The bliss of no TV commercials for my children

This story is a year old but I’m going through my backlog of saved links, and it’s a nice look at the screen problem and the commercialization problem and the violence problem with kids media.

Electric Youth: Why Susan Linn and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood Terrify Child Advertisers – Boston Magazine –

I love that Sweden does not allow commercials aimed at children.  We only watch the public kids channel anyway – and shows streamed from the US without commercials – but I only appreciated the quiet we live in when we visited Turkey earlier this year and the kids saw all these commercials for toys, and they were both fascinated then bored and kind of horrified.

“Oh, no!  Not commercials again!”

They’re still plenty affected by consumerism, but it comes through friends and merchandising, which seems less harmful to me.  So my son loves Star Wars because that’s what his friends play.  So my daughter wants to watch Winx Club (she doesn’t get to) because that’s what her friends play at school.  I can deal with that. It’s better than getting the messages mainlined from the amoral heart of the advertising industry and the timeless world of international toy conglomerates. Instead, they get the characters and stories filtered through play, transformed into a mythic shape, and I don’t care what the mask of the heroine looks like at that point.


Talking about fandom, fathers and the violence of football

My daughter is a die-hard fan of AIK soccer here in Stockholm.  She is five.  I have never mentioned AIK, except in relation to their stadium, which is in our town.  But she picked up AIK fever at preschool, even though she has no idea about the reality of AIK soccer.  She just loves the black and gold and knows that they “win a lot” (this is debatable).  You can probably read in between the lines my ambivalence.  I am not an AIK fan.  I am a fan of other, American, teams.  I appreciate much of AIK’s history and the devotion of the fans and their association with our town.  I do not like the hooligans, who piss outside our window and drink in our park and once rioted (really) right outside my sleeping childrens’ window.

I also think soccer is boring.  I also do not like that her sports world is not revolving around me.  This is what I get for swearing off watching sports on TV.

Still, this makes me think what I do want her to like.  Baseball?  Definitely.  Basketball?  Absolutely, and this is the local sport I push the most.  American football?  Oooh, I get tortured.  I still can’t shake football or my love of the Buffalo Bills, and I definitely do not want my son to play.  But can I replace the Bills with AIK?

Should I Quit Watching Football For My Kids?:  OK, I wrote this story back in 2010.  And it led to a radio profile on The Story from American Public Media.  Everything still holds here, however, on my ambivalence about the nature of football’s violence, its culture, and the concussions.  How can I even watch the NFL now that we know about the concussions?  I don’t know.  Now I feel bad.

The Saints, Head-hunting, and (another) disaster for the NFL:  I feel less bad after I read this by Charles Pierce.  At least I am trending the right direction.  I too feel the slow slide of football away from the realm of baseball and basketball and more towards boxing.  It may take decades, but I’m not sure the hyper-controlling NFL can put the concussion genie back in the bottle.  And I really don’t think they’ll build helmets that solve the problem, at least fast enough.

For years, sensitive people in and out of my business drew a bright moral line between boxing and football. Boxing, they said, gently stroking their personal ethical code as if they were petting a cat, is a sport where the athletes are deliberately trying to injure each other. On the other hand, football is a violent sport wherein crippling injuries are merely an inevitable byproduct of the game. I always admired their ability to make so measured — and so cosmetic — a moral judgment. This was how those sensitive people justified condemning boxing while celebrating football, and, I suspect, how many of them managed to sleep at night after doing so.

How We Become Sports Fans:  The Tyranny of Fathers:  This is the article that makes me feel worst about my kid’s AIK fascination.  As a sports-loving dad, I am supposed to be dominant here.  And my daughter does say she likes the Bills “too.”  And while I picked up my father’s love of football, I did not pick up his team (Detroit).  I went for Buffalo, where we lived.  In fact, I did this about when I was five.  But I don’t even like soccer!  Ahhhhh.

But, wait, maybe it’s a good thing she likes AIK.  Maybe it means she doesn’t need to bond with me over sports.  Because we bond over doing goofy dances together instead …

Dads are more emotionally remote than moms, except when they’re watching sports, and that’s the crack in the ice that kids naturally choose to exploit. If Dad laughs, cries and high fives about the Red Sox, his kids are going to use the Red Sox to laugh, cry and high-five with him.

Do Sports Build Character?:  The big money question.  Does all our sports obsession mean anything?  Are we kidding ourselves that we are somehow tapped into the Greek ethos, the YMCS ethos, of building character through sport?  This is a long, rambling article but at least it is asking the question, one that we don’t usually even dare to bring up in American pop culture.

And, heck, he features Plato and Lawrence Taylor extensively.  Got to appreciate that, even with a wishy-washy conclusion that Plato and LT would knock off the field.

In Plato’s spirit, one must give the thymotic drives of the soul full recognition and reasonable play, but at the same time keep them in check. This is an ideal—Hector’s ideal, we might call it—and it is not impossible to attain. But there is something in the drive for glory that despises all reflection. A certain sort of glory-seeking must in fact overcome reflection, as Achilles shows, and go headlong. So sports will always be a world of danger, as well as one rich with humane possibility.

4 is the new 40 in stockholm

My daughter is 4 now, has been for two months.  And, boy, do I feel old.

This was a magic line, turning 4.  All of a sudden, she is a kid, not a toddler.  She gives me lip, she says she loves me, she sighs, she sings long songs from memory, she draws two-page ocean scenes, and she remembers everything I say and calls me on it.

She just looks bigger, runs faster and gets bored in this floppy, whiny kid kind of way.

I had no idea 4 meant … this.  I suppose I thought it happened at 5, when I started kindergarten.

And suddenly I realize that I don’t have two very young children anymore, that I am two short years from not having small children at all.

And, as this blog proves quite clearly, I’ve built up quite the self-image around having small children.  That seems a natural conclusion of all this parental leave, all this time off, all this concrete commitment, which then just … ends.

I could care less that I am 37, that 40, while not all that close, is now visible in the medium distance on a clear day.

But I do care about the start of elementary school (which in Sweden means technically 7 but really 6 since kids then go to a kindergarten type place, I gather).

What am I going to do with myself?  I just learned all these damn lullabies by heart!

introducing the basics of paternity leave in sweden with dadlabs

I missed this completely at the time, but DadLabs came to Stockholm in 2008 and did a series of videos on Daddyland – the paternity leave, all the men pushing strollers, and so on.  They were sponsored by BabyBjorn, which makes me wonder why I have not been flooded with BabyBjorn gear.  I live in Sweden; I am a daddy blogger of a certain sort.  Though, to be fair, we have nothing by BabyBjorn, save for a baby sitter in a storage unit in upstate New York.

But we loved that baby sitter.

Anyway, here is one of the DadLabs videos, a good basic intro to Daddyland.   I will post some of the others through the long summer.

are stay-at-home dads putting their children in danger?

The Swede Life passed on this link to a column from late March in the Swedish tabloid Expressen.  The author –  Eva Sternberg – is a family counselor and based her column on a news article based on a new report as well as government statistics.   It ostensibly said that there has been a rise in the number of dangerous accidents involving Swedish babies.

She actually got her facts wrong, and had to apologize to the study’s author, but let’s let Sternberg have her entertaining say, for her opinion has nothing to do with any facts  (this is a modified Google Translate English version):

Why are accidents increasing for children under one year old?

Why only in Sweden?   Everyone in childcare knows.

But only I dare say it.

These accidents – such as babies scalded by hot water spilled from pots set on the edge of the stove – happen because a majority of Sweden’s political parties have decided to interfere in the lives of families with young children, from birth. Mothers who surrender responsibility for their baby to dads even get a bonus from the state, if they do it early enough in the government’s eyes.

