Saturday, April 30, 2011

Helicopter Dad

Whenever I hear about "helicopter parenting" in the States, I usually think of mothers. There are magazine articles, blogs, TV programs, and even books about helicopter moms. My impression of fathers is that they're the ones who give the kids a little more free rein than mothers do. But earlier today I saw a helicopter dad.

Before getting into what I saw this afternoon, let me explain how the base where I work is set up. There are actually two sides that are separated by a busy street and a bridge. The side where I work on Saturdays has the gym, chapel, offices, classrooms, one student dormitory building, and the Armed Forces hotel. Most soldiers and US civilians who visit Garmisch stay at that hotel. The other side has the PX, Commissary, gas station, bank, and all of the other standard base facilities. On Saturdays during my lunch hour I walk over to the the other side to get a little bit of fresh air and exercise and also to stretch my legs. I often see families who are staying at the American hotel walking between the two sides of the base.

As I was walking toward the traffic light where I cross the street to get to the other part of the base, I saw an American man with a military haircut with two girls. The girls, who were his daughters, looked to be about 7 and 9 years old. We got to the traffic light, which was red, at about the same time. The father told the daughters that everyone must hold  hands when crossing the street. The light for us turned green and we all started across the street. As we were crossing, a car pulled up to the intersection and stopped at the light. The father told the girls to watch out for the speedy driver (who had stopped by that time). When we all got across the street, it was time to cross the bridge. On both sides of the bridge there is a railing with bars that's a little over a meter high. The bars are so close together that an anorexic toddler would have a hard time fitting between them. But as we all got to the bridge, the father told the daughters to stay away from the railing because it was dangerous and they could fall into the river. When we reached the base gate, we went through the pedestrian entrance, which is roped off from the vehicle entrance and cars can't get into it. That didn't matter to this dad. He told the girls to walk as far over to the side as possible so that they wouldn't get hit by a car.

To give this father a break, he may have just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. If so, he probably saw plenty of things that would make him feel that the world is a dangerous place, especially for young girls. This father obviously loves his daughters very much and wants to protect them. But Garmish-Partenkirchen is a far cry from downtown Baghdad or Kabul. I can understand that man wanting his daughters close by, especially if they are tourists and aren't familiar with the city. When I'm in an unfamiliar city with my son, I like him close by, or I at least want to see where he is. But the father I saw today made it seem that everything in the short walk (about 100 meters) from the traffic light to the base entrance gate was scary. I felt a little sad for those girls. They will grow up believing it's normal to view the world as a place full of dangers.

If anyone was wondering, I didn't say anything to the father. I wouldn't want someone coming up to me and telling me that my parenting style was "wrong". Even though I disagreed with how that man was telling his daughters about everything being dangerous, he deserved the same courtesy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Farewell, Grete

One of the greatest female athletes of all time and a legend in the sport of running passed away earlier today. Norwegian runner Grete Waitz died of cancer at age 57. She had been battling cancer for the past six years.

Waitz's feat of nine New York City Marathon victories may never be equaled.  Her nine wins in New York were in the span of 11 years. This would be the equivalent of a baseball team winning 9 World Series or an American football team winning the Super Bowl 9 times in 11 years. Even though I hadn't started running when Waitz was competing, I watched her performances in New York on TV and she amazed me every time. In the 1984 Olympics it was a tough call between cheering for Waitz in the marathon or US runner Joan Benoit. I ended up cheering for both of them. Waitz ended up with a silver medal behind Benoit.

After retiring from elite-level competition, Waitz remained a role model and inspiration for female runners. She ran in shorter races and promoted running and fitness. She also gave generously to charities such as CARE and the Special Olympics. In 2007 she founded a cancer foundation and a percentage of the profits from her special line of Adidas running gear went to it.

What set Waitz apart from other top athletes was her humility and sportsmanship. In 1992 she ran the NYC Marathon with its founder and director Fred Lebow. Lebow had been diagnosed with brain cancer and '92 was the last time that he ran "his" marathon. Back in 1978 Lebow had invited Waitz to compete in the NYC Marathon. She had never run a marathon before and ended up breaking the women's world marathon record. Waitz and Lebow became friends after her first NYC Marathon. When she and Lebow  crossed the finish line together in 5 hours and 32 minutes, it was one of the most memorable and touching moments in sports. Running with Lebow gave Waitz a real appreciation of what an average marathoner experiences.

