simmer about 15 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed, then stir in the remaining ingredients and re-cover for 1 minute.
- Serve hot or put in refrigerator for up to 1 week and reheat.
I can’t stop thinking about Jordana Horn’s recent post about her son who came home from camp early. I don’t know what camp he attended, what he did to make sure he was sent home, or any of the other circumstances, yet I feel that we failed him. We – the community of camps and the partnership of camps and parents – failed to give him the best possible experience. And that’s a shame.
Certainly, there are youngsters who are not “camp kids.” These are the ones who, for whatever reason, just can’t be in the 24/7 camp environment with its noise, lack of privacy, and outdoorsy living. And, of course, there are the “lifers” who would spend every minute in camp if given the opportunity. (A few parents asked this summer if we would open a camp boarding school, so their children could spend all year with us!)
Just like most things in life, however, most kids are in the middle. Especially in their first summer at camp, most kids enter with some trepidation and are able to soar once something “clicks.” That can happen through a friendship, a connection with a staff member, a particular activity, or locating a quiet place under a special tree. Sometimes it’s easy to find and, other times, it takes some help from the staff. And in some situations, we call the parents in for help. If we do our jobs right, we get everyone involved in the right way and at the right time, so we can help make the magic of camp come alive before it’s too late.
Where we so often go wrong – and by “we,” I mean both camp professionals and parents – is that we don’t really listen to the kids. Sometimes, we are so concerned with our own successes that we don’t hear the kid advocating for himself. And we forget that this advocacy is, in and of itself, a success. Finishing camp is not the be all and end all of life experience; it is possible to have a full and rich life without completing a summer of overnight camp. So if a kid goes home from camp, it doesn’t have to be a failure or a loss; in fact, it can be just the opposite – it can be an opportunity for learning and for growth. If we push too hard and wait too long, we set our kids up to do what Jordana’s son did – something that they know will get them sent home. And then we, as the adults, get angry. But at that point, whose fault is it? Can we blame a child who has been telling us what he really needs for doing something to make this clear when we just won’t listen? Wouldn’t we better off thanking him for knowing his limits and showing him that, sometimes, kids can know better than adults?
One of my favorite songs on the high holidays says: “Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul. Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are born and reborn and reborn.” For tens of thousands of kids each summer, Jewish camp is the land of their soul – it is the place where they can most be themselves. With so many camps to choose from, I believe that there is the “right” camp for virtually every kid. Sometimes it takes a little bit of work to find it, but it’s there. And in the cases when a particular camp doesn’t fit – or camping in general just isn’t right – it’s up to us, as the adults, to help the child return home so he can return to himself, return to the strength and support of his family, and be reborn as (or, at least, reminded of!) the amazing person he is.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and whatever comes next) aren’t the culprit. At least not by themselves. Like any situation, parents and guardians are responsible to monitor the playground their children are in: in this case the virtual world of social media. The interaction between counselor and camper doesn’t need to vary based on the medium. Parents need to be engaged in their kids’ activities and kids need to know that parents will be observing. If campers and counselors are friends on Facebook, that in of itself isn’t bad. We shouldn’t worry excessively over one connection versus another without reason. The relationship and bond forged between camper and counselor is unique and important – platforms like Facebook are new meeting grounds and we have to learn how to live with them, adapt them to our rules, and monitor them.
Some camper-counselor bunk relationships are important and influential. The camper-counselor bond is important and can be akin to a big brother or a mentor when one doesn’t exist for the camper. Personally, I’m proud of the decades-long interaction which has grown between campers of mine and me, augmented by the use of technology including Facebook.
As a counselor I had some bunks, and was a camper in some bunks, that were legendary. Why should a connection like that be forced to end simply because of the fear of Facebook? Both the camper and the counselor choosing to connect through social media should know and accept that their interactions may, and will be, monitored by responsible adults. If a parent reads or sees postings that give cause for alarm or suspicion (inappropriate material, suggestive pictures, language) then it should be cause to react. As a parent you will know when the relationship is inappropriate. But to forbid it simply because “bad stuff happens in Facebook” is just naive. It’s akin to worrying about all the bad men on the sex offender registry but ignoring the fact that 90% of abuse is caused by someone the child knows – the fear is displaced. Rather than run from it, embrace the technology and take ownership of it.
It’s also possible that having campers “following” them will cause counselors to behave better online as well knowing that kids are watching. Imagine if the fact that a counselor has camper friends results in the counselor not posting pictures of her drunken spring break theatrics or profanity ladened posts about his friends?
