TIME Parenting

6 Things You Should Know About Young Girls in School

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One day your child feels like part of the gang; the next she’s been elbowed out of the lunch table or left off the invitation list for a birthday party. Here’s what you need to know to get her through the clique years—and endless exclusive photo tagging—with fewer scars.

1. Cliquishness is ingrained—and it starts early. “We come from a hunter-gatherer society,” says Julie Paquette MacEvoy, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston College who studies children’s social and emotional development. “There was a greater chance of survival if you were part of a group. The urge to form cliques is evolutionarily ingrained.” By toddlerhood, this behavior starts to show up. A 2014 study published in Psychological Science showed that children as young as two will mimic their behavior to match that of their peers so they don’t stand out from the crowd. And not long after toddlerhood, we’re able to pinpoint the person in our group with whom we’re closest. “I don’t think we ever stop using that label [best friend],” says Rosalind Wiseman, a parenting educator and the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes ($10, amazon.com). Why are we so attached to it? “We need to have the sense that we matter. If we have a best friend, that means we count to someone.” And though children today certainly won’t perish if they don’t have a core group of buddies, there are benefits, like a boost to self-esteem and a sense of belonging, says Wiseman. Also, it just feels good to be included. That’s why it’s so painful to be left out.

2. There are two types of dominant personalities. They typically emerge during middle school: one is positive and fun to be around, and the other is influential but also manipulative, says Brett Laursen, a professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University. If your child hangs out with a manipulative leader, she may feel demeaned fairly frequently. What helps: emphasizing the importance of thinking for herself and being her own person, not merely the sidekick of a bossy pal. “Have conversations about when it’s OK to give in and when it’s not,” says MacEvoy. For example, it’s fine to let the group’s leader decide which movie to watch if you don’t care, but it’s not OK for the queen bee to determine on her own who’s invited to go to the movie. If you happen to have a child who’s the leader of her clique, you can help her cultivate empathy by regularly asking her how her friends are feeling and doing.

3. Cliques can be physically painful. Research shows that exclusion triggers activity in the same part of the brain that controls physical pain, says Judith V. Jordan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. For some kids, ejection from a friend group can be more painful than being rejected by a crush because that pain involves only one person. “When you’re pushed out of a clique, that’s an entire group of people who don’t value you, care about you, or want to hang out with you,” says MacEvoy.

4. Your child’s pain is easy to downplay—but don’t. Yes, you know clique trouble is a universal experience and we pretty much all survive. But it’s important to take your child’s grief seriously. If the situation seems to demand it, ask teachers for help in making sure the exclusion isn’t overt or cruel. (Have them keep an eye out for bullying and name calling.) At home, listen to your child’s daily recaps (if she’s willing to share) and empathize, says MacEvoy. Tell her you understand why she’s so upset and that you would be, too. But don’t go that extra step of disparaging or belittling other kids. As much as it may feel good to both of you in the moment, it sets the wrong example and could make reconciliation difficult for your child later.

5. Role play at home will make school easier. To help make the days ahead feel surmountable, ask your child if she would like to talk through hypothetical social scenarios. What should your child do if she has to eat lunch by herself? (Maybe she can read a book while she eats, or you two can talk about who else she could approach.) What should she do if one of the girls says something mean to her? (Walk away.) For younger kids (up to around age 11 or 12), this exercise tends to feel empowering, says MacEvoy. Teenagers may find it cheesy; offer them an ear instead. If there’s potential for your child to patch things up or make amends, discuss the reasons for the exclusion in the first place. “Often it involves a member of the opposite sex—especially in adolescence—or just sheer jealousy,” says MacEvoy. If your child offended just one member of her clique (and the rest of the girls are excluding her as an act of solidarity), encourage your kid to talk to the person with whom there’s a real problem. If they can make up, it may be possible for the whole group to get back together, albeit with a bit of tension in the ranks.

6. Sometimes you just have to find new friends. When a group has truly caused pain—or formally ousted your child—she may have no choice but to leave it behind and seek out new friends. If she’s feeling intimidated (and who wouldn’t be?), talk about trying to make just one new friend rather than entering a whole new clique. Think about it: There’s a world of difference between eating lunch alone and eating lunch across from someone else. Having additional friends is great, too, but children are much less lonely when they have even one supportive friend, says Steven R. Asher, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. It’s ultimately up to your child to find this new buddy (or buddies), but you can lay the groundwork. Nudge her toward a club, a sport, a volunteer activity, or even an after-school job where she can meet peers with similar interests. And take heart in the knowledge that this lonely state isn’t forever. Faris and his colleagues conducted an eight-week study in which they asked kids in the 8th through 12th grades to name their best friends every few weeks. “We found a shocking amount of turnover,” he says. In other words: Your child may feel excluded on Friday, but that doesn’t mean she’ll still be on the outs come Monday morning.

