Commentary #101: Sesame Street 50th Anniversary Special

The minute the 50th Anniversary Special was announced, I marked my calendar for November.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the full special posted on the PBS website for a whole week, from November 17th through the 24th. I watched it twice! And I experienced so many emotions!

I really enjoyed the story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a great host! And so many former cast members were a part of it. The songs were my favorite part, especially the performance of “Sing” at the end.

I’m planning to get it on DVD when it is released.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #28: Foster Care and Opioids

Research published in July 2019 indicates that the number of children entering the foster care system has more than doubled since 2000.

Other reasons for removal, including neglect and abuse, declined.

Coincidentally, Sesame Street introduced a new Muppet around the same time. Karli is staying with her “for-now” family while her mom is away getting better. The Sesame Street initiative focuses on addiction as a whole, but makes the connection to foster care. Karli’s mom is getting help for alcohol addiction.


Resources

More Kids Are Getting Placed in Foster Care Because of Parents’ Drug Use, NPR, July 15, 2019

At This Camp, Children of Opioid Addicts Learn to Cope and Laugh, NPR, October 9, 2019


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #90: “9-year-old boy raises nearly $80K to give bulletproof vests to police K-9s”

I stumbled upon this story on Facebook recently. Way to go, Brady!

Here’s the link to the post from my local news station:


In Ohio, the local news has been following Brady Snakovsky for nearly a year now. At that point, in November 2018, Brady had raised enough money to donate more than 50 vests to K-9s in nine states. That’s incredible!

Picture

Image Credit: Brady’s K-9 Fund

Bulletproof vests for police K-9s can cost more than $1,000. Brady got the idea when he and his mom were watching an episode of “Live PD,” where a K-9 did not have a bulletproof vest. With his mom’s help, Brady started a GoFundMe.

As of June 2, 2019, Brady has raised enough money to donate 85 vests. Currently, there’s a waiting list of 57 officers whose K-9s need the vests.

Now, Brady’s K-9 Fund is officially a non-profit organization.


The most recent dogs to be vested are K9 Mike, K9 Lemm, and K9 Hoss. They all serve with the MTA Police in New York City.

Other dogs have been vested in Ohio, Connecticut, California, and South Carolina.

I think Brady is an awesome kid! I’m so happy he was inspired to help these amazing dogs, his mom was willing to help him get started, and how his message has spread. Way to go, Brady!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Writing Prompt #161: “Tell The Story Challenge”

mystery

I was challenged by Kristian at Life Lessons Around The Dinner Table!

Here’s the post where I was challenged:


Kristian gave her nominees a photo to use for the challenge, and asked us to be as creative as possible and then nominate at least three more bloggers to keep the challenge going.

“The Polka-Dot Umbrella”

I received the polka-dot umbrella, with matching rain boots, for my seventh birthday. I was obsessed with polka-dots for years, and my whole family knew it. It was all I wanted on my clothes, my shoes, and even my room. So far, I’d scored two shirts, an Easter dress, and a fun comforter for my bed. I was already angling for a polka-dot backpack when school started again.

I remember fawning over the American Girl catalog when McKenna was the Girl of the Year, or GOTY, in 2012. I was only three then, and Mom told me I wasn’t quite ready for a doll that cost $115. I circled the umbrella and rain boots a bunch of times, wishing and hoping that American Girl made a girl-sized version. They had a lot of other matching doll-girl things! I was really mad for a while, but learned to enjoy what I had.

It rained the day after my seventh birthday party, and I was so excited. Still hopped up on cake, ice cream, and seeing family, I probably begged Mom twenty times to go outside. She finally relented, but only “when I’d straightened my room and found places for all of my birthday gifts.” I promised to knock out my birthday thank-you notes after playing in the rain, too. That made her smile, and nod. I dashed off to my room. What normally took me an hour, that day it was 20 minutes flat.

Mom stopped doing the dishes, followed me to inspect my room, and then knelt down to me in the hallway.

