13 Prairie Values for Raising Kids

אפריל 4th, 2014

By Toby Klein Greenwald

 Toby head shot wedding smiling

In the aftermath of the most daunting Israeli snowstorm of this century, last December, I dropped an e-mail to new residents of our town to invite them for Sabbath lunch. The lady asked me for directions to our house. I wrote, "Just walk up the street and when you see #38 on your left, go up the steps on your right. Wooden pergola and wooden gate, like Little House on the Prairie…Well, I don't know if they actually had a pergola, or a gate…" On the appointed day, I stood at our bay window, awaiting their arrival, and saw them crunching bravely through the snow, like genuine pre-snow-blower pioneers.

GAte in snow

Surrendering to the elements brought back memories of that show on which I raised our daughters (the boys preferred soccer), in the '80's. You've heard of the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Here are some of the values that children learned from Little House on the Prairie:

1 Listen to Mom and Dad.

Little boy on mom back

2 Be nice to your siblings.

3 Don't let people like Nellie take advantage of you.

4. If you mess up, fess up.

5 Share.

6 Have your friends' backs.

kids running

7 Be polite to everyone.

8 Dress modestly.

9 Read.

10 Get enough sleep.

11 Don't forget your lunch.

12 Pray.

13 Take good care of your pony.

Regarding that last one — when our oldest daughter, I'll call her Sara, was eleven, she asked for a pony. She said that she would share it with a friend (she had number 5 right), but they wanted to put it in our back yard. Sara could not comprehend why we said no, but went on to do science fair projects on hamsters in mazes and petrified snakes, perhaps to sublimate her pony deficit, though we did have, over the years, cats and dogs. Bottom line was she developed a comfortable relationship with animals and learned to respect all living creatures.

About number 11, my children (some of whom are already earth mothers or father in their own right) remind me occasionally of their mortification of being the only ones who brought sandwiches to school that were never white bread and chocolate spread, but whole wheat, cottage cheese and veggies, or something else healthy. No one wanted to swap with them. They've overcome that trauma by giving their own children rolls with chocolate spread once a week.

 Sandwich

Number 9: I pretended not to notice (like my parents before me) when our children read long after their bedtime, which kind of conflicts with number 10, but life is a toss-up.

About number 6, kids often have to walk the line between loyalty to friends and doing what's right. What they will discover as they grow up is that grown-ups sometimes have the same dilemmas, as they will with a few of the other items on my list.

Regarding numbers 5 and 2, those are lifelong lessons that lead to charity and good deeds.

And then there is number 3.

This is a difficult one, and I credit the original author and the TV creators of Little House for inserting a young character into the mix who always has a selfish agenda. But how do we balance number 3 with all the positive-thinking messages with which we inculcate our children?

Little House on the Prairie

We don't want to raise them to be suspicious of everyone, but reality will occasionally rise up and bite them. At some point in their lives, they may have to deal with a client who doesn't pay, an unpleasant boss, a rude bureaucrat, or people who disappoint. All of these lessons need to be personally modeled, but number 3 is the most difficult, if we are to raise children who are trusting, not cynical.

Not a bad list to live by, at any age. Like with number 1 — even now, when both my parents are gone, I can still hear their lessons.

Which kind of brings me to number 12.

The author is a mom, grandma, educator, theater director and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.

Special Children Offered a Ladder to Success

מרץ 13th, 2014

Toby Klein Greenwald

Almost every great organization or institution begins with a personal story. I discovered one such school-therapy network in Israel — the SulamSpecialEducationCenter. "Sulam" is Hebrew for "ladder," because they appear to be helping many children with disabilities climb higher than they ever thought possible.

child climbing

In the case of Sulam, the inspiration came from a woman whose eyes and heart were open enough to see someone else's story. I think there is something in her story from which we all can learn.

It had modest beginnings. Mrs. Feiga Ernster, a native Chicagoan, married in Israel and opened a small neighborhood playgroup. A neighbor in her building asked if her disabled son could join the group.  She agreed, and soon other mothers of children with special needs heard about this playgroup that would accept their children.  Mrs. Ernster realized that she was addressing a problem that she hadn't even known existed.

Ernster decided to make her naturally inclusive playgroup more official, and began the bureaucratic process of hiring professional staff, obtaining permits and licenses and evaluating the children in order to address their individual needs – a daunting challenge, but one which she undertook with love and dedication, opening her first official class in 1981.

That dedication continues to impact on the special atmosphere I encountered at one of their Jerusalem branches, which I visited recently, on a sunny winter day.