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This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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MONEY TV

Nickelodeon Thinks You’ll Pay $6 a Month for a Netflix for Preschoolers

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If you think your toddler needs more screen time—and if you somehow don't already have more than enough child-friendly streaming options—Nickelodeon has the product for you.

This week, Nickelodeon announced that it is launching a new app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, available at Apple’s App Store starting March 5. The app will be a subscription video service called Noggin—the same name of the cable TV channel that was a predecessor of Nick Jr.—and it will offer as much ad-free viewing of “Blue’s Clues,” “Little Bear,” and other preschooler fare as your little one’s eyeballs can handle, at a price of $5.99 per month.

As Variety noted, “Nickelodeon continues to grapple with ratings declines at its traditional TV network, owing to viewers seeking video content on new kinds of screens.” In a recent week, Nickelodeon’s ratings among kids were down 35% compared to the same period a year ago. So you can’t blame the Viacom-owned network for trying to do something to boost its audience and revenues.

But who is going to pay $5.99 a month this service? Starting at just $2 more monthly, you can be a subscriber to Netflix, which has plenty of content for children of all ages—it’s even been adding reboots of kids’ shows like “Care Bears,” “Magic School Bus,” and “Inspector Gadget”—as well as movies and shows for adults. The vast majority of consumers who are intrigued with streaming already subscribe to one or more service, such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video (free for Prime members), or Hulu Plus, all of which have sections full of kids’ content. There’s also plenty of free kid-friendly streaming video out there (PBS Kids, for example). Finally, if you have a pay TV subscription that includes Nickelodeon, as most packages do, you can download the Nick Jr. app for free and watch unlimited, ad-free full episodes of “Dora the Explorer,” “Bubble Guppies,” and such.

It’s unclear, then, why all that many families would need to pay another $6 a month for yet more preschooler streaming content.

If there’s a parallel in the industry, it’s CBS All-Access, the subscription streaming option that also charges $5.99 per month—and that many observers assume will fail. At least the CBS product is targeting adults, most obviously folks who are big fans of the network’s shows, such as “The Good Wife” and various versions of “CSI” and “NCIS,” as well as older programs like “Brady Bunch” and “Star Trek.”

CBS All-Access has some hope of attracting grownup subscribers who are picky about what they watch and who like CBS’s programming. But how many preschoolers do you know are picky about what they watch? Most of the kids we know are more than happy to be allowed to watch something—anything—on the iPad while their parents enjoy their meal at the restaurant.

TIME Parenting

How to Parent Like a German

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An American mom finds some surprising habits

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Achtung! Nein!” I cried in my bad German. Both kids and parents ignored me.

Contrary to stereotypes, most German parents I’ve met are the opposite of strict. They place a high value on independence and responsibility. Those parents at the park weren’t ignoring their children; they were trusting them. Berlin doesn’t need a “free range parenting” movement because free range is the norm.

Here are a few surprising things Berlin parents do:

Don’t push reading. Berlin’s kindergartens or “kitas” don’t emphasize academics. In fact, teachers and other parents discouraged me from teaching my children to read. I was told it was something special the kids learn together when they start grade school. Kindergarten was a time for play and social learning. But even in first grade, academics aren’t pushed very hard. Our grade school provides a half-day of instruction interrupted by two (two!) outdoor recesses. But don’t think this relaxed approach means a poor education: According to a 2012 assessment by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, German 15-year-olds perform well above the international average when it comes to reading, math and science while their more pressured American counterparts lag behind.

Encourage kids to play with fire. A note came home from school along with my excited second grader. They were doing a project on fire. Would I let her light candles and perform experiments with matches? Together we lit candles and burned things, safely. It was brilliant. Still, she was the only kid whose parent didn’t allow her to shoot off heavy duty fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Let children go almost everywhere alone. Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone. German parents are concerned about safety, of course, but they usually focus on traffic, not abductions.

The facts seem to be on the Germans’ side. Stranger abductions are extremely rare; there were only 115 a year in all of America, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Justice study. And walking around without parental supervision, or “independent mobility” as the researchers call it, is good for kids.

Party when school starts. One of my Berlin friends once told me that the three biggest life events are Einschulung (starting first grade), Jugendweihe (becoming a young adult) and getting married.

In Berlin, Einschulung is a huge celebration at the school—on a Saturday!—that includes getting a Zuckertute—a giant child-sized cone filled with everything from pencils to watches to candy. Then there’s another party afterwards with your family and friends. Einschulung is something children look forward to for years. It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.

Jugendweihe happens when a child turns 14. It involves a similar ceremony, party, and gifts, marking the next stage of growing up. With all the negativity heaped on adolescents, there’s something to be said for this way of celebrating young adulthood.

Take the kids outside everyday. According to a German saying “there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” The value of outside time is promoted in the schools, hence the “garten” in Kindergarten. It’s also obvious on Berlin’s numerous playgrounds. No matter how cold and grey it gets, and in Berlin it gets pretty cold, parents still bundle their kids up and take them to the park, or send them out on their own.

