Happy Mother’s Day (and a totally unrelated post)

First off: HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Is this way way WAY too tacky? I hope not.  I am fresh out of great Free Range fodder for a sec, so here is an interview with me that is up now on  the cool website Motherhood Later than Sooner. (Yup. I’m an older mom.) I promise not to keep self-promoting, but now I am taking the rest of Friday off (okay, one more  bit of self promo: to film a Free-Range piece that’ll be on ABC World News Tonight on Sunday night.) That’s it. Enjoy your breakfast in bed and dandelion bouquet! L.

              Later Mom Spotlight:  Lenore Skenazy

PROFESSIONAL PURSUITS:  Syndicated columnist, humorist and author of, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had without Going Nuts with Worry.

Q:  Why did you decide to become a mom later in life? What factors precipitated this decision (or dictated it)?
A:  My husband has a genetic disease we didn’t want our kids to inherit. We kept waiting for science to decode the gene and figure out a way we didn’t have to pass it along. Ten years into our marriage, science came through — with the help of brilliant geneticist Dr. Petros Tsipouras.
 
Q:  What do you love about your career?
A: My favorite thing about being a writer is the reporting part — meeting people, asking questions, putting two and two together. The writing is only fun when I figure out where to put the jokes in.
 
Q:  What is most challenging about your work?
A:  Keeping it! YOU try being a newspaper columnist these days!
 
Q:  How long are you doing it?

A:  I’ve been a columnist for almost 10 years and was a features reporter before that for another decade. Free-Range Kids is my first “real” book. (As in, it has paragraphs and chapters. I did write The Dysfunctional Family Christmas Songbook before, with ditties like, “Hit the Malls” set to “Deck the Halls”).
 
Q:  What did you do previously?
A:  First there was the womb, then a whole lot of education. A LOT. Then jobs at Advertising Ad, CNBC (before anyone had heard of it) and the Food Channel (before anyone had heard of it) and 14 years at the NY Daily News (before they canned me) and two at The New York Sun (before it died), and now I’m a blogger/author/hopefully-something-else-sooner, tooer.
 
Q:  What prompted you to write a book on motherhood, and the particular subject you chose?
A:  Last year, after I let my 9-year-old ride the subway by himself, I wrote a little column about it. Two days later I was on the Today Show, MSNBC and FoxNews defending myself as NOT “America’s Worst Mom.” But if you Google that, there I am. Why? Because I let my son have a little freedom – the kind we all used to have, when we were kids.
 
Q:  What is the primary message of the book?
A:  The message is simple: Our culture has brainwashed parents with fear. We get it from the horrible stories we hear on TV (since TV has to be gripping or we’ll turn it off). We get it from the “Baby Safety Industrial Complex,” which has to convince us our kids are in peril or we’d never buy half the products they’re peddling (like baby knee pads! I swear, those are real!) And we get it from the army of “experts” and books and magazines that tell us how vulnerable our children are, and how much we don’t understand them, and how every single second had better be not only safe but developmentally boosting, or our kids are going to end up dead or dull. After a while you get to feeling that the only good parent is one who is present every single second of the day, watching, teaching, saving the kid from, say, an un-organic Oreo.
 
Q:  Was it based on your upbringing or relationship with your own mother?
A:  My mom was a typical mom of her day. She let me walk to school – everyone did. She let me play on the block and make my own “play dates” (we didn’t call them that then). She let me sell Girl Scout Cookies door to door with another girl, but without a grown-up, which is what most normal, middle-class moms approved of back then. All of which seems healthy and good!
 