A staff member ascended with me from floor to floor, pointing out the colorful rooms filled with joyful children. "Mainstreaming was in place at Sulam long before the word became fashionable," Chana Kallner, Sulam's Director of Development told me. "The professional staff at Sulam feel that all children gain from ongoing interaction with special needs kids. And so, from a small playgroup, run by a woman of great heart and the talent and organizational capacity, Sulam has grown into a premier special needs organization."

Today Sulam has ten branches throughout Israel. When I looked over their annual report, a number of things caught my eye. First of all, Sulam is supervised by nine government and municipal offices, which means there is full accountability.

Chana says that they believe that the treatment and care Sulam offers during the critical toddler and early childhood years is of immeasurable benefit to the future development of these children. It is a known truth in any area of education – that the younger we get to them, and the more personal the interaction, the greater chance for success. What I saw on my visit was small, cheerful classes, clearly enabling each child to receive a more individualized program.

Warmth and Caring, professionalism facilitate mainstreaming

I observed an extraordinary atmostphere of warmth and caring. The Sulam directors say their high success rate is due to this attitude of their staff, and also to their professionalism. Their goal is to achieve integration into mainstream educational systems where possible; they claim to achieve this with 30% of the children. Indeed, their mission statement is "to enable children with special needs to attain the highest quality of life they are capable of achieving, with the ultimate goal: each child’s successful integration in society."

Child jumping

Esther Ernster, daughter-in-law of the founder, is the director of Sulam today. She stepped into the role thirteen years ago, at the request of her mother-in-law, as a co-director, and since 2012 has been the official director.

"The nondisabled children learn to interact and appreciate the 'others' in their lives," writes Ernster in her annual report. In addition, she says, "Sulam has seen a sea change in the parents of the nondisabled children, which is especially gratifying. From their initial reluctance to allow their normal children to learn and play with 'different' children, the parents have come to see the benefits of such a system. This marks a dawning awareness in the community, and a willingness to see integration as the norm, rather than something to be feared and avoided."

One-to-one staff to student ratio

There are approximately 500 children in Sulam's various programs, ranging in age from 6 months to 17 years, in centers in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Modi'in Illit (Kiryat Sefer) and Kiryat Yearim, with almost 500 full and part time staff and 55 National Service volunteers. The staff includes special education teachers, paramedical therapists, counselors, educational advisors, psychologists, social workers, a pediatric neurologist and tutors.

Therapies include speech and communication, occupational, physical, music, zoo, play, sport. More exotic therapies include “Floortime” Therapy (D.I.R. Program), which helps children with communication disorders learn to interact with others through an individualized approach, where caregivers enter the child’s world, share his feelings, and help him learn to relate to the world around him, and Multi-Sensory Treatment in a Snoezelen, which Improves sensory balance, promotes calm and well-being, arouses passive children. Most of the centers offer full day programs.

They address the needs of the rest of the family, as well, with private sessions, support groups, seminars and conferences, that help parents and siblings cope and accept the child with special needs as an integral part of the family. The combination of knowledge and love appears to give the families the tools they need to cope and to feel comfortable, capable and loving toward their disabled child.

Afternoon enrichment programs help students develop in the non-scholastic areas, such as art, music and dance. Sulam provides programming during most regular school vacation days, which helps provide parents with time to give to their other children.

Generosity breeds generosity

Sulam offers free evaluations for parents who suspect developmental problems in their children. The organization participates in research projects and has pioneered many new treatment methods.

girl on wheels

In addition to private donors, Sulam enjoys the support of the Jewish Agency, PEF, and the Sobell, Bachrach, and Donald Berman Foundations. Sulam has also received help from businesses, such as Bank Yahav, Checkpoint, Discount Bank Investments, the Israel Electric Company and Mercantile Bank. These have all contributed funds for specialized therapeutic programs or equipment.

The network has won several prestigious awards, including the Trump Chessed Award and the Jerusalem Mayor's Award.

One family's story

I spoke with the mother of a Sulam student. I'll call her "Devorah" and her son "Moshe."

Devorah, originally from New York, says, "From 18 months old we knew that something was a little 'off' but we could not put our finger on where the problem lay.  He didn't know how to deal, at three years old, with normal social situations that arose. He would wonder, 'Why am I being punished?' and there was a lot of discommunication. He was constantly getting into trouble and he couldn't be in a regular pre-school. He didn't appear to be on the spectrum of autism so it was hard to get a diagnosis. As he grew older social acclimation was not progressing — he just was not coping with the situations, nor did the standard school have the resources and/or know how to deal with him.

