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Annoying parenting advice May 16, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in personal, societal commentary, younger son.
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A couple days ago, for some odd reason, I came across a LOT of parenting advice online.  The funny thing was, so much of it was contradictory.  Half of it was, “pay attention to your kids and have rules and structure,” and the other half was, “Let your kids make mistakes and learn from them.”

I have to laugh because I think the approach you use as a parent is probably somewhere between these two extremes…or maybe sometimes one extreme is appropriate and, at other times, you want to swing to the other extreme.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ style of parenting: our parenting has to be as unique as our kids and, as the adult, we need to be the ones who adapt to the situation.

Let’s take an example: my younger son was a climber.  Within about a week of learning to walk, he was climbing.  At 13 months, the kid could kick my ass at climbing anything, due in part to the fact that he hadn’t developed a healthy fear of heights, and I have an overdeveloped one.  I’m seriously in awe of his climbing skills, especially now that he’s gotten into a bit of rock climbing.  How much climbing I let him do when he was younger depended on where he was doing it.  If he was climbing on my exercise bike to sit down, I didn’t worry about it.  However, sometimes he liked to stand up and try climbing the handle bars.  In that situation, I would hover so that I could catch him if he fell, and if he got too high and/or unstable, I’d take him off and say he’d gone past his limit.  If he was climbing a very low rock wall at the local shopping mall with big pads underneath to cushion any falls, I’d sit back and do some reading.  If he was climbing the 8-foot wall and the playground surrounded by pea gravel, you better believe I was standing there so that I could catch him if he did lose his grip (which never happened, though there was once a bad incident with a trampoline).

Another thing I learned was to try to mute my own reactions to situations and watch the kids reactions when they got hurt.  I basically would ask if they were okay and then let them tell me how they felt about it.  Sometimes they would get up and dust themselves off while other times they would grab on to me and start sobbing.  If they were crying, I let them cry.  Maybe they weren’t physically hurt, but they will cry if they get very scared as a reaction to something bad happening, just like most adults do.  It’s perfectly okay for a kid to cry and ask a parent for reassurance in that situation: emotional hurts are just as real as physical ones.  Of course, you also need to get them to learn to talk, even if they are upset, and explain what’s wrong.  (If the event was particularly stressful, after things were done, I would need to take break and have a good cry myself just to get it out of my system.  Sometimes parents do it, too.)

I don’t believe in letting kids do things completely independently so that they can “learn from their mistakes.”  Sometimes kids DON’T learn from their mistakes, or the path they choose ends up resulting in just as bad an outcome.  I do think it’s reasonable to let them fail, though, and then let them know that if they’d like some ideas on how to handle it better, you’re always there for advice.  People in general are good at realizing they’ve made a mistake but they’re not always so good at figuring how to do better next time, and I think it’s unrealistic to expect kids to figure it out without a little guidance from people with a bit more life experience.  (Of course, they have to be open to hearing about that experience.)

The gist of this is that you have to do what works for you and your kid and there’s no “right way” to parent.  One tactic that works one time may not work another, and you’ve got to learn how much space to give your kids.  It’s a balancing act that takes practice, and you’re going to make mistakes yourself.  Any article that tells you that they’ve discovered the best way to deal with their kids is taking all the nuance out of parenting.

Older son, dream interpreter… April 28, 2016

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The older kid has strange dreams which he tells me about often.  I, on the other hand, usually don’t get enough sleep to remember my dreams, but I did this morning and decided to tell him about it.  Mostly, I was curious if it would weird him out.

In my dream, Jon Snow (from Game of Thrones) was walking around my yard with a metal detector.  I thought it was strange but he wasn’t hurting anyone, so I went to bed without calling the police.  However, I woke up the next morning and discovered he’d tried to break into the house.  I could tell this because the door knob, which was some sort of strange Buddha statue thing, had been chipped at with a chisel.

I told the older son that I was sure there was some deep inner meaning, but I wasn’t sure what it was.  Maybe my recent spate of bird watching had gone from watching grackles hunting for food in the yard to a ‘crow’ looking for treasure?

