Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Mom

April 20, 2015

In Search Of: Well-Rounded Individuals

There has been a thought keeping me up at night. A gnawing feeling, set deep, tickling the recesses of my brain. This thought bubbles up at random times throughout the day, stopping me in my tracks, filling me with a sinking dread. I try to push the thought to the back of my mind, but it inevitably finds me again. I've come to realize this thought isn't trite. Rather, it could truly change everything. And the thought is this:

I fear we are raising a generation of very smart, but very boring, people.

We've entered an era where students live by numbers. Two numbers, specifically: test scores and GPAs. Thanks to the dangerous emphasis on testing, we've completely changed our approach to education. We've hacked apart teaching strategies and, picking up the pieces, created Frankencurriculums whose sole purposes are to get kids to score well on tests.

Gone are the days of simple schooling (which, by the way, did previous generations quite well, thankyouverymuch). Today, kids are pressured to memorize test-related facts and gobble up as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible. In today's school system, AP courses are weighted more heavily, so kids in some schools can now push past a 5.0 GPA. Some step into higher level AP courses beyond their ability, opting to struggle for a B or C over excelling in a "lower level" honors classes just so they can get a better GPA.

Schools are now education machines, popping out over-tested, GPA-eating, Valedictorian-seeking robots. Currently, many schools base Valedictorian on the best GPA. Unfortunately, thanks to the weighted system, kids who take "average" academic and honors level classes will never be in the running for this esteemed position. But why? Who are we to say that the kid who worked hard to do well in their AP classes are somehow better, rather more valuable, than the kid who worked equally hard to achieve similar grades in academic level classes?

This endeavor has not been without an emotional cost.

Mental health and anxiety disorders are steadily on the rise in school-aged kids and teens, with the pressure of taking AP courses and testing being at the forefront of causes. For years we've seen the destructive nature that standardized testing is having on our youth, with parents finally taking a stand and working on opt-out campaigns. And we cannot ignore the detrimental outcome of the stress placed on our kids. This recent article in the NY Times was eye-opening, bringing to light the stress endured by teenagers and the rising suicide rate among school-aged kids. 

There is an educational cost to consider as well.

Among the classes that lose out in the GPA weighting system are electives and art classes. Kids now have to face the choice of taking harder classes (more pressure) over "less valuable" electives such as public speaking, art, cooking, technology education, creative writing, photography and child development. We see the trend of "the arts" getting cut from school offerings all together. Our school curriculums are all intellectual rigor and no creative exploration.

The greatest accomplishment of today's educational system is the extinction of The Well-Rounded Individual.

In an effort to thrive, we've stopped letting kids be. And as previously discussed, at great cost. We've stopped encouraging the exploration of creativity, art, poetry, sports. Instead we've focused on making sure kids can come up with the correct answer on mandated tests.

But for what? What is our end?

Getting into a good college? 

Landing a good job? 

Making lots of money?

And working so hard, so unhappily, that we can never enjoy the life we've built. 

This is the definition of happiness that we are teaching our kids.

So, instead, we are raising a two-dimensional generation who cannot appreciate the strokes of an artist's brush, the beautiful harmonies of a conductor's baton, or the melancholy of a sonnet. Beauty is only something understood if it spits out a higher GPA or the correct answer on a test.

We are creating humans programmed to lead boring, lack-luster lives. Intelligent and efficient? Sure. Successful and of monetary value? You bet.

But devoid of depth, breadth and humanity.

If there is anything I can dream for my kids at this point in our world, it is to be experience as many things possible, even if it is at the cost of being average. I want them to know what it means to be moved by a thought, a melody, an emotion. To know love, beauty, truth, depth, empathy and understanding. 

At the end of their lives, my kids may not be able to say they had an impossibly high GPA or scored well on state-mandated testing. But, if I do my job as a parent just right, perhaps they can say they truly lived, deeply, and sucked out all the marrow of life.

That they will look back over their lives, full of wonder and adventure, and say they are happy.

Cheers to the average well-rounded individuals.

April 14, 2015

Oh, SNAP: A Look at Awareness and Celebrity Influence

Our controversial celebrity friend, Gwynth Paltrow, is feeling the heat again. This time, it is because she took on Mario Batali's Food Bank challenge, where she lived off of $31/week to help bring awareness to the struggle (and limitations) of those using SNAP

Let me back up and explain SNAP. 

A lot of us don't realize what this program is or what it does or why people haven't their panties in a twist over Gwynnie P's $29 shopping trip.  SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Many of us know it as food stamps. It should be pointed out that SNAP is meant to supplement a family's income - not be the sole source for food. 

There are many limitations to the program, such as the eligibility requirements, that it can only be used to purchase food and it is not available or accepted everywhere. Many families also find it difficult to balance getting enough food and to get healthy food. Also, there is a large population of people who are struggling to make ends meet, but not SO badly that they are eligible for supplemental help.

Fast-forward, and there is now the Food Bank Challenge working to help bring to light these issues with the help of celebrities paying it forward and "tapping" their celebrity friends to take the challenge. Gwyneth got tapped and took up the challenge. 