"Academically he excelled to be one of the top students in the class, but socially he was falling way behind, causing him significant low self esteem, etc.  At first the staff tried above and beyond the standard to help him succeed, at which point the unanimous decision was that he would be better off in a smaller school with children of the same intelligence level.  The problem was that no such school existed in Israel.  After much worry over the summer vacation about how to proceed the following school year, which was due to start in two weeks, Sulam announced that they will undertake to open a class for the coming year.

"I don't know where Moshe or we would be today if not for Sulam. The professionals there totally took control, assessed him almost on the spot, and they're dealing with it. He's been there since 2010.

"In the beginning it was rough for him, like any new place, but even so, it was still a thousand times better than where he was before, where he had no self worth anymore. They had really tried in his previous school, they did their best, but they just did not have the skills. Even when there was initial turmoil while he was settling in to Sulam, he was still gaining. The teachers there really learn with him, they know it's his bar mitzva soon. He'll be 13 after Pesach. They are saving his life."

I asked Devorah for an example or two of how Sulam is different from a "regular" school.

"The main thing is that things that would be not acceptable in a regular school are understood by the staff at Sulam as him behaving a certain way not because he's trying to be mischievous, so it doesn't become a battle. I don't get called every day. They work with him and explain why it's not acceptable. The kids feel very close to the teachers. If something happens that they'll have to deal with, I usually know about it, but my son doesn’t have to know about it. For example, there was an issue last year on the bus; some of his behavior and speech was not acceptable, and this was going on for about a year. Maybe he would hit another child, or fight with someone, or speak inappropriately, and the driver wasn't happy but the school kept saying, 'There is no such thing as not letting a certain child ride on this bus; we'll deal with it.' The principal even said, 'If you don't allow this child on the bus, I'm taking every kid off. I believe in him and he did not do what you claim that he did.'

"He showed my son that he trusted him and he told me, privately, 'Believe me, I was nervous [because they really needed that bus company],' but it turned Moshe around. The principal knows every child, he encouraged one of the teachers to take Moshe to the mincha prayers, and he loves it. Moshe even asked my husband if he could study the Talmud with him, like he does with his brother. Right now they are giving him so many skills, I am no longer worrying about the future."

Devorah's husband adds, "I see the greatest advancement this year. Each year I get more inspired. From when he went in untill where he is at now, he's a totally different person. He has potential and they're helping him achieve it, I never thought it would be so fast and so easy and go so well."

Devorah says, "It has been a blessing."

Today's director: A Hassidic mother of nine children

Ernster says, "The specialty of Sulam is that we offer an answer for every request; if there is a problem, we find a way to help. That is how so many frameworks and classes developed over the years, through our desire to respond to the needs and our decision to turn no one away. As a result, today we have programs that address a wide variety of issues. Every branch has its specialties and its specialists so the children have access to a wide variety of professionals.

Horseback riding

"As a result of this expansive network, we sometimes discover that children had not been properly assessed. For example, many children who were thought to be autistic turned out to have emotional problems. Children who were thought to have developmental problems were discovered to have communication issues.  Those who worked with them in the areas of communication discovered fears or emotional issues. We are able to identify the real problem.

"We have Observation Kindergartens for children who come with delayed development. We observe them and in the course of the years we figure out what the problem is and then it turns out he didn't have learning disabilities, for example, or that sometimes the behavior disturbances were due to a sensory problem, but to arrive at that conclusion we needed many of the best professionals in the area and at Sulam we have the highest level of interdisciplinary staff."

Ernster emerged from the field of regular education. She was a happy junior high school teacher when her mother-in-law asked her to help out at Sulam. She asked advice from the Vishnitzer Rebbe, the spiritual leader who she and her husband follow, and he encouraged her to go for it. Today, a mother to nine children, she oversees an organization with a budget of almost nine million dollars a year.

As she began to understand the breadth of what was involved, she began to take courses in management, finance and human resources at various colleges and universities. Now, she says, "I have many connections with colleagues throughout Israel. I went wherever necessary to learn from them." Today she is an active participant in a number of important professional forums.

How was it as a Hassidic mother to become an active member of this managerial and professional world?

"When one comes from a place of true mission and you want to do the job the best you can, then you go to the places from which you'll learn. I believe in using the highest level professionals. This also gives us a sense of confidence in spite of government cutbacks. We're surviving, but it's not easy."