“I know,” he replied. “Watching too much Game of Thrones will chip away at your inner peace.”

I’m going to go with that.  Maybe it’s a good thing I have to wait a week between episodes.

Conversations with the kid February 25, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in physics, science, Uncategorized, younger son.
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Younger son: “I don’t care if Tesla was smarter than you, I still love you.”

Me: “But he was only just a bit smarter, right?”

Younger son: “Nope.  He was a lot smarter.  You just do physics.”

Me: “I also do electrical engineering.”

Younger son: “Oh.”  *wanders off to kitchen*

Thanks for the vote of confidence, kid.

Meet the old math, same as the new math January 22, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, younger son.
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The younger son is beginning adventures in algebra, and I had a hard decision to make.  He’d been using computer-based programs to learn math, but Mike and I decided we didn’t want to go that route any longer.  I had spent a lot of time looking into curriculum with the older son, so I already had a textbook available (Jacob’s Elementary Algebra), and it’s one that has received excellent reviews.

It’s also 37 years old.  Apparently there’s a newer edition, but that’s not the one I bought.

I had one concern with using this book.  A lot of the standards surrounding math curriculum have changed and become standardized.  There are a lot of texts available that have been evaluated and measure up to those standards.  I was worried that by going with an older book, I was going to shortchange the younger son in his education.  (I think that’s something almost every homeschool parent worries about.)  The problem with a lot of the modern curricula, though, is that  I really don’t like it.  While I think the sciences generally benefit from taking a problem-solving approach, I’m not so sure that’s the best way to do it with math.  Sure, I think there are ways to teach it more effectively, especially in terms of using active learning strategies and hands-on learning.  Reasoning is important, but so is process, and kids need to come out of the classroom very fluent in process and computation.  I’m one of those old-fashioned types that thinks you’re better off giving your kids a multiplication table than a calculator.

I had issues with one curriculum that was being used locally, for instance, because it taught division as repeated subtraction without teaching long division.  It also taught matrix math and repeated sums without teaching the standard multiplication schemes.  For those who are familiar with all the controversy over curricula and math standards, I’m sure this is old hat.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find that this 37 year old book assumes that the student knows long division and standard multiplication.  However, in the first chapter (which is review), it introduced both matrix multiplication and repeated division as alternative methods.  Repeated division was done side by side with long division as a way to show how long division works.  However, it was not suggested as a good way to do division but to augment student understanding of long division.  Matrix multiplication was proffered as a bonus problem, but I made sure younger son understood how to do it.  I found with the older son that he was less likely to stumble on multiplication problems if he used the matrix method but would have a hard time keeping things straight with the standard method.  It’s a good tool to have in your toolbox, and I have even pulled it out when I had to do a fairly large problem by hand despite only having learned it about 10 years ago.

This left me feeling like this book was going to work just fine.  In fact, I’m rather disappointed that I didn’t get to use this book in high school.  (It was already out of print, sadly.)  Apparently, though, Amazon reviewers, internet philosophers, and other homeschooling parents really do know what they’re talking about.  Feynman may even have approved.

Adventures in high school classes January 5, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, science, Uncategorized, younger son.
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The younger son was very adamant that he wanted to take high school biology this year.  He wasn’t in my face about it, but whenever the question was put to him about whether he was sure he wanted to do that, he was pretty firm.

My approach to dealing with this, after seeing he was sure was, “What the hell?!”  Worst case scenario is that he fails and has to retake it in four years with his age mates.

The first couple assignments were great.  However, when he hit the second unit of the class, I started having second thoughts. It wasn’t going well.  And would failing a class leave a long term scar on his academic record?

He was worried, too, but he started asking me how he could improve things.  I noted that he started saying he needed to “study harder,” but when I asked him what he meant, he wasn’t sure.  I started giving him specific suggestions and pointers and told him that doing those things is what “study harder” meant.

