A good dog saves the day!

After spending a little time at our local animal shelter yesterday with a good friend, I was thinking about how good dogs are for our lives. Here’s a good dog story I wrote last year:

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The kids celebrating a birthday with our good dog Natasha.

 

I read a heartwarming story Sunday morning about a missing three-year-old girl who wandered away from home–and yes, it has a happy ending. The location was Australia and when you think of how many missing children stories end badly, this was a relief—thanks to a loyal old blue heeler named Max.

In “Loyal blue heeler stays with three-year-old lost in bush overnight” by Gail Burke and Matt Eaton, they describe how the little girl Aurora wandered away, spent the night in the cold and rain in treacherous terrain, but had Max by her side:

“An old blue heeler named Max remained by the side of a three-year-old girl and led searchers to her after she spent more than 15 hours lost in rugged bushland on Queensland’s Southern Downs overnight.

Aurora was reported missing about 3:00pm on Friday after she wandered off on her own, but a search of woodlands and hills on the rural property in wet weather on Friday night found no trace of her.

On Saturday morning, more than 100 State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers, police and members of the public resumed the search and found the girl safe and well with Max the dog at 8:00am.

For his good work in keeping the little girl safe, Max has now been declared an honorary police dog.

Kelly Benston, the partner of Leisa Bennett, who is Aurora’s grandmother, said Ms Bennett and other searchers heard the little girl faintly from the top of a mountain on Saturday morning.

“She found the dog first. Max led her to Aurora,” Mr Benston said.

“Max is 17 years old, deaf and partially blind.”

SES area controller Ian Phipps confirmed a family member spotted Aurora and Max about two kilometres from the house, still on the family property at Cherry Gulley, 30 kilometres south of Warwick.

“The area around the house is quite mountainous and is very inhospitable terrain to go walking in, so she’d travelled quite a distance with her dog that was quite loyal to her,” he said.

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 11.16.36 AMI didn’t know what a blue heeler was, so I looked it up and found a description on Dogster.com:

“Blue Heeler History
Mixing native Dingoes with Collies and other herding dogs, Australian George Elliott developed the Blue Heeler in 1840. Australian cattlemen and ranchers loved the breed’s toughness and work ethic, and the dogs quickly became popular as cattle herders. They are also called Australian Heelers, Queensland Heelers and Australian Cattle Dogs.”

I enjoy a good dog story. Dogs are amazing. I told my husband about Max and Aurora and he said, “See I told you we didn’t need to worry about Robert when he was with Natasha!” Natasha was our first dog, a Rottie.

It was May 1996, when our three-year-old son wandered away from home. I had taken “the baby”—which was what I called our four-month-old daughter–with me to help set up a database and create a roster for a charity I was involved with. Of course, one hour turned into several, and when I returned home, well something was wrong. My husband was supposed to be in charge of our son.

First, our garage door was wide open as was the archway gate to our backyard. The kitchen door was open, the French doors to the backyard were open, too.

I had “the baby” in an over-the-shoulder-baby-holder as I walked into the house wondering what was going on. My husband was in his chair, remote control in hand. I asked, “Where’s Robert?” I went from the living room to his bedroom. No Robert. Into the baby’s room, guest room, our bedroom. A sense of panic was rising from deep down in my stomach to my throat. Pretty soon I think I was screaming for him.

I spotted a pile of his clothes by the pool—by the open gate to the pool. With dread, I searched the bottom of the pool with my eyes. With relief, there was nothing but few small wet footprints on the patio next to his clothes.

We ran out into the street yelling and calling for our son. My husband found him across the street and empty lot on Indian Canyon, walking the dog, stark naked.

My husband said at the time, and reminded me today, “You see, he was safe because he had a Rottweiler with him. Nobody was going to touch him.”

“I just sat down for a minute,” is the other thing my husband said. Right. Just long enough for our son to open up doors, gates, get undressed and go for a swim and walk the dog a block away—naked!

At least we had a good ending to another child wandering away from home story–thanks to a good dog.

 

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My kids with Natasha. She was a good dog.

Have your kids ever wandered away? Do you have any good dog stories to share?

 

 

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Crossing the line from helping to hurting your kids: from helicopter to snowplow

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My kids making good use of their super powers.

Everyone I talked to was shocked about the parents who paid bribes to get their kids into college. It made me unbelievably angry–and a lot of my friends, too. What kind of person would do that?