The next year Waitz again showed that she was a class act. She promised Zoe Koplowitz, a woman with multiple sclerosis and diabetes, that she would wait for her at the finish line no matter how long it took for Koplowitz to finish.  Koplowitz  had to walk with the aid of two canes and finished the race in 24 hours. When Koplowitz crossed the finish line, Waitz was waiting for her as promised. But there was one problem. The organizers were cleaning up the finish area and were out of finishers' medals. When Waitz learned that there were no more medals, she went to her hotel room, got her husband's medal, and gave it to Koplowitz.  I can't imagine 99% of top athletes today committing such a generous gesture.

Grete Waitz may be gone. But as long as there are girls who dream of running marathons, her legacy will live on. May she rest in peace.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

It's a Dangerous World Outside

When I was on the Free Range Kids site yesterday (, its author, Lenore Skenazy, posted a link from another parenting blog about playing outside.  Here is the link to that piece from a  blog called Moms Who Think: I also posted the link on my Facebook page.

The person who wrote the piece on Moms Who Think started off with a good premise. Playing outdoors is good for kids. They need exercise and fresh air. But at the end of the first paragraph, the author brings up the idea that playing outside is fraught with danger. The second paragraph makes playing outside downright scary. Kids can fall down, hurt themselves, do dangerous things that can hurt another kid, become targets for predators, and even end up in the emergency room. In the third paragraph the author again mentions the "untoward dangers" of playing outdoors. The author goes on to say that adults should always be on hand to prevent any potential accidents or injuries and also to send the message to the other adults in the area that their child is safe and not vulnerable. Adults should also perform a thorough inspection of any play equipment and look for any potential dangers in the area. The tone of the article makes going outside to play as appealing as going to downtown Baghdad or a Siberian gulag in the winter.

I don't understand the American preoccupation with kids not being allowed to fall or get hurt. Of course I don't want to see a child become seriously injured. But bumps and bruises along the way are normal. My son's legs always seem to be bruised and I tell him that's the sign of being a real boy. The best way for a kid to figure out his limits is to fall. Most of the time when kids fall, they dust themselves off and continue playing. If a child is bleeding, he may come in to get a Band-Aid. Then he'll head right back outside to play some more. I had my share of childhood injuries: sprained ankle, bumps on the head, lots of bruises, skinned knees and elbows.

Because kids aren't rational beings, they will naturally do "dangerous" things. An activity with an element of danger automatically makes it fun. For preteen boys like my son, the crazier the acitivity, the better. My son and his friends like to jump on their skis. If there isn't a fun park in the ski area with jumps, the kids will make their own. The boys will also challenge each other when they are in an area with a jumping park. They'll do the same thing for making their own skateboard jumps. Sometimes they're successful and sometimes they fall. When they fall, they treat it as a lesson in figuring how to set up the jump correctly. I figure it's only a matter of time before my son ends up in the emergency room for a jumping injury. E.R. trips are supposed to be a part of childhood. I have also been injured doing "dangerous" things as a kid. When I was 10 or 11, my friend and I were throwing rocks at two neighbor boys. I got hit in the face just below my right eye and had to go to the emergency room for stitches.

The person who wrote the Moms Who Think article would also freak out about German playground equipment. She (I'm assuming the author is a woman, judging from the name of the blog) would have to wrap her children in bubble wrap before letting them venture onto a German playground. Instead of plastic playground equipment that's low to the ground over lots of rubber mats or bark chips, a lot of German playground equipment looks like it has seen better days. In one of the playgrounds where I used to live, the high wooden climbing structures had a lot of splinter potential and the slides were metal. There was no padding underneath the equipment except for sand, dirt, or grass. There were also merry-go-rounds and real seesaws, both of which are now a rarity on American playgrounds.

I would be considered a bad mother who is making her child vulnerable, and not safe, because my son has played outdoors with minimal or no supervision since he was very young. When he was preschool age, I'd take him to the local playground. He would play with his friends while I chatted with the other moms. As he got older, he played out in the front yard with no supervision. Now he plays, skis, and swims with friends without parental supervision.

Along with the American preoccupation with not letting kids hurt themselves, I don't understand the view that every adult is a potential predator. My son has grown up believing that most adults are good people and not kidnappers or child molesters. He knows that if he needs help when my husband and I aren't around to find the nearest adult. In the past he has had to ask an adult for help and has never been turned down. Through his experience he has learned for himself that adults are willing to help a child. He also knows how to avoid potentially bad situations: only accept rides from people that he knows, be with at least one buddy when going to the Burger King at the train station, and make a loud fuss if someone he doesn't know tries to grab him.