So when should the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter relationship be pulled? If either the counselor or camper starts to demand too much; if one side, especially the counselor, begins to act inappropriate or suggest age inappropriate activities and relationships; if one starts to act as a jealous or envious girl/boyfriend. You will know it when you see it. And when you see it, you need to do something about it. That’s when parents should be notifying camp directors, peers should be telling each other it’s not appropriate and ultimately when directors make the tough decision to not rehire because that staffer just doesn’t have good judgment.
We use a good rule of thumb in our work at Baltimore Child Abuse Center: if the other adult likes your kid more than you like your own kid, that could be cause for alarm. Embrace the new technologies that exist and recognize your campers want to use social media to keep camp going year round. By participating and monitoring the conversation, you become a part of the experience.
Concerned how kids and technology interact? Want to know more about how to talk with your kids and family about being safe, visit our safety pages at www.baltimorechildabusecenter.org/prevent_abuse to learn more.
Adam Rosenberg is the Executive Director at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
A couple of years ago I was walking to synagogue with my two boys on the morning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and I wanted to engage them in a discussion about the holiday. At the time Yadid was seven and Yishama was five. To get the ball rolling I simply said, “Another name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom HaDin. So besides celebrating a new year, it is also the time when we reflect on how we might want to improve ourselves in the coming year.” At this point I felt a huge urge to just tell the boys how I wanted them to improve. I know that I am not alone. I want my children to be the best they can be so if I love my children so much, how could I stay silent and not tell them how to improve? It seems so clear to me what they need to change to be the mensches I so desperately what them to become, so of course I should just give them a list, right? I decided that instead of going in that direction, I would shift the conversation and said, “So since today is the day we work on our improving ourselves, let’s start. Tell me what you think I need to be working on to be a better abba (father).”
Wow, what a difference! Not only did they give me amazing feedback that I use until this day, but without any additional prompting they started giving each other feedback. What a blessing to be part of this conversation. Holding back my own voice at this moment created room for us all to grow and improve. I know that this internal voice of the overbearing parent is coming from a good place, but I also know that it does not always get the desired results. So, where did I learn this?
Upon reflection, I realized that I learned this technique as a junior counselor at Jewish overnight camp. It was there in the context of managing a bunk of children that I learned how to create an ideal learning environment. It was there that I learned how I might get more bees with honey then vinegar (another important message for Rosh Hashanah). I also learned the important difference between being authoritarian and authoritative. Seeding power actually creates space for other voices. So years later as a father I knew that suspending my own need to share my love created space for us all to share our love with each other. I cannot say I got it right that year as a JC, but I deeply appreciate the space of camp and what it taught me. Someone else who was more experienced could have done it better, but in the spirit of Jewish camp, they got out of the way to make room for an 18-year-old to find his voice. I in turn learned how to make room for my campers and eventually my own children. Jewish camp is magical. Yesterday’s campers are today’s counselors and tomorrow’s parents. If it was not for camp I am not sure I would have been blessed with the loving, powerful, and thoughtful critique from a five-year old. Jewish camp has cultivated in me the desire, skills, and confidence to be a more accessible and loving parent.
Shanah Tova -May we all be blessed to make more space for more loving voices this year.
A few weeks ago, in a parking lot in Montreal, with hip-hop music blaring from oversized speakers, and lanes delineated for a fleet of buses to pull into, I found myself waiting with 200 or so other parents for my son Jonah to return from sleep-away camp. It was hardly a Norman Rockwell painting, but there was still something timeless about the feelings of anticipation and excitement that were as palpable as the humidity in the August air. Jonah had only been away 10 days but it felt longer. Of course, if I’m being honest, it also felt like it went too fast. It’s always a little surprising how quickly my wife and I are able to adapt to life on our own. Still, we missed the kid and, like everyone else in the parking lot, we could hardly wait for his bus – Senior Boys – to finally arrive.
But we were also, we knew, different from other parents. Jonah, who’s 14, is on the autism spectrum and while we were hopeful he had a good time, first of all, we were even more hopeful he’d gained some new measure of independence at camp. We care a lot less about whether he learned to water ski then whether he learned how to do the simplest things, things other parents take for granted – like learn to eat a new food or maybe just hold a five-minute conversation with a bunkmate. And while most parents with teenagers are trying to find ways to keep their kids closer, hoping, in vain, that they won’t change too much, we’re continually hoping Jonah will come home after being free of our inevitable worrying about him and start pushing us away. We hope he’ll begin to understand it’s his job to change.
In her recent memoir, Next Stop: An Autistic Son Grows Up, Washington D.C. journalist Glen Finland writes about her heroic and poignant efforts to help David, her 21-year-old son on the spectrum, learn how to navigate the city’s subway system and, much more important, learn to be an individual, an adult. But, of course, it’s Finland who has to learn, while writing the memoir, how to be on her own: “After decades of being my intellectually disabled son’s advocate, how could I just shut off my dependency on his dependency on me?”