A lot of us are helicopter parents, yet we’d never dream of going that far. The ‘paying to get your kids into a good school’ is a matter of degree of helicoptering or snowplowing. If you’re a mom who wouldn’t let your kids fail before college and were running to school with forgotten homework then it’s a matter of crossing a line — albeit one that is unethical and illegal — to bribing a college coach to let your kid get admission to the school. (Yes, I was the parent driving homework to school, including my son’s senior year of high school!)

In a New York Times article called “How parents are robbing their children of adulthood” by Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich, they talk a lot about “Today’s ‘snowplow parents’ who keep their children’s futures obstacle-free — even when it means crossing ethical and legal boundaries.”

Here’s an except:

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.

Taken to its criminal extreme, that means bribing SAT proctors and paying off college coaches to get children in to elite colleges — and then going to great lengths to make sure they never face the humiliation of knowing how they got there.

Those are among the allegations in the recent college bribery scandal, in which 50 people were charged in a wide-ranging fraud to secure students admissions to colleges. According to the investigation, one parent lied about his son playing water polo, but then worried that the child would be perceived by his peers as “a bench warmer side door person.” (He was assured that his son wouldn’t have to actually be on the team.) Another, the charges said, paid someone to take the ACT for her son — and then pretended to proctor it for him herself, at home, so he would think he was the test-taker.

The parents charged in this investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, are far outside the norm. But they were acting as the ultimate snowplows: clearing the way for their children to get in to college, while shielding them from any of the difficulty, risk and potential disappointment of the process.

In its less outrageous — and wholly legal — form, snowplowing (also known as lawn-mowing and bulldozing) has become the most brazen mode of parenting of the privileged children in the everyone-gets-a-trophy generation.

It starts early, when parents get on wait lists for elite preschools before their babies are born and try to make sure their toddlers are never compelled to do anything that may frustrate them. It gets more intense when school starts: running a forgotten assignment to school or calling a coach to request that their child make the team.

Later, it’s writing them an excuse if they procrastinate on schoolwork, paying a college counselor thousands of dollars to perfect their applications or calling their professors to argue about a grade.

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The pre-school, elementary school years.

The article goes on to discuss how the recent college cheating scandal shows how current parenting practices have gone off the deep end:

The bribery scandal has “just highlighted an incredibly dark side of what has become normative, which is making sure that your kid has the best, is exposed to the best, has every advantage — without understanding how disabling that can be,” said Madeline Levine, a psychologist and the author of “Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or ‘Fat Envelopes.’”

“They’ve cleared everything out of their kids’ way,” she said.

In her practice, Dr. Levine said, she regularly sees college freshmen who “have had to come home from Emory or Brown because they don’t have the minimal kinds of adult skills that one needs to be in college.”

One came home because there was a rat in the dorm room. Some didn’t like their roommates. Others said it was too much work, and they had never learned independent study skills. One didn’t like to eat food with sauce. Her whole life, her parents had helped her avoid sauce, calling friends before going to their houses for dinner. At college, she didn’t know how to cope with the cafeteria options — covered in sauce.

Speaking of having adult skills, I’ve written about the “Things Kids Need to Know Before College” here and for SwimSwam here. I’ve lived through the consequences of doing too much for my kids and not letting them fail. That’s why I write about it. I hope to save other parents from the same mistakes I made!

Here’s how the NY Times articles puts it:

If children have never faced an obstacle, what happens when they get into the real world?

They flounder, said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford and the author of “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.”

At Stanford, she said, she saw students rely on their parents to set up play dates with people in their dorm or complain to their child’s employers when an internship didn’t lead to a job. The root cause, she said, was parents who had never let their children make mistakes or face challenges.

Snowplow parents have it backward, Ms. Lythcott-Haims said: “The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid.”

Learning to solve problems, take risks and overcome frustration are crucial life skills, many child development experts say, and if parents don’t let their children encounter failure, the children don’t acquire them. When a 3-year-old drops a dish and breaks it, she’s probably going to try not to drop it the next time. When a 20-year-old sleeps through a test, he’s probably not going to forget to set his alarm again.

Snowplowing has gone so far, they say, that many young people are in crisis, lacking these problem-solving skills and experiencing record rates of anxiety. There are now classes to teach children to practice failing, at college campuses around the country and even for preschoolers.

katrob 1What are your thoughts about the new level of snowplow parenting? If you’re a  millennial, did you experience helicopter or snowplow parents? How did it help you on your journey into college and adulthood?

Missing My Angus and Birthday Boy


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It’s my son’s birthday is in less than two weeks. I wrote this story a few years ago when he was still in college and Spring Break aligned with his birthday. It was always a treat that he could be home and we’d all celebrate. This year, I’m going to visit him in the Bay area and celebrate his birthday with him there.