She says that Sulam's two greatest challenges at the moment are replenishing the 30% loss they have taken by the Ministry of Education's cutbacks on therapies, a challenge many schools are dealing with. "We can't do less, so we spend more than we receive."

The other need is the special project they are in the midst of completing at their branch in northern Jerusalem. "We are finishing the building of a therapeutic swimming pool and what we need now is the equipment for the pool. It has been proven in recent years that hydrotherapy can significantly help many different problems. Sulam feels an obligation not only to our children but also to the greater community in this area that will benefit from a therapeutic pool."

Ernster and her colleagues are inspiring and prove that knowledge and love can help any child climb that ladder to a better life.

For more information visit: www.sulamisrael.org

On Appreciating Teachers – for Teacher Appreciation Day or Week

מאי 6th, 2013

 By Toby Klein Greenwald

Toby head shot wedding smiling

“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”
                                                                         ? Aristotle

“There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can't move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.”
? Robert Frost

Since I've already written about advocating for your children in school, when they aren't lucky enough to get teachers who are all perfection, I think the least I can do is write about teachers I had who I appreciate.

I should add here that I'm a teacher, too, and nothing makes my day like meeting a student from years ago who told me I changed his/her life. But this post is about others. And as I reread it, I realize that the teachers who I remember best are the ones who had faith in me, who were fun in some way, who taught me lessons in life, not just in the subject matter, and who were role models. This is only Grades 1-12. College will wait for another post!

At the end, there is plenty of space in the comments for you to add your own thank you's! Please do!

So here goes:

  • I appreciate Mrs. Fredman, my second grade teacher at Millikin Elementary School, in Cleveland Heights, about whom I remember almost nothing other than the fact that she always spoke with a soft voice. She also published my first poem in our class newspaper that year. And I remember that she came to school in maternity clothes from which I learned that one can work and be pregnant at the same time.
  •  I appreciate my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Wood, at the same school. She was strict but with a twinkle in her eye. That was the only year (until my M.A. degree) that I got straight A's. (Okay, it was also the year my parents experimented with taking the TV out of the house.)

 

  • I appreciate my 7th grade Chemistry teacher at Monticello Junior High (whose name I don't remember, but who was always happy and excited about what we were learning) and my 10th grade Biology teacher, Mrs. Betty Neustadter, at the Hebrew Academy. In both their classes, I loved science. In the 7th grade, I remember biking all over Cleveland, with a friend, looking for a store that would sell us mercury so we could prove it possible to separate it (presumably on my mother's stove), in spite of the fact that scientists said it couldn't be done. (Surprise: nobody sells mercury to 12-year-olds.) In Mrs. Neustadter's class, we pricked our fingers to get our blood types (I learned that my blood type is O-, the universal giver), she didn't force us to dissect frogs and she spoke to us as if we were adults.

 

  • I appreciate my 9th-10th grade French teacher, Mrs. Gladys Kraus. I struggled to maintain a C, but totally imbibed the spirit of French (and kindness) from her.

 

  • I appreciate my 10th grade Geometry teacher, Mrs. Jokinen. She seemed to just "flow" in class, and didn't really act like a teacher. It was the only high school year in which I got an A in math, I think because Geometry entailed drawing pictures.

 

  • I appreciate my 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Kadish, who was not only a scintillating teacher, but fun to look at, since she always dressed with full make-up  and spike heels. And she accepted, as a paper on Macbeth, a little booklet that I wrote as if it were a play, with accompanying facing notes.  A confession: I thought the book Mayor of Casterbridge was boring, never read the whole thing, and faked the exam.

 

  • I appreciate my 12th grade English teacher and English yearbook advisor (I was the English editor), Mrs. Judith Oster, who taught me more about plunging the depths of poetry and how to edit and self-edit than I could ever put in one blog.  One of her famous lines, when we said we didn't have time to read, was, "My father used to say to me, 'What do you do between four and six in the morning?'" I have passed that on to many generations of children and students.

 

  • I appreciate all  my teachers in Hebrew/Religious schools, who taught me about God, destiny  and belief. They are too numerous to name. That will be a separate blog some day.

I had planned on writing about my children's teachers, who I appreciate, but my kids can write their own blog (or add their comments, below).

A colleague of mine posted the fact that, "Even though around 75% say that a past teacher had a direct impact on their future success, only 25% of respondents have ever sent a gift or thank you card to a teacher." You can read more about that survey at Kars4Kids.

Please add comments, below, about teachers who YOU appreciate! Either your own, or your children's.