It was a question I was asking myself as the Senior Boys bus finally arrived in the parking lot and Jonah exited a little shyly. He had a deep suntan and an array of mosquito bites on his arms, legs, and neck. He had a growth spurt this summer and was already taller than me by the time he left for camp, but he seemed to tower over me now. He had the beginnings of a mustache before he left but I could also see whiskers on his chin and a significant accumulation of pimples on his forehead. Jonah can be hard to get information out of at the best of times, but he seemed quieter than usual. And, maybe it was my imagination, but it also seemed like the things he wasn’t telling us were not just things he couldn’t be bothered to tell us, but things he decided not to tell us. He was acting, in other words, just like a teenager.
My wife caught up to the camp director and Jonah’s shadow and they told her that Jonah had a fantastic time. He didn’t make close friends, but the kids at the camp liked him and accepted him on his own terms. He was, my wife was assured, independent, pretty much. Oh yeah, he also tried lasagna and water-skied. Jonah wanted to get home for lunch – definitely not lasagna, we assured him – so we didn’t linger. But then just as my wife and I were driving out of the parking lot, my son realized he did have something important he wanted to tell us, after all. A decision I’m guessing he’d reached on the bus and on his own. “Next year,” he said, “I’m going to camp for the whole summer.”
Looking back on the past few months, I wouldn’t call it a “cruel summer.” Nor would I call it “the summer of my discontent.” But sending my boys to overnight camp for the first time was a far rockier road than I’d hoped I’d be traveling. The summer ended with me struggling with an odd issue that I’d never anticipated: What do you do when your kid does something wrong…and gets exactly what he wants as a result?
See, there is apparently an unspoken rule of omerta when it comes to unhappiness at camp, which I’m about to break. You are not supposed to admit that your child did not have an “amazing” time at camp. You are not supposed to talk about the fact that the camp called you or emailed you every day. You are supposed to only post the shiny, happy pictures.
Perhaps it was Facebook that misled me. I assumed my experience would follow the progression apparently conformed to by all my friends and their children. After all, all of my friends displayed in photos on their respective Timelines – and every single kid, according to these pictures, has “the time of their life” at camp:
Photo One: “Dropping X off at camp bus; we are going to miss him but he is going to have the time of his life!!!” Photo of child boarding bus with timid, yet anticipatory, smile on his face.
Photo Two: “X is having the time of his life at camp!” Photo of X smiling, arms around new friends-for-life whom he will eventually request as college suitemates his freshman year.
Photo Three: “Reunited, and it feels so good!” Photo of whole family hugging dirty, yet happy-looking X at camp visiting day.
Photo Four: “Cannot believe X actually tried Y!” Photo of X doing something completely brave and out of character for X, like going down a 5,000 foot zipline, cooking a feast by himself for 400 people or para-sailing.
Photo Five: “So glad to have X home – he had the time of his life!” Photo of parents hugging dirtier, yet happy-looking, kid X as he gets off the bus.
I assumed this trajectory would hold true for me and my boys, even though it was at odds with my own experience as a child. I was extremely homesick at camp. I was also told in no uncertain terms by my parents that I would have to suck it up (they may not have used those words) and deal. Which, dear reader, I did.
Despite my own time at camp, though, I was a veritable Pollyanna of Positivity and Propaganda while packing my own boys for camp. I told them over and over how much fun they would have and what a great experience it would be. I convinced even myself.
When the other one of my sons told me as I dropped him off, “PLEASE take me home with you – I won’t use the iPad or the Kinect or the television for three weeks!,” I was upset but didn’t show it. I told him that of course he was nervous, but that everyone was initially, and that he would be fine.
And yet, somehow, he wasn’t.
I got calls home from the camp. Some days he took positive steps forward, other days he took two steps backward. As I told my husband at one point, “This is like all the bad parts of parenting – the stress, the worry, the frustration – and none of the good parts, like the smiles, the satisfaction or the happiness that comes from seeing your kid succeed.”
Finally, when the 10:45 pm Saturday night call came from the camp arranging a phone call with my son the next day, I knew we were nearing a breaking point. I just didn’t know who was going to be the one to break.
We had a talk and I made it clear that I did not want to come and get him, and that he would make it the final week of camp and do well – and be proud of himself for having “made it.” But within hours, he deliberately broke a camp rule in order to get out… and there I was on the highway, driving the two hours to go pick him up and bring him home.
I’m still trying to parse out what lessons were learned. I am having a lot of difficulty stomaching the idea that my son did something wrong deliberately…and as a result, got EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTED, i.e. to come home. The joyful reunion with him was tarred by my having to discipline him (no TV, no Kinect, no iPad, lots of chores).
