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Archive for the 'Learning' Category

Recommended: Pacem in Terris

June
22

Pretty unique and rewarding Father’s Day for me this year, and something I’d recommend.

We shelved the idea of a cookout or a ballgame this time out, and instead headed upstate to Warwick to visit Pacem in Terris — six acres of sculpture and meditation gardens along the Wawayanda River.

The gardens are the life work of Frederick Franck, a Dutch-born sculptor and author who spent nearly half a century adorning the land around his home with sculptures, artwork and meditation spaces. The NY Times did a nice piece on it three years ago.

Pacem in Terris essentially translates from Latin to mean Peace on Earth, and it’s in keeping with Franck’s spiritual outlook on life. Franck, who wrote more than 30 books on Buddhism and other subjects, died in 2006 at the age of 97, and the property is now maintained by his son, Lukas, as a nonprofit corporation.

Pacem is laced with Franck’s message, and immediately alerts visitors that it is “neither church, nor chapel, nor temple.” He cites his associations with Albert Schweitzer, Pope John XXIII and Buddhist scholar Daisetz Suzuki with helping shape his world view — and homages to them abound throughout.

Franck, a dental surgeon-turned artist, also has his work on display at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tokyo National Museum and St. John the Divine Church.

My girlfriend turned us on to the place, which she frequented in past during times when she sought solace and tranquility. It was also a hit for my son, who is 11.

I would note that younger children may not be as enthralled — the place is not a playground. But for older kids, it’s a worthwhile experience. My son was very taken by it and was very vocal about appreciating that he and I shared it on Father’s Day.

Anyway, Pacem in Terris is at 96 Covered Bridge Road in Warwick, and, while it’s a tad out of the way, it’s worth a trip. Most of it is literally in Franck’s back yard, so visitors are asked to be respectful.

However, it is also free, and opens to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jfitzgibbon

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, June 22nd, 2009 at 10:30 am |
| | 5 Comments »

Playground parenting and other issues

June
11

I made an observation at the playground when my son was very young. Namely, parents seem to hover.

The problem with this is that it seems to me that kids aren’t allowed to learn a very basic life skill at the playground: Conflict resolution. If two kids have a beef at the monkey bars, there’s always a parent or two coming in to mediate or, more likely, to separate the kids and force them to play at opposite ends of the playground.

That’s kind of the type of thing that Lenore Skenazy has been talking about for a while now.

Skenazy is a Big Apple colunmist and blogger who made waves in 2007 by letting her then-9-year-old son take the subway and bus home on his own. She peddled the experience into a book, Free Range Kids, and a blog by the same title.

“Amid the cacophony of terrifying Amber Alerts and safety tips for every holiday,” Salon.com said in its review, “Skenazy is a chipper alternative, arguing that raising children in the United States now isn’t more dangerous than it was when today’s generation of parents were young. And back then, it was reasonably safe, too. So why does shooing the kids outside and telling them to have fun and be home by dark seem irresponsible to so many middle-class parents today?”

We’ve taken up similar issues here in the past. Admittedly, I’ve tended to err on the side of smothering my own son, relying more on that gene that says I should protect him. And, personally, I would not have let my 9-year-old ride the subway home alone.

But that’s just me, and I am likely very much guilty of the type of over-parenting Skenazy warns about.

Nonetheless, there is a lesson in it all, regardless of your personal feelings on it: Sometimes you do have to let the reins loose a bit.

Perhaps it is a matter of degrees. And I at least give myself credit for letting him work out his playground scuffles.

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jfitzgibbon

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Thursday, June 11th, 2009 at 12:59 pm |
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Playing hooky: a parental judgement call

May
24

Well, I did it: I kept my son out of school on Friday even though he had two tests and a project due. And I hope I’m not getting him in trouble by posting on it.

Okay, so the truth is I arranged with his teachers to have him take both tests on Thursday, and hand in his portion of a team alegebra project the same day. So, the damage was minimal, if there was any at all.