Q:  What is your next book, and when is it being published?
A:  My next book has nothing to do with kids! It has to do with the fact I used to laugh when my dad would ask my mom, “Who was that dancer in the movie with the one who wasn’t Audrey Hepburn?” And my mom would know exactly who he was talking about and she’d say something like, “You mean the guy who danced with Cyd Charisse after the movie about the cruise with the other one?” And he’d know what she meant, too.
And now I do that! And so my friend and I wrote a whole quiz book based on the way we all sound when we can remember EVERYTHING about a person, place or thing…except its name. The example I always give is, “What’s that summer resort movie in the Catskills with the guy in the tight pants?” (I hope you can figure it out!) Also: “Who’s the one who’s not Matt Damon?” Anyway, you can play a sample round of the game at http://whostheblondebook.com/.
  And the book’s name, by the way, is Who’s the Blonde that Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip of the Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know…But Can’t Remember Right Now.  (Out in June!)

Q:  What is a typical day for you like, managing both work and home life?
A:  Staring at computer screen when I’m supposed to be waking the kids up. Answering emails when I’m supposed to be making their lunch. Dashing out the door because I got so distracted we didn’t have time for breakfast and now we eat a donut from the cart on the way to school. Then blissful quiet for the rest of the school day, when I’m at home doing more writing. Which actually seems lonely until they come home. Then it seems like Paradise Lost. Then I find myself  TRYING to write while still being a, “What did you learn today in science?” – type mom – and usually doing a kind of bad job at both. (And then swearing from now on I will FOCUS!!!)
  
Q:  What do your children think of your work?
A:  They pantomime me talking on the phone while typing and think that’s all I do. Come to think of it…they’re right. For their part, they hate writing, which is fair, since my dad ran a tennis club, and I never learned tennis. 
 
Q:  Has anything about being a mom surprised you?
A:  I thought that once I had kids I’d start carrying Kleenex. But I still forget.
 
Q:  What did you or do you most try to teach your children?
A:  Be kind! No one really cares if you’re brilliant or really good at snowboarding or whatever. They care if you care about them.

15 Responses

  1. That “Dysfunctional Family Christmas Song Book” caught my eye–reminded me of Tom Lehrer’s “Christmas Time is Here by Golly” (forgot exact title) that I’ve seen done “live” at “Tomfoolery” shows. Has anyone recorded tunes from said Song Book? It sounds like something Dr. Demento would play in December.

    And your admonition: “Be kind” reminds me of a fellow who said, “Treat everyone with courtesy and respect. Most people deserve it, and for those who don’t you can adjust yourself if necessary.”

  2. @Bob: You’re thinking of Tom Lehrer’s “A Christmas Carol”. It’s on “An Evening (Wasted) with Tom Lehrer”.

  3. Fun interview – and the “tip of the tongue” book looks like a hoot!

  4. Can You put me on your blog??? AJ

  5. Lenore, your interview is hilarious! I’m linking it on my blog today, I love it so much. I can’t wait to see your humorous new book, too.

    Lisa

  6. hey lenore – just read the double-pg. spread excerpt from Free Range Kids – so had to look you up! checked to see if the book is avail. for kindle – not. found your book & vid on amazon.com. i say, YES! in an age of instant communication, we get to see/hear the gory details of bad news daily, from around the world. my 2 boys made it to adult-hood just fine!

    as a gramma, all this preoccupation with danger is just weird, imo. it hurts my heart to see a baby or toddler when i’m out shopping, smile or speak to to it, only to have the mom or dad glare at me or hurry away, as if i might suddenly snatch their kid – i mean, REALLY – this has gone way too far!

  7. The bit about your kids pantomiming you on the phone and typing sounds like how my oldest views my work. She always says she’s going to grow up and work on the computer just like me.

  8. Hi Lenore. I’m new to this blogging thing; hope this gets to you okay. (At 51, I may not be over the hill, but the technology hill keeps getting steeper!) I just read an excerpt from your new book in The Week (great magazine, btw–your article, case in point…). I wish this viewpoint could be more broadly emphasized and diseminated. I just finished reading two excellent books not unrelated to this insane overcoddling of our children: “Why We Hate Us” (Dick Meyer) and “The Narcissism Epidemic” (Twenge and Campbell). Both are that rare and impressive combination of personable without being patronizing and scholarly but still very readable–and entertaining, although the subject is certainly disturbing. In the latter book especially, the authors are impressively knowledgeable and up-to-date about popular culture.

    But I’m mostly writing to weigh in on the side of parental trust in the safety and savvy of their kids and in gratitude for my own childhood. I grew up in PAKISTAN, of all places, and at 13 I was riding up and down the whole country by train by myself during the holiday months. Not aimlessly, but to visit friends scattered in other cities and villages. My parents were Methodist missionaries during the 1960s and 1970s. Granted, things have changed considerably since then, but not as much as the impression Americans get from the media (as you’ve pointed out yourself).

    In some ways my parents were strict, about manners and morality, as was the missionary boarding school I attended with my three sisters nine months out of the year. But both my parents and the school did not approach the world from a place of fear, for which I will be forever grateful. As a child I suffered from peer cruelty; as a teenager I went through more than my share of conflict with my parents and school authorities. In other words, I had a pretty normal childhood. But these were also some of the happiest years of my life, largely because of the degree of autonomy we children we given to roam the wild forests in pairs or bicycle down steep, winding mountain roads in the Himalayas edged regularly with 200-foot cliffs and minimal railings. It was heaven. Did any one of us ever get killed or seriously engineered in a cycling accident? No. Were any of us kidnapped or sexually abused by strangers? No.

    This is a tribute to independence and trust, but let me just add, that the Pakistani people were extremely friendly and gracious. To this day, 35 years later, my parents look back on those years with a love for those people and a teary-eyes nostalgia worthy of the Reaganesque “good old days” of a mythical American past.

    Thank you for your work. You seem like a fun person. I would be so delighted to hear back from you, either here or at my email address. Sincerely, Paul.

  9. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I thought I was going insane when I talked to parents about how kids for past decade or 2 never seem to be able to do anything unsupervised. I thought maybe they knew something I didn’t. Because when I grew up in the 1970’s/80’s, my parents rarely drove me any where. I always walked or biked to friends houses, movies, the mall, etc. Sometimes I was with friends, sometimes not. Yet I was always fine and my parents never seemed to worry. Yes, there were a 1 or 2 times when I was approached by strangers, but my parents prepared me for those situations. So, I always knew what to do (always maintain a safe distance and run to the nearest house and ask for help). Even if a car pulled up to “ask for directions” I was to stay on the sidewalk and tell them no if they asked me to come closer. So, now as an adult, that’s what I do. What my parents taught me prepared me for adulthood. That is the true goal as a parent. 100 years ago a 12 year old boy would be considered a man and, in some cases, expected to go out and earn a living. Now, society can’t even let a 12 year old walk down the street for fear of being kidnapped. Obviously, I don’t think a 12 year old is an adult, no matter how smart they may be, but they aren’t babies either.

  10. Allowing your son to take the subway by himself at age nine??? I am gathering in New York….. “a little freedom, the kind we all used to have???”

    Nothing could be farther from the truth. I and my sisters grew up in one of the idyllic Washington, D.C. neighborhoods where everyone knew each other for blocks at a time, and we did not have those freedoms. Sure, we could run down the street – on the same block – to our friend’s houses at age nine. But not to our friends’ homes four blocks away!

    Our private schools preached independence but parents were not allowed to drop off children to wait for the school bus alone at all, and not with peers until we were at least 12.

    My father was a higher-up in the government while my mother was a teacher in a private school because she didn’t want to “do nothing at home all day” And yet when we awakened breakfast was always ready or being readied for us. There was never an, oops we’re late today, morning, nor were there doughnuts for breakfast, unless it was after church Sunday when we stopped at the bakery – and then when we got home we at rice pudding with those doughnuts.

    And our friends and their parents were no different.

    What you are preaching is irresponsible – for parents and for children. But as a former advertising agency insider I am sure you are adept at using cue words and cue terms to evoke certain emotions that allow you to be more persuasive than someone else attempting to preach such parental irresponsibility.

    Thank goodness I am not one of them.

