The Standardized Tests Challenged Us As Parents

Today is the day! A day we’ve worked so hard to get to, a day that appeared in the distance for real around January. We’ve been working with our kids on this for a few months, talking to them, helping them, talking with others about better ways to support them. It has been an exhausting and trying process, but it is finally here.

The New York State standardized tests.

The most stupid, obnoxious and utterly useless tests I could possibly imagine. The kind of tests that makes me question what kind of people actually oversee the education departments in this state and country. Do they even care about kids?

Oh for a second there you thought I was talking about tutoring my kids for this test? Heck, no! I’ve been talking about helping my children deal with the stress of these tests on them (and their classmates and teachers). Starting around January our children started getting stressed and worried and anxious about these damn tests. In January! The test is here and it is the middle of April.

Why would our kids worry so much? Because they are extremely attuned to the feelings of the people around them and they can feel how important this test is to the principal and the teachers. They can feel and absorb the stress of their friends and classmates, some of whose parents believe these tests are difference makers and their kids must do well, must achieve.

Whatever happened to being a child? Whatever happened to teaching so our kids will learn, not teaching so they can take a test that doesn’t affect their grade?

Therein lies the really interesting part for us. My wife and I argued about this, but not the kind where the gloves came off. The kind of argument where you believe what you believe is right, but you can totally see where the other one is coming from.

We both felt that this was one of those moments in parenting where we were certain this is one of the big decisions we make. What would happen if we screw this up? How would it affect them down the road? We both could see if we didn’t do something, it could turn out badly for them, but we could also see if we did do something, it could also turn out badly. Both options left us worrying about dire and/or unintended consequences. We can’t look forward into the future to see how it plays out one way or the other, but we have to make the decision now.

Do we opt our kids out of these stupid tests or do we let them take them?

One side argued; What if we let them opt out and they believe they are quitters, not believing they can handle these types of situations in the future?

The other side responded; What if we let them take the test and the stress makes them sick, hurting them?

In response; What if taking the test gives them a sense of accomplishment, that even though this was challenging they still did it?

In return; What about the fact that they are 10 years old and shouldn’t have to deal with this level of stress yet?

Is there really a right argument here? Was one of us really wrong? I don’t think either of us believed the other was wrong, just that we were right. Fortunately, our discussions never got too heated and in the end we compromised: we told them they could decide whether to take the test or not.

Maybe we punted, on reflection. Maybe we didn’t make the tough decision, but left them to deal with the weight of all of this. I don’t know. But what I do know is that after some serious deliberation, they both decided to take the test. Maybe they took the test in part because despite telling them for the past couple of years we don’t care about this test, by giving them the option to opt out we finally proved to them we really don’t. Maybe that lifted enough weight off. I’m not sure we will ever know.

I leave for work today feeling so proud of my children, that they were doing something that was hard and challenging. I hope they walk out of this having faced their fears and realized that their fears are much scarier than school, life.

In the end, the only thing of value my kids can learn from these stupid tests is who they are and what they can do will never be evaluated by a standardized test.

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They Need Me Differently Now

We came home from the City a little late one night last week and our kids were exhausted. For some reason, my son doesn’t want to sleep in the car, can’t seem to let himself slip into slumber. But my daughter, Dorit, when she is ready to fall asleep can do so anywhere, at anytime. That night she fell asleep and snored most of the way home.

Gem and I talked about our day and evening, enjoying the time we had in the City with our family, knowing this felt like one of those days we’ll remember for a long time. Days like that are so special, knowing something so joyful had happened that we will talk about it for some time to come. “Remember when…?”

When we arrived home, I went to help Dorit out of the car, but she woke up and ended up walking to the house.

And my heart sank a little bit.

It’s funny how you can not think of something, but then something happens and you realize it has been percolating in your brain for a long time. I love my children and I love being a Daddy. I love my family and the life Gem and I have created and built together. It is far and away the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t imagine who I would be if I wasn’t part of this experience.

But my children are ten years old and they are growing up, becoming bigger, more independent. I clearly remember coming home from car trips and even though Dorit might have been sleeping in the car on Gem’s side, I would run over because I wanted to be the one to carry her into the house, to carry her into her bedroom. I wanted to be that Daddy and it felt good, being there for her in that way.

