Køb en regnemaskine

På min søns skole (6. klasse) har de fået besked på at købe en regnemaskine, en ordbog (engelsk-engelsk) og et kompas. Jeg har protesteret og sagt, at det er penge lige ud af vinduet, fordi min søn og majoriteten af hans klassekammerater allerede har alle disse ting i deres smartphones og/eller på deres laptops.

Meeen, børnene må jo ikke bruge deres smartphones i skolen, vel. Og laptops er endnu ikke et krav i timerne, selvom nogle af lærerne (uden tidligere at have nævnt det ved forældremøder eller i orienteringsskrivelser) er begyndt at bede børnene om at tage laptops med.

Mit argument for at nægte at foretage disse indkøb er, at det ville være passende, hvis børnene lærte, at deres telefoner kan bruges til andet end spil, tekstbeskeder og Facebook, men også har en masse fornuftige applikationer. Fx kan man have Lectio som en “app”, hvilket både Junior og jeg selv har. Det er vældig praktisk! Mange børn ved heller ikke, at en computer duer til andet end spil, Youtube, Facebook og så lektierne.

Det ville være dejligt, hvis der kunne foregå en integration mellem børnenes egen, skolens og forældrenes brug af digitale remedier. Nogle lærere trænger til en ordentlig brush-up, men det gør mange forældre (og dermed deres børn) så sandelig også.

Hvad synes du, skal jeg kravle ned fra min høje hest og gå hen i Bog & Idé og købe en regnemaskine (til)?

 

 

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It Really Must Stop

If you look carefully you can see a little red person. Thats young son, perching on a branch.
If you look carefully you can see a little red person. That's young son, perched on a branch.

The Health and Safety regulations concerning children in this country are going totally overboard. In young son’s previous school, a Church of England state primary, we were already shocked by the number of rules they had, supposedly for the children’s safety. No playing football in breaks, during the heatwave they had to stay inside or sit down under the trees in all breaks, when we had the snow last year the school was closed for a whole week (explanation was that there was ice on the parking lot…) and teachers cannot hug or cuddle a child who’s unhappy or has been hurt.

Then there’s this horrible story about a dinner lady who got sacked for telling parents the truth about their daughter being bullied. And there’s this silly, silly new regulations at a playground: To accompany your child or grandchild or whatever into this playground you have to be vetted as a “playground worker”. If you’re not, you have to stay outside the fence.

And there’s this, where home baked cakes for school fetes have now been forbidden for hygiene reasons.

In yesterday’s Times, Jenni Russell tells another horror story and concludes that we, as parents in the UK, must really do something and protest!

Unfortunately, since I’ve moved my child away from the English school system to an international school, I don’t have much of a say in the matter. It’s my son’s good fortune that I’ve done so, the International school doesn’t appear to harbour these hysterical views on safety and believe that some good old-fashioned  common sense and respect for teachers, children and their parents goes a long way in keeping our beloved little ones safe.

However, it’s not all the government’s fault. We, as parents, must also look at our own views on safety. Where does good common sense end and over-cautiousness begin? Obviously, you can’t let your child play in the road, so that it will learn road safety. But you can let them fiddle with scissors and cut themselves a bit to understand why scissors are not toys? And where you can’t let a child stick its head into the fireplace, maybe you can let it light the candles on the table and burn their fingers a bit?

I remember an incident in my son’s preschool. He fell off the climbing structure and hit his head on one of the milk crates they used in their play. He of course hurt himself and had to have a few stitches at the doctor’s office. But a mum came up to me the next day and asked whether I didn’t think we had to pull the climbing structure or at least get rid of the milk crates, so a similar accident wouldn’t happen to another child. And she reminded me that a boy had fallen off the structure the previous year and broken his leg. She was rather surprised when I didn’t agree! It was the same mother who decided that her son could never again ride in a bus after she read about a tragic accident when a child was killed when a bus collided with a tractor. No number of statistics about children’s safety in cars versus buses could convince her to change her mind!

So now, let’s be sensible. If we let our children play and cycle and climb trees, there’s a good chance that they’ll scrape a knee, bump their heads or break an arm. But when I was young, we all had accidents like that! The only two real accidents, one fatal, I remember from school was a girl who was killed in traffic and another girl who got her finger crushed in a door, indirectly because of bullying. Neither of those episodes could have been prevented by all the crazy measures we take nowadays to protect our children!

