The Bad Habit of Good Job

When I started teaching English ten years ago (how did that happen??), I noticed that kids seemed different than when I was in high school. Considering that I was 23 when I started teaching, I had only been out of high school for five years. I was perplexed, What do you mean you didn’t do your homework again? What did you think was going to happen when you cut class? If you came to extra help even once a week, your grades would improve – just show up! After a while I realized, yes, kids were maybe a little different, but really I was being exposed to a different type of student. From a young age, I loved school and learning; I took mostly AP and Honors classes in high school and that skewed my picture of the average teenager. Even though there were probably tons of kids cutting class, not doing homework, or totally flaking, I didn’t see them.

Fast forward through those ten years of teaching, and I started to notice two habits among all ranges of kids, from the ones struggling to pass, to the AP students. First, a constant need to check in and seek approval. I often give kids time to write in class and nearly every student would ask at least once during the period, “Can you read this and tell me if it’s ok?” On the one hand, it’s commendable that the kids want to do well. They want to know that they’re on the right track and accomplishing the task at hand. On the other hand, hearing, “Is this good?” twenty or thirty times over the course of a period is enough to make your head spin. The reality is maybe it’s not good, but you need to keep going anyway and if it stinks, you’ll have to spend time revising and improving.

The other habit is an inability to progress to the next step, or sometimes to even get started. Everyone encounters writer’s block sometimes, but what I’m referring to is more systemic. “Ok, I did what you said. Now what do I do?” Often the answer is on the board, in their notes, or on a worksheet.  When it’s not, it’s because I want them to figure it out. For a long time, I chalked this up to laziness. And I hear this sentiment all the time, “Kids today are lazy; they don’t want to work.” Are some kids lazy? Sure, but so are plenty of adults. It’s less about laziness and more about an inability to think for themselves. Or in some cases, maybe it’s an impatience. Raised in an era of instant everything, they don’t have the patience to think.

What do I think is the culprit behind all this? It’s Mommy and Me art.

Ok so it’s actually something I observed at Mommy and Me art. A few months ago I signed Nolan up for an art class (I use that term loosely) at a local kids’ art studio. Nolan LOVES sports and spends a ton of time being active, and I thought this would be a nice change of pace.  Each class starts with some time for the kids to play, then the teacher reads a story and demonstrates the project they will work on. Then the kids go to their easels and get cracking. The first project involved sticking colored strips of tape to their papers and then painting.

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During that first class I parked myself on a bench across the room and pushed Will’s stroller back and forth, hoping he would snooze. The other moms stood or sat beside their kids and spent the next 20 minutes saying things like:

Good job!

Let’s fix this tape.

Good job!

Why don’t you put the tape here?

Good job! 

Beautiful!

Put some yellow at the top.

Good job!

Put the tape like this.

Good job!

Paint the blue on the bottom.

Good job!

Fill in this spot here.

Amazing!

Aaaaaaaaand therein lies our problem. Fast forward ten years and put those kids in ninth grade and what do you get? Is this good? Can you check this? Now what do I do? What should I do next? I don’t know what to do.

I am confident that these moms were not trying to make museum-worthy masterpieces or get their kids into Parsons. Although I’m probably sounding ultra-judgmental at this point, I really don’t mean to be. These were lovely, friendly moms who were probably trying to play with their children. I think as parents we sometimes can’t help ourselves. I don’t know if we’re bored, or uncomfortable with silence, or afraid our little ones are going to feel sad, but we can’t shut up. I catch myself doing it too and have to make a conscious effort to zip it sometimes.

There has been a lot of buzz in recent years over the “right” way to praise kids. Much of that buzz stems from Po Bronson’s 2007 New York Magazine article, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids.” A few years later, the essay became the first chapter of the book NurtureShock (which is a really interesting and fast read!). The school of thought behind most of the writing about this is that instead of empty praise (Good job! Great!) or praising the end result (I’m so proud you got an A!), it’s more effective to praise the process or actual task (I’m so proud of how hard you studied! You shared so nicely!).  While I agree with them 100%, I think for a lot of parents and caregivers, it’s not just the words they’re using, it’s the frequency. I’m not exaggerating when I say I must have heard “Good job” 40 times during that one-hour art class.

So how about we stop talking so much? I’m not saying withhold all praise, but is getting your cereal out of the cabinet really worthy of a compliment? A year after being potty-trained, is every pee deserving of celebratory clapping? I want my kids to follow instructions not because I’m always going to praise them for it, but because it feels good to do the right thing or accomplish a task.  And most importantly, let your kids paint their own pictures.

More Chats with a Four-Year-Old

A while back, I shared some of the darling nuggets Nolan has said recently. Well, the list continues…

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He doesn’t quite understand the concept of secrets just yet. (See also: he hides in plain sight during hide and go seek.)