The trajectory was off. But no one ever talks about the kids who don’t have a great time at camp.
See, no one posts a picture of the happy-yet-sad face a kid makes when he’s thrilled to see you but knows you are deeply disappointed in him. No one tells you what the “takeaway” of such an experience is supposed to be. You have to figure it all out yourself: what went wrong? Was it the choice of camp? Was it the kid’s maturity or lack thereof? Was it some weird alchemy of the kids in the bunk and counselors? Was it something you don’t even know?
Maybe it really is “the time of your life” – in the sense that in life, things do, on occasion, go way off track from how you’d expected them to go. Everyone assumes it will all go right – but who helps you out when things go wrong? Any answers or help, please send them my way.
Like this post? Read more of Jordana’s writing on Kveller.com.
I am sick of hearing about the VMAs and Miley Cyrus. Yup – she got on stage in a latex bikini, twerked with Robin Thicke and stuck her tongue out, a lot. Lady Gaga was wearing a mermaid thong get-up and lots of others dressed, danced and used language in a way we may not want our 11 year olds to replicate. Get over it. They are entertainers – provocateurs – in a world where 15 minutes of fame is now measured in a 6 second Vine. We are parents and this is where some of the hard stuff comes in. Stop the mass whining and start the real discussions.
What did we expect from a show celebrating the art of music videos on a channel that doesn’t even play music videos anymore? As I see it – the whole goal of the show to raise awareness of MTV- and they are going to do that by pushing the envelope, as they do every year. Otherwise we would be writing blog posts about how they have lost their edge and aren’t connected to their core audience (which, by the way, is 18-34 year olds).
Whenever something happens that requires dealing with some tough parenting issues, the blogosphere goes crazy. Sure – the show was rated PG and the content was more risqué than that. To be expected from a channel that isn’t Disney. I watched bits and pieces of the show, and was more embarrassed for myself that I had to Google “twerking” (I was getting it confused with duffnering and couldn’t figure out why twitter was going nuts) than I was for the entertainers. I went to bed feeling every one of my 41 years. My kids didn’t watch, but by 10 am on Monday they had seen plenty of GIFs and YouTube videos that probably were edited to make it worse than the actual performances.
So, while making Rainbow Looms, we had some great conversation last night. We talked about what “sexy” means to a nine year old, how it doesn’t equate to pretty, and what makes it bad and good. That led to talking about what is appropriate behavior for our family (and how short our shorts can be) and who our role models should be. I told them about the counselors that were the first responders and revived Ethan Kadish, those that ran into a burning bunk at Camp Simcha to get the campers out safely. We talked about the firefighters in the thick of it fighting the California Rim Fire. We talked about their counselors, their teachers, their coaches, their Sunday school aides. The people that shared services with them this summer, talked them through getting up on waterskiis for the first time, cheered on their goals and helped them through some friendship issues. Hopefully, when the girls are making decisions, they will look towards these people, not someone dressed up as a teddy bear.
I am not going to point fingers and say that Billy Rae should throw a sweater on his daughter or wire her mouth shut. I wouldn’t want him to come into my house and question the parenting decisions I have made over the years. Miley works hard and has done so her whole life – voice lessons, acting lessons, dance class, working out and probably lots more. She gave up a “regular” childhood so we could plop our kids down in front of a “wholesome” show when we needed to cook dinner or catch and extra few minutes of sleep on a Sunday morning. In essence, we created her. We bought the concert tickets, the t-shirts, the dolls and that damn guitar (that I still can’t figure out how to shut off) with her face plastered on it. Coming of age in a digital world isn’t easy for anyone, let alone a child star. The tools for adoration are instantaneous. When The Beatles hit the stage or Mick Jagger perfected his swagger, there was a clip on the 5:00pm news and a picture in a magazine a month later. Today we turn to social media as quick to love as we are to hate.
As someone who struggles to get up in front of a roomful of colleagues for a formal work presentation, part of me wants to congratulate Miley for having no shame and for having the confidence to get up in front of millions knowing very well that for everyone that is going to love her, many more will pan her.
Online, on TV or in a newspaper, our children are going to see and hear things that are inappropriate. Our children’s own actions, words, grades, tweets, photos and attire will disappoint and hurt us as much as they make us proud. Billy Rae came right out with a tweet supporting his daughter. We all support our children in ways we see fit. Some of us will choose tough love, others will take the “I’m your best friend” route and some will try to fix everything for their children. For me, I can only arm our children with the knowledge and values I think are important. How will they act upon it? I’ll have to follow along on Instagram.