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Being fat

picture from obesityfacts.co.uk
picture from obesityfacts.co.uk

India Knight’s column in today’s Sunday Times is about fat people. I commented positively on it on Twitter and got some response that amply shows how tender a spot overweight is.

India’s point is that overweight is something that can actually be reversed. She attacks the new “fat lobby” for wanting to completely disclaim any responsibility for their own situation. In California, a law prevents doctors from mentioning to their obese patients that losing weight could save their lives. These lobbyists want the same kind of law here. Furthermore, school teachers, nurses, dieticians etc., should not be allowed to mention it to the parents when their children are severely obese. They also lobby for the right not to be bullied or beaten up because they are fat. That’s obviously nonsense – bullying is everywhere and about everything and no law can prevent it. I can’t think of anybody who sanctions bullying – not India Knight either, although she writes that an extremely overweight person shouldn’t fall off his chair in wonderment when people stare at him. As to campaigning for the right not to be beaten – well, as far as I know, beating people up is illegal, no matter what the reason.

I’m not exactly a lightweight myself – a size 14 on a good day, 16 on a bad. I’ve been like this more or less since I stopped smoking 12 years ago. Before that I was thin as a reed. I have an end weight, not far from my present weight. I’m not ever going to weigh so much that I can’t buy my clothes in a “normal” clothes shop. And I don’t want to be so big that I become a burden to people around me and to society. Happily a new study has come out recently that claims that my kind of overweight is good. And I’m perfectly capable of curbing my eating for a period to shed a few pounds when I hit my weight ceiling. But it seems that I can’t be bothered to go the extra mile and lose the stone or two that would bring me down to a comfortable size 12. Point is, however, I know exactly what to do and don’t even need a book. For me it’s not about more veg, more fibre, less dangerous fats. It’s painfully simple. Eat less (& no wine). But unfortunately, it is just not that simple for the huge group of obese people who are a threat to themselves and to the health economy.

The number one problem with the whole discussion about obesity is namely, and India Knight fails to mention it, that obesity has become – like smoking – mainly a problem for the poor and uneducated. Whereas my overweight is the result of too great a love for cooking and good food (and I believe it’s the same for many roundish people of the upper- and aspiring classes) and therefore can be kept in check, their overweight is the result of a poor diet and total lack of understanding of the relationship between action and consequence in the food area. This kept well in check by the poor and uneducated’s preferred news sources and peddlers of confusion and fear, The Daily Mail, The Sun and Sky News.

Around me I see people with food/overweight-related health issues and I also see how they are usually in total denial about their own responsibility for their predicament. And furthermore, which is quite contrary to what the fat-lobby claims, mentioning that people could change their eating habits to get better is totally taboo.

What gets me more than anything is people who allow their little children to become severely obese and then won’t accept an offer of help. In my son’s old school (state primary) there was a girl in his class who was extremely fat. Her younger brother was the same – children of 8 and 6. The mother wasn’t particularly overweight and another mother told me that she had been on a diet, she’d previously been as fat as her children. How on earth can she put herself before her children like that? And my son informed me that they had some of the most unhealthy packed lunches in the whole school; and that’s saying something! Yes, the mother was working class and yes, their budget clearly limited. But bags of crisps, packets of cheese strings and packs of cookies are not cheap. And if she could put herself on a diet and lose 5-6 stone, what on earth prevented her from taking her children with her? Was she so dumb that she felt sorry for the children if they had to eat veg and no cookies like herself? I was told that there was nothing the school could do – not even preventing the mother from excusing the girl from PE!

Which is why I think that silence and “acceptance” in this area will not work. But I don’t believe in shaming either. I read somewhere that a school had decided to stop selling cakes at school events to curb obesity. That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a very long time. Obesity can only be fought by education and by taxing all prefab and semi prefab food with a sugar and/or fat content above x %. It is ridiculous that some of the very cheapest food items in the supermarket are also the most unhealthy! Jamie Oliver was right, right, right, when he tried to introduce proper food in schools and a love of cooking and ingredients. I have no doubt that for each person who learns to cook and to love and appreciate real food, there’ll be one person less to burden our health system with massive self-inflicted health problems. Have I told you about the boy from Dane’s old school who didn’t recognise a boiled egg?