But in the end I reasoned that he wouldn’t remember that day at school in years to come. He will, however, always remember our day: We went to the free Green Day concert at Central Park for the Good Morning American summer concert series.

Needless to say, it’s his favorite band, and pretty high on my list as well. And I can’t ask for a better day, nor a more fun outing for him (above). No, that’s not me on the right. I took the photo. (I still have a tad more “coverage” on my head — no offense to the man in the photo.)

Anyway, this has been a periodic judgement call for me, as it is for many parents, I suspect. I had the day off, so it was no issue on my end. But education is important, and occasionally parents may opt to keep the kid home. I handle it on a case-by-case basis, but it’s something I take seriously.

I spoke to a couple of other parents at the show who had done the same thing, and they had all made the same decision: That it was a treat worth cutting school for the day.

Is it something that can be abused? Certainly. I have friends who were periodically kept home from school for a “mental health day,” which I think is of limited value for most kids, depending on age and circumstances.

But the question is when do you think it’s okay to have your kid play hooky?

One final note on the show, it really was a treat. I’ve blogged on the music element of it on The Listening Room, our music blog. But for those that didn’t see it, here’s a clip from GMA:

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Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Sunday, May 24th, 2009 at 11:57 am |
| | 3 Comments »

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My son and the icy little “planet”

May
18

I remember one of my son’s first trips to the Museum of Natural History years ago. He was at the height of his interest in astronomy — one of those rites of passage evey kid seems to go through. It’s like the interest all kids develop at one time or another in dinosaurs.

So there we were in the parking garage entrance area, where the ticket booths are. Along the far wall are models of the planets, and we followed them from the start: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and so on. We followed the line down until we hit Neptune, then kept walking and wound up inside an adjacent gift shop.

“May I help you?” the woman asked.

“Yes, we’re looking for Pluto,” I said.

“It’s not a planet,” she said.

My son and I were greatly disappointed, to say the least.

Little did I realize at the time that we were at the height of controversy surrounding Pluto, which has since been officially demoted from planet status.

I’m actually in the midst of finishing a book about it all, titled the Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson, head man at the museum’s Haydn Planetarium. Turns out the museum started an uproar when it refurbished the planetarium without Pluto among the planets.

Anyway, it’s a story that, as they say in my business, has legs. Just last week, our neighbors had a dinner party which they dubbed “astronomy night” for all the kids, and we pulled out a couple of telescopes to see Saturn in the southern sky.

In the middle of it all, my son decided to poll everyone at the party on whether Pluto really was a planet. Needless to say, the results were inconclusive. But I couldn’t help but sense that a lot of the kids really miss Pluto as a full-fledged planet. My son certainly does.

The experience heightened my realization that our kids are growing up with some different realities than we had as kids.

These aren’t necessarily life-changing situations or ideals. It’s just different. When I was a kid T. Rex was supposed to have been a slow, lumbering creature that walked like Godzilla in the Japanese monster flicks, and there were a few less elements in the periodic table that I had to memorize.

But I’ve come to see it as a positive thing. Parents are traditionally supposed to help educate kids on the world around them. Now it seems my son and I are learning a thing or two together. And that’s kinda cool.

Even if I had one more planet than him.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
| | 7 Comments »

When is Blended Family Day?

May
13

Here’s a built-in problem in blended families: You never have the whole family together for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

There’s a simple reason for it. Namely, my son will always be with his mom on Mother’s Day (as he was earlier this month) and my girlfriend’s son will be with his dad on Father’s Day. So, we’re inevitably incomplete when celebrating our respective parenting days.

Kinda makes it hard to have the ideal family day.

Or does it?

Bethany Grey, editor at eHow.com, offered a list of suggestions for dads and stepdads to celebrate Father’s Day in a blog titled “How to Celebrate Father’s Day in a Blended Family.” I don’t agree with all of it, but some of Grey’s suggestions make sense, including the idea to shop for Father’s Day cards with the child. It’s a good stepdad experience to share.