And then drop them a line, telling them so.

Have a great day.

Tale of an Oven and a Bidding-War for Kindness

אפריל 15th, 2013

By Toby Klein Greenwald

Toby Matanya wedding photo smaller To be more exact, it's a tale of giving an old stove away.

We are lucky to live in a small town in Israel filled with kindness. We have a non-profit that arranges for interest-free loans, a "store" that sells donated, gently used clothing for a few dollars, a similar "shop" whose merchandise is donated house wares, a kitchen that distributes food packages to the needy, a center for bridal dresses at symbolic loan prices, and the branch of an organization (Yad Sarah) that loans equipment for medical needs and for newborns.

The town has people of all ages who volunteer to help the elderly or infirm, who raise money for charity, who work as volunteer tutors, who gives rides to hospitals or elsewhere and who host strangers who need a good meal.

 In addition, the local community e-mail list has achieved a somewhat entertaining notoriety, not only for its sharing of stories and humor (and hot political debates), but for its offers to sell or give away unneeded items (ranging from bookcases to DVD's to chicken necks) and, more important, to let neighbors know about the needs of others.

An elderly woman recently wrote to the list about five local high school boys who swooped in one day, did her cleaning, painted and repaired furniture, and planted window boxes for her. "They came into my home and made it my castle…I don't remember all their names," she wrote. "To the parents: you have much to be proud of in your children."

Naturally, the list is especially active in the springtime, when many of those of the Jewish faith thoroughly clean their homes before Passover, and give things away that are no longer needed.

Which brings me to my story.

Our oven died a final death in the midst of winter and, since my daughters are the main bakers in our family, and most of them have their own homes in which to bake now, we decided to make do with the stovetop and buy a new stove before Passover.

What to do with the old one? Simple enough – offer it for free on the e-mail list, explaining that only the stove worked.

I got two replies. One from a man, I'll call David, who picks up old electrical appliances, sells the parts and recycles the rest.  A few hours later I got a request from a man who lives alone, who I'll call Solomon. I mentioned it to David when he called to double check about when to pick up the stove. He said, "Then give it to him. He needs it more." But I had David stop by to take away an old broken TV. He noticed some sheet music in the den and asked who played an instrument and proceeded to tell me that he is a cantor and musician and does this selling-recycling on the side for extra money. Nevertheless, David insisted that if Solomon needed the stove, I should let him have it.

So I wrote to Solomon, asking if he was also selling it for parts or needed it to cook on, explaining that if it was the latter, he should take it.

Solomon wrote back, "No, let him have it. I’ve a one-burner hotplate I can manage with. One's livelihood is the most important, and I never cook much anyway – thanks!"

At the time of this writing we were less than a week before Passover and there was almost a reverse bidding war taking place between two men, each insisting that the other need the oven more.

The story that comes to mind is an ancient legend of two brothers, one who had a large family and the other who had none. Each would sneak over a hilltop at night to anonymously bring sheaves of wheat to the other. One thought, "I have a family. He has no one. He needs it more than I." The other thought, "I have no family. He has many mouths to feed. He needs it more than I." One night they met on the hilltop, each saw what the other was doing, and they embraced. The Hebrew sages say that this was the spot destined to build the Temple in Jerusalem, where people would gather in unconditional love.

Please share your own stories of unconditional love with us! We know it is everywhere. Post in the comments below or write to me

Guest Blog by Judy Gruen: Counting Our Blessings

יולי 30th, 2012

  Last night as my husband, Jeff, and I had dinner together, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. This     might seem odd, since we are inching toward our 25th anniversary, and by my calculation, we have eaten nearly 9,000 dinners together. (I also figure that I have likely cooked more than 8,000 of them!) Fortunately, our enduring partnership has not dulled our affection for or interest in one another. In contrast to the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt, familiarity for us has bred content, and much more. Today we cherish a deeper emotional connection than we could have dreamed possible when we first married.

We are now quasi empty-nesters who still work long hours at our respective jobs. Physically and psychologically, our evening meals provide nourishment for both body and soul. We talk about our kids, our work, the news. We talk about books we are reading, and share new insights from classes we have attended. And of course there is the mundane stuff of life, such as who will take the car for the oil change, and when we will ever get around to dumping the ancient, faded family room couch and freshen up that long-neglected room.