The persons I mentioned above with food/overweight-related health issues all have one thing in common. They cannot cook and don’t have a clue about nutrition.

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What can Google do for God's reputation?

There’s something about women’s rights out there every day. Even when you’re not looking for it actively. I don’t subscribe to any “feminism” blogs or sites, because, quite frankly, they often bore me. That doesn’t mean that I’m not supportive of the “cause” or that I necessarily disagree with a lot of feminism issues – it’s more that it’s so difficult to find the right balance between our “luxury” problems here in the Western world and the severe plight of women in the Third World, particularly the Arab world and Africa, where AIDS is hitting the women very hard.

Feminism:

This one I found on Twitter (twittered by a man, I should say). It’s about how Arab middle class women are using the web as an important tool in their struggle for freedom.

Israel/Gaza:

The truth always comes out in the end. The question here is of course whether the responsible will be brought to justice or if it’ll be like at Abu Ghraib, where only the foot soldiers got to pay the price. I suspect the latter, unfortunately.

In the National Security Journal they dare to ask the Big Question. Pointer from Andrew Sullivan.

Children:

Check this great blog with the fantastic title Freerange Kids.

Here’s the Times’ Schoolgate blog’s take on the story I had the other day about children’s lunch boxes and what ought and ought not to be in them.

Also on Schoolgate this heartfelt post about birthday party bags. I couldn’t agree more!

Food:

All I can say is YES YES YES! It’s not homemade food with butter, cream etc. in it that makes the world’s poor fatter and fatter. It’s processed food. How often must we say this?

God:

You won’t believe this. Google wisdom applied to religion.

That’s it for today – must dash to do my housewifely duties…

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Twitterism & loads of links

I’ve now been twittering for a couple of weeks and am beginning to understand the workings of Twitter. For me it’s a place to harvest (more) interesting info than I’d otherwise find. Sometimes a bit on the much side I’m afraid. Below you’ll find a scattering of info that’s been twittered from my followees throughout the weekend. Particularly the tech-ones have been inanely active, since they are all gathered at SXSW.

Tech stuff:

A review of the app Dropbox, which I’m a very contended user of. For instance, it’s a great way of sharing documents between me and my writing partner at uni (he’s in DK). And thanks to him for recommending Dropbox.

Blogger apps for the Iphone. Sounds veeeery interesting, haven’t looked at all of them yet.

Twitter personalities the Myers-Briggs way. Which one am I, I wonder. Hope I’ll be considered as the Messenger type…

A Youtube add-on that makes it safe for little children. Quite good if you like your kids to browse away but preferably not to stumble over some of the more horrid videos that are in ample supply on Youtube. I think this will work up till the age of 8-9. After that they’ll have learnt to circumvent it and it’ll be up to you to teach them how to navigate not only Youtube, but all of the web.

Now to brain stuff:

We learn more from the unexpected than from the expected. Our brains respond just like the traders on the stock exchange floor. That’s bloody disappointing! From Science Daily.

Want to know what dialectical bootstrapping is? Read this. Also from Science Daily. Hint: It’s about applying the wisdom of crowds to your mind…

Also from Science Daily is this article about brain training as a preventative method against Alzheimers. I like the scientist’s down-to-earth advice:

In her opinion, the best way to keep one’s cerebral functions is to do intellectual activities, eat well, control vascular factors, particularly in the case of diabetes and hypertension, and remain physically active.

Brain activity reveals memories. Science Daily.

Health stuff:

This article (Science Daily again) reveals why I’ve never been able to make serious money. I was not particularly popular as a child. Or what?

My mother is dead, unfortunately, so I can’t share this information with her. I would’ve liked to, because I think she might secretly have blamed herself for my cleft palate/lip. But it’s in the genes! Luckily then, I haven’t passed it on to my sons.

Here’s another story to do with genes. It supports every smoker’s favourite story about the Grandmother who Smoked 20 Cigarettes a Day and Lives Happily to be a 100 Years Old.