I remember when we were trying to help her sleep through the night without a diaper. I would wake her up before I went to sleep, walk her to the bathroom, and then carry her back to her room and gently place her back in her bed, almost as if she had never left it. I remember the way her body would mold to mine, holding me with her whole body, melting into me and feeling that was one of the most spectacular feelings in the history of the universe. If someone had told me being a Daddy felt like that, I would never have been so scared about becoming one.

A couple of days ago, we were once again out a little late and Dorit was exhausted, so exhausted she didn’t even want to leave. I said if we got into the car to go home I would carry her into the house if she wanted (do you see what a selfless Daddy I am?). She nodded her sleepy head and we got into the car.

When we got home, I helped her out of the seatbelt, vowing to savor every moment and I lifted her up and remembered that my little girl is ten years old and I might need to work out more than I do. I can remember when both of my kids could be in my arms on my chest at the same time. Now it is a lot harder to carry my Sweetie Girl out of the car. There was no way I was going to be able to carry her upstairs (unless I threw her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes). I felt heavy, like I had lost something I could never get back.

But when I put her down she didn’t look disappointed. She didn’t look like I had let her down because I can no longer so easily lift her up. She looked at me, like I’m her Daddy and I always will be. That night we sat at her bed and talked about some of the things that have been worrying her. I listened and I gave her some things to think about and even made her smile. We hugged, that delicious feeling of arms wrapping around me and some comment about the level of scruffiness on my face.

And always I love you.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, Sweetie Girl.”

As I closed her door that night I realized the rest of what has been percolating in my brain lately. She may no longer need me to carry her from the car and into bed, but she still needs me. My children still need me. Even though they are getting older and more independent, they still need me to care for them, to love them, to support them, to guide them through this crazy experience we call life.

Yes, they don’t need me like they used to, but they still need me, still need their Daddy.

The way they need me is very different now, but still pretty darn wonderful.

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Building A Better Balance

Can I tell you a little secret? I’ve always wanted to be a stay at home Dad (I know, that’s not the secret). But I didn’t really believe I could do it. Yes, I believe men can be stay at home dads and I’m jealous of all of them. I just didn’t think I could hack it, getting our kids up in the morning, getting them ready, making lunch, dropping them off and then picking them up, helping with homework, taking them to activities, getting dinner ready, getting them ready for bed…I always worried that I wouldn’t have the patience for it, like my wife does. I was afraid I would get frustrated when they were too slow or weren’t doing something right, get frustrated and not be able to recover, spending my time with them frustrated and angry.

My wife was recently away on business for a couple of days and it was another chance to really find out what I could actually do, whether or not I could really do it or not, face my own fear.

Fortunately, it went really well and I truly loved the extra time with them.

Unfortunately, it went really well and I truly loved the extra time with them.

I was putting my son to bed last night and he asked if I liked my time being home with them.

“I loved it, Sweetie Boy.”

“Why don’t you quit your job and stay home with us?” he asked with his beautiful face looking up at me.

There’s the dream, right there. My kids are getting older so fast and I know the time they would want to be with me is quickly evaporating and I’ve worked away from home the entire time, missing the opportunity to drop them off and pick them up from school, help with homework, hear what the music teacher has to say, etc.

The fact is I’m not one of those guys whose identity is wrapped up in his job. My identity is actually wrapped up in my family, the best part of my life is my wife and children, and the best me is often when I am with them. I know what I do at work doesn’t really matter in the long run (and maybe even in the short run), but my relationship and involvement with my children hopefully is making a big difference in their present and future, building self esteem and a strong foundation that I didn’t have growing up, that will last them a lifetime.

I think what this really raises for me is creating an even better balance between work and family. I already take every day off from work that they have from school and usually take off when they are sick and have snow days. And I certainly need this job in order to be able to pay our bills, etc. But maybe I need to take more unscheduled time off. Maybe I need to call in sick more so I can take my kids to school once a month and pick them up and help with homework.

The challenge is I feel such pressure to keep my job and be a “good employee.” But the reality is I have never regretted taking time off to be with my family and I need to try and do that more often, before they are too old to be happy I am around.

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Happy Valentine’s Day to My Son!

I went card shopping for Valentine’s Day last night. I found a beautiful card for my Sweetie, who I have loved for more than 20 years. I found a beautiful card for my Sweetie Girl, who I have loved for over 10 years. But you know what I found out?