If the day has been particularly maddening or frazzling, we'll play sure-fire calming classics for ambiance: Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart's "A Little Night Music," Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," or Brahms' Hungarian Dances. Other evenings, we'll play Celtic instrumentals, Spanish guitar, and folk/rock from "our time," especially Jeff's all-time favorite singer-songwriter, James Taylor.What made last night's dinner particularly meaningful was that it was the first night in nearly two weeks when Jeff could sit up for dinner at all without excruciating pain. Twelve days earlier, he began to feel unwell. Two days after that, he experienced brutal head and neck pain whenever he tried to sit up or stand. Although it was the morning of our Sabbath, when we normally don't use the phone or ride in cars, I called the paramedics. We spent the next eleven hours in the emergency department of a nearby hospital, where a caring and capable doctor and a cadre of hard-working nurses tried to ease Jeff's pain.

Jeff has been blessed with excellent health and stamina – blessings that we tried not to take for granted. His robust energy had also seemed a vital necessity given the demands of running a small business, where twelve-hour work days are much too common. In twenty-two years he's rarely missed a day of work due to illness. When he has, it was usually because I adamantly insisted that he stay home to rest.

The suddenness and severity of his pain was terrifying, but we tried not to "catastrophize," and fought the tendency to imagine dreadful diagnoses. Fortunately, every test at the hospital revealed a man in good health. Finally, the doctor surmised that the pain was caused by a nasty virus, and he recommended the low-tech solution of complete bed rest and lots of liquids. We were relieved to finally come home, but were exhausted and still worried. Was this really a virus? How long would the symptoms last? What if the doctor was wrong?

A few days later a neurologist diagnosed the problem as a small tear at the base of Jeff's brain, which caused a leak of spinal fluid whenever he was in any upright position. It was a rare and unlikely event, given that Jeff had not had any head trauma. The doctor was optimistic that several days of complete rest and drinking copious amounts of liquid would heal the tear. And if it didn't, there were non-surgical corrections available.

Jeff had no choice but to submit to a regimen of complete bed rest. But while you can take the man out of the office, you can't always take the office out of the man, and my husband continued to work via BlackBerry and iPad while lying down. "Just because I've sprung a leak doesn't mean I can't work," he joked, revealing his sense of humor was still intact while mine was missing in action. I typed the longer emails, because, trust me, it's really hard to type while holding an iPad aloft.

During his convalescence, the morning blessings that we recite assumed a new poignancy: We thank the Almighty for waking up in full consciousness (even if we are still a bit groggy), for the gift of sight, for mindful understanding, for "releasing the bound," "straightening the bent,"  and "giving strength to the weary." For the first time in his life, Jeff recited these blessings unable to stand. As he slowly regained strength and equilibrium, and could sit up for a few minutes longer each day, we were awed by the human body's exquisite balance, miraculous complexity, and a remarkable capacity to heal. We were awed by the Almighty's masterpiece of design.

Despite the fright and pain of this episode, we realize how blessed we are that it was of short duration, and according the doctor, unlikely to recur. "The small things really are the big things," my husband said to me that evening, enjoying the novel sensation of sitting up pain-free. Enduring the health scare of his life has made him determined to finally implement the kind of changes he has long wanted to make at work, so that he can run his business more than his business runs him.

As he told a friend who came to visit, "This experience has reminded me in no uncertain terms of what's really important in my life: the unconditional love from my wife and children, a supportive community, and a loyal team of employees. I like to think that the goodness I've tried to put out there over the years has come home when I needed it most."

This is why our quiet little dinners, which we had already looked forward to each night with happy anticipation, are times to cherish even more, both of us grateful to know "you've got a friend."

Judy Gruen is the author of four books, including the newly released Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. She lives in Los Angeles. Her website is: www.judygruen.com

How to Advocate for Your Child in School

מרץ 4th, 2012

By Toby Klein Greenwald

There is nothing we can do for the school lives of our children that is more important than mounting the barricades for them. Most teachers are caring, kind and dedicated to their students. Having said that, they are also underpaid, underappreciated and overworked. So I formulated my own philosophy about education, and it goes like this: “As long as the school doesn’t destroy my child’s self esteem, or his natural curiosity to learn, it will be enough. Everything else is gravy.”

What you can do to advocate for your child:

• Never tolerate physical violence against a child.

• Never tolerate a teacher saying something to a child that will make her feel degraded or stupid.

• Never tolerate a teacher embarrassing a child because of what she perceives to be a parent’s shortcomings.

• If you think your child needs testing, don’t delay. Teachers sometimes like to “wait and see” because they don’t want to “scare” the parents. If your child has a learning problem, the sooner you find out, the sooner he can receive special help to correct it.