Which brings me back to that dragon—since moving here, I’ve tried to adopt some of the Berlin attitude, and my 8-year-old has climbed all over the dragon. But I still hesitate to let her walk alone in our very urban neighborhood.

I’ve taken one small step. I let her go to the bakery by herself. It’s just down the stairs and one door over. The first time she did this, she came back beaming, proudly handing me the rolls she bought herself.

I figured there was no need to tell her that her American mother was out on the balcony, watching her the whole time.

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MONEY kids

Shocker! Tooth Fairy Surveys Can’t Be Trusted

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The big lie about the Tooth Fairy—one of the big lies anyway—is that the reports about how much a child gets under the pillow after losing a tooth are meaningful.

According to the just-released Original Tooth Fairy Poll from Delta Dental, losing baby teeth has gotten significantly more lucrative for American kids. The survey, based on input from more than 1,000 parents around the country, indicates that the average gift left by the Tooth Fairy for a lost tooth was $4.36 in 2014. That’s up from an average of $3.50 in 2013, representing an increase of about 25%.

Based on the data, kids who live in the South have more valuable teeth than their counterparts nationally: They average $5.16 per tooth left under the pillow, compared with $4.16 and $4.68 in the Northeast and West, respectively. Children in the stingy Midwest, on the other hand, receive only $2.83 per tooth on average.

The poll is being presented as a positive economic indicator, with the idea that the Tooth Fairy becomes more generous hand in hand with households getting raises and a surging stock market. “Kids are benefiting from the recovering U.S. economy,” the press release announcing the poll states.

It should be somewhat worrisome, then, that another Tooth Fairy payment study has it that the amount of cash kids get for losing teeth has been on the decline. The Visa Tooth Fairy Survey shows that American children received an average of $3.70 per tooth in 2013—not far off from the Delta Dental estimate of $3.50—but in 2014 that figure dropped 8%, to $3.40. That’s nearly a full $1 off the Delta Dental figure for 2014.

The results of both surveys are in agreement that the Midwest pays the least for lost teeth, but in the Visa poll, it’s the kids who live in the West, not the South, who are most spoiled with premium payments under the pillow. Children in the West average $3.60 per tooth, according to the Visa survey, followed by the South and Northeast (about $3.50), with the Midwest at the cheap end ($3.10).

Why are there such disparities between the two surveys? Among other reasons, outliers, in the form of households that pay big bucks for baby teeth. A few years back, for example, instances of tooth rewards hitting $20 and sometimes even $50 a pop began surfacing. “Only” 3.6% of Visa survey respondents said the Tooth Fairy Left $20 or more in 2014, a fall from 6% the year before. The most common gift, named by one-third of those polled, was just $1. So the outliers sure seem to sharply skew the average upward, far above the median or typical Tooth Fairy payment.

A large portion of respondents in both polls, meanwhile, said that the amount of cash one had on hand had a big influence in how much (or little) was left under the pillow. It also must be mentioned that a decent portion of those polled won’t remember exactly how much was left each time the Tooth Fairy visits, and/or that they’re fairly likely to recall the Tooth Fairy being more generous than she was in real life.

All of which indicates that Tooth Fairy payments—and surveys about Tooth Fairy payments—are pretty darn random. Shocking, we know.

TIME Parenting

A Different Way of Talking to Kids About What They’re Wearing

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For parents, talking to kids about clothes usually involves questioning the warmth, propriety, cleanliness or sanity of what they’re wearing. But there’s another, less familiar — and possibly more useful — way to discuss an outfit.

Kelsey Timmerman, author of Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories and People That Make Our Clothes, wanted to see where his clothes came from. Reading the label on his favorite T-shirt took him to Honduras, where he met workers at the factory that made it. Trips to Cambodia, where his favorite jeans were made, and China, the source of most flip-flops, followed. “It doesn’t come from somewhere,” he says. “But from someone.”

Talking to kids about where their clothes came from can make something abstract — life in other countries — more concrete. And it’s a fun way to engage kids of all sorts of ages in a discussion about the world.

Timmerman and his elementary-school daughter have a bedtime tradition of looking at where her clothes are made. “It’s a simple act, just looking at the label, and letting your mind open up to think, these pajamas came from Bangladesh, which is on the other side of the world,” Timmerman says. “You’re never too young to be amazed by that, and explore what it means.”

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Middle-school students “can go a little deeper,” Timmerman says, using the labels on their clothes as an opportunity to learn about the demographics of other countries. Parents can ask questions like “How do you think life is different than it is here?”

High school students, Timmerman finds, are ready for conversations about the deeper implications of global commerce, like child labor, and the big differences in income between different countries. A great conversation-starter there, he says, is photographer Peter Menzel’s Material World, which shows families from different countries photographed with all their possessions.

Students can sometimes feel powerless when they confront these realities, so Timmerman says it’s important to let them know they can make a difference. In the past, schoolkids have helped bring fair-trade practices to athletic gear and school uniforms. “Students,” says Timmerman, “have really led the way on a lot of these issues.”