They don’t really make loving cards for boys.

I am lucky enough to have a Sweetie Girl and a Sweetie Boy (they are twins). I love them both very much, but also very differently. My son is so much like me in so many ways. He is sweet, intelligent, incredibly sensitive to other people and very perceptive. He is utterly unafraid of affection and I don’t think he even knows there is an issue for many men about hugging and kissing. We hug every morning before I go to work and when I get home and when he goes to bed and any other time we can squeeze a hug and kiss in. We are not shy in my family about showing our love. In fact, if you come over, be prepared. We love and are pretty out in the open about it.

The card for my Sweetie Girl includes an emphasis on no matter what she does or how I feel or what my day is like, I love her no matter what. Sure, it had pink and purple and maybe even some flowers, but frankly, she won’t care that much about that. She needs reminders that our love for her is always present, no matter what she does or how angry we get with her.

Is it not cool to say that to a son?

Truth be told, I don’t think he worries about the unconditionality of our love the way she does (she got that from me), but I would’ve loved to give him a card that said something very similar (without the words “To My Daughter” on it). But all I could find were funny cards, joking about love and cards with superheroes on them.

I spend a lot of time in the world of fatherhood, with people who believe like I do, that fathers are extremely important to their children and that all dads have so much to offer their children just by being present. I try to help moms and dads make sure dads can be involved and get comfortable enough to be involved. I read dozens of articles about parenting and fatherhood every week.

Last night reminded me we still have a long way to go. The fact that we still think as a culture that it is not acceptable to show love and affection to our sons the way we can with our daughters means more boys will grow into men uncomfortable with giving and receiving love and affection.

But not my boy. I love my boy and he loves me and I hope the whole world knows.

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Maybe Our Weekends Are Too Good?

As I was getting ready for woke this morning, my son, now 10, came to me and was upset about not wanting to go to school. Normally, Lucas loves school so it caught me off guard a bit.

“Why don’t you want to go to school?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” was his reply.

“Is it your teacher?”

“No.”

“Are kids at school giving you a hard time?” Always my biggest fear when it comes to why he wouldn’t want to go to school.

“No.”

“Is it the Jewish Exponent?” I got a little smile from that one. He is starting to learn exponents in Math and I keep thinking about the Jewish Exponent, which was a weekly Jewish newspaper we received when I was a kid.

“No.”

Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with school?

“I just want to stay home with you guys.”

And that’s when it hit me.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to go to school; it’s that he doesn’t want our special weekends to end.

I know exactly how he feels.

This past Friday we had an absolutely lovely Shabbat dinner at our Rabbi’s house. On Saturday we had a nice day and we went out to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen and then had fun shopping at Five Below (which is not, contrary to what I had always thought, a cold weather clothing store, but actually a store where everything costs five dollars or less). On Sunday we delivered water and cleaning supplies to homes and families most affected by Hurricane Sandy on Long Island.

I explained to Lucas that when I was a little younger, before we had kids, I knew it was important for our family to spend time together, but I didn’t understand how wonderful it would feel, being surrounded by love, being with the people I most want to be with. There is no one else I’d rather be with than my wife, Lucas and his twin sister, Dorit.

Growing up, it was not like this in my family. I never particularly felt they liked me all that much and I certainly wouldn’t choose to spend time with them.

But our family feels so different.

“I think you still really like school, Lucas. I think what we need to do is have crappier weekends and that will make it easier to go back to school or work on Monday. And it starts with no Thanksgiving for you!” And we both laughed.

“But seriously, maybe what we need to do is figure out how to carry the joy of our weekends with us through the rest of the week.”

We talked a little bit more and he seemed to feel better.

As I sit here and write this, I think back to myself as a little boy, more miserable than words can accurately depict. It is not possible to imagine a “problem” like this, where my life with my family is so amazing, so fulfilling, so infusing with love and good energy that everything else would pale in comparison.

How lucky are we?

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Every House Has A Story

Today, my family and I volunteered to drive to one of the towns not far from us on Long Island most hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy and hand out cases of water and cleaning supplies. It was an experience I’m not sure we will ever forget.