Me: How was school today?

Nolan: Not good…

Me: Why? What happened??

Nolan: Well, I can’t tell you.

Me: What can’t you tell me?

Nolan: Well, I can’t tell you that I had to go sit at the table because I was playing too rough with Ethan.


Nolan: Guess where I’m going with Daddy?!?!

Me: I don’t know, where?

Nolan: I’ll give you a hint! (Now shout-whispering in my ear) THE HOCKEY RINK!!!


On this day, Nolan demonstrated why the money spent on a kids’ art class is money well-spent:

Me: What was your favorite part of art class today?

Nolan: When I ate my granola bar.


One day in art the kids used Q-tips to trace designs in their paintings.

Me: Tell Daddy about what you did today in art.

Nolan: I used ear wax to make designs!


While eating a burger, he shows that nutrition is of paramount importance to him:

Nolan: Well I’m not liking this part. (He points to the burger.) I’m just liking the ketchup, the cheese, and the bread.


Nolan: Miss Michelle doesn’t eat meat.

Me: Oh, is she a vegetarian?

Nolan: No! She’s a teacher!


Me (pointing to some guacamole): Do you want to try some of this?

Nolan: No thank you. I don’t eat broccamole.


Even at the ripe old age of four, he sometimes has trouble keeping different body parts straight.

Nolan: Why do I have this nipple on my leg?

Me: Um, excuse me?

Nolan: This nipple, here, on my leg.

Me: The word for that is freckle.

 

 

Am I the only one who is bothered?

While standing in line at Barnes and Noble the other day, I glanced around and noticed Jessica Alba, looking stunning as usual, on the cover of a magazine. Then I noticed that it wasn’t the usual Allure or Cosmopolitan, but Forbes.

Highlighting “America’s Richest Self-Made Women,” the magazine chose Alba, who founded the Honest Company, for its cover. So while I hate to go on the same old tired, clichéd, feminist rant, the cover bothers me. Jessica Alba is beautiful, in fact I think she might still be my husband’s favorite celebrity girl (his freebie, if you will). But with the article focusing on her accomplishments as a businesswoman, why is her cleavage front and center? I’m not saying we should put a paper bag over her head and hide her body in a burka, but I have yet to see a man on the cover of Forbes with his shirt off, or mostly unbuttoned, or “sexed up” at all.

To check my theory, I did a Google Image search of Forbes covers and here is what I saw:

Screen shot 2015-06-20 at 11.38.18 AMIt’s a lot of men in suits. I scrolled for a while and found another woman on the cover.

I kept looking and found a handful of covers with women in suits, but … yeah I’m annoyed.

Jessica Alba’s company is focused on safe products for our children and families, and that magazine cover says something pretty different. Does it bother you? Am I overreacting and being a prude?

Will’s Birth Story

I’m so honored and excited that my birth story is featured on Gabrielle Blair’s blog Design Mom. Gabrielle is a rockstar in the blogging world and a mother of six (!!!!!!). She also recently published a lovely book called Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide. It has tons of wonderful ideas and strategies for keeping a house kid-friendly while still being beautiful and functional.

Back in 2011, she published Nolan’s birth story, and last week, Will’s made its debut! Will’s birth took a completely different route than Nolan’s did, and you can read all about it here.

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Caught Red Handed

Preschoolers produce a lot of “art.” Nolan comes home with at least three or four projects a week, not to mention the doodling, drawing, and writing (I use that term loosely) he does at home.

We display items that are seasonal or especially cute up on the mantle, and put some away in a bin in his room. But a lot of it…goes away. I’ll leave it out on the dining room table for a few days or a week, and if he doesn’t seem to be especially attached to it, in the garbage it goes.

In my hasty cleaning up on Wednesday, I put a project in the garbage and thought to myself, hmmmm, I should probably hide that a little better in there, but then I forgot about it and went about my day.

Shortly after Nolan got home from school he went to the garbage to throw away his yogurt container, and I heard him gasp, “Oh no!!!”

PANIC. I immediately knew he saw his art in the garbage and my mind started racing, Oh my god he sees his art and now he knows I threw it away and he is going to be so sad I did that and who has the number for a good child psychologist who takes my insurance?

He looked up from the garbage and said, “My beautiful project fell in the garbage!”

Huge sigh of relief. Yes, sweet little one, it fell. It absolutely was not purposely put in there. What evil mother would do that? Not this one!

I plucked it out of the trash and answered, “Wow! How did that happen? Oh! There’s some tape on the back and it must have stuck to some garbage I was throwing away. Good thing you saw it!”

Lesson learned: bury the evidence!

Kite

What to do with breasts. Specifically chicken ones.