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After Having Three Miscarriages, I’m Pregnant Again

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How do you emotionally prepare to lose a pregnancy, and at the same time prepare to keep it?

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Throughout my early twenties, when anyone (usually my mother) asked whether I wanted kids someday, my attitude fell somewhere between ambivalence and outright disinterest.

Then, one breezy October morning, that changed in an instant, like a switch had been flipped. It was a Saturday, and my would-be husband and I were taking a walk after eating breakfast at our favorite Manhattan diner. It was a handful of days before Halloween, and there were all these little kids dressed in the costumes that they couldn’t wait to wear. There was one toddler in a fireman outfit, and it just killed me with cuteness. I WANTED ONE.

My ovaries betrayed me, and from that day on I became a touch obsessed (understatement) with pregnancy and babies.

Fast-forward through a few years of neurotic baby-planning and menstrual cycle-tracking in Excel spreadsheets, getting married, and a move from New York to Chicago — I was 27 years old, right on time according to my perfectly optimized reproduction schedule, and my husband and I were finally ready.

I became pregnant in our first month of trying, which was a surprise since all of the literature tells you not to expect immediate results. We were as happy and nervous as you’d expect any couple to be during the beginning of a first pregnancy. (Technically this was my second time getting pregnant, but the first time I had an abortion, and the differences in experiencing a wanted versus an unwanted pregnancy are so huge that, for the sake of this story, I’m going to treat my first intentional pregnancy as my first pregnancy.)

Starting around six weeks, my morning sickness became intense. I woke up every day dry heaving, and if I wasn’t constantly forcing snacks into my face (so much hummus!), I’d be throwing up within the hour. It was barely manageable. I was exhausted.

At eight weeks we saw a heartbeat on our first ultrasound, and I had no doubts that my sickness was worth it — the risk of miscarriage drops significantly once you’ve seen a heartbeat. Up to this point everything seemed normal.

Around nine weeks I had a little spotting. I was assured I shouldn’t worry about it since it was light, temporary, and painless — first trimester spotting is common. Around 10 and a half weeks, at another doctor’s appointment, the heartbeat was a bit slow, though not that abnormal, so we scheduled a follow up visit for a week later. At 11 weeks and five days, we went in for another ultrasound and there was no heartbeat. The fetus had died.

This was a “missed miscarriage,” meaning I never had any bleeding or pain to signal that something was wrong. I scheduled the procedure for the following day, and after it was done I felt as awful as I’ve ever felt in my life — utterly empty and weak. I’d followed every pregnancy recommendation, taken every precaution, and we still don’t know what went wrong. We probably never will.

The healing process involved me being a hermit for a few weeks, refusing to leave the apartment unless I absolutely had to. My husband did his best to console me with all the pad thai and bacon pineapple pizza a girl can eat. I listened to a lot of Björk (she can get you through anything, I swear), and watched all of Netflix’s sappiest offerings. I cried and cried and cried.

Friends did their best to support me, and I felt loved, but it was hard to accept their help. The hospital encouraged me to join their miscarriage support group, but I didn’t. The unflattering truth is, I didn’t want to hear about anyone else’s problems, even if they were similar to my own. In a way, I think I wanted to feel special and unique in my suffering.

My best friend dragged me away to a vacation on the lake, and that helped.

Slowly, I felt better. Maybe we should have waited longer, but after a cycle had passed I felt ready to try again, and I got pregnant right away.

At six weeks, I miscarried again. Unlike the first time, I knew what was happening when it started. The blood and cramping weren’t all that severe, but this clearly wasn’t just a little light spotting.

At this point, while it obviously sucked what I was going through, it wasn’t necessarily a cause to assume something was wrong with me — repeated miscarriages aren’t medically considered worth investigating until you hit the third one in a row. My healing process this time was essentially the same as the last. Tending to my little deck garden became a particularly soothing outlet for me. We waited a cycle, and I was eager to get back on the horse.

For a third time, I got pregnant in our first month of trying. Just call me Fertile Myrtle. This one went almost identically to the second pregnancy, ending in a miscarriage in the sixth week. The difference now was that it was time to run medical tests, looking for all kinds of horrifying conditions that I shouldn’t have Googled while waiting for the results.

Every test came back negative, which was both good and bad. On the one hand, it’s good to know I don’t have any major life-changing medical problems (at least nothing they found), and on the other, we still have no answers. I lost three pregnancies, and I have no idea why.

After the third miscarriage, we waited longer to try again, but I still got pregnant on our first go — Fertile Myrtle strikes again! As I write this, I’m eight weeks and one day into yet another pregnancy. We had an ultrasound appointment yesterday, and we were able to see the heartbeat.

My doctor said that everything looks normal, and I wish I felt more reassured, but I’m still worried. Every day that passes raises the stakes. Every time I pee I’m paranoid, checking the toilet for blood. I love to think about baby names, but I tell myself I shouldn’t. I’m trying my hardest to be calmly ready for another miscarriage, but how do you emotionally prepare to lose a pregnancy, and at the same time prepare to keep it?