I don’t usually quote the Telegraph, since it’s rarely worth quoting, but that’s the point really. To equal a school, which actually does something actively to improve the pupils’ health with Gestapo is just so out of this world!!!! My son tells me that, although his school has strict policies about sweets and crisps NOT belonging in the lunch pack, lots of children still have it every day! It’s just sad, sad, sad that parents understand so little about nutrition that they give their kids a packet of crisps and a white cardboard sandwich with square ham every day! It certainly supports the study about how IQ and education are directly linked to life expectancy, which I wrote about previously.

On feminism (watch out for the flak!):

Why women opt out of certain careers.

Miscellaneous:

The Health and Safety Executive has a myth-buster page, which is a comforting read. Clearly, what we’re seeing at schools and other places are over-zealous interpretations of the health and safety rules. So if we just stuck to the rules themselves, we’d be fine. Here’s a great example.

About coffee. Why the crap coffee in canteens and at railway kiosks gives a much higher boost of caffeine-induced energy than the luxury coffee we brew at home.

That’s all folks.

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High IQ = longer life expectancy?

Well, here’s another subject, besides feminism, that will trigger something in a lot of people. IQ. Just read this cool article, found on Twitter. The findings of the study aren’t really that surprising – the higher IQ, the better education. The better education, the better understanding of health issues. The better understanding of health issues and what to do to improve your own health, the longer the life expectancy. No magic, jut logic.

I would like some input about how to spot children with very high IQs in schools and about what to do, once they are identified. Please document your advice.

From the Wikipedia Commons
The IQs of a large enough population can be modeled with a Normal Distribution. From the Wikipedia Commons

@ my post on random acts of kindness, I got no replies. None. Is it considered as boasting when you claim that you like to perform random acts of kindness? Honestly, it isn’t. I just find it a very easy way to boost my own mood. When you see the smile on the other person’s face, it makes you feel good, instantly. No magic there either and no altruism to speak of! What did I do? A woman, probably in her 50ties, went on the scales in my gym. A sad look crossed her face when she saw the figure and she said to me that she was so disappointed because she had worked out so hard lately and it didn’t show on the scales. I said to her, that I thought she should stop going on the scales and just look at herself and see that she looked really good for a person of her age and stature and then go out and buy herself a spring outfit as a reward for her keeping up with her fitness regime. That was clearly just what she needed to hear. She was literally glowing afterwards. And it made me feel good too!

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Incentives for children & something about books

This discussion is probably eternal and will never be solved. I was deadset against that kind of thing – until I got my own children… I just don’t have the necessary parental skills to motivate my youngest to make an extra effort with his homework without using incentives. I see the point many people make, that once the job is done and the incentive is received, the child might slump into a stupor and the end result will be even worse. But I’m not quite sure that fits all age groups – I believe that incentives when they are young and learning all the basic stuff they’ll need to proceed successfully in the educational system can be good. Then comes the teen years, where the wiring is awry anyway. And – at a certain age, which I believe varies greatly from child to child, they will begin to understand the value of learning without incentives provided by us, the parents. Check out this story about a young Pakistani student.

The inspiration for this came out of this article in the New York Times. Not unusually, the pointer came from Marginal Revolution.

Here in the UK, incentives for children – also the very little ones – are all over the place. Gold stars and stickers are in every learning book for younger children – my young one loved and to a degree still loves it! In his school they get stickers for everything, which are put on their clothes so that everybody else can see. It’s for good behaviour, good spelling, strong effort, etc. etc. And there’s a weekly ceremony where the deserving children get a Certificate in front of the whole of the rest of the school. I don’t know that this works for all children – because the teachers try hard to give an equal number of certificates to all children. So some children, who don’t achieve very highly, will typically get a certificate for an effort or for good behaviour, while the high achievers get certificates for multiplication, reading, writing or whatever. But it most certainly works for mine!

Not exactly related, but I just stumbled over this on the School Gate blog on Times Online. It’s a Top Ten over books people lie about having read. Ha, that’s funny! I highlighted the three I’ve read. Cross my heart & hope to die. I HAVE read them!

If you also think that’s funny why don’t you make it into a meme and do the same thing on your blog and refer back to me. That would be interesting!