• On the flip side: Never accept the excuse that your child is not being called on, or tested for gifted programs because, “He sits in the back and is quiet”. Advocacy is also about recognition of your child’s strengths. An expert in giftedness told me, “Giftedness is Special Education, no less than LD and ADHD.”

• Always believe your child. And even you have doubts, tell him that you believe him, anyway. Many years after nobody will remember (or care) who threw that piece of chalk at the blackboard, your child will remember that you trusted him.

• Never assume automatically that a bad teacher’s report means that there is something wrong with your child. Maybe the problem is the teacher. Find out how your child is doing in art, gym and other “non-academic” subjects. Investigate if there are too many other children in the same class receiving negative reports.

• If you believe your child has been treated unfairly, speak up! Nobody else will!

• If you believe your child has been abused in some way, contact the principal, a lawyer, or the police. Even if the teacher apologizes, or the truth is not as bad as you thought, your child will remember that you went to bat for him.

• Always be respectful when interacting with teachers or with school officials. This is a message to your child that will last him for life. One day, one of my grown daughters said, “Mom, you were always ready to mount the barricades for us. Thank you.” Being our child’s advocate demands courage, perseverance, and audacity, but it will pay off in their relationship with us, and in their perception of their own worth. And even teachers can be taught.

The author is the mother of six and has been a teacher for thirty years.

When (Not) to Rescue Your Children

מרץ 4th, 2012

Toby Klein Greenwald

I have some friends who think they're doing their children a favor when they rescue them.

I don't mean that they jump into a pool or grab their kids out of the street when a car is coming. Neither am I dissing advocating. (See my column on "Mounting the School Barricades – How to Advocate for your Child.") And there is a difference between rescuing and advising; as parents, it's our duty to advise.

I mean rescuing children from the consequences of their own actions.

One of my friends, before a major family weekend event, told me she had five speeches to write. "Five!?" I exclaimed. "How many times can they listen to you?" "No," she said, "they aren't just mine. One for me, one for my husband, one for my son, one for my daughter…" "And if you don't write them?" "They won't get done." "So?"

One of our sons, I'll call him "Mitch," was docked from a wonderful three-day school trip when he was eleven years old, because he had started a fight with a classmate. To his credit, he didn't deny it. I called the teacher just to get the details, but did not argue with his decision, though I thought it was harsh. To assuage the disappointment just a little, we took Mitch to see a film one night. Unfortunately, our choice – The Day After Tomorrow, about a nuclear holocaust – was hardly a hoot. One could argue that offering a (lame) consolation prize is a rescue of sorts, but we didn’t try to talk his teacher out of his decision to dock him from the trip. Five years later Mitch became a counselor to troubled youth, to whom he imparted the message: Take responsibility for your actions.

When I mentioned it to a colleague, ten years later, during a discussion on "rescuing," he asked if taking Mitch to a film was not a "rescue" of sorts. I asked Mitch what he had thought about it at the time. He said that he didn't remember the story too well, but his assumption was that, on the one hand, we always mounted the barricades when we thought a teacher was really wrong, so he understood that at the time he must have deserved a punishment. On the other hand, we're not his teacher; we're his parents. And it was obvious, he said, that one could not have compared one evening at the movies with parents to three whole days of a great school trip with friends. He said, "You probably thought, 'He's learned his lesson,' and as my parents, you didn't think I needed to sit depressed in the house for three days."

Some Ground Rules

Even those who are closest to us need to be informed that we are neither their slaves nor their saviors.

Here are some ground rules, culled from real life — metaphors you can share with your children:

"You break it, you buy it." It's your decision if you don’t want to hand in your assignments, or behave abominably in school, or show up late for that summer job. But you mess up – you take the consequences. You want to fix it? To change the verdict (when they drop your grade or fire you)? Do It Yourself. Plead your case.

"Wear white at night." Be visible. If you don't speak up, they won't know you're there. Neither teachers nor employers (nor family members, nor friends) are mind-readers. If you have something to say, say it – respectfully. A career expert I heard on the radio once advised that an employee should always: Do the job your boss wants you to do, and let your boss know what you've done, including extra initiatives. Translated to your children’s ages: Follow instructions and don’t expect Mom or Dad to approach the teacher after the fact and plead that you were being creative by painting a picture instead of handing in a book report. If you really want to do that, speak up. Dialogue with the teacher. Don’t be invisible.

"Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. And if you did, you apologize." Whether it's your dad or your boss, don’t expect a pat on the head and more ice cream if you're rude or untrustworthy. And don’t expect your parents to explain to your teacher that you had a bad day or your cat died.

It is difficult to watch our children mess up, whether in small, inconsequential situations or in the really big ones. I have a daughter who insisted on wearing clothes to kindergarten whose color and pattern scheme were totally post-modern. Years later she looked at photographs and asked me, “What were you thinking?” What I was thinking was that it was more important to me that she develop independence than a fine fashion sense, so I grit my teeth and closed my eyes. Today she has a fabulous fashion sense but she is also one of the most proactive, independent young women I know, well worth the torture of watching her walk out the house in those mismatched components at age five.

But on a more serious note – the son of a close friend of mine, who is raising her children in a single-parent family, was busted for sharing pot with his friends when he was sixteen. She let him cool his heels in the local juvenile lock-up for five days, rather than come home for house arrest, before he was assigned to a youth detox center. She was shattered. And when she shared her heartbreak with me, she also told a story. She said that another parent, whose daughter was a friend of her son’s, met her at the supermarket one day and said, “You’re my hero.” “Why?” she asked. The parent said, “Because you didn’t agree to let him home on house arrest.” My friend was nonplussed and, by her account, she replied, “It wasn’t an option for even a blink of an eye. I didn’t deserve the punishment; he did,” she said. Her son eventually got drug-free, finished high school and became self sufficient. “He knows that he can come to me for moral support,” she said, “but not to bail him out of financial difficulties or in any other way. More than my other two children, he recognizes that he’s on his own. I told him one day, while he was still in detox, ‘Be aware that you’ve lost our trust and it will be a very long haul to win it back.’”

Consequences. They hurt. But they work.

If we teach our children lessons in life, hopefully, we will not have to toss them a life jacket.

They will have learned to swim.

 

 

My Son was an Underage Pizza Worker

דצמבר 26th, 2010

or How to Encourage Independence

Confessions of a (Still) Working Mom

Toby Klein Greenwald

Toby head shot wedding smiling

You know how there are some stories in the history of families that become legends? We laughed over one of those legends at the time that our almost 21-year-old son brought home the young lady (same age) soon to be his bride. By the time you’re reading this, they’re married. Actually, just updated, by the time you're reading this it's more than three years later and they have an adorable baby boy, but I digress.

His story bumps up the Kool-Aid stand on the corner a whole new notch.

I always change my children’s names in articles and blogs to preserve the little bit of privacy left to the sons and daughters of a writer who consistently finds them her greatest source of material and inspiration. So, “Mitch” was seven years old when Dr. Tobin and I began this adventure we call WholeFamily.com. “David,” the next oldest child, was 11 and finished school in the late afternoon, but Mitch finished at 3PM.

Every day, around the time that Mitch came home, I’d call him to be sure that he had found the lunch I had left for him. Fortunately we live in a protected neighborhood and our little corner of the street had enough stay-at-home moms who remembered how I looked in on their children, when I was the  one home.

When Mitch was about 14 he revealed to me that he and a few friends (also children of working moms) decided to not settle for warmed-up vegetarian hamburger.  They had approached the local pizza parlor and asked the proprietor if they could wipe down tables in return for a slice of pizza and a coke.

This went on for about a year, until they started getting hot school lunches. The owner, who we saw occasionally in passing, never let on that he knew where our boys were after school even if we didn’t.

As time went on, Mitch sold flowers door to door, then collected bottles and traded them in for petty cash. I put my foot down when, at 13, he asked to work in a small local flour mill, whose owners should have been reported to the child protection agencies. It took a while to explain to a boy who had been earning his own ice cream money from the age of seven that no, he could not work in a flour mill.

Other jobs included washing cars, collecting trash at the zoo, tutoring small children, waitering and anything and everything else that would result in him having ready cash and not dependent on us.

I tried to get into the guilty mom head – really I did. But I failed. And as time went on and I saw other kids selling flowers and washing cars, I knew I was not alone.

At the age of 18 Mitch became the maitre d’ for the catering service he used to work for as a young teen. At the age of 19 Mitch was given the incredibly responsible job of being the head of personnel  for a municipal discount card service of a town serving more than half a million people.

At the age of 21, in addition to being a husband (His new bride and he managed most of the organization of the wedding on their own), he was in an officer’s training course. Today, at 24 (in 2014), he has hundreds of 18-19 year olds under his command, ready to go out and get the bad guys.

I don’t feel guilty for not feeling guilty anymore.