For years I have observed, that the Swedish notion that mothers can be exchanged for fathers during the first year is lethal.

The idea itself is too easy to pick apart – again, she got her facts wrong, the study does not examine gender anyway, most babies are home with their mother for more than 12 months, and so on.

But what I did find interesting were the 35 pages of comments.  They show that Sweden has not embraced Daddyland as fully as you might think, especially if you read my blog.  There are lots of comments – mostly from women, by the way – bemoaning the rise of paternity leave and insisting that fathers are not suited for the care of small children.  Then there are comments from exasperated men, sighing that they cannot win either way – they are either not involved enough or considered incompetent if they stay home.

More than 75 Swedish bloggers have linked to the story, though I have not had time to get into that.

The paper also had a poll.  Who is better at taking care of small children, moms, dads or are they equal?

Results so far – Equal 53%, Moms 40%, Dads 7%

Most of the comments, however, seemed to reflect an essence of the Swedish national character.  They dismiss the stupid column, they are matter of fact in their defense of gender equality, and then they state their final opinion with great authority.  This gets lost sometimes in this consensus-seeking, meeting-happy land.  But maybe it is why the consensus method works, with this practical energy behind it.

open preschool in Sweden is a daddy ghetto

I loved this recent comment on a post of mine from The Swede Life about her experience at open preschool :

It was all babies and toddlers 9 to 18 months, with their DADS. The classic second leg of parent leave people, men and older babies. Imagine, a child play center daytime in the middle of the week and not another woman in sight. It was just men in notably hip looking casual clothes, really nice shirts actually, and stylish eye glass frames playing with their babies, and loading them up in back carriers and big barnvagens to take them home.

This is so true.  I am actually surprised that I see so many women at our open preschool.  Because the whole open preschool concept is really tailored to 9 to 24 month-old kids.  Little babies don’t need to play, and every single Swedish kid goes to daycare after the age of 2.

Parents really need the open preschool with the restless young toddler.  And that has become the “classic” second leg of parental leave, as she puts it (I love that Sweden already has classic forms to men on paternity leave).

I keep meaning to ask the open preschool teachers about the changes, and I will, but when I go the men don’t act any different than the women, and I get self-conscious and imagine they will just give me (a Dad, after all) a blank look.

On the style note, the Swedish guys do really turn out for open preschool.  I don’t get it.  I want to show up in a flannel shirt and baseball cap but find myself getting presentable just before the baby smears oatmeal all over my shirt.

swedish paternity leave – the quiet revolution of men with strollers

You know the most revolutionary thing about paternity leave in Sweden, what I call life in Daddyland?

It seems normal.

It does not seem the least bit strange to see hordes of men pushing strollers or dudes singing nursery rhymes or four guys in a circle talking baby sleep.

And it all comes at no social cost.  These guys are not making a stand.  They are just taking their three, six, nine months of leave.

They will not lose their jobs (or their promotions).  They are not wounding their macho self esteem, and likely helping their marriages.  It is remarkable how unremarkable it has become, companies just planning on a dad taking off about a year after the child is born, the same as they plan for mothers taking off the first year of a baby’s life.

The father leaves then returns, maybe not to the same job, but to the same type of job, maybe ready after months in the sandbox to engage in the office, with a better appreciation of adult society and the ability to take a few precious moments in front of the computer or to go to the bathroom all by yourself.

It is hard to write about Daddyland because I am not taking a huge leap, not like in 2007, when I quit a job, moved to Sweden and sold a bat-infested, lead paint filled house in a gritty city in the New York City exurbs.

That is dramatic.  That is change.

To contrast, today I will dress two small children, walk to daycare, nap the baby, clean, head to an open preschool, walk back to daycare and so on.

Think about the time too.  Leaving your job for nine months is not dramatic.  It seems the great leap, but, really, nine months?

Soon enough I will be back at the desk, facing decades of work, my paternity leave a blip in time.

Yet revolutionary too.