1. 1984 by George Orwell (42 percent) <Wonder what it would be like to re-read it now>

2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (31 percent) <so far I’ve downloaded it to my Iphone…>

3. Ulysses by James Joyce (25 percent) <tried several times and gave up>

4. The Bible (it doesn’t say which testament! 24 percent) >read a chapter a day for a couple of years>

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (16 percent) <it’s good!>

6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (15 percent) <haven’t even considered reading this>

7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (14 percent) <it’s on the bookshelf…>

8. In Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (9 percent) <never got into Proust somehow?>

9. Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama (6 percent) <a neighbour has promised to lend it to me>

10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (6 percent) <haven’t considered reading this either, don’t like Dawkins>

I wonder why people lie about the Orwell book (more or less understand the rest). It’s so short and so easily read?!? And yes, I actually read it before 1984.

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Online safety and children

This is an issue that causes rather heated discussions in the media, in schools and among parents. The discussion is a close cousin to the discussion of computer games and television and hard rock and its bad influence on children and teens.

Here are a few of the latest stories on these subjects: Boys sending nude-photos of themselves to a stranger. Chatting on Facebook can lead to depression. Online bullying.

My general view on this is that by blaming computer games, FaceBook or texting for whatever ails the young is a way of running away from our responsibilities as parents.

Back in the “good old days” before wall-to-wall TV, computers and mobile phones, there were also dangers. Our parents, the good ones, explained to us the dangers out there. They told us what to do, if we were approached by strangers, they told us where it was safe to go at night, they told us about alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and sex. And just like now, some parents were successful in teaching their children this, others weren’t.

Picture from picapp.com
Picture from picapp.com

I would never forbid my children to have an account on Facebook or Myspace or install safety-software on their computers. But I would sit down with them and tell them about the dangers involved. Explain why it’s wise only to give your phone number and full address to people you actually know IRL or who’ve been vouched for by personal friends. I would tell them about dishonest people who might want to befriend them, posing as someone and something they are not. And how to avoid this. If I had a young teen boy I’d explain to him how most porn flicks and pictures are made, just so he’d know what kind of industry he’d be supporting by browsing porn sites. And most importantly, I would make sure that my relationship with my children was such that they would come to me if they were suddenly in over their heads, whatever the reason.

I don’t tell my children that they can’t use Wikipedia, because there’s information on there, which is not true. I tell them how Wikipedia is created and where Wikipedia is useful and where it isn’t and how to go about verifying information in general, be it an e-mail circulated story (e.g. a virus warning), a Wikipedia entry or just something you vaguely remember.

The overall rules for overcoming the dangers in life are not all that different now than they were then. Honestly, I think we, as parents, have become more lazy and want to leave the schools, the society, the television stations and the software companies with the burden of protecting our children.

But it is mainly our own responsibility as it always has been and as it should be!

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Culture clash

Looking out of our living room window Monday morning.
Looking out of our living room window Monday morning.

OK, so it was a lot of snow. It really was. And I was fully sympathetic with the schools for closing on the Monday – many children couldn’t have come anyway or would have spent endless hours in their fretting parents’ cars before finally getting there. Tuesday – when it hadn’t snowed in our area for 18 hours, I thought OK – it’s still a bit of a hassle to get out and about and for us personally, it wasn’t a problem since we work from home. But when I read on the school website Tuesday evening that the school was STILL closed on the Wednesday I just couldn’t believe my own eyes! True, most smaller roads and parking lots and driveways are still icy and slippery, but it’s not like we don’t know that by now! And salt and/or gravel could be spread to ease the situation. But no. A lot of the parents who are not as fortunate as we are must have been desperate! I do realise that a school is not there to mind our children, but most of us depend on our jobs and we should be able to rely on the school to be open and to school our children, when it’s supposed to.

A tired Dane with his snowman.
A tired Dane with his snowman.

I’m told that this has to do with the extremely rigid Health & Safety Regulations in this country. It’s getting to me – I’ve written about this before, the ubiquitous worry-sickness. Children can’t walk to school, they can’t use a computer un-monitored, they can’t climb a tree. And adults have to be told that hot food is hot (!!), that roads are slippery after 15 cm of snow…. It’s like we just can’t handle any disruptions to our ordered little lives anymore. AAARRRRRGGGGHHHH! Can I PLEASE have the responsibility for my own life back! Anne Applebaum writes about it in the Washington Post. And there are loads of opinions on the Alpha Mummy blog.