In the meantime, I'm going to continue to let my son play outdoors for fresh air and exercise. Despite the "dangers" of falling, getting hurt, doing crazy things, and the risk of a trip to the hospital, playing outside is a much healthier option than staying inside watching TV and eating junk food.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

No ADD or ADHD Here

I recently read that 90% of the world's Ritalin is consumed in the US. For those who don't know what Ritalin is, it's a stimulant that's commonly prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This goes hand in hand with a book that I finished a couple of months ago called Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker. One of the chapters in Whitaker's book deals with the rise of ADD and ADHD in the US over the past 30 to 40 years and how children are being medicated with psychoactive drugs at younger and younger ages.

Why is so much Ritalin (and Adderall, another drug for ADHD) being consumed in the US but not in other countries? I've never heard about kids having ADD or ADHD here in Germany. A friend of mine who lived for many years in Taiwan said that those disorders are unknown there too. A Facebook friend from Russia said that nobody had ADD or ADHD there. What's so different about the States that kids are getting diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and given drugs? I can only compare the States with Germany and I find a lot of differences, especially in school situations.

One of my theories for the rise in ADD/ADHD is that schools in the States have cut out recess in order to fit in more academics. Kids are expected to sit still for long periods without a break. One of my friends in Oregon has a daughter in 6th grade who goes to school from 8.15 am to 3 pm with only a lunch break. My son is in a Gymnasium, which is a German school for high achievers. He gets a 15-minute break every 90 minutes. During the breaks the kids can go outside and play or just hang out in the hallways with their friends. On Mondays he gets a 1 hour 45 minute lunch break and Wednesdays his lunch is one hour (the other days he finishes school at 12.45). Germans realize that kids are more focused and energetic after a short break. German elementary schools also have a recess break. My son's elementary school day averaged 4 hours. But there was a 25-minute recess period in the middle of the school day. On most days, even when it was very cold, the kids played outside.

I don't understand how American teachers expect kids to sit still and concentrate for the whole school day. Imagine if you were at work and had to be attentive and think hard for your whole shift without being able to get up and move around or otherwise take a break. Your work would suffer and you wouldn't be able to concentrate. After a while, you'd probably squirm in your chair trying to stretch your muscles. There's a reason that breaks are mandated for adult workers. Yet in the States kids must sit still in class and concentrate on their work for almost the whole school day. No wonder they get fidgety and their teachers think they have ADD or ADHD.

Another possibility for the rise in ADD/ADHD in the States is that classes like art, music, and sport (PE) have been cut out to make room for academic subjects and also to prepare students for their annual standardized tests. A Sport class that gets the children moving is a good way to burn off excess energy. Art and music may seem frivolous, but they're also fun and give kids some "down time" during the school day. Again, my son's school does it right. One would think that a school for high achievers would cut out the arts and Sport. Nope. Those classes are an important part of the curriculum and are required in Bavaria. German educators realize that kids need some down time during the school day. For example, having a music class between biology and Latin gives the students' minds a break between rigorous classes.

I also believe that teachers in other countries understand that kids will be kids and not robots. I think if I was living in the States, my son would possibly be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. His first and second grade teacher said that he often looked out the window and appeared to be daydreaming during class. But when he was called on, he gave appropriate answers. He was listening to the teacher but wanted to look out the window for a more interesting view. Last year his teachers said that he was one of the class clowns and played around a lot in class instead of concentrating on his work. He still likes to chat with his neighbors in certain classes. But none of his teachers ever suggested giving him Ritalin or Adderall. They simply told me to talk with him and have him tone down the clowning around and chatting with his neighbors. After reading about the effects that long-term use of drugs like Ritalin can have on a person's brain, I'm glad that I live in a country where kids aren't drugged for displaying age-appropriate behavior in the classroom.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The One-Hour Mark

Today was the first time since early December that I ran for an hour. It felt good to run that long again. Over the past month I have been gradually increasing my long runs and have had no signs of the calf injuries that plagued me over the winter. Today's run was a mix of flat roads and trails in the hills. I hit my checkpoints faster than I expected to, mainly because of the cool weather. My legs felt great afterward, even at the faster-than-expected pace that I ran today. My speed has come back in all of my longer and shorter runs.

I'm starting to think that I may be able to do the Munich City Run half-marathon in June if I continue at my current pace. Earlier this year, I thought that it was a definite no-go because of my calf problems. I'll have to look closely at the calendar, but it appears that I'll be able to get in enough long runs to feel confident about being able to go the distance. The only down side is that I won't have any down time if I feel that I need a rest week. I really like to have some built-in rest periods when I train for a long race. I'll also have to build up my mileage faster than I normally like to.