Last weekend I had taken a bike ride to some of my favorite places in our community, the places I have loved and enjoyed so much because they are right near the water. The same places that were hardest hit by the storm surge from this powerful storm almost three weeks ago. By looking at many of the homes from the outside I couldn’t see anything wrong, but what I could see was all of the insides, the guts of their homes, lying on the front of their sidewalk, exposed for the world to see; broken sheet rock, splintered wood, ripped up pieces of insulation, rolled up rugs, furniture, and appliances.

What was left inside their houses?

Today, we found out. Almost nothing.

We picked up some water and some cleaning supplies and found our location for which we were responsible. The first person we talked to was Rachel, who had a young daughter. She described that the storm surge came over their five-foot fence and was lapping at their door even though they live on the second floor. They just got power over the weekend, but still, still, do not have heat.

Her sister moved in with them and brought her children as well. All of the children are now not feeling well, spending so long without electricity, without heat. They lost their car and don’t have a way to get to a doctor or to get laundry done or to get food or other supplies.

As we brought her another case of water, she broke down, tears dripping down her face, the overwhelming emotions too much to hold in even in front of strangers. When we got back to our car, I looked at my little girl and saw her looking sad. She’s so sensitive, like both her parents, and she was also overwhelmed, unable to handle the intensity of her emotions.

We got back into the car and all took a breath. We knew we had been lucky, but this was making it more real than we had even imagined.

We knocked on more doors, getting no answers, but also meeting people who were okay, who appreciated our help and supplies and who had things they needed to share and finally someone to share it with.

Then we met Eileen.

She is a mother of two who took me up on my offer of water.

“I’m a little dazed,” she said. Being dazed after almost three weeks struck me as disconcerting and I asked her what had happened.

She had an enormous pile of broken sheet rock and wood littering her entire front sidewalk, spilling over into the street. She went on to explain to me that she had finally gotten help ripping out the sheet rock and walls in her basement and first floor only to find out this morning from an architect that the foundation of her home had been so badly damaged by the storm surge that her house was going to be condemned.

Putting aside the money and effort that was completely wasted, I can’t imagine spending almost three weeks trying to figure out how to recover from this terrible disaster only to then find out that your entire home is going to be condemned.

I listened to her for a few minutes, gave her some water and cleaning supplies and she went to try and clean the things in her children’s rooms before the mold got to them, hoping the foundation would support her until she finished. As we left, she asked me to say a prayer for her.

I remember thinking, “She told me her house is being condemned, and I gave her water.” What we did today didn’t feel like enough, but it was better than nothing, better than showing up empty-handed.

I also hope it helped them to know people haven’t forgotten them, that as the press leaves and the attention moves on to something else, there are still people thinking of them and remembering them in our prayers.

It’s not enough, I know it isn’t, but I also know we can’t help everyone. We just need to try and help who we can and hope that it makes something of a difference in their lives, in their road to recovery.

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A Community Without Homes

When Hurricane Sandy arrived, my family, like yours maybe, hunkered down and prayed for the best. We huddled in our basement because we were afraid trees would fall on our house and felt that was the safest place (we were fortunate not to be worried about flooding). When the worst had passed and we were without power, like millions of other people, we did the best we could with candles and flashlights and layers of clothing. After two days we got power back and we started to feel normal again.

I had spent much of the week immediately after the Hurricane when I wasn’t taking care of my family, trying to help my organization communicate as effectively as possible to our constituents about the state of Lower Manhattan.

But on that Friday it became clear my synagogue, Oceanside Jewish Center, had taken a huge hit. Not only was the actual building without power and heat, but so were our Rabbis and our president. In fact, according to some reports we have seen, about 80% of our community had been affected by the storm, many with extensive damage to their homes. We are literally a community without homes.

I’ve heard about this in other places, in other cities, in other countries, but this was right on my doorstep. I recognized many of the places in the photos and videos I saw in the news, places I’ve ridden my bike or taken my kids or walked dozens of times.

The Rabbi and I sent out an email to our members letting them know we were thinking of them and asking if there was anything we can do. The responses were heartbreaking. People had lost their cars, their homes, were living with family/friends or had relocated to other places, were staying in a cold house without power or heat because they had nowhere else to go. It was overwhelming, reading these emails in the warm comfort of my home.

How did we get so lucky?

Finally, the synagogue and our Rabbi got power and we were able to open the building up as a warming center for a few hours every evening for people to get a bite to eat, some coffee, charge up their devices and use our computers.