“Good job, Sarah. I’m impressed. You’re growing up. Seven is a big age, you know.”

“Why’s that, Mom?”

Mom thought for a minute. “Well, you’re starting second grade, and you’re learning new things every day. And, you’ve been such a good help to me with Jackson. I know your dad and I are hard on you sometimes, with straightening your room, and chores, but we’re always proud of you.”

Jackson was my three-year-old brother. He had “special needs” that I didn’t really understand. He could walk with his walker, and was slowly learning to talk. Mom was really worried, a lot, but she always appreciated me helping her. Daddy was really busy with his job, and I heard both of them talking a lot, at night, over “bills” and lots of big numbers and other things. They didn’t yell, but I would hear Mom crying. It made me sad. One time, after Daddy went to bed, I silently went downstairs and just gave Mom a hug. She was at the kitchen table, with papers covering the whole thing. She smiled, wiped her eyes, and whispered, “Thank you, Sarah. I love you. Back to bed, now, okay?”

Mom put a hand on my shoulder. I came back to the real world. “Sarah? Are you okay, honey?”

I hadn’t noticed that my eyes were full of tears. I smiled, put on my brave face, and swallowed the tears. “Yes, Mom. Thank you. I’m happy. I can’t wait to use my new umbrella and rain boots! Polka-dots are so fun!”

Mom straightened and nodded. “Put on your raincoat, too. Okay? You can go up and down the block for a while. I’ll call for you when it’s time to come inside. Got it?”

I nodded, dashing for the hall closet. Jackson was in his play area near the kitchen, where Mom could keep an eye on him. He cooed and laughed as I put on the purple raincoat, perfect polka-dot rain boots, and got my matching umbrella ready.

“Bye, Mom! Bye, Jackson! I love you!”

“I love you, too, Sarah.”

The rain had slackened, but still drizzling. And it was foggy. I was learning about weather, and how something called temperature helped make fog, and snow, and sleet. A few other people were on the sidewalk. Mrs. Perkins was walking her dog, and I saw my babysitter and her boyfriend under another umbrella.

It made me happy. I loved to play in the rain. A lot of my friends didn’t. They didn’t like getting wet, and especially not muddy. Daddy called me a “diva tomboy,” and I always giggled. I loved everything polka-dots, and unicorns, and glitter, but I also loved getting dirty and running around.

I turned right and skipped down the block, trying to stay on the sidewalk. I loved the puddles, but thought about what Mom always said. “Always look both ways for cars, bikes, and people.”

There was one huge puddle near the corner, where I needed to turn around. I looked both ways first. A car zoomed past. I’m glad I waited. Once it was safe, I splashed as hard as I could. I think all the neighbors could hear my squeal of delight.

My jeans were wet, my new boots were really muddy, and I loved it. I felt free. It was hard to feel that way in the house, a lot. Mom and Daddy were busy, Jackson needed a lot of attention, and I was alone. By myself. I felt left out.

Mom didn’t know that I wanted McKenna so badly, the 2012 Girl of the Year, because I wanted a friend to play with at home. Sure, I had friends, but most of them couldn’t come over to play with me because of Jackson. At least, that’s what they’d said at school.

While I was skipping, splashing, and singing, Mom watched me from the window. She finished the dishes, checked on Jackson, and then rummaged through the top shelf of the hall closet. The one place I couldn’t reach.

She smiled, smoothed the polka-dot birthday wrapping paper on the stack of boxes, and sighed. Sarah earned this gift, she thought.

I was still singing “Fight Song” when Mom heard me squeak inside. For once, I put my new polka-dot umbrella in the stand, took off my new polka-dot boots on the rug with the other shoes, and hung up my wet raincoat on the lowest hook of the coat stand. I felt important now that I was seven. I locked the door, and padded down the hall. I said hi to Jackson, who laughed at my wet hair and jeans, and was saying hi to Mom when I spotted the polka-dot wrapping paper.

“Mom?”