Mostly, I like the idea of doing something the day before, something Grey didn’t hit on. This year, we grilled hot dogs and steak the day before Mother’s Day and had a picnic outside. It was fun and we did the family thing. I’m thinking we’ll do the same with my girlfriend’s son the day before Father’s Day next month.

One thing I’ve never wanted to do is give my girlfriend’s son the notion that I’m replacing his dad, at least not that way. This makes for something of a juggling act at times. But that’s a blog for another day.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 10:35 am |
| | 2 Comments »

A dad’s place is…. on a blog

April
23

Leave it to a dad’s blog to make this case, but the Examiner’s fatherhood blog has put out a list of five reasons why dad blogs are worth keeping an eye one. You can read the post here.

(Kathy Gardner/The Journal News)

Obviously, Parents Place is a general parenting blog, with capable dads AND moms in the mix. So, we’re more inclusive and take a wider view of parenting.

But I’ve always felt that there’s a need out here for more of a voice from fathers, whether it’s dads in traditional homes like my co-bloggers Jon and Len, or myself,  a father building a blended family. So it’s reassuring to see a list like this out there, especially with more dads involved in hands-on parenting.

And remember, there’s no shortage of good dad blogs on our blogroll, including Crazy Computer Dad and David Mott’s Dad’s House.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 at 8:00 am |
| | 3 Comments »

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Shameless proud parent post

March
27

No, not from me. But this is something that really moved me and I felt it was worth sharing.

A co-worker today attended the Westchester County Women’s Hall of Fame Awards luncheon, at which his daughter was receiving the Merrill Lynch Westchester Leadership Award.

I think her words best relay why she was worthy of the honor and the scholarship it brings. These are excerpts from the essay she submitted as part of her application for the award:

“I have always been different. In books and movies, being different is always good. The hero and heroine are never ordinary people, they are special and gifted.
“But being different in real life is not always a good thing; most of the time it’s painful, lonely, and just plain hard. I have cerebral palsy and other learning disabilities including difficulty reading and writing.
“I would have to say that my disability, and more importantly people’s reaction to it, has had a big impact on my life and made me who I am today.
“It’s amazing how being different can be like holding a magnifying glass up to reveal those who are kind as well as those who are cruel. While I consider many of my ‘disabilities’ to be ‘abilities,’ I have had to spend much of my life learning how to be like others so I will be accepted.
“I hope to become a teacher, a special education teacher or maybe a social worker or an advocate for people with disabilities. I’d like to help other people like me get the help they deserve. Maybe I’ll even get a PhD.”

Wow. That’s some young lady.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, March 27th, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
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My bigtime movie goof

March
24

Sure, I should’ve paid more attention. But I didn’t.

So, here I was taking my 11-year-old son to see Watchmen at the theater, not having done enough legwork to know that there was heavily graphic violence, sex and nudity. Whoops.

Well, he knows enough to cover his eyes during certain moments (aided by me, of course). But I did stay the course and we sat through the whole movie. Yes, I considered walking out, but I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong: This wasn’t Last Tango in Paris, nor was it Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was just a tad over the top.

In hindsight, I wouldn’t take him to see it had I known the extent of it all. But I also reason with myself that you can’t shelter a kid from everything. My philosophy on cursing, for instance, is that he is in no way allowed to use foul language. However, I know he hears it in the course of his day and has to simply censor himself.

I see this movie experience similarly. Of course, now he figures if we saw that he can go see Slumdog Millionaire and it would be okay. Not sure I’m ready to make that leap.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 at 12:42 pm |
| | 5 Comments »

Study: More kids now homeless

March
11

Troubling report his week from The National Center on Family Homelessness, which released a study that found 1 in 50 children in the U.S. were without a home. That’s about 1.5 million kids, according to the study. And the troubling thing is that the figures were compiled in 2005-2006 — before the current economic downturn that has more and more parents without jobs.