Igloo lamps - Swedish style.
Igloo lamps - Swedish style.
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Living history

The Eton shield. Floreat Etona - may Eton flourish.
The Eton shield. Floreat Etona - may Eton flourish.

Our Sunday outing took us a little bit further away than usual, namely to the most famous school/college on the planet, Eton. It is a thoroughly astonishing place – even if I’d recently read a very interesting article about Eton in Vanity Fair and thus knew how subsumed in tradition the whole place is, it’s still completely amazing to see it with your own eyes, even on a Sunday where the boys are out of uniform. Wikipedia has an excellent article about Eton. It’s very long and thorough, I’ve only read down to where it starts going through the various houses and societies.

The college church.
The college church.
The oldest classroom still in use!
The oldest classroom still in use!
Eton college centre court yard
Eton college centre courtyard.
They wear this outfit to school EVERY DAY!
They wear this outfit to school EVERY DAY!
This is where their parents buy it.

Of the fourhundredsomething boys (no no no, no girls!!!) only 70 of them are there by merit. Meaning that the original idea – the school was founded in 1440 by Henry VI as a charity school for poor boys – has long been abandoned. Even among the 70 “King’s Scholars” (boys who are there because of outstanding exam results at 12 years) most parents are paying up to 90% of the school fees. On top of that comes uniform, books and all sorts of things that boys who live away from their parents might need. Yearly fee: £ 26.490. Many families don’t even make that much money before tax!

So egalitarian? No.

Super elitist? Yes.

Do I like it? No.

Am I fascinated by it? Yes.

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What will Obama do? (and something about parenting)

Andrew Sullivan does some deliberation and a bit of wishful thinking in The Sunday Times. It hasn’t been published online, but probably will be tomorrow or some time next week. Here’s a couple of quotes to wet your appetite:

On Israel, perhaps, we will see the biggest shift. Obama has so far been preternaturally silent on the Gaza bombardment, in deference to the “one president at a time” mantra and because he knows full well that if he were not about to become president, the Israelis would not have launched their attack.

(…)

Obama almost certainly believes, for example, that no one is enjoying the Gaza disaster more than Iran’s government, and that Tehran’s more radical mullahs fear nothing more than fighting an election at home while Obama appeals to the Iranian people over their heads. It is perfectly reasonable to be confident that Obama threatens President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in ways that Bush never managed. I hope at least.

I hope that too!!!

Make a search for this article on The Times webiste some time tomorrow (try “Andrew Sullivan Obama”) or enjoy his sharp and immensely popular blog on The Atlantic.

On an entirely different subject I enjoyed and agreed with (would I have enjoyed it if I didn’t agree?) another article, this one by Rachel Johnson. Actually, she quite often annoys me, but in a way that makes me read her columns anyway. She blogs too. The article is about a certain kind of British middle class parents, of whom I’ve already met quite a few. They are a bit scary!!! She writes:

We’ve all become grimly used by now to the excesses of hyper-parenting – it’s been richly documented over the past decade as more and more university-educated parents, often former career girls turned full-time mothers, have diverted energy and ambition from the boardroom to the playroom. Even so, this now constant, almost compulsory, blurring of boundaries between parent and child takes the horror to the next level.

(…)

Moreover, according to the clinical psychologist Oliver James, parents who bathe in the glory of a child’s performance can be hugely damaging. “It’s disastrous if children’s achievements are used as vehicles for the parents’ prestige,” he says. “Then the withdrawal of love is only a tiny mistake away.”

(…)

If you subsume your identity into that of your child, you are, according to the psychologists, enmeshed. That’s shrink-speak for “disturbed” and it means you can’t get your kicks in your own right but only through your offspring and their achievements, and are flagging up a desperate form of displaced narcissism. And yes, you probably need urgent help.

I’m sure my Danish readers are all going: “You must be kidding!” But no, I’m not – this is British reality. I’m hoping that my Danish voice of reason will always be there to kick me in the behind should I start acting like this. But I believe that I could never live my life through my children. I have ambitions for my own life, which are not yet fulfilled!