“Hi, honey. Oh, look, there’s another birthday present. Do you want to open it?”

My eyes were as wide as saucers. I had no clue what it could be.

Mom silently cried as I unwrapped McKenna, beautiful, perfect McKenna, and most of her clothes. The last box held the precious umbrella and rain boots, just like mine. I just stared at the kitchen table for what seemed like a really, really long time.

Mom wiped her tears, and hugged my shoulders. “Happy Birthday, Sarah.”

I was in awe. I couldn’t speak. I think my mouth was a big, wide O shape. “This was the best birthday ever, Mom. Thank you. I love you.”

She sighed, trying not to cry again. “You’re welcome, sweetheart. I hope you enjoy McKenna. I know how much you’ve wanted a doll like her.”

I think I was still in shock. “Can I – take McKenna outside?”

Mom smiled, happy to see her oldest child so thrilled. “As long as both of have your polka-dot umbrellas open and polka-dot rain boots on your feet, yes.”

“Yippee! Thank you!”

The last tears sliding down her cheeks, Mom watched as I carefully put McKenna’s boots on, opened her umbrella, and then re-dressed myself in my raincoat, boots, and bigger umbrella. I carefully shuffled my new umbrella in my left hand, and gingerly carried McKenna under my right arm. “Come on, McKenna, let’s go play in the rain! Do you know the words to “Fight Song”? Let’s sing it together!”

Mom picked up Jackson and held him close as she pointed to me and my new friend. He smiled a big smile, and clapped his hands.

He giggled. “Sarah.”

“Jackson? What did you say?”

“Sarah.” He pointed to the window. “And – doll.”

Mom hugged him. “Oh, Jackson, sweet boy. You’re talking! Yes, that’s Sarah and her new doll! What a smart boy!”

“Sarah. Doll. Happy.”

Mom started crying again, overjoyed. She couldn’t wait to share the good news. I had a new friend, and Jackson was finally talking.

The girl-sized polka-dot boots and umbrella are too small for me now. But, they proudly sit on top of my dresser, right next to McKenna. I don’t “play” with her much any more, but I still have everything from my seventh birthday. It’s one birthday I know I’ll remember forever.


Thank you so much for the nomination, Kristian! I really enjoyed this challenge!


Nominees:

  1. Didi Oviatt
  2. Jenna at Bookmark Your Thoughts
  3. Destiny at Howling Libraries

Here is your photo:

Image result for nature scenes


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #82: “How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs”

The Atlantic

Image Credit: The Atlantic

I saw this article on Facebook recently. Thanks to Brittany A. for sharing it.

Here’s the link to The Atlantic’s article, published January 19, 2017:


What were you doing in 1997?

According to a local psychologist, Gudberg Jónsson, back then most of Iceland’s teens were drinking or drunk. All the time. It felt unsafe.

Fast-forward 20 years. There aren’t teens wandering the park, nearly passed out drunk. There aren’t many wandering teens at all.

Why?

They’re involved in after-school classes, art club, dance, music, or with their families.


Iceland boasts incredibly low percentages of teens drinking, using cannabis, or smoking cigarettes.

Here are the numbers. This was a survey of 15-year-old and 16-year-olds, reporting these activities for the previous month.

Drunk, 1998: 42 percent
Drunk, 2016: 5 percent

Ever used cannabis, 1998: 17 percent
Ever used cannabis, 2016: 7 percent

Smoked cigarettes every day, 1998: 23 percent
Smoked cigarettes every day, 2016: 3 percent

It’s radical, and exciting. But, there’s a method behind it. And if adopted by other countries, it could have a revolutionary change. However, it’s a big if.


In 1992, Project Self-Discovery was formed, offering teenagers “natural-high alternatives to drugs and crime.”

Instead of a treatment-based approach or program, the idea was to allow the kids to learn anything they wanted, including art, music, dance, martial arts. By having the kids learn a variety of things and skills, their brain chemistry was altered, and give them what they needed to cope better with life. Other ways to combat depression, anxiety, numb feelings, etc. Life-skills training was also incorporated.