I’ve spent almost 32 weeks out of the last year stuck in the first trimester of pregnancy, like a messed up version of Groundhog Day — Bill Murray didn’t have to do it pregnant. Lots of women wait to announce their pregnancies until after 12 weeks for fear of miscarriage, and because of the pressure that results from friends and family who, purely out of love, have heavy emotions riding on the outcome of your pregnancy — something over which you have limited control.

Obviously, I’m not taking the secrecy route. There’s just no way I can keep this big part of my recent life to myself. It’s not like I’m telling the grocery clerk, “Guess what? I had a miscarriage! And I’m pregnant!” but it just comes up sometimes in conversation, and it feels unfair to keep this quiet for the sake of other people’s comfort.

The fact is that even though most people mean well, it’s generally pretty awkward when you tell them you’ve been pregnant and you don’t have a kid. They look at you with incredible amounts of pity, like you’re some sad, abused puppy, instead of a basically-okay adult person telling them about a recent experience.

Understanding, empathetic people who say things like, “Oh wow, I’m sorry, I bet that’s hard,” or, “What was that like?” are in the minority. The more common reply is along the lines of, “Well, I’m sure it will happen when it’s meant to be.”

I HATE THIS. You have no idea if I ever will be able to carry a pregnancy to term, so quit making diagnoses of my destiny. What are you, a fortune teller? One friend who knew about my past abortion asked me, “Well, do you think this happened to you because you had an abortion?”

NO, I DO NOT. In fairness (?) to her, the only reason I’d told her about the abortion in the first place was because I knew she’d disapprove but be too Minnesotan to say anything . . . so maybe I brought that one on myself.

From where I sit, most secrecy comes from a place of shame and fear of social rejection, and we all know how society treats women who don’t fulfill its standards for being baby factories. But women should not be blamed for miscarriages.

We aren’t shamed into hiding other struggles in our life, like illness or the death of a loved one, because we know they’re not our fault. Miscarriage should be treated the same. There are places in the world where women are in jail for having miscarriages, as well as states in the U.S. that have taken steps towards criminalizing the death of a fetus.

It’s important that we open up the dialogue about miscarriage — they’re enormously common, and hardly ever talked about. They are nothing to be ashamed of.

Sarah Bourne Zethmayr wrote this article for xoJane.

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My Mother Died 12 Hours After Being Diagnosed With Cancer

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She lost her ability to speak five hours after being diagnosed and an hour after that, any responsiveness

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There is a scar that runs the entire length of my left arm, wide and treacherous at the elbow, then narrows to a thin white line as it cuts across my palm.

I was eight and running on the way to a baseball game with my father when I fell on some rocks in the parking lot. He slung me over his shoulder and carried me to the first aid station. It wasn’t until I watched him throw his blood-soaked jacket into a trash can and looked down at my arm, the bone popping out at the elbow, that I realized how hurt I was.

In October 2013, I was 30 years old, sitting on the floor of my room in my house in Portland, folding laundry, when my mother called to tell me she had pneumonia. I absent-mindedly folded a T-shirt while I asked her if she was drinking enough liquids.

At the time, I worked with seniors and was dating a Director of Health Services so I was well versed in the logistics of dehydration.

“No, you don’t understand. I’m in the hospital.”

I didn’t understand. My mother was 69 years old and had just returned to New York from an Alaskan cruise with my father, with a short stopover to see me in Oregon. She was an adventurer who had married an Air Force man and lived all over the world, including Germany, where I was born.

She was a happy woman who explored every inch of nature, often times on her motorcycle. While my father and I were always breaking bones, falling out of trees, and electrocuting ourselves, my mother stayed healthy, our perpetual caretaker. I did not understand why a cold would land her in the hospital.

From the freshly folded piles around me, I started sliding T-shirts and underwear into my rucksack, the one I had used for my own adventures in the world, while I told my mother I would book a flight. She laughed and told me it was just a cold and I didn’t need to come.

Luckily, I’m not the type of daughter who has ever listened to my parents so I was on a flight two days later, armed with a stack of magazines and my then-boyfriend’s helpful hints about dealing with hospitals.

On the flight, I talked to the man next to me, a professor, about his students and his daughter. I was cheerful. I didn’t understand.

I have been nearly everywhere, but I grew up in Syracuse, NY, the same town my mother was born in. It’s a town that isn’t that bad, but in my mind it is still a place where mercury poisons our lake and where most of my family and friends have struggled with or succumbed to cancer. My mother lost her sister to cancer; she was just 47. Her brother survived his bout.

When my plane touched the ground and my phone clicked back on, I already had a message. It was from a doctor I had never met or spoken to telling me they had just moved my mother to the ICU.

I was panicked when I met with my father, who awkwardly hugged me as we pushed my rucksack into the trunk of my mother’s Prius. As we passed the trees and power lines that make up the familiar horizon of my home town, I talked. I asked my father what had happened. I didn’t understand, I said.

