Produced by Gary Drevitch
The Center for Screen-Time Awareness will soon be encouraging families like yours to turn off their TVs during its annual Turnoff Week, from April 21-27. (Just take our word for it; their Web site's a complete mess.) We love the TV, but actually think the week is a great idea, and even wrote a column about it for our friends at the Walt Disney Internet Group, now available online.
Our column tells the amazing true story of two miserable young children and how their personalities underwent a remarkable transformation over the course of five days without the pernicious influence of television:
The results were startling. When they woke up on Monday, we put on a CD and peacefully listened to music over breakfast. By Wednesday, they were working on puzzles together before school.
And as if that weren't enough, then came...the compliments! Thursday morning, Tiny said to Fellow: "You look very handsome today," then Fellow told her, "YOU really look like you're ready to get your picture taken today!"
(Spoiler alert: They reverted to form as soon as the week ended . . .)
We were having what we thought was a sweet, significant family conversation the other day, about illnesses and diseases in our extended family, when the kids asked about our own dad, Freelance Grandfather:
"Is he always going to be in his wheelchair?" Tiny asked us.
"Yes, he will. But he doesn't have to sleep in it."
"So he could DIE in his wheelchair?"
"Well, I suppose, but probably not really IN the wheelchair."
And then Fellow chimed in: "Of COURSE he could die in his wheelchair!"
"How?" Tiny asked.
"Someone could SHOOT him while he's in the wheelchair!"
COMING TO SCREENS IN 2018 (WE CAN ONLY HOPE): "TRANSFORMERS VS. SMURFS: REQUIEM"
The baffling blue Smurfs are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their ongoing experiment in communal toadstool living and to celebrate, Paramount is planning a big-screen Smurf movie, satisfying the long-held desires of absolutely no one.
ONE THING WE KNOW FOR SURE: THE SLEESTAKS WOULD SCARE THE PAKUNI OUT OF SMALL FELLOW
io9, the new sci-fi site from Gawker, offers a detailed analysis of why "Land of the Lost" is cooler than "Lost," to commemorate our own favorite Sid & Marty Kroft series' debut on DVD. And maybe they're right, but the Others, for all their faults, never gave us nightmares like those damn Sleestaks used to.
HOPE YOU ENJOYED YOUR INDIGENOUS CULTURE, INDIA
They're translating "High School Musical" into 17 languages. Can't wait to find out how to say, "GETCHA' HEAD IN THE GAME" in Tagalog.
ITUBE, YOU DON'T TUBE
Interesting poll in this month's issue of Parenting, which asked Moms, "Is it OK for parents to upload a video of their child on YouTube?"
63% said No, including this mom from North Carolina who brought everybody down by sharing her uniquely dispiriting daily affirmation:
"Whenever I'm tempted to post a video, I remember that YouTube is international, and that there are plenty of perverts out there who look for videos and images of children."
Autism-inducers could become as popular as Provigil among the geek set by 2020. . . . Over the past year, researchers have demonstrated several times that they can turn mice autistic by messing with brain chemistry -- and then "cure" them using the same techniques. . . . It might also lead to recreational autism, where people who want to take a break from having messy emotions about other people decide to unplug and enter a state where human relationships are no more important than inanimate objects.
Edutopia, the only education reform magazine funded by George Lucas, takes us on a tour of public-school cafeterias around the world, to find out which is the most nutritious. (Spoiler Alert: It's not the U.S.!)
We spent the past weekend at the New York International Film Festival at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side; Saturday we took Tiny and three of her BFFs to the "Shorts for Tots" screening (for ages 3-to-6), and then lathered, rinsed, and repeated a day later with Fellow and three of his Wee Pals, who took in the slate of shorts for 5-to-10-year-olds, along with every other seven-year-old kid we know.
And the films were wonderful. There were about a dozen shorts each day, ranging from a minute to about 10. Each kid (and parent) was given a pencil and a ballot to fill out, so they could review each short and name their favorite. The kids' selections were fairly predictable (as were our own), and there will be few surprises when prizes are awarded at the close of the festival next weekend, after which many of the shorts will be posted here for home viewing.