We sent out an email every day, letting people know we were thinking of them, reminding them of what we were able to offer and asking them to let us know if they needed anything. As things got even colder, people started asking for a place to stay because their home was too cold.

Two nights ago, a family from our synagogue moved in with us. We had never met them before, but knew it was something we needed to do when we found out the two kids were 4-year old boy/girl twins, since we have almost ten-year old boy/girl twins. When they walked into our home on Wednesday, it was clear they had been devastated and I again felt overwhelmed by what they must be experiencing. We helped make the kids feel at home and before long all four of the kids were playing together and laughing. I’m not sure I had ever been prouder of my own children than how they made these strangers feel welcome in their own home.

Can you imagine not having had a warm place to sleep for over a week?

Our main job as parents is to protect our kids, but we can’t protect them from Mother Nature. We spend so much of our lives trying to help our kids succeed in life, to build a career or to become emotionally healthy. We almost never think about where the next meal will come from. We don’t worry about whether they will have a warm place to sleep tonight. These poor kids have lost almost everything; clothes, toys, and maybe, most importantly, a sense of stability. The stress their parents must be feeling, trying to make sure their children have a warm place to sleep, have food to eat, it must be all-consuming, not too mention dealing with the disaster they experienced and trying to figure out how they can move forward. The poor father stayed in their house, without heat or power, afraid that what little possessions they had left would be taken by looters. This is Long Island, folks, not some developing country far, far away.

I know many of you have already donated to an organization like the Red Cross, but if you haven’t and still want to help, would you consider helping my synagogue and, this family specifically, with clothes, toys or money? Please send me an email and we can figure out how you can help.

There are thousands of families still dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. Many of these families will never forget what they experienced this past week or so. I just hope they will be able to recover from it.

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MetroFamily Publishes Is Your Child Over-Scheduled?

MetroFamily

MetroFamily, an Oklahoma-based parenting magazine, published in their August 2012 issue, Jeremy’s article entitled, Is Your Child Over-Scheduled? This article focuses on the signs to determine if your child is over-scheduled as well as suggestions for what to do if they are.

Signs your child might be over-scheduled:

  1. Sleep Problems
  2. Emotional Outbursts, Frustration, and Anxiety
  3. Declining School performance

Three ways to reverse the pattern:

  1. Prioritize Activities
  2. Discuss Before Joining
  3. Plan Ahead

Remember, having only planned activities and no free time every day is to much for anyone (children and adults!). When our kids start having something scheduled every day (or even most days), it is probably too much.

By teaching our children to manage their own time, we are not only helping them right now, but teaching them a life lesson that will help them in high school, college and beyond.

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Parenthood Publishes Jeremy’s Article on Conquering Children’s Fears

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Parenthood.com has recently published Jeremy’s article, entitled Help Your Child Conquer Her Fears. The article, as the title suggests, helps parents be there for their children and the fears they experience.

Jeremy includes the five key things to remember when dealing with your children and their fears:

  1. Redirect her attention away from the fear and onto happier thoughts.
  2. Provide unconditional support, no matter how many times your child comes to you with a fear.
  3. Reassure him while you model how he can soothe himself.
  4. Offer a small physical object that makes her feel connected to you or to home.
  5. Never tease a child about her fears.

Check out the article for details on all five key points. Jeremy concluded the article by saying;

Certain fears may seem irrational or even silly when someone is afraid of something that doesn’t frighten you. But for children, this big world is already a little scary and when they have bumped into something that really frightens them, we can help them by being supportive, encouraging and positive so they can learn to think that way on their own.

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Working Mother Quotes Jeremy On Making Dinner Special

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Working Mother Magazine quoted Jeremy in their June/July 2012 issue. The article, entitled Low-Tech Table Tactics, is a brief article on how to take advantage of bonding time during dinner and includes tips from Jeremy.

In our topsy-techie world, it’s easy to succumb to digital distractions—smartphones, TV, gaming devices—at the table. You may permit them to help the kids (and you) make it through dinner, but “they mean lost opportunities to build strong family bonds,” says parenting expert Jeremy G. Schneider.

His tips include

  1. Playing music
  2. Promoting discussions
  3. Creating a topic list in case it is hard fro family members to talk

The article is a good reminder that even in the crazy days of school or summer, make dinner special time for you and your family to come together and connect.

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