Then all hell broke loose.

People took to twitter admonishing her for her first shopping trip, which was a reflection of her clean eating lifestyle. It was noted that her choice could not possibly feed a family and also meet the caloric and nutritional requirements needed to be healthy. Others felt it was a slap in the face, as they shared their own real-life stories of struggling on SNAP and other government program.

As this was an important discussion, I asked this question to the topic to the CSHM Facebook Page

"Is Gwynnie P doing a GOOD thing by bringing the struggle of living off food stamps/food banks to light? Or is it degrading to have a celebrity "role play" in this way?"

So where do I stand?

I...think it's complicated.

I used to work for my county's Children Youth and Families before I stayed home with my kids - I was a social worker. Thus, I am super familiar with the SNAP/food stamps program - and very aware of the struggle so many families have to make ends meet - and to feed themselves. It's awful.

Living in the "land of the free, home of the brave," we as a nation CAN and SHOULD be doing better for ALL of our people.

(I know - how socialist of me!)

Above all, I am glad that there is a larger discussion happening around SNAP. I think that whenever we as a people (whether we are lowly bloggers or big wig celebs) have even the slightest bit of influence, it is so important to use it for GOOD. I try to do that on my meager space on social media (for better or worse), and I think it can be powerful when celebs wield their influence for the right causes and reasons. 

Yet, I can also see it from the other side. I can see how people who ARE struggling and using these programs would see it as a slap in the face to have celebs like her "role playing" their lives for a week. I've seen many tweets around this along the lines of "Yeah? Try living it for a MONTH. A YEAR!" from people for whom the struggle is real.

Part of the problem is that Gwyneth already has a target on her - and in many ways people are unfairly focusing on HER (her eating, parenting, "rich and oblivious" lifestyle). Can we agree that in some ways celebrities in general are out of touch with the lower echelons of people in society?  So, of course what she chose to buy comes under fire. It's true: her grocery trip is not indicative of what a family can or should be eating to survive and thrive when using food stamps. Also? I think it's easy for celebs (who most likely don't shop for themselves anyway) to say, "Ok! $30! What can I buy?!" without thinking of the bigger picture.

This issue is a double-edged sword. Is it good for celebrities to help bring awareness to this critical issue? ABSOLUTELY. But it is not perfect. Is it more important that those bringing the issue to light truly understand the plight? Or, for those bringing light to the issue to be using their influence for good?

Perhaps, we accept that celebrity influence is a necessary evil that sometimes works for the greater good? 

Overall, I hope that, despite possibly feeling belittled (particularly those who are living off SNAP), that we can all embrace the greater good that there IS focus on this issue. Focus from big celebrities is LOUD, so *maybe?* it can be a catalyst for change.

March 21, 2015

Easy Homemade Stromboli

I've got an easy dinner recipe for you!

The other day I was planning meals for the week, and I mentioned to Hubby that I was thinking of doing my usual Grilled Pizza. He was up for it but seemed underwhelmed. So I took that as a challenge to think out of the box with the ingredients I had on hand to make the pizza. What could I make with mozzarella cheese, leftover Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken and pizza dough?

Well, you can make stromboli.

I instantly fell in love with the idea. I've tried making pizza in the oven, and I have found the crust often doesn't cook evenly. And since it was cold that day, I didn't mind the excuse not to grill pizza outside. So why not an inside-out type of pizza?

I got to work, making a plain Chicken and Cheese Stromboli for the kids and a Buffalo Chicken Stromboli for the grownups.

The result was an overwhelming two thumbs up!

I love, too, that this is a recipe you can easily customize. Add ham and swiss to the chicken for Chicken Cordon Bleu Stromboli. Or, instead of shredded chicken, get Italian deli meats to make and Italian Hoagie Stromboli. Broccoli and Cheddar Stromboli would be fantastic. And - wait for it - Mac and Cheese Stromboli! YES!

The possibilities are endless!

Here is the basic recipe to get you started.

Yields: 2 Strombolis

  • 1 lb of pizza dough (either homemade or in the deli section of your grocery store)
  • 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 lb of Slowcooker Shredded Chicken
  • Marinara sauce, for dipping
  • Optional: 1/4 cup of hot sauce or Buffalo Wing sauce

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Flour the dough ball and split it evenly into 2. Take one of the dough halves and rolls it on a floured surface into a rough oval shape. Roll it as wide and thin as possible without tearing it. 

In a bowl, mix half of the shredded chicken (about 2-3 cups) with 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese (feel free to use more cheese if you like it cheesy!).  If you are making Buffalo Chicken Stromboli, add the hot sauce here.

Place the the chicken in the center of the dough the length of the oval.

Roll it, length-wise to close the stromboli (you could also just bring the sides together if it is very full). 

Pinch the ends.

Repeat with the second dough ball and the rest of 
the ingredients.

Bake both strombolis on greased cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is firm and golden brown.

Cut into pieces and enjoy with a side of marinara for dipping!

What fillings are YOU excited to try?

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