1. Shorts for Tots:
The animated version of Mo Willems' best-seller "Knuffle Bunny" was included on this slate, which struck as unfair since its familiarity will certainly sway many young voters. We read "Knuffle" when it came out a couple of years ago, but never purchased it because it seemed to us an example of a children's book that is really for, and about, the parents. But based on the kids' responses to the short film, we may have been wrong. The kids loved it because it's really, we now see, in the genre of "What was I like when I was little?" books. We expected all of our girls to list "Knuffle" as their favorite, but we underestimated them. Because two out of three chose . . .
"Rain Down From Above," (see it on YouTube) a wordless film directed by Ivan Maximov of Russia about a biblical deluge in a quiet village where elephants, children, and the elderly live side-by-side. We thought the downpour was a little too scary but the girls were drawn in by the beauty of Maximov's art, the accompanying music by Prokofiev, and the emotions of the villagers, separated from each other by the storm but eventually, ingeniously reunited.
But our own favorite was "Animal Book," (see the trailer on YouTube) from the U.K., about a girl and her big sister who tend to the massive cogs and machinery in an oppressive, industrial city but find figurative and literal escape when a book with wings flies by. It's the Quay Brothers meets "Teletubbies," and it just pushed all of our buttons. We thought it was stunning.
As for the other films, several featured the Sun in various moods, and a pair of shorts from Japan were simply unwatchable.
2. Short Films One:
The big boys enjoyed "Crank Balls," (see excerpts on YouTube) about grumpy balls of dough whose lives are considerably brightened by a happy, alien force. They also loved "Game Over," (see it on YouTube)
an inventive set of stop-motion reimaginings of classic video games,
featuring a pizza as Pac-Man, bugs as Space Invaders, and a "Centipede"
game in which a salt shaker fires at muffins. These two shorts collected
all of the boys' votes. But again, our favorite was something more
arty: "The Tide," a magical and moving film by Mette Skov of Denmark,
which tells of a boy and his talking teddy bear who sit glumly in the
back of his parent's car on the way to a vacation by the shore. The
parents argue, then stop at a gas station, where the boy and his bear
run off to the shore to help a beached whale they had spotted before the family
Also on the slate was the completely delightful "Zhiharka," from
Russia, an old Ural fairy tale that crosses "Little Red Riding
Hood" with "Road Runner," and "Shhh," a British short that thoroughly
rips off the old "Kids in the Hall" "I'm crushing your head!" sketch,
while making it vastly creepier.
We'll update if and when more of our favorites become
available for viewing online. To read about one animator's experience on the children's
film festival circuit, check David Levy's "Animondays" site.
The "Bootstrapper" blog has named FD.com one of the Top 100 Web sites by, for or about freelancers, so we thank them for that.
NEW IN THE SIDEBAR: LINKS, BOOKS, AND TWO FROM THE VAULT
You'll also find updated Amazon links to three non-fiction
children's books by FD, aka Gary Drevitch — one already published and
two others in the pipeline. Put them in your shopping cart now for all
of your inquisitive Fellows and Sweeties.
Also, responding to popular demand from Freelance Dad completists,
we've posted two sitcom "spec scripts" written a few years back during
a period in our career when we were particularly disinterested in
earning a living. One is based on "Everybody Loves Raymond," the other
on "Malcolm in the Middle." We happen to think they're hilarious — especially the messed-up formatting that we didn't bother correcting. . .
[New York City] is launching a campaign to motivate public school students by giving them free cell phones and upgrading features if they do things such as show up to class and behave.
via Parents magazine:
When dads set limits and expectations for their preschoolers' behavior, their kids had a 25 percent lower risk of being overweight than those whose fathers were more permissive, according to a study in Pediatrics. Surprisingly, mothers' discipline styles had no impact on a child's body mass, the researchers say.