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Close to home

Ripley bonfire 2008
Ripley bonfire 2008

Yesterday was Ripley Bonfire Night – one of the year’s biggest events in our neighbouring village where Dane goes to school. The entertainment starts with a procession of floats through the town. It’s not a very big town, so this year’s five floats were a record, I heard. Dane’s class at school were in charge of the school float. The chosen theme this year was to celebrate that the school has become a Primary School, so it was something with launch and rockets… The parents – some more than others (find me in the latter category) – worked hard on creating a spectacular float. Unfortunately we didn’t win the float competition. The girl scouts (called Brownies in this country) won with a float on the theme of the Narnia Chronicles.

The floats just finished - five hours before the procession.
The float's just finished - five hours before the procession.

There were around 10.000 people in Ripley, so there were a lot of spectators along the way. After the procession the bonfire was lit and then there was an impressive fireworks display. After that we were tired and went home for some tea and cheese sandwiches – with sore feat after hours of standing.

Dane with sweet teacher Mrs. G.

Today the weather has been really, really awful – although it’s cleared now and there’s the most spectacular sunset – so we’ve stayed in all day. First it was the usual – a couple of hours of Sunday Times. Dane has worked out the Catch up TV, so he spent the morning catching up on his favourite programmes on CBBC. Then we played Star Wars monopoly for I don’t know how many hours. Dane won – without cheating on anybody’s part. Now it’s time for me to get out of my chair and into my kitchen. The menu says Vietnamese prawn and cauliflower coconut curry. Hope it’ll turn out as nice as it sounds. Then it’ll be time for some serious TV watching – all the programmes we’ve recorded in the past week. First and foremost Merlin, a wonderful series for the whole family on BBC. We enjoy every minute of it!

The central cast in the tv series Merlin
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School buses

On our trip through America we often marvelled over the school bus system. Wherever we were, we saw school buses everywhere and we noticed how they enjoyed very special privileges over any other vehicles on the road. All traffic stops, when the school bus does. It is just so not done to overtake a school bus, no matter what the road conditions are like.

Picture taken in Mississippi, if I remember correctly. It’s a tired old bus this one.

Since coming here I’ve often wondered why they don’t use them. Except for very urban areas, the public transportation here isn’t that fantastic and even if there were a bus, you can’t send your primary school child on a public bus to school unless it stops in the actual school grounds or there are traffic wardens in place where they get off the bus. Where we live, there’s not a bus Dane can safely take to school. So like all the other parents at his school I dutifully drive him to and from school every day. Don’t get me wrong – I actually cherish the moments alone with him in the car. There are few places or occasions where you get a more free conversation with your child than in the car.

But I still think it would be wonderful with a school bus. For several reasons: The parents – it’s stressful to do the school run, there’s loads of traffic and you’re constantly worried about either being late for work in the morning or being late for pick-up in the afternoon. And there’s the cost of petrol and the wear and tear of the car – by now we’ve all learned that it’s the short trips that wear the car out and which are most expensive in petrol. Then there’s the general congestion. I don’t recall the number, but it’s an astonishing amount of cars that would not fill the roads, if school buses became generally used in this country. And not least, there’s the environment. There’s a lot of CO2 emissions saved on that account. And – for the children, there’s the not so small matter of security – it’s a lot safer to drive in a dedicated school bus with a certified school bus driver than to drive with stressed-out mum or dad. And it’s more fun too – you get to travel with all your mates.

So, as David Blunkett, the chairman of the Yellow school bus committee, said: It should be a no-brainer. But apparently the unions have complained that the children should much rather go by public transport. ‘Scuse me, but that’s the no-brainer here. If sufficient, safe and on-time public transportation was to be found, would everybody drive their kids to school? And besides, what about all the nice new members the union would get?

I’m writing about it today because it’s on the news. The above mentioned committee published their report yesterday.

Anyway, now it’s up to the politicians to figure out if we’re going to have school buses in this country. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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Will the sight of a boy in a tree become a rarity?

It’s Dane up there in the trees!

The Times and quite a few other media have the story today about a study made by GE Money Bank. The study shows how we spend much more money on boys than on girls. The boys’ sports gear and electronics cost a lot more than the odd bangle, pink mobile phone or black-black eye-liner. A reader comments quite sensibly that we’re still treating boys and girls differently in ways that we shouldn’t (will come back to the ways that we should): Namely for instance by choosing to call a girl’s tennis lessons or music lessons “luxury” while a boy’s football lessons are “necessary”.