My mind isn't 100% made up about running the City Run. As it gets toward May I'll evaluate how my training is going and take it from there. If everything keeps going this well, I should make it to Munich. I'd really like to do the City Run because it will be the only half-marathon that I'll be able to run this year. It would be nice to run the half-marathon that was part of the Munich Marathon in October. But I just don't see how that will be possible. I'll be in the States for three weeks in August and September, which is when I'd be doing a lot of long runs to prepare for an October race. It would be too hard and rushed to try and prepare for such a long race. I may do the Eibsee Run in late October, but that's a shorter run. Like with Munich, I'll play Eibsee by ear.

If I end up running in Munich this June, I'll bring a photo of my friend Dan with me. I usually bring my late running partner Bill's photo and pin it to my shirt. But Bill has been with me for my last three races in Munich. Dan died last year and was always interested in my running even though he wasn't a runner himself. This is going to sound like I'm ready to be put into the nearest psychiatric facility...when I get toward the end of a training run, I look up at a certain place in the sky for Bill to let him know how my run went. Today I gave two thumbs up toward "Bill's place" and saw Dan there instead. I took that as a sign that if I do the City Run, Dan should accompany me. Dan was my best friend when he was alive. Who better to get me over the rough spots than a best friend, right?

Stay tuned to see how my training is going and if I decide to sign up for the City Run.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

We're Off To See The Volshyebnik (Wizard)

As I have mentioned before, I'm studying Russian for my job. I'm at a level where I can read children's stories and books in Russian with a little help from my dictionary. The language level in children's books is easier than in books for adults. Children's books also have pictures, which help to make the text easier to understand.

I just started reading Volshyebnik Izmurdnovo Goroda, or The Wizard of the Emerald City. When I ordered it, I thought that it would be a direct translation of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The illustration of the book's cover on Amazon had a picture of a girl holding a little dog, a scarecrow, a tin woodsman, and a lion. It turns out that VIG is a Soviet imitation of the Wizard of Oz story. VIG was not written by L. Frank Baum; the author is Alexander Volkov. It was first published in 1939.

The first clue that I got that VIG would be different was that the girl on the cover was blonde and her dog was black. My vision of Dorothy is Judy Garland with her dark hair and Toto should be brown instead of black. The girl in VIG is Ellie and not Dorothy. Ellie lives with her parents, and not her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, in an isolated village in Kansas. Her uncle Robert and his sons Bob and Dick are the only people who live nearby. Ellie has a dog named Totoshka, which is a diminutive form of Toto. Instead of a tornado in Kansas, there is a hurricane. The hurricane is not caused by nature, but by an evil wizard named Gingema who wants to destroy the world.

After the hurricane Ellie ends up in a different land and meets a couple of midgets and a good fairy named Villina. Villina explains to Ellie that there are 4 main cities in her land, which is called Magic Land instead of Oz: a yellow city, a pink one, a blue one, and a purple one. There is also an Emerald City, where the wizard Gudrin lives. Gudrin is the person who can help Ellie get back home to Kansas. Nobody has ever seen Gudrin. Villina gives Ellie silver shoes (not ruby slippers) and tells her to follow the yellow brick road, which will take her to Gudrin.

Another thing that is different about VIG is that Totoshka can talk when he's in Magic Land. Ellie is surpised when she first hears Totoshka speak, but Villina explains that animals can talk in Magic Land. Villina tells Ellie to watch Totoshka carefully because people in Magic Land have never seen dogs before and would be frightened by him. Totoshka offers to go ahead of Ellie and scout out the land.

I'm now at the point where Ellie and Totoshka come to a crossroads by a field and are about to meet the scarecrow. I bet that the scarecrow in VIG won't dance like Ray Bolger in the movie and sing, "If I Only Had a Brain." I'm sure that there will be more differences from the original Oz story as Ellie and Totoshka continue their journey along the Yellow Brick Road on their way to the Emerald City and the great wizard Gudrin.

It's obvious that Alexander Volkov either saw The Wizard of Oz or read the book because there are so many similarities to the original, at least in the little bit that I've read so far. I read the title page looking for any references to L. Frank Baum, but didn't find any.  I find it amazing that someone in the Soviet Union was allowed to plagiarize a classic story, make some minor changes, and then call it his own. Volkov wrote several more stories about Magic Land. His Magic Land stories were actually more well-known in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and other Communist countries than Baum's originals. Here is Volkov's Wikipedia entry: