Maybe it's the postpartum hormones, maybe it's the rush of nostalgia since we haven't done it in three-and-a-half years, but we just had the best time buying some Newborn Huggies. After years of paying $14 for maybe two dozen size 3, 4, or 5 diapers, one forgets what a massive bargain a pack of Newborns is (same size package with the same volume of material, but since the diapers are so much smaller, many more fit inside). We just paid $19.98 for 96 - that's under 21 cents each! Sadly, the poop still stinks . . .


Little Guy is our third child and we really are old hands at this, but as the body ages, so does the spirit, and lack of sleep becomes less of a badge of honor, and more like a pair of big lead badges hanging from our eyelids. So last week, for the first time ever, we had a baby nurse come over - overnight only, and just for two nights - and she'll probably return for about two nights each this week and next as well. And we have to confess - it's awesome! Little Guy slept much better, and Loving Mother slept, period, which she hadn't done the two nights previous to the nurse's arrival. And there's really nothing like watching a pro swaddle, because, yes, we're three kids in, but if there was a swaddling immunity challenge on Survivor: Parents Island, we'd sadly be on the first motorboat home. Houdini would have loved our swaddles.


It's the first day of school here in Manhattan, as Tiny Girl joyously reported to Big City Elementary for her first day of public pre-K, and First-Grade Fellow started his first day of school in a public gifted program at a different school a little bit up the street. We understand that there are lots of parents with actual problems out there, but the decision to switch schools on Fellow was the most harrowing one we've yet made for him, and we tossed and turned through anxiety dreams for hours last night. Fellow loved Big City Elementary so much, made so many friends, and was so reluctant to be in a new school for the second year in a row -- but on the other hand, he's excited about the new school's chess club, he likes the playground, and he'll have some old friends from nursery school there, so we'll see. But, boy, did we feel the pangs when we saw his old kindergarten teacher and some of his old friends at Big City this morning.

On the bus this morning, as we rode from Fellow's new school down the street to Tiny's new school, a pair of women struck up a conversation with us about the first day of school. When we confessed that we had switched schools on Fellow, one mom, about to deliver her youngest daughter to kindergarten at Big City Elementary, lashed into us for moving him out of a school he loved, and jeopardizing his emotional state. She later told us that her older kids went to the Anderson Program (an ultra-elite public magnet program), so -- easy for her to say. Then a grandmotherly type behind us asked, "How old is your son?" "Five and a half." "OK, then don't listen to her. I was a teacher and principal for 30 years. He's young. He'll be fine."

And he probably will -- after all, it's not like we're sending him to Clemmons Elementary School outside of Winston-Salem. As Newsweek reports in "The NEW First Grade," its anxiety-mongering back-to-school cover story this week, Clemmons is symptomatic of schools where parents are so eager to push their kids onto the Ivy League track that they hold kids back from kindergarten for a year or more, demand that first-grade teachers produce class ranks, and rush their kids into tutoring if they haven't mastered reading by mid-first grade. In other words, they act a lot like Manhattan parents trying to get their kids into nursery school.

The Newsweek piece really breaks no new ground, but is a decent roundup of years-old trends toward a more academic first-grade curriculum, a shift that, as the article concedes, is in fact based on a new understanding of younger children's ability to learn. It's not quite a chicken-and-egg situation, but the parental push for more academics in first-grade does correspond to new research proving that most 5-to-7-year-olds can, in fact, take it. Are the schools responding to the parents or the research? Depends on who you ask and how many magazines you're trying to sell.

And yet. As we read the section about Clemmons parents holding kids back and creating giant six-and-a-half-year-old kindergarteners, we thought how enlightened New York City admission rules are -- the city allows parents to start kids in grade K at six years old, but not in gifted or special magnet programs. If you're six, you have to apply for first-grade admissions. But then again, it now occurs to us, when it comes time to apply to special high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science years from now, those older kids may very well have a distinct advantage over Fellow and Tiny, December kids who'll both start K before they turn five. And so the anxiety builds anew.


The results aren't new, but they're notable for the breadth and focus of the study they come from: Men who become fathers in their 40s are six times more likely to produce autistic children than fathers under 30. The study tracked 130,000 Israeli Jews born in the 1980s, and was "based on biographical information on. . . boys and girls who at age 17 were being assessed for eligibility to serve in the Israeli military." The mothers' age at childbirth appeared to have little impact on autism, but as for the dads:

"It's a strong effect in a carefully designed study," said Dr. Edwin Cook, an autism researcher at University of Illinois-Chicago.


But the producers of "Blue's Clues" will certainly trumpet these results: In a new study of how children under three interact with TV, Vanderbilt researchers found that the beloved show was "on the right track" in its "realistic, child-centered conversations" -- when Steve or Joe turn to the screen to ask kids a question, and then wait for an answer, which many young viewers shout from their couches. The study tested how well children performed activities based they had seen in a video "if they considered the onscreen actors to be. . . 'social partners,'" as they do when watching the show.