I learned a few things from this experience.  First, younger son didn’t know how to study when he started this class.  To anyone who has ever dealt with a bright kid, you’ll identify this as a common problem.  It’s hard for kids to learn how to study when the subject matter they’re tackling is relatively easy and doesn’t require the type of effort that a seriously challenging class does…or any other life obstacle.  I think we’re all convinced this was a good experience in that regard.  Second, I’m probably more worried about his grades than I thought, but I think I’m managing not to be a helicopter parent.  There were some assignments he submitted that he didn’t ask me to review.  Some came back with really good grades and some didn’t, but I really wanted this to be his own work.  Honestly, it’s a bit more stressful to be hands off than I thought.  I keep reminding myself that I should be celebrating a good effort instead of relatively effortless higher grade (that probably indicates he wasn’t seeing anything new).

To all of our surprise, he pulled his grade up to a B- for the first semester.  This guarantees he won’t be a straight A student in high school, but I personally think he got a lot more out of it now than if he’d taken it when he was supposed to.

Fun conversations with younger son December 16, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, science, younger son.
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Part of the fun of hanging out with my offspring for part of the day is the entertaining conversations we get to have.  When he was younger, he had some awfully adorable misconceptions that resulted in a lot of fun.  Now that he’s older, his discussions have become more sophisticated.

Younger son: “Mom, have you ever wondered how Thor’s hammer generates lightning?”

Me: “Not really.”

Younger son: “It’s Asgaardian science!”

Me: “I bet they took a giant tesla coil and shrunk it down to fit into Mjolnir.”

Younger son: “But can Tesla coils create thunder clouds?”

Me: “I don’t think so.”

Younger son: “Oh.  I suppose that’s just for dramatic effect.”

Me: “Maybe the hammer has some kind of weather control device?”

Younger son: “I bet it has something to generate static.  That’ll attract particles and cause condensation in the air.”

Me: “That might work.  It’s amazing how the Asgaard figured out how to shrink all that stuff down into a hammer, isn’t it?”

I think we need to work on doing a Mjolnir prototype for a science fair project.

World’s Worst Officemate November 23, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, gifted, homeschooling, research, science, younger son.
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I have been working at home, trying to finish up this PhD thing once and for all.  Earlier this year, the place I worked was shut down and so I figured that if I had any desire to stay in academia (which I do), the PhD thing is kind of a necessary evil.

Because of the job situation, however, I also ended up with a new officemate: my younger son.  It was actually a combination of factors: private school is expensive, middle school is a cesspool of derision and contempt (and therefore not the best place to develop social skills), and, finally, the younger son really wanted to take high school biology and no one would let him.  Except me, being the overindulgent parent I am.

I have to admit that he’s been a bit easier to deal with than his older sibling.  It’s amazing how much easier this education thing is when you’re not dealing with ADHD.  The younger son is amazingly self-sufficient and does a good job of keeping a schedule.

I have, however, discovered one major flaw in this plan.  I had no idea how much middle schoolers talked.  Mostly, he gets excited about the things he’s learning in his class, which really tickles me.  However, he wants to share everything with me.  Every. Thing.  I have learned more about genes and cell processes and reproduction in the past two months than I probably did during my own high school biology class.  I have learned about social and mental and physical health.  I am beginning to speak Spanish with a level of proficiency that has not been present since my teens.  And mostly, I see him being happy and excited about learning again.

Unfortunately, he’s not quite so receptive when I begin to talk about coding and arrays and debugging and compiler issues and, especially, writing.  I have begun, as of late, to tell him that while I’m glad he’s learning, I really need him to let me focus on my work, too.  Someday, if he has to share an office with someone, this will be good real life practice for not making them insane.  At least he’s not asking to go out every ten minutes, like the dogs.

How fast does an (unladen Blue) Angel fly? July 26, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in Fargo, math, younger son.
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IMG_5600

This weekend, the Blue Angels were in town to perform at the Fargo AirSho.  While we were watching them today, I made some comment about how amazing it is that they can keep such perfect formation despite the high speeds.  The younger son asked how fast they fly, and I responded that they could go up to a few hundred miles per hour.  He came back with:

I bet they’re flying at a trillion nanometers per second.

I honestly had no idea since that required not only a conversion to more reasonable units for such a measurement as well as the fact that we’d have to hop between metric and English units.