ON NEWSSTANDS NOW
Freelance Dad, aka Gary Drevitch, has an article in the current issue of Men's Health/Best Life called "Translating Contractor-Speak," about the lies lying contractors tell when they move you out to fix your kitchen.
When a Contractor Says… “Your job is substantially complete. Just a few final touchups left.”
He Really Means… “We’re going to be a couple of months. Why don’t you go get me a sandwich?”
ESPN the Magazine writer Eric Adelson has revisited an article he wrote a few years back about Detroit Red Wings icon Steve Yzerman, specifically the hockey legend's relationship with a cancer-stricken Colorado boy.
Turns out, though, the closest the boy ever got to having cancer was a toddler-era tumor near his lymph nodes. But to Yzerman's credit, he told Adelson that despite being duped for several years by the boy's father, "I'm not going to stop reaching out. . . . Actually, I think I might do it more often."
Click here for the full story of a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Dad. It's the FD.com Must Read Story of the Week.
CATCHING UP WITH PARENTING MAGAZINE
To provide you, our reader, with the best information possible, Freelance Dad subscribes to nearly every parenting magazine under the sun. Occasionally, the issues pile up and we need to tear through them a stack in a late night, marathon session, as we did last night when we scanned the past three or four issues of Parenting magazine. Wondering what you've missed if you haven't been keeping up with the book? Here are a few headlines:
"Is your [breast] milk safe?"
"Too Early for Deodorant?"
"Is coffee okay for kids?"
"1,940: The average number of children hurt by elevators every year"
PUBLIC SERVICE NOTE
An Associated Press article online today is the first we've ever seen that actually provided a pronunciation for phthalates. So, if you had "thowl-ates" in the pool, you're a winner!
Oh, and speaking of phthalates? If you've shampooed or powdered your baby any time recently, his urine is probably sick with them.
FREELANCE DAD RETURNS TO DISNEY'S FAMILY.COM—AND YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO
Freelance Dad (aka Gary Drevitch) gets another turn at bat as the featured columnist for Disney's family.com Comment Mania contest, starting today.
As before, we write the column, they post it, and visitors (like you) comment. The comment deemed worthiest wins a fabulous cash-equivalent prize from the House of Mouse. And they love columns that get lots and lots of comments over there. So hop on over and support your blogger. (And tell a friend!)
The subject this time: How Little Guy has successfully avoided getting formally sleep-trained. (Spoiler alert: He throws up!) If you have a chance, come on over and share your sleep-training experiences.
WON'T YOU BEFRIEND US?
Speaking of FD showing up a few years late to the Web-based party . . . in response to popular demand (no, really, there was popular demand—like, three, four guys) Freelance Dad also opened up a Facebook page this week.
We strongly encourage all visitors to FD.com to stop by and befriend us here.
THE FD.COM VIRTUAL REFRIGERATOR (OF HORROR)
Since this seems to be the day for debuting new features here at FD.com, welcome to the first installment of our Virtual Refrigerator, where, from time to time, we'll share the works of Small Fellow, Tiny Girl and Little Guy. (Why is our refrigerator "virtual"? Because we can't actually post any of the kids' work on our actual refrigerator—Little Guy will tear it right off. . .)
First up: Tiny Girl's recent depiction of life in the wild.
Seems her kindergarten class is studying bears this month, and she learned that mama bears have to be very careful to stay close to their newborn cubs, because if they should get separated, the little bears could be beset by packs of wolves, attacked, and killed. Is this really true? We honestly have no idea, but it sure made an impression on her, as can be seen in her powerful illustration below:
When she brought it home, we asked her what her picture showed, and she told us it was a bear cub that got lost from its mommy. (To her credit, on the reverse of the paper, she drew mama bear looking for her cub.)
- So, Tiny, what's happening to the cub in this picture? we asked.
- It's getting attacked by wolves, she told us.
- Yeah. See that orange on the bear's head?
- Um, yeah. . .
- That's the wolves setting the bear on fire.
- . . . oh.
ANOTHER NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION THAT DIDN'T LAST A WEEK
From a paragraph Fellow wrote for school at the end of 2007, recently brought home:
"I will try hard not to hit my sister, because I don't get along with her sometimes."
SMALL FELLOW: NO LONGER AN OUTLIER . . . PART OF A TREND!
The Wall Street Journal's estimable Sue Shellenbarger borrowed the
musical question from "Bye Bye Birdie" for a recent column, "What's
gotten into kids these days?" (Well, close enough.) She claims, with
the help of several studies, that today's pre-school and
early-elementary misbehavior is a different animal than past mischief,
and she advises that if your own child is not part of the problem, you'd better teach him or her to be part of the solution.
SET PHASERS FOR SPUTTERING OUTRAGE
Jeffrey T. Schwartz wins the prize for Lawyer Most Likely to Say, "Hey, Just Doing My Job," as he mounts a doomed defense of the stepfather of Nixzmary Brown in his trial for the murder of his young stepdaughter. Schwartz proposes, in re his client's repeated, brutal beating of the seven-year-old girl, Hey, moms and dads, we've all been there, am I right?, and "You don’t know you’ve crossed the line until you get accused of crossing the line."
The Times held its nose last week and put together a piece on the implications of this argument, finding that there are few laws regarding parental corporal punishment, that prosecutions for its collateral damage are rare, and that several juries have indeed acquitted parents of causing serious injury to their children in the course of punishment. Indeed:
To draw a bright line in the law, said Martin Guggenheim, a professor at New York University School of Law, would be to cross the threshold of what the United States Supreme Court once called “the private realm of family life which the state may not enter,” and to intrude on parents’ constitutional right to raise children as they see fit.
The article is worth a look before giving your own kids an extra hug tonight.
WE'D CERTAINLY NEVER DO THIS—FELLOW HAS ALWAYS WORN HIS PATRIOTS GEAR WILLINGLY
Speaking of corporal punishment that doesn't rise to the level of prosecutable offense, a Wisconsin DA says that a local dad will not face charges for this incident:
HEY, NEW YORK CITY TEACHERS: EVER PONDER WHO'S MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR STRUGGLING STUDENTS' POOR TEST SCORES—THE KIDS, THEIR PARENTS, THE SYSTEM, OR YOU YOURSELF? STOP WONDERING: JOEL KLEIN HAS YOUR ANSWER
New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests. The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.
While officials say it is too early to determine how they will use the data, which is already being collected, they say it could eventually be used to help make decisions on teacher tenure or as a significant element in performance evaluations and bonuses. And they hold out the possibility that the ratings for individual teachers could be made public.
“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”
The article details the vehement opposition of the teacher's union, as it should. But here's a few other questions: Let's say the city makes public the data of all of its teachers. Will the data be based on whether students' scores improve under that teacher (the system used for the city's recent hopelessly-out-of-context school grading system), or whether the students are simply achieving high scores (of course, also an out-of-context rating)?
And what of this: Again, say these ratings are made public. Say I'm a neighborhood activist group in an outer borough. Say I see that my kids' school has a preponderance of poorly-rated teachers as opposed to the Upper West Side. How soon do I file my class-action suit claiming that my kid and other kids in my neighborhood are being unfairly shortchanged by a system that refuses to send its best teachers our way?
Or this: I'm a lunatic Park Slope parent who only wants the best for my boy, even though I couldn't get him into St. Ann's. Then I find out that Sally Horshack's daughter got herself an A-rated third-grade teacher while my kid was assigned to the D-rated instructor down the hall. When can I start my letter-writing campaign?
This idea is 30 kinds of bad, which is several more kinds of bad than the school grading system, because its threatening individual careers, rather than building reputations. Looks like it's happening anyway.