(Angela Gaul/The Journal News)

The study ranks New York 38th overall in a national review of states. The Empire state was 39th in child well being, 31st in risk of child homelessness, and 22nd in extent of child homelessness. It also classified New York’s policy and planning on the issue as inadequate.

It’s just a reminder that as more folks end up out of work, there’s a whole generation of kids tagging along.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 at 11:39 am |
| | 2 Comments »

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Study: Kids benefit from grandparents

March
6

Kids are better behaved and have better social skills if a grandparent is involved in their upbringing, according to a recent study in the Journal of Family Psychology, That’s kind of a no-brainer for most of us, but take note of the fact that the study found it’s particularly true in single-parent and divorced families.

(Joe Larese/The Journal News)

Obviously, plenty of children grow up to be marvelous human beings without significant influence from their grandparents. It was largely lacking in my childhood. But, and especially in single-parent homes, what an element of stability that can add to a child who doesn’t have the benefit of both parents in the home, or is struggling emotionally with the adjustment to a step-parent.

That’s a noteworthy footnote to the whole thing. At least it is for me.

 

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, March 6th, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
| | 4 Comments »

My cellular kid

February
13

I got my 11-year-old son a cell phone.

I know, why does an 11-year-old need a cell phone? I actually dwelled on this for a while, understanding that some of his schoolmates have had them for a couple of years. And I wondered why he would need one. The upside was that he would be able to reach out to us in an emergency or if there was a change in plans during afterschool activities or while at a friend’s house for the day. The downside was, well, why does he need it?

So, in the end I got him one, and I figured it was a good exercise in responsibility for him: Manage your  minutes, use it wisely and you’ll be able to keep it. As an aside, I also wanted him to have a way to keep in touch with his cousin, who he is very close with and who he is likely to see less off now that my ex’s mom — their grandmother — passed away at the end of last year. She was the glue that kep those kids in touch. Now they’re able to text and stay in touch regularly.

But I wondered about what it would cost. I have friends whose kids chalked up hundreds of dollars in cell phone bills after first getting one. So I waited for the “report card” — the first cell phone bill since we added him to our calling plan. Well, it came this week, and he’s well within his minutes. Phew.

Still, was it still a good idea? What age should we be hooking up our kids with telecommunication gadgets?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, February 13th, 2009 at 4:15 pm |
| | 12 Comments »

Our culture and the new clan

January
28

You don’t necessarily set out in life to start a blended family. Some of us simply find ourselves in a place where you’re a candidate for it. You start you first family, have a kid, then things don’t work out and you go through a divorce or a split.

As I’ve blogged before, I’ve been fortunate in my situation because my ex and I do remain friends, and split parenting duties amicably. But there’s always a loss, and that primarily comes in the loss of a sense of family — something kids in divided homes will almost always want to recapture as well.

In our case, my ex and I have been lucky: She’s remarried and I live with my girlfriend and her little boy, so we’re both a part of blended families now. In fact, we’re part of a growing trend that, right or wrong, is reshaping the American family. Census statistics say that 75% of divorced people remarry, and 43% of all marriages constitute a remarriage for at least one partner. Yet, there’s still no guarantees: 60% of remarriages end in legal divorce.

Is it a case of, “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try again?” Perhaps. But I think single parents in particular legitimately covet that feeling of family for themselves and their children — a growing number of single parents, in fact. Given all this, I want to put a few questions out there:

• What do you think about the changing family dynamic in America?

• Given the percentage of failed remarriages, do you feel children of single parents are generally better off with a lone parent or in a new, blended family?

• What is your gut reaction when someone tells you they’re a single parent?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

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Is Spongebob killing our kids?

January
23

It seems this issue has been around forever. In 2006, a group of parents and advocacy groups threatened to sue Kelloggs and Viacom, Nickelodeon TV’s parent company, over the peddling of unhealthy food on commercials during shows like Spongebob Squarepants. In 2007, Kelloggs agreed to get more health-aware, and the suit was dropped.