She only had a cough.

In that white room with a curtain for a door, my mother was jaundiced, her skin wrinkled like someone had taken a yellow legal pad and crumpled each sheet up and then tried to mash it into the shape of a person. I tried to take control of the situation, like I knew how, like my job had prepared me for, like how my boyfriend, with his BA in nursing, had talked me through.

I asked my mother how she was, what she needed, what I could do. She told me she didn’t know. She told me to wait for the doctor, that I could ask him. She told me that they were running tests.

Tests. The vast medical mishaps that had brought us here, an entire chain of terrible choices made by her regular doctor who dismissed my mother’s pain first as “old age” and then begrudgingly sent her for lab tests. Those tests were never done because when she showed up, the lab guy turned her away, stating, “You are allergic to iodine, I can’t perform this test. He needs to order you different lab work. How did he not notice that?”

And then her doctor, possibly annoyed with my persistent mother, over the phone prescribed her antibiotics for a urinary tract infection. After that course, still pain. So more, stronger antibiotics. Still pain. Another course of antibiotics so harsh that their names made my boyfriend wince as I recited them over the phone.

He told me he had never heard of them being given to someone not already in the hospital, being constantly monitored: They were too strong, they should have never been given. And then her body shut down. She drove herself to the emergency room, not wanting to bother my father. She didn’t understand what was happening either.

Her liver was failing and no one knew why. They suggested a transplant. They ran tests. Her lungs were filling up with fluid. They ran tests.

She pleadingly asked me if she should let the nurse give her a catheter. She wanted me to say no, to protect her from the indignity, but I knew in a short while there would be so many people in that tiny, door-less room that she would have no privacy for the bed pan. I held her hand and told her, it will only hurt for a minute and then you don’t have to worry about it anymore. She said everything hurt, that I had no idea.

The tests came back. The doctor had a sullen look on his face. He was sorry. She couldn’t have a liver transplant; she wasn’t eligible. She had cancer.

Every single organ in her body had tiny black dots of cancer, but especially her liver and kidneys. The liver and kidneys they had pumped so full of highly toxic drugs to cure a urinary tract infection that she didn’t even have.

I finally understood and I wanted to scream, but at who? Not the kind nurse who was helping me find a private room for my mother to die in. Not the ICU doctors; they had found her cancer right away.

I didn’t have time to drive to the medical center where her regular doctor was and strangle him with his stethoscope, so instead I stalked the floors, calling Hospice, trying to get my mother home. She was thrashing and crying now that she knew that her lungs were slowly filling with liquid and she was drowning, right there in front of us.

New York is a terrible place to die if you haven’t properly planned ahead. There are a finite number of hospice nurses because there are a finite number of licenses. You can only call and schedule a nurse during business hours. In New York, when the dying patient is having trouble breathing, you can’t have enough Xanax or Valium to really ease the stress or enough morphine to ease the pain, because these drugs slow the breath and might kill the patient a little faster.

In Oregon, you get a drip that you control. In New York, you have no control.

My mother’s breathing was already shallow and she was on the maximum amount of oxygen available when she got her diagnosis. Gasping, my mother begged me to drag her outside, lay her body on the grass, and let her die there. She loved being outside more than anything, to be in the water, to be in the wind. But the doctors would not let me, because off the ventilators, she would die.

I pulled my own Xanax out of my purse and I gave my mother and myself some pills. She calmed down. I calmed down.

I sat beside my mother, holding her hand. She cried and told me she had so much more to say, but soon she wouldn’t be able to. I told her it didn’t matter; that she had already done so well.

My mother was, quite frankly, a spectacular woman. So many mothers struggle to keep their children as close to them as possible, to make it a hard fight to spread their wings, assuming they know best. Not my mother.

My mother let me see the world. She pushed me to travel and to report back on what I saw. In so many places I found myself in, I knew I was walking on the streets where she had once walked, and that was an amazing feeling, to be reliving her adventures.

She lost her ability to speak five hours after being diagnosed and an hour after that, any responsiveness. Six hours later, in the middle of the night, with my father and me beside her, she passed away without a sound.

Two years later, I understand it better. Like the child I once was, in shock from the unexpected pain, it took me a while. But now I understand it was a gift for her to have suffered for such a short time and for us all to be together, pulled back from our far corners of the world to the place where we started.

Danielle Mantia wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

The Dad 2.0 Summit: Making the Case for a New Kind of Manhood

Father with baby son on shoulders
Getty Images

"Traditional ideas of masculinity can get in our way of being the kind of fathers we want to be”

At the fourth annual Dad 2.0 Summit, Dr. Michael Kimmel reviews the four classic rules for what it means to be a “real man”:

  • No sissy stuff.
  • Be a big wheel.
  • Be a sturdy oak.
  • And give ’em hell.

Or so they say. “Traditional ideas of masculinity,” Kimmel says, “can get in our way of being the kind of fathers we want to be.”

