How History Enters the Mind of a 13 Year Old Boy

This morning’s news celebrated the release of ten U.S. sailors held captive by Iran. So when my seventh grade son asked me if I remembered the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, when approximately 60 US citizens were held captive for 444 days, I was impressed.

He seems to teach himself things in a stream of consciousness approach to learning, his path twisting and turning randomly as bits of information catch his fancy. It’s a cool way to learn, even if it distracts from his homework.

“I do remember.”

“Well, do you remember that they broadcast the Super Bowl so the hostages got to watch it? I wonder how they did that.”

Of course! Football!

He actually had not yet read the news about the U.S. sailors. The question on this day was completely coincidental. As a football trivia junkie, his reading about the NFL connects him to a broader history. A few days ago, he wanted to know if Richard Nixon was a good President. I talked through his foreign policy skills, China and Watergate. The important fact, it turns out, was that he “was not a good play caller.”

In school, we often use the art or literature of an era as a way to help us understand the past. He uses sports. Reading about past Super Bowls, looking at old photos of athletes and teams and stadiums, and a close following of the NFL timeline all lead to non-football discoveries. He digs into what that event was, or if people liked that President, or why there were hostages, how long they were there, and what people like me remember.

And the next time the Super Bowl comes up with an unsuspecting friend, he will ask, “Did you know that during the Iran Hostage Crisis, they broadcast the Super Bowl so the hostages could watch? How cool is that?!”

 

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The Joy of Learning with Your Kids

Most of the time, as parents, we encourage our children to do things we already know how to do. We help them with homework we did ourselves many years ago. If we are baseball fans, we sign them up for a team and smile when they first put on their uniform. If we play the piano, we help them read the notes as they learn an instrument. If we are multilingual, they learn a second language at home. If we like to read, they read along with us.

Our kids also discover their own unique talents as they grow up.

Rarely, then, do we have the opportunity to learn something entirely new together. And it is a surprisingly amazing experience.

On a recent trip to the beach, my three boys and I all went snorkeling for the first time. So we got accustomed to breathing through the apparatus at the same time. We struggled a little with the flippers together. We simultaneously tried to empty our breathing tubes. We each wondered about what we might see and whether we would be brave enough to stay in the water with a shark or a stingray.

We got to test ourselves together.

We did not all learn at the same pace. We did not all last as long in the water. The five year old mastered it the fastest, but tired of the waves earlier than the rest of us. The ten year old proved to be a relentless underwater explorer. And mom did not get to see the octopus!

But we had a great time, which was cool to be both witness to and a part of.

So I thought I would put together a list of ways in which Denver parents and their children might learn something together this summer:

• Sign up for a novice knitting class at the Lamb Shoppe (http://www.thelambshoppe.com/)
• Learn to kayak together with avid4adventure, which runs half-day family programs (http://www.avid4.com/family-camps/denverfamilyadventures-html/)
• Discover your family’s artistic genes with some of the amazing family programs at the Denver Art Museum (http://www.denverartmuseum.org/see-do-dam/kids-families#studio)
• Build a website together
• Attend a free DIY workshop for families at your local Home Depot on the first Saturday of every month to learn building and craft skills
• Sign up for a family golf lesson
• Learn to fly fish together by participating in Angling University’s Kids & Parents courses (http://www.anglinguniversity.com)
• Conquer your fear of heights together by zip lining at the Colorado Adventure Center (http://www.zippingcolorado.com)
• Try a simulated skydive with the entire family at SkyVenture Colorado (http://www.skyventurecolorado.com)

There is an intense vulnerability that most people experience when they try something new. For parents, diving out of our comfort zone with our kids watching can be especially intimidating. “If they see that I am afraid to jump, will they be scared too?” “If they see how un-crafty I am, will think I am not as good a mom?” “How will I feel if they are better at it than me?”

From recent experience, it actually feels great. Not only was learning something new more fun because I absorbed their child-like enthusiasm, but I was also proud that they were venturing out of their comfort zones and pushing me to join them on an adventure.

Learning Universal Kindness from My Friends

A few weeks ago, two friends of mine were talking about how on the way home from a restaurant, they will often stop to give their doggie bag to someone begging for money. They even allow their young children to be the ones to hand the food to the person in need.

The conversation has bothered me since.

About a year ago, my son asked me why I never stop to give anyone anything. “They need it,” he said then. “His sign said anything helps!”

I told my friends how terrible that made me feel. I also told them what I said to my son.

I grew up in Washington, D.C., and in eighth grade, our school participated in a program to learn about the city. We were each assigned a topic, and though I do not recall them all, mine was housing. It was an eye-opening experience to learn about low-income housing and to explore parts of the city I had never seen. As we walked through D.C., one of the lessons of the city administrators and teachers was never to give money to someone begging for it. It wasn’t safe.

We also did community service. By the time I was done with high school, I had served food in soup kitchens, participated in numerous drives, performed scenes from “Annie Get Your Gun” in a retirement home, and volunteered Wednesday nights with Special Olympics. Engaging us in community service was part of the school’s mission.

But I also took a self-defense elective in eighth grade. While none of the cool moves stayed with me, something the teacher said stuck, probably because it was a repetition of what I’d already heard in the City Program. “You should never give money to someone begging.” He said that we were not trained to identify someone on narcotics. We had no way of knowing whether this person was decent or planning to rob or hurt us. He said we had no idea what the person would do with the money.

Which is why my friends give their doggie bags instead. Or drop off full Easter baskets for the kids who stay at a neighboring shelter. Or keep a collection of toiletries for their next run.

Still, the thought of letting my kids get close to someone begging scares me. And when I admitted that to my friends, at least one seemed to momentarily reassess her acts of generosity.

And that’s what keeps nagging at me.

I admire both women because they are more generous than I am. I respect them because it is their nature to trust and to give without having to sign up, join, bring along friends or receive recognition. Sometimes their acts are large, sometimes very small like handing a hungry man their doggie bag. What stands out is that it is a constant in their lives.

My friend has said that she is driven by the idea that one should be universally kind.

I want to keep my children safe. But I also want them to learn the importance of giving to those in need and that lesson of universal kindness that she has so successfully passed along to her daughter. For now, while they are young, we sometimes talk about global issues related to poverty, they make loans on online giving sites, and they participate in philanthropic projects at school. And my way to give is through more formal, behind-the-scenes, organized routes.

The problem is, I do not think you can be universally kind if you are also afraid. And I can still hear my son’s “You never give anything to anybody!” It is not true, but it is his perception.

I am going to South Africa next week, where another friend works with orphans and vulnerable children. I am looking forward to seeing her at work. I am eager to meet the kids she talks about. I know I will see housing and neighborhoods in much worse shape than anything I saw in eighth grade in Washington, D.C. My son wants to go too. But as someone said to me yesterday, I need to know that I can be strong in the midst of all I witness before I pass it along to him.

I wish I were more like my friends.