We eat a lot of chicken in our house. For a while, I almost always bought skin-on split chicken breasts because they’re easy to roast and use in a lot of different dishes. They are also pretty much the only chicken parts that Ina Garten’s recipes ever call for, and we know how I feel about her. (Side note: if you like Ina Garten, you need to Google Ina Garten memes – so funny)

I used to avoid buying boneless, skinless breasts unless I was making chicken cutlets. I never knew how to cook them without them being dry and boring. However, in my efforts to save a few bucks, I’ve been buying big packs of them, so I had to find some tasty ways to use them. Good news…I found some!

Caprese Chicken – I found this one on Pinterest and I love it because it has a ton of flavor and requires very little prep or chopping. I shave two or three minutes off the cooking time on the chicken and use regular mozzarella instead of buffalo because I’m strange and don’t like buffalo mozzarella.

On a whim, I bought this Balsamic Reduction glaze and it’s so good. The caprese chicken is perfectly delicious with regular balsamic vinegar, but when you can drizzle this sweet syrup on it, why wouldn’t you??

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One-Pan Chicken Burrito Bowl – Here’s another one I found on Pinterest. I loved it so much that I think I made it three times in the month after I found it. As the title indicates, you only use one pan, which makes clean up easy IF you don’t use heat that’s too high. The second time I made this I guess I left it simmering a bit too high and there was a whole layer of cooked rice stuck to the bottom of the pan. Ugh.

The other change I make to this recipe is that I swap out the can of diced tomatoes for a jar (or really three quarters of a jar) of salsa. It adds some extra flavors and with the huge variety of salsas on the market, you can really customize the recipe based on your taste.

Chicken Chili – This one comes from Dinner: A Love Story (a great place for solid recipes) and it’s another fast and easy one. When I read through the recipe for the first time, I saw four tablespoons of chili powder and thought, “whoa! That’s a lot of heat.” I like a little spice but not too much. To be safe I used two tablespoons and I thought that was plenty of heat.

I had serendipitously just bought Whole Foods Organic Fire Roasted Corn and it was PERFECT in this recipe. Obviously regular frozen corn is fine too, but the flavor from charred corn was delicious and added zero extra work. If you don’t have a Whole Foods nearby, I’m pretty sure Trader Joe’s carries a similar product.

5 Ingredient White Chicken Chili – yet another Pinterest find! It’s really more of a soup than a chili and it’s so fast and easy that I felt guilty just pouring everything in the pot and saying, “Ok, I made dinner!” The secret to this recipe is salsa verde. If you’ve never had it, it’s a very mild salsa and it’s delicious.

The base of the soup is only the salsa verde, chicken, chicken stock, cumin, and Great Northern Beans but then you can add so many delicious toppings at the end. I like cilantro, avocado, sour cream, cheddar, and broken up tortilla chips.

Do you have any go-to recipes for chicken breasts?

Get cooking!

Corners of Shame

We moved in to our new house last October after doing extensive renovations. While I love our home and it has come a LONG way from where it was when we bought it, there are still some major projects that will need to be tackled down the road (like when we have money). There are also some small projects that I hope to accomplish in the next weeks and months, including planting some herbs and vegetables, putting together flower boxes for the front windows, doing something with our fireplace, and fixing up our corners of shame.

I call them corners of shame because they are two corners of our home, right out in the open, that are messy eyesores and not functional. Or in some ways, maybe they’re too functional.

Today I’ll address the living room corner. I could definitely use some ideas and help! The focal wall of our living area has a fireplace with three to four feet of space on either side.  Our television is mounted above it and a sound bar sits on the mantle (not my choice). To the right of the fireplace is my first corner of shame. Behold:

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IMG_4807It took a lot of willpower not to clean it up before posting pictures, but hey, this is what it looks like on any given day so I’m being honest. Let’s review what’s housed here.

  • Baxter’s crate that he goes in when we aren’t home
  • Mason jar of dog treats (because doesn’t everyone have that?)
  • Wine fridge
  • Cable box
  • Modem
  • Telephone
  • Subwoofer for the sound bar
  • Router
  • That yellow and brown piece of “art” is a tree from The Lorax that Nolan made
  • Random dirty white balloon that we use to play the occasional game of balloon volleyball
  • Behind the crate are white plastic hockey boards in need of repair for Nolan’s hockey game

I stare at this corner for much of the day and it pains me. With few exceptions, we need all these things and we need them there. But what the area has become is just a tower of ugly. In an ideal world, I want a cabinet-type piece of furniture to house the wine fridge and all our electronic mumbo jumbo; however, we still need the remote controls to work on the cable box. The fridge needs to “breathe” so the cabinet has to have some sort of open back.

There are tons of armoire-type pieces on the market, but ideally I want something no taller than the mantle, which is about four and a half feet high. I also haven’t forgotten that any piece of furniture will require a new home for Baxter’s crate, and there aren’t a lot of options.

So readers, any ideas? Help!