OR MAYBE THERE'S HOPE AFTER ALL
Meet the early frontrunners for FD.com's PTAs of the year: The moms and dads of Manhattan's PS 40 and PS 116, who say they'll keep their kids out of school on the days that their classes will be aksed to take a "field test" of standardized tests—in other word, as an anti-testing advocate put it, "tests to figure out how kids will test on tests."
Freelance Dad, aka Gary Drevitch, has a cover story in the new issue of Jewish Living, on the country's best Jewish sleepaway camps. Researching the piece was an eye-opener for us: We never much enjoyed sleepaway camp, with its communal pots of mac-and-cheese, its weeks-long waits for Red Sox scores and standings from snail-mailed newspaper clips, the reeds shoved up our nose by the bullies, etc. But there are people out there, lots of them, who really, REALLY love their old camps. And there's certainly good reason for parents to love them, too: As Jerry Silverman, director of the Foundation for Jewish Camping, told us, “Camp is the best insurance policy available for parents who care about their children’s Jewish identification. The secret ingredient is 24/7 immersion. Jewish camps create a safe, and sacred, place for kids to come together.” So happens, a boatload of Jewish communal research backs him up.
(Article not available online, but may be in the future.)
SCIENCE PROVES IT: RANDY NEWMAN WAS RIGHT
Short babies got no reason, short babies got no reason to live:
Boys who are short at birth have double the risk of attempting suicide as adults even if their growth "catches up" in childhood, a study suggests. Those under 47cm (18.5 inches) were found to be at highest risk. The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health says poor foetal growth may have long-term effects on brain chemistry. . . . Low levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which have been linked to aggression and suicidal behaviour could be the key, the researchers say.
WE SURE CAN! IN FACT, WE JUST SAW THIS MOVIE—AND IT WAS AWESOME
If you're like us, you probably passed on reading the recent Times piece on "conceptionmoons," or getaways for couples eager to reproduce. But if you did, you missed out on both the FD.com Quote of the Week—and the runner-up. See below (emphases added):
“There’s no evidence that by going away it somehow intrinsically increases pregnancy rates,” Dr. [David] Adamson [president of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine] said. But, he added, “If it increases the frequency of intercourse, then it’s probably helpful” . . . .
Kyle McCarthy, the editor at familytravelforum.com in New York, a resource for traveling parents and families . . . was a little wary of vacations specifically designed for spawning: “Can you imagine a cruise ship where everyone around you is trying to conceive?”
THIS IS GREAT NEWS FOR US—WE'RE A "SCREAMING NURTURER" OURSELVES
Dr. Gail Saltz stopped by the TODAY Show recently to make America's moms and dads feel bad by telling them that their various parenting styles are responsible for the children's inevitable bouts with obesity:
Most parents . . . don’t realize that their overall style of parenting also appears to correlate with obesity in their child. . . . many parents don't practice enough "tough love," and don't place many demands or expectations on their children. The demand-free style of parenting is called "permissive." If you think you are a permissive parent, watch out: Though you may be warm and loving, you are not teaching your child to manage his or her desires and wishes. . . This style of parenting correlates with childhood obesity, but so do other styles. On the opposite end of the parenting style spectrum, an authoritarian style (having high demands for self-control but without being warm or loving) and a neglectful style (having few expectations for self-control but also not being warm or loving) also correlate more highly with kids being overweight.
So what's the healthiest style of parenting, then? It's something called authoritative parenting. . . moms and dads expect their children to exhibit self-control, but at the same time, remain warm and loving toward them. This method is the only style not linked to weight issues in children.
Each week, Freelance Dad, aka Gary Drevitch, writes a news quiz for teenagers which is then posted on PARADE magazine's Web site. It's just like a grown-up news quiz, except there's a question about "High School Musical" every week. (Go ahead, try it. We bet you get 10 out of 12.) As we sat down to write this week's quiz the other day, we drafted a question about the Oscar nominations, specifically, which of the Best Picture nominees was a comedy about teen pregnancy. Then we realized our potential pool of multiple-choice decoys included "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men."
So we rewrote the question. . .