I can’t help but get sentimental and nostalgic for when he was a young boy. He called me “sweetheart” because he thought it was my name. When we went to “Mommy and Me” at the Palm Springs Pavilion, there was a “good-bye” song at the end of each session. When his name was called, he’d toddle to the teacher and plant a kiss on her cheek. He was so sweet. Still is.

robert 1In honor of his birthday, I’m reposting a story I wrote when he invited 50 kids to his second grade party. Originally published in the Los Angeles Times Kids’ Reading Room, it’s about Angus our yellow lab of 15 years, who shared my son’s birthday.

A Birthday for the Dogs

“MOM, I’m inviting 50 kids to my party.”

“What, Robert?” Mom said. “That’s too many. Do you know 50 kids?”

I sat in the back seat while Mom drove home after school. My eighth birthday was in two weeks. 

“There’s my class, plus Cub Scouts, and playgroup.”

“I can’t afford to take 50 kids skating or bowling. And I don’t want 50 kids in my house. What about the city pool? It’s heated, open year-round, and it’s only 50¢ a kid,” Mom said.

“A swim party, that’s cool!” I said.

“I’ll say yes to the party, but no to presents. Fifty presents is too much for one 8-year-old. It’s decadent.”

“What’s decadent?” I asked. Mom used words I didn’t know.

“Self-indulgent, corrupt.”

I sat silently and thought I’d be sad with no presents. Then I remembered Angus. Mom got him for me as an early birthday present. We were on a waiting list for two years with Guide Dogs of the Desert. He was being trained as a companion dog for people who couldn’t see. We got him because he had poor hips and couldn’t be a working dog. Angus was big, yellow, and I loved him. We shared the same birthday.

“I have a great idea!”

“What?” Mom asked, glancing at me in her rearview mirror.

“I’ll ask for money for Guide Dogs of the Desert.”

“Ah?” Mom made a weird swallowing noise.

“It’s Angus’s birthday, too.”

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In the rearview mirror I watched Mom dab at the corner of her eyes with a tissue, and nod her head in agreement.

Two weeks later, I had a great birthday. Fifty kids came with bathing suits, towels and money. Instead of opening presents after cake, we counted dollars they had stuffed into a large jar decorated with photos of Angus. 

Together, we raised more than $1,600 for Guide Dogs. Mom called me a “philanthropist” – whatever that is.

Angus8Happy birthday, son! We miss you, Angus!

When should kids specialize in sports?

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It takes grit to become an elite-level athlete. Not every athlete has it. And it can’t be developed without internal motivation.

Both of my kids began swimming when they were young. My daughter began swimming with a year-round team at five, while my son began swimming at age eight. (He’s three years older).

They did do other activities for a few years before they decided to specialize. And that is the key: they decided. My son was running between t-ball, tennis, karate and swimming and felt like he wasn’t making progress in any of them. He got the swimming bug and wanted to compete. So, we dropped the other sports.

My daughter was being shuttled between the ballet studio and the pool. She honestly thought that ballet was some weird form of punishment — especially putting on pink tights and a black leotard in the 110 degree heat — while her brother got to dive into the pool and have fun!

Eventually, the ballet teacher pulled me aside and said, “I know she can do this. But she chooses not to. She stands and does nothing at the barres.” As much as I wanted my daughter to love ballet as much as I do, I realized we’d both be better off letting her pursue what she had a passion for — namely swimming.

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I listened to a podcast by Ritter Sports Performance on early sports specialization and the main thing I took away was that an athlete has to be internally motivated. They can’t be putting in the hours and training to please their parents or their coach.  If they have the passion and are hardwired to compete at their sport, then they will reach the elite level regardless when they start.

In swimming, two examples are Rowdy Gaines and Ed Moses, who both started late in high school. They did a lot of other sports before they found the pool. Once they started swimming they excelled and loved it.

(photo: my kids on the swim team many years ago)

So, why do we insist on sports specialization a young age? It’s because some sports like swimming or gymnastics take a lot of time to develop technique. Parents naturally want their kids to have a head start.

Then there’s the 10,000 rule from Outliers: The Story of Success that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be good at something.  But, an interesting theory is that it’s not the quantity, but the quality of practice. Our kids can’t be looking at the clock waiting for practice to be over. They have to be in the moment giving it their all.

There are certain guidelines that kids should do a lot of different activities before they specialize, but that by the time they turn 12 or 13 years old they need to focus on one sport.

I say, follow your kids’ lead. They will know what sport ignites their passion. By allowing them to follow their passion, they can develop the grit it takes to be successful.

What sports are your children in and at what age did they specialize in a single sport?