Earlier studies already found that three-to-five-year-old "Blue's Clues" viewers perform better on problem-solving tests than peers who have never seen the show. This new proof that the show -- and presumably "Dora the Explorer," which has similar interactivity -- may be beneficial for even younger kids is more good news for the pro-TV set.

However, the Vanderbilt study did nothing to disprove the so-called "video deficit," in which "toddlers who have no trouble understanding a task demonstrated in real life often stumble when the same task is shown onscreen." For toddlers, real-life interactions remain superior to video demonstrations, but Fellow and Tiny will have to make do with a steady diet of the latter until Little Guy starts sleeping through the night.


P1010515Friday afternoon, the extended family gathered for hummus, brownies, and a little ritual circumcision. All went well, except FD's own prepared remarks. As we began speaking, we heard a crying baby in the background, and the noise just wouldn't stop. We looked over to where our in-laws were standing once, twice, three times, and wondered, with some annoyance, why they hadn't handed their toddlers off to someone else so the bris could proceed in peace. Then it dawned on us: Little Guy was the one crying. Fully flustered, we cut our remarks short and let the professionals get on with reshaping our new family member's. . . member.

[Photo note: Our mohel asked us which New York baseball-themed yarmulke we'd prefer for his little keppe, and so, yes, Little Guy is wearing a Mets skullcap at left. Had we had more foresight, we'd have brought a Red Sox head-covering to the procedure, but so it goes. For more new photos of Little Guy, click here and scroll to the bottom of the screen.]


Little Guy, as we did manage to stammer to the assembled crowd the other day, is named for his Freelance Grandmother, our own mother, who passed away about 10 months ago. We can report that he is so far about as loud as she was, so it may in fact be a good match.

Since he'll never get to meet his namesake, however, we plan to roll out several of her parenting catch phrases as he gets older, so he'll at least get a taste of life with her. For example, when he comes home from a play date covered in mud, we'll scream, "Oy Gottenyu!" When we start catching him in lies, we'll tell him, "You're full of old shoes!" and when his teenage behavior inevitably turns strange, we'll wail, "It would take a Philadelphia lawyer to figure you out!"


Schoolzone3_1842_11364798We know many longtime readers have been placing their bets, and so we're prepared to tell you that Tiny Girl has taken a significant early lead in the race to be Little Guy's favorite big sibling. She's read "Benny's Baby Brother" to him at least a dozen times already, and it quiets him down every time. She's also Johnny-on-the-spot when Loving Mother calls for new diapers. Still, Fellow has become adept at placing Little Guy's mirror next to his blanket to attract his attention, and he's constantly offering up fingers for the baby to pull on.


Sanitary Napkin Misidentified as Fetus, Setting Off Elaborate Search


Habitual hot-button-pusher Caitlin Flanagan recently described the purported explosion in teen oral sex this way (from the Atlantic, via Slate):

The moms in my set are convinced—they're certain; they know for a fact—that all over the city, in the very best schools, in the nicest families, in the leafiest neighborhoods, 12- and 13-year-old girls are performing oral sex on as many boys as they can.

That's right, inattentive working moms -- in the leafiest neighborhoods! Just like yours! Bet you're wishing you'd stayed at home now!

Anyway, Flanagan notwithstanding, Slate reports on how the Freakonomics approach gets to the bottom of the teen oral sex boom, specifically one study that shows the trend to be basic economics: As the costs/risks of unprotected sex rise for teens -- AIDS, gonorrhea, the price of the Pill, and especially, it turns out, new state abortion-notification laws -- they become less likely to do it; in fact, the percentage of teen virgins seems actually to have risen more than 15% in recent years:

[Jonathan] Klick and [Thomas] Stratmann claim to have found evidence [that w]herever and whenever abortion-notification laws have been passed, gonorrhea rates in the teenage and adult populations start to diverge. When it becomes more troublesome to get an abortion, teenagers seem to cut back on unprotected sex.

And so the shift to (unprotected) oral sex. Slate's conclusion: "On the one hand, good news: Teenagers are finding safer ways to get their kicks. On the other, it suggests that teenagers believe one of the most serious consequences of an unwanted pregnancy is that their parents will find out. If teenagers are avoiding unsafe sex, it may not be for the best reasons."


Women who feel particularly anxious or stressed during pregnancy apparently cause no harm to their babies, according to a Sam Houston State University study:

Anxiety was not associated with any of the negative pregnancy outcomes examined: length of labor; birth weight; use of analgesia during labor, which can indicate great pain; gestational age at birth; or the Apgar score that rates the general health of a newborn.

September 5, 2006 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS


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