But with Spongebob still flipping greasy crabby patties, and sugar-laced cereal still being plugged on the tube, it seems a lot of parents and advocates are still up in arms. The current issue of Best Life, put out by Men’s Health Magazine, takes issue with corporate cartoons and lists how to fight back. In October, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood took issue with the whole health thing as well. And I understand the concern, as kids’ waistlines are growing and growing. But aren’t we missing the point?

I mean, isn’t this whole thing about parenting? It seems to me the best thing I can do to make my son healthier is to buy him healthier foods to eat, and perhaps to eat healthier myself — something my girlfriend has had an incredibly positive influence on. If the kids want fruity-sugar cereal, you just say no. Am I off on this?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, January 23rd, 2009 at 12:27 pm |
| | 23 Comments »

My Jewban kid and his Cubish dad

January
21

Ethnic identity has been sort of a complicated issue for my son. He’s always known that his mom is Jewish and I’m Cuban, which makes him half Jewish and half Hispanic. But a Cuban guy with an Irish last name always has another story to tell, so he’s got the Anglo thing mixed in there from a few generations back, and his mom’s family is originally from Eastern Europe. The Jewish end has mostly dictated his faith, as his mom has been more observant of her faith than I have been of mine. At least we’re all white, so there’s no confusion with race.

Obviously, most of us are mutts these days anyway. But the real complication has always come in how my son is to refer to himself. He had to choose a culture to write about for a recent school project and he chose, with my encouragement, to report on his Jewish heritage. But what exactly is he when you mix it all in?

Well, thank God for the Urban Dictionary, which points out that my son is a Jewban. We even got confirmation on this from Wikipedia, just to make sure we were on the right track. Armed with our new resource, we were able to take it one step further and determined that I’m not just Cuban: I’m Cubish.

Now, we don’t really subscribe to labeling people as a general rule, but it’s just nice to know in a pinch. If only we can get the U.S. Census up to speed we’d be good to go.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 at 12:22 pm |
| | 9 Comments »

Do we have to tell the kids?

January
16

It’s hard to miss the sad state of our economy right now: Layoffs everywhere, furloughs here and throughout the working world, etc. But do the kids really need to be in on it all? Granted, I hope I don’t get to the point where I have to tell my son that times are going to be hard because dad’s out of work. But until then, I wonder if we need to go there. Or am I naive?

Let me back up a sec to the more dire situation. I appreciate that there’s advice out there to help parents talk to their kids in the worst-case scenario. A couple of good ones come from Parents Press, as well as from Kiplinger .com and a good one for parents of teens from Businessweek

Fast-forward to where we are. I think we should all be telling our kids to be frugal anyway, and teaching them that a dollar wasted is, well, a waste. And my 11-year-old son sees the news, so the has a mild sense of it. But I think some worries belong largely with the parents until its unavoidable. Or am I wrong?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, January 16th, 2009 at 2:28 pm |
| | 7 Comments »

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About this blog
Parents’ Place is a hangout for openly discussing the A’s to Z’s of raising a child in the Lower Hudson Valley. From deciding when to stop using a binky to when to let your teenager take driving lessons, Parents’ Place is here to let us all vent, share, and most of all, learn from each other.
Leading the conversation are Julie Moran Alterio, a business reporter and mom of a toddler, Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, a reporter and single father with joint custody of a 9-year-old son, and Len Maniace, a reporter and father of two sons.


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About the authors
Julie Moran AlterioJulie Moran AlterioJulie Moran Alterio, her husband and baby girl — “Pumpkin” — share their Northern Westchester home with three iPods and more colorful plastic toys than seems necessary to entertain one tiny human. READ MORE
Jorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-Gibbon has been a journalist for more than 20 years and a father for nine. READ MORE
Jane LernerJane LernerJane Lerner covers health and hospitals for The Journal News in Rockland, where she lives with her husband and two children. READ MORE
Len Maniace.jpgLen ManiaceLen Maniace is a reporter and father of two sons. READ MORE



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