Research and studies in the early 1990s showed a series of factors that played into Icelandic teens not getting involved with alcohol and drugs: Participating in organized activities three to four times per week, especially sports; total time spent with parents during the week; feeling cared about at school; and not being outdoors in the late evenings.

Youth in Iceland began gradually, before being introduced nationally. Correspondingly, laws were changed. You had to be at least 18 to buy tobacco, and 20 to buy alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol advertising was banned. In addition, another law, still in effect today, prohibits children aged between 13 and 16 from being outside after 10 p.m. in winter and midnight in summer.

Another key provision was involving schools and parents. State funding was increased for sports, dance, art, music, and other clubs. Low-income families received help or assistance to take part in these extracurricular activities.

“Protective factors have gone up, risk factors down, and substance use has gone down—and more consistently in Iceland than in any other European country.”

Youth in Europe started in 2006. The questionnaires – Sent out to many European countries, South Korea, Nairobi, and Guinea-Bissau – shows “the same protective and risk factors identified in Iceland apply everywhere.”

However, no other country has made changes on the scale seen in Iceland. Sweden has called the laws to keep children indoors in the evenings “the child curfew.”

There are cities that have reported successes, being a part of Youth in Europe. Teen suicide rates are dropping in Bucharest, Romania. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of children committing crimes dropped by a third in another city.

“O’Toole fully endorses the Icelandic focus on parents, school and the community all coming together to help support kids, and on parents or carers being engaged in young people’s lives. Improving support for kids could help in so many ways, he stresses. Even when it comes just to alcohol and smoking, there is plenty of data to show that the older a child is when they have their first drink or cigarette, the healthier they will be over the course of their life.”

Would something like this work in the U.S.?

Not a generic model, nothing exactly like Iceland, but something specifically tailored to individual cities, maybe even individual communities. By working with communities to identify the biggest issues and the biggest needs, maybe adopting facets of the Iceland program may help teenagers, and others, in the U.S.


My two cents: While I do drink alcohol now, I’ve never smoked. I was never tempted by alcohol as a teenager. Not at home with my parents, anyway.

I was involved with music and sports from a very young age – Piano, gymnastics, soccer, then the viola, and softball. My church was another huge part of my life. If I wasn’t in school, at music lessons, or at sports practice, I was likely at church.

Also, I know my parents played a huge role in my life. Being an only child, I know I’m a bit biased. But, we had dinner at the table almost every night. We didn’t eat out a lot. The Internet was new, and no one had a smartphone. We had a computer, but there were strict limits, and more educational games than Web surfing. They were fully present in my life. I may have been sheltered and protected, but it gave me so many benefits.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

 

 

 

Commentary #81: “How One Woman Is Teaching Homeless & Foster Care Children To Dream”

Precious Dreams Foundation

Image Credit: Sam Dahman

A dear friend shared this article on Facebook on November 30th, and I felt compelled to write about it.


Who knew that decorating an ordinary, simple pillowcase could make such an impact?

Nicole Russell, together with volunteers, provides comfort items that help children in transition to self-comfort.

What makes you happy?

What images can help you dream?

Things that many of us take for granted – Warm pajamas, stuffed animals, receiving blankets, books, and journals – This foundation helps provide it!

This is awesome!


If you’re interested in learning more, please see the resources below:


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #4: No More Make-Believe (Not In School, Anyway)

“Even the smallest person can change the course of history.” ~Lady Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings


This quote is so fitting for this post.

When I first saw this picture of Aiden Steward yesterday, and then the headline of the news story, it made no sense to me. How could this sweet little face be in so much trouble with one school?

Image Credit: The New York Daily News

Image Credit: The New York Daily News


I read Aiden’s story in complete disbelief yesterday. Immediately afterward, I felt a range of emotions. First, shock and surprise. Then, sadness. Then, anger.