This summit, nearly double the size it was in 2012, has been at the forefront of an ongoing revolution in how America perceives fatherhood. The new dad, the kind Kimmel’s talking about, is one who is sexy and strong because he’s involved and nurturing — just as capable of being a parent as Mom is and happily doing half the work. The attendees that Kimmel is giving his keynote speech to in San Francisco are the kind of daddy bloggers (and mommy bloggers) who have raged against the “bumbling father” stereotypes, as well as the many, many sponsors who subsidized their tickets.

For all the progress the revolution has made, Kimmel, executive director at the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University in New York, is here to spread the message that it’s not time for back-patting yet, that men need to do more to support other men if America is really going to redefine what masculinity looks like (e.g., not just a big emotionless tree).

Young fathers today are more involved than previous generations. They are doing more housework. They are doing more of the child care. Yet, Kimmel says, the fact that a generation of men is doing more than their fathers did — which might have been financially supporting the family and never touching a diaper — can lead to “premature self-congratulation” that belies how much work there is left to do. Since 1965, according to the Pew Research Center, women have nearly tripled the amount of paid work they do each week, and while fathers are doing more to help with the house and kids, they’re still doing half what the moms are. Millennial and Gen X fathers often say they believe in having absolutely equal, 50-50, split-down-the-line relationships, but the reality is that more of the caregiving is still falling to Mom.

One of Kimmel’s core culprits when it comes to that gap is parental leave, as well as the lack of men taking it when it is available. Some companies that are dying to be on the cutting-edge of employee care, like Google and Facebook, are handing out three or more months of paid paternity leave, and some cities are working to mandate time off for moms and dads. But the U.S. is sorely lagging. Unlike almost all industrialized nations in the world, the American government does not mandate paid parental leave. Only about half of first-time moms are able to take paid leave. And according to the Society for Human Resource Management, only 12% of U.S. employers offer any paid paternity leave. So staying home in the early days, with or without pay, more often falls to the women.

The cycle of Mom staying at home in the first few weeks or months while Dad works can lead to a storyline like this: Man and woman believe they’re in a completely equal relationship. Man and woman have child. Woman takes maternity leave while Dad works. She gets more practice at child care. More child-care tasks start falling to her. Over the years, thing after thing related to the household and family falls to woman, many times unnoticed. A little cleaning here. A little appointment-scheduling there. Eventually, the relationship is decidedly unequal, even though that’s not what either of them planned. Opening his speech, Kimmel showed a picture of his son holding up a sign. It read, “I need feminism because it’s easy to ignore sexism when it works in our favor. #ItsOnUs.”

In his work with corporations, Kimmel was early on told that many men weren’t taking paternity leave when it was offered. So where’s the need the offer it?!, the corporations said. This is where the men-supporting-men thing comes in. Kimmel went and talked to men who hadn’t taken leave when their children came. What he found out was that when they told male colleagues they were considering it, they got responses like, “Oh, so you’re not really dedicated to your career.” Another man was told, “Oh, that’s great. You should go. We’ll just put you on the daddy track.” (Read: Not up for the next promotion.)

Upon finding out that one man was considering leave, a partner at his firm leaned over to him and said that he was 64 years-old with three grown kids and he didn’t know any of their birthdays; men have to make sacrifices at home. In many cases, this kind of anti-dad response was enough to keep men from taking the benefits they could. A fella doesn’t have to be a major league baseball player missing games to be with a newborn in order to be derided for putting family ahead of work.

“For the past 40 years, women have been coming out as workers,” Kimmel said toward the end of his speech. “Now men have to come out in public, in our workplaces, as dads.”

Joseph Fowler, a 38-year-old father at the summit, has gone all in and is staying at home with his two kids, a 5-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy. He’s walking around the sponsor room at the summit, where radial saws are being touted next to apple sauce, where the Lego displays are crowned with red flags and pink umbrellas. Fowler says that the lessons he learned about how to be a man from his father were precisely the rules that Kimmel laid out in his speech — to be tough, to be stoic. He looks tough, with broad shoulders and a giant ring he got after the college-football team he coached went to the Orange Bowl. And he says he’s trying to raise his son with a different idea of what it means to be a man. “You can be manly and compassionate,” he says. “And it’s O.K. to show your emotions.” He calls himself a “dad advocate” and says he’s mentoring other dads in the same vein, teaching them that it’s masculine to be a present, responsive father.

The brands at the summit, in far greater number than 2012, are clamoring to be on the right side of people like Fowler. Esquire is live-streaming dad talk at the summit. Lee is giving dads a custom-fit pair of jeans. Kia is letting them test-drive cars. Lego is throwing a party at LucasFilm studios with actual storm troopers walking around. The primary sponsor of the event continues to be Dove Men+Care, which ran a much-talked-about ad during the Super Bowl that featured loving fathers who exemplified “real strength” (which was also the wi-fi password at the summit). These ads for a new generation of dads have been pushed in part by conferences like this, and they’re going to help make it harder for men to scoff at other men who want to put home on par with, or before, the office. General Mills wants to be the official “cereal of dadhood,” which is a 180 from the 2012 Huggies commercial — which showed dads with babies in the vein of monkeys with typewriters — that prompted protest among (and got tons of attention for) the dads at the first Dad 2.0 conference.