  11. DK – To say that your mother was a private school teacher because “she didn’t want to “do nothing at home all day” ” is offensive to all stay at home moms. Stay at home moms don’t do nothing at home all day! And if your mother was able to balance work and home life so perfectly that she made a complete breakfast every morning before school & work and she was never running late, then I’d love for her to write a book explaining how that was possible. Working moms and stay at home moms have enough to worry about without being insulted by the accusation that doing their best isn’t good enough because it doesn’t live up to the June Cleaver ideal.

    Additionally, to suggest that parents who are willing to give their children responsibility, freedom, and the opportunity to learn through experience are simply having their emotions played with by an “advertising agency insider” is deeply insulting. People don’t believe in the Free-Range ideas because they are intellectually or pragmatically lazy or impressionable. This movement is popular with people who spend a great deal of time thinking about their children’s long term well-being and growth. There is nothing irresponsible about teaching your children how to take care of themselves. It is irresponsible to teach your children that they need someone else to always be watching out FOR them and that they must always see themselves as potential victims.

  12. DK, speak for yourself. I was certainly allowed to go to friends houses four blocks away (well, three blocks away, and the first street I had to cross was a main thoroughfare, 18th avenue in Bensonhurst, so yeah) at the age of 9. I was allowed to go down to the store without telling my parents (a block and then a bit) by 7 – the same year I stayed home for 30 minutes while my father met my sister halfway on the way home from her dance class. Her dance class was 30 minutes away walking, and she walked half of that by herself, after dark in the winter. She was 10 or 11 at that point. By the time she was 13 she – like ALL New York high school students and a fair amount of the kids in the 6 – 8 grades! – was taking public transportation by herself. A bus, a boat, and a train into the city for school, and then back again. Two or three days a week she stayed late (after dinner time) because she had lessons at the Joffrey ballet. Nobody batted an eye.

    That same year (when I was 10) I took the same bus, boat, and train combination to go into the city by myself after school. I walked home from school, called my mother, and told her I was heading into the city. I’d stop by her office when I got in and then I was allowed to hang out in a pre-designated location until my quarters ran out and I had to come home. I was certainly allowed to walk all over my neighborhood (we’d moved to Staten Island by this point) by myself, probably about a mile and a half radius.

    This was in the early 90s, when the city was a lot less safe than it is today. And this was perfectly normal. It’s not irresponsible to teach your children how to be functional adults. Indeed, it’s irresponsible to do otherwise.

    My mother, for her childhood (in the 50s, so of course you’ll view it as a halcyon era) was allowed to take the train unsupervised at the age of 6 to go from one predesignated location to another. But, in fairness, HER mother was reacting against an overly protective upbringing.

  13. DK Wilson, I, too, grew up in an idyllic Washington DC suburb. In kindergarten, the kids all met up at a corner and walked to school together, without a parent. Now, the school system won’t allow safety patrols on the corners to help the little ones cross. I remember riding the metro to visit my aunt in Dupont Circle by myself at age 10. I regularly rode my bike to the neighborhood pool and library, 3 miles away, by myself. Now, that same library has a big sign saying no children under 18 allowed without a parent. You aren’t even allowed to leave your child is the children’s area while you browse the adult books. By 14, I had my first job, which I rode my bike to. I currently live in the same neighborhood I grew up in and constantly have to defend my decision to allow my kids, 7 and 10, to walk to and from school without me. It’s ridiculous!

  14. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1970s. I was raised by a single working parent and she relied on me to take my little brother and sister every where on public transportation. When I was 9 and my brother was 7, I routinely walked from the school down to a bus stop off Highway 101. I would get on the Greyhound bus to San Francisco and get off near downtown and walk my brother to his weekly allergy shot appointments. We would get picked up by my adoptive mother when she got off work. People were impressed that we pulled this off weekly without incident. I know someone who is a total “helicopter mom” who insists her teenaged son (age 18) text her regularly throughout the day to let her know where he is. It is INSANE.

  15. I just caught your interview on ABC and how happy am I that you are out there! Once I again, I thank you for giving a voice to rational, loving parents who want (and look forward to) their kids growing up into self-supportive, independent, confident humans!

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