The New York Daily News first broke the story late last week with the headline, “Texas boy suspended for saying he could make classmate ‘disappear’ with ‘Lord of the Rings’ sorcery”.

Wait a second … REALLY?


I’ve read The New York Daily News’s account three times now, and every time I’m left shaking my head. This child is NINE YEARS OLD, for heaven’s sake.

And, on top of that, he’s been suspended not once.

Not twice.

But THREE times!

According to the article, this latest suspension, last week, was handed down due to a “threat” that Aiden made against a classmate.

I understand that threats, no matter where they’re directed, are taken far more seriously nowadays than when I was growing up, no doubt about it. But over something like this? This is slightly nutty for me.

Aiden’s “threat” to his classmate was that he possessed the One Ring, like Bilbo Baggins, and he could put the ring on his friend’s head and make him invisible.


As a student of mass media, I noticed several things regarding the article. It focuses primarily on Aiden’s father’s point of view. This, in a way, is understandable.

It merely references the friend that was threatened in the writer’s own words; however, there is nothing actually in quotes from this friend or the friend’s parents/family. The only actual quotes in the article are from Aiden’s father. The only other adult mentioned in the article is the elementary school’s principal, and she had no comment for the story, claiming confidentiality.

Aiden’s two other suspensions were briefly mentioned at the very end of the article. His family has been in the Kermit Independent School District for only six months, but Aiden already had two in-school suspensions (ISS) to his name prior to last week’s “threat.”

There was no timeline or dates stated for either ISS, but both of them are equally puzzling and head-scratching. According to the article, the first ISS was because Aiden referred to a classmate as black.

The second ISS was because Aiden brought his favorite book to class, thinking he would impress the teacher, called “The Big Book of Knowledge.”  They were studying the solar system at the time, but the teacher found that the book contained an illustration of a pregnant woman, with a section on pregnancy.

This was explained to the article’s author by Aiden’s father.


I personally want to hear the points of views from Aiden’s teacher, much more from the principal, Aiden’s classmate/friend and his family, and any other school authorities that may be involved.

There are at least two sides to every story. I feel like this is only the tip of the iceberg!


Aside from dissecting the article, the thing that troubled me most was that Aiden was suspended from school, simply because he was using his imagination, being engaged in make-believe.

Since when did make-believe and using one’s imagination start causing trouble?

The Lord of the Rings has been classified as an “epic high fantasy novel.” The six movies are visually stunning, and left this 26-year-old dreaming of elves and dwarves and fearing the ugly Orcs, with a strong desire to visit New Zealand where the movies were filmed.

I think it’s terrible to punish a 9-year-old for mimicking a movie. What is a suspension going to teach him?

If it hasn’t already done so, I think it’s going to teach him that he can’t play with his friends while referencing popular movies. Not at school, anyway. This makes me so sad.


This story made me think back to my childhood. Elementary school, especially.

I spent a good while reminiscing, and it was nice to be nostalgic for a bit. I got lost in the daydreams.

So many fantasy worlds. So many times of make-believe, in the cafeteria, in the hallways, on the playground, riding on the bus. So many laughs.

Back then (This coming June will mark 15 years since I graduated from the fifth grade), there wasn’t anything that was classified as a bonafide “threat” from one student to another. Sure, there were the classic tattles to the teachers of “He/She called me a toad/frog/devil, etc.,” but none of that made it to the principal’s office!


I think Aiden’s father put it best:

“Kids act out movies that they see. When I watched Superman as a kid, I went outside and tried to fly,” Steward said.

“I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence,” the boy’s father later wrote in an email. “If he did, I’m sure he’d bring him right back.”


My message to all: I’m going to keep dreaming. I’m going to keep fantasizing.

I am a writer, after all. Part of my existence, part of my being, involves making up stories. Using my imagination, which is one of the greatest gifts that can be given. Imagination should be fostered and encouraged.

Creativity is wonderful, and it shouldn’t be squashed, especially early on in life.

I won’t stop, for as long as I live.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