The Times then links to an article that so much speaks my heart. How boys just can’t handle sitting down for hours on end and how we’ve become scared of our own shadows and won’t let children out to climb trees and play with the neighbours the way children used to. I agree, traffic is a lot worse than it used to be. But it seems to me that many parents fear the big media beast “the male abductor” even more. Although he’s less prevalent now than he ever was. Also, I so often hear how just about everything is dangerous, the children could fall and hurt themselves. Yes, that’s true. But if we overprotect them throughout their childhoods and never let them experience the consequences of  this and that in relatively safe surroundings, then how will they get along when they grow older and have to?

When I was a little girl – and my parents were very protective of me – I was still allowed to take the bus on my own to school every day. Jaws would have dropped if any of the children had been driven by their daddies to school. Today I think the jaw dropping has reversed. If you don’t drive your child to school in your big gas-guzzling “safe” 4WD, you’re just not doing right by him or her. I walked on my own to violin lessons once a week, right through the neighbourhood where another little girl had just been gruesomely killed. But my mother reasoned that as long as I didn’t stray and didn’t go with strangers – and I had to solemnly promise this many, many times – I would be fine! And I was.

In my child’s preschool (in Denmark) we several times experienced what I found to be weird and very irrational uproars from parents. Once was when a boy fell off the climbing structure and broke his leg. A cry for the instant demolition of the climbing structure. Luckily the school didn’t fall for it. Picture a playground without a climbing structure! YAWN!!! Another time was when my son fell and hit his head on the edge of one of the milk crates they played with endlessly. He had TWO stitches and was perfectly OK the next day. But instantly a cry from some parent to have the milk crates removed. Playground with no climbing structure and no stacking of milk crates. Double YAWN!!! And in a fluke accident with another preschool, a little boy was killed when a tourbus he was a passenger on collided with a tractor. A terrible accident. My heart goes out to everyone involved. But it was the type of accident you can only avoid if you stay in bed for the rest of your life. But some parents instantly said that they would never let their child be transported by bus ever again. Despite the fact that all statistics show that the most dangerous means of transportation on the Globe is daddy’s car…

Oh well, those articles really got me going. Time to cook some supper!

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Yipppeeeeee!!!

Dane’s school has got permission to become a through school from this September. We’re SO happy. If you’re an outsider (or just Danish, tihi), here’s an explanation:

Dane’s school, Ripley Church of England Infant School, has till now been an, yes, you guessed it, infant school. That means a school for children of 4 – 7 years of age, sending the children off after Year 2. That was also why we, when we were first looking at schools, did not look closer at Ripley. But upon finding out that we wouldn’t get into any of the better primary schools in the area, we took another  look at Ripley. And found out that they were working hard on becoming a through school or a primary school. A primary school takes the children till they are 11. Then it’s off to secondary school.

So here’s a state school in a village in Surrey. Definitely, a lot of the parents are very resourceful, but so, we’re told, are the parents in other schools in the area. The driving force however, seems to have been the head teacher, Mrs. Walker. She is such a dedicated school person, you just can’t believe it. And she has clearly inspired her staff, the school’s governors, the PSA-active and the parents in general.

It was a great wish in the local community to have a primary school in Ripley, and so they set about getting themselves one. And how did they do it? They raised money so they could be the first self financed primary school in Surrey. And so far they’ve raised more than £ 60.000 and the building of three new classroom is in full swing. And today Ripley got the final go-ahead from the local council, who’d been under some pressure from a primary school in the area to not let it go through.

The money has been raised in all sorts of ways. For instance the selling of homebaked cakes at the Farmer’s Market, the possibility for parents and others to shop via the school’s website, thus generating money for the school and events at the school where the parents pay to get in, pay a small surcharge for a drink or a cake etc. etc. They have been incredibly inventive!

For us – or Dane that is – it means that he can stay on at Ripley, even if he is now of the age, where he should have gone on to a through school. He’s at the moment in a class with children one year younger than him, because he comes from Denmark which has a different school system and because we traveled for six months. Now he can move one class up when he’s ready for it or even do it gradually.

A warm congratulations and thank you to our headmistress, the governors and the PSA.

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