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Ten Things Kids Need to Know–Before College

After my son left for college, I realized that I was negligent preparing him for life. Yes, he had good grades. Yes, he had the right “stuff.” But he was seriously lacking on a few life skills. I spent time teaching my daughter the basics before it was her turn to leave. She was better prepared for the daily tasks–although that doesn’t necessarily mean life won’t throw you some bumps in the road.

 

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My son giving his high school graduation speech.

“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.

Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.

Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.

What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.  

All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.imgres-1

Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?

I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.

But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.

  1. Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
  2. Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic! imgres-5
  3. Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice. 
  4. Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.imgres-6
  5. How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?”  Hmmm. Good question.
  6. Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
  7. Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type. 
  8. Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!images-2
  9. Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
  10. Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.
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My daughter with Waffles.

What other essential life skills would you add to the list?

 

Helicopter Parents: Hover a Few Feet Higher

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My kiddos jumping in the waves in Laguna Bach, CA.

I received a question from a swim mom the other day about families that team hop. “Why do they often want to destroy the team they left behind?” she wondered. This mom said that if her own family were to make a decision about leaving, they’d do it and not look back. Their decision would be their own and they wouldn’t need to tear down the team or coach. I wrote about that question in an “Ask Swim Mom” story. You can read it here.

I received a text from a swim and dance mom friend who read the story and whose daughter went to college with mine. She said it’s easier for us to see a better way to handle things because our girls are no longer involved. “For these people it’s still very personal and real.”

That’s it. It’s all so personal when your kids are young and you’re involved. I regret many things I did–not only as a swim mom–but as a school parent, too. Every day I didn’t need to put on armor and fight each battle. Some things could have been left alone. I really felt the need to solve each issue, from a parent not fulfilling volunteer commitments on the swim team, to a teacher who wasn’t great at teaching. I wish I would have known that “this too shall pass.” I barely remember what caused me such inner turmoil in younger years with my kids.

Relax, stand back, and enjoy each memory you’re creating with your family. If we could convince newer parents to take a step back and not hover quite so closely, they might be able to enjoy parenting even more. I think it’s okay to helicopter parent, just do it from a higher altitude so you can see the big picture.

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What regrets do you have as a parent or in life? What would you do over if you had a second chance?

There is a college for everyone

I wrote this article a few years ago and I think it still resonates today. If you’re a swim parent, your kids can swim in college and it will add to their experience most definitely.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine a few years ago.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine a few years ago.

I read an interesting article today on my favorite website, SwimSwam.  It was written by a college swimmer encouraging high school swimmers to swim in college. It’s very inspirational you can read it here. His story reminded me of my own kids. I wish he was a few years older and could have talked to my son, who also thought he wasn’t fast enough to swim in college.

My son, who is now in is fourth year at college, refused to talk to any swim coaches while we were looking at schools with him. We tried to encourage him, but he didn’t think he was good enough. Or, that he liked swimming enough.

In our opinion, as parents (what do we know anyway, right?) he had a beautiful stroke and he had always loved swimming. It seemed natural to us that he’d want to continue with his favorite sport. We also knew swimming could open doors for him. It couldn’t hurt for him to communicate with swim coaches at some of his dream colleges, right? We had looked at swim times and he would have fit in nicely at a lot of them. No, I’m not talking about Cal or Stanford, which he applied to, but are in the higher echelons of D1 swim teams. His other top schools that are very selective academically had men’s D2 or D3 teams.

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But, no. He did not listen to us. His senior year, he received rejection letters from all of his top schools. It’s really a numbers game and there are millions of talented, smart kids competing for those college spots from not only the USA, but from all over the world. 

He is enjoying the school he landed at. But, it was an adjustment at first. He wasn’t happy being there. He was all alone. Now, in his fourth year, he loves it. He’s swimming again, on his own at the student rec center. He missed swimming.

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In contrast, my daughter who’s a freshman, was recruited for swimming. What a difference her entire college decision process was. She loves her college team. The entire team knocked on her door with goodies for her, while we were moving her in. They had team activities during the first few weeks, like barbecues, and volunteering to hand out balloons at a football scrimmage. The team made sure that the freshman felt the love.

My son told me recently that he sat alone in his room watching Netflix, too shy to join in the freshman welcome activities.

Last July, he came with us to watch his little sister swim at a big meet. His eyes opened when he saw coaches from all across the country there recruiting. He saw some of his top school choices. It was like a light bulb went off.

He did what he wanted to do at the time, though. One thing about swimming or any sport — it has to come from your child. We may think we know best, but in reality it has to come from them.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

My kids a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.