I decided to check it out, and it turns out he wasn’t far off.  The Blue Angels use the F/A-18 Hornet, which wikipedia gives a top speed of Mach 1.8 or 1,190 miles per hour.  The equivalent speed in nanometers/second is 531,977,600,000.  In other words, it’s half a trillion nanometers per second, so the younger son was only off by a factor of two when they’re traveling at top speed (which they obviously weren’t).

That’s a wee bit faster than an unladen European Swallow, which has an airspeed velocity of about 11,176,000,000 nm/s (based on Wolfram Alpha’s estimate of 25 mph).  I’m sure you were just dying to know that.

Friday Fun: Things you can microwave July 17, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in Friday Fun, homeschooling, science, younger son.
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Most people are familiar with the concept of microwaving a grape to make an arc.  If not, the procedure is very simple: cut a grape in half but leave just a small bit of skin to connect to the two halves.  Put the grape on a plate in the microwave, turn it on, and watch the sparks fly.  (As a side note, I’ve been able to replicate this on a smaller scale when microwaving green beans.)  This video explains it fairly clearly:

This week, we discovered another fun microwaving activity: soap.  I can’t be just any soap: it specifically has to be Ivory soap.  Apparently it gets hot and the gas bubbles expand causing it to create a hot foam which grows fairly quickly.  You can’t do it with other soaps, however, because they’re too hard and will explode.

We used a whole bar of soap with our experiment, but the younger son told us later that the demo he saw only used a smaller chunk.  Be careful after you pull it out of the microwave: it’s hot!  Also, once it’s cooled, you can use the soap, although it may be more useful to stick it into a soap sleeve than try to use it directly.

It looked like this when we were finished:

Ivory soap that has just been microwaved.

Ivory soap that has just been microwaved.

 

To see the whole process, the video is here.

 

Scientific Status Quo July 12, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, family, feminism, research, societal commentary, work.
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A couple days ago, @katiesci posted this opinion piece from Science by Eleftherios Diamandis on getting noticed.  I was rather frustrated with the article because the way to get noticed was apparently to put in a lot of face time (which is probably decent advice) and to publish like crazy (also not bad advice), even if it means you have to work unrealistic schedules and foist all of your childcare duties onto your spouse.

It was this last part that got under my skin because it’s so much a recapitulation of the status quo: you can’t do anything else and be a scientist, forget balance if you want an academic career.

I have to admit I jumped to a pretty lousy conclusion when I read the following:

I worked 16 to 17 hours a day, not just to make progress on the technology but also to publish our results in high-impact journals. How did I manage it? My wife—also a Ph.D. scientist—worked far less than I did; she took on the bulk of the domestic responsibilities. Our children spent many Saturdays and some Sundays playing in the company lobby. We made lunch in the break room microwave.

I can’t presume to know the dynamic between the author and his wife, and it may be that she was perfectly happy with this arrangement.  Academic couples tend to understand better than others how frustrating this career path can be, and I know there were several occasions where either my husband or myself was bringing the other dinner/microwaving in the lobby or lunch room to help ease the stress of deadlines along with an empty stomach.

But what about the people for whom this is not an option?  Most of the people I know get very upset if their spouse is putting in more than 60 hours per week.  Are they just supposed to give up?  What about people who are physically unable to work those types of hours?  Even if you are physically capable, it’s bad for you in the long run and turns out to be rather useless.

If anything, this just reinforced that to make it in science, you don’t have to do good science, you just have to be willing to give up any semblance of a family life and turn into a squeaky wheel.  I’m not sure what the author intended to convey, but reading this piece was rather disheartening.

Instead, I’d rather have heard about how the author’s wife did it: how is it she was able to work less hours than him, raise their kids, and still manage to have an apparently successful career?  At least, that’s the implication at the end of the piece.  To me, it sounds like she was able to handle a very unbalanced load successfully, and unless it’s, “don’t sleep,” I would think she may have some advice worth sharing with the rest of us mere mortals.  If you happen to be from Science magazine, could you please let her know?

 

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