At one point the head marketer at Unilever, Dove’s parent company, takes the stage. Behind her flash pictures of men playing with their kids and holding their kids. “This is what being a strong man looks like,” says Jennifer Bremner. “Showing emotion, helping a friend, consoling a child.” She tells the crowd that she has been in marketing a long time and her brother had never much commented on her career, until he saw their ad with the same message that played during the Super Bowl. The text she got from him had two words on it, she says: “About time.” The crowd filled the hall with claps of approval.

TIME health

My Polio, My Mother’s Choice

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Today's parents, thanks to vaccines, have never had to learn—need never learn—about pain and grief and loss of control

It had been a good year for Lois Mace.

She and her husband, only three years beyond college, had bought their first house. A solid red-brick and clapboard Cape Cod, it sat on a leafy street named for a character out of a Longfellow poem. In its driveway glistened a new sedan, silver-gray with burgundy roof and whitewalls, a gift from her father, a Ford dealer.

And under its dormers that last day of August 1954 slept her three children: A sunny toddler with platinum blonde hair and a weak stomach sphincter, known around the house, mostly affectionately, as Miss Urp. A three-year-old bruiser with a devilish twinkle in his eye, whom the neighbor nicknamed Meatball. Then there was the eldest, a lithe towhead with quick feet and an even quicker tongue—him they called Motormouth. He was set in a week’s time to walk the two blocks down the hill and start first grade at Nakoma Elementary School.

Everything was the way she liked it, under control.

In the middle of that night, Lois was roused by sounds from the boys’ bedroom. Tucked under the shed roof at the back of the house, the bedroom was stuffy with the heat of late summer. The older boy, who shared a bed with his little brother and a ratty blue bear, lay feverish and whimpering. Her husband carried the boy to the bathroom. He was too weak to stand and use the toilet.

The next day they drove him to the hospital for a spinal tap. The spinal fluid was cloudy. “During the past three or four days almost complete paralysis of both lower extremities and left upper extremity and trunk musculature has developed,” his doctor would write in the medical record on September 4.

Lois Mace Paul, 28, had come very far, very fast from a Depression childhood in a small Iowa town—husband, house, kids so well behaved that strangers would stop by the table in restaurants to compliment her. But now she was also the mother of a boy with polio. He lay in an isolation unit, afraid and confused, unable to sit or roll over. She could only stand in the doorway, swathed in a surgical gown and mask, forbidden to hold or comfort him for fear of spreading the virus.

We can safely assume these events counted as life changing for Lois. After 10 days in isolation, the boy was put on a children’s ward, where he would remain for 130 days, “for institution of hot packs and passive stretching exercises and later institution of active exercises,” according to his medical record. Every afternoon at 2, Lois traveled the three miles to the hospital to sit with the boy. She would read to him as he ate the sandwich—always peanut butter on white bread—that she smuggled past the nurses; her boy wasn’t keen on hospital food. Her husband took the night shift, arriving at 7 to launch Pooh and Christopher Robin on their next “expotition.”

Even judged by the standard of today’s families balancing work and parenthood, the logistical challenges were daunting. Meals to make, clothes to wash and hang, diapers to change. Schedule babysitters for every afternoon. Change clothes and put on makeup—a respectable woman didn’t go downtown in jeans and without a face. Find a way to get back and forth; there was only the one car. Make dinner so her husband could get back to the hospital on time. Bathe and put the little ones to bed on her own. How much time or energy could there have been for coffee or cocktails with friends, or for nights out with her husband?

And it didn’t end there. When the boy was finally sent home, he had to be carried up and down stairs. Over the next decade there would be braces and crutches that he was always expensively outgrowing. And as he grew and his unbalanced muscles twisted his frame, Lois and her husband would sit eight times in a surgical waiting room while Dr. Wixson used chisel, hammer, wire, and staples to straighten his back and legs. Not until the boy himself waited outside an operating room as his own infant child underwent orthopedic surgery could he imagine how fear had shadowed Lois’s life.

Imagination is about all we have to tell us what those events meant to Lois emotionally. She didn’t talk much about feelings.

The boy’s only hint came one afternoon, about the time of his sixth birthday. A high school running back had injured his neck in a game and had been brought into the ward the night before, his limbs numb. As Lois and the boy looked on, a doctor and nurses, after some probing, helped the player sit, swing his legs off the bed, and, to the delight of staff and parents, stand again. Seeing what pleased adults, the boy turned to Lois. “I’m going to do that soon,” he said. She didn’t reply, but tears streamed down her face.

We know she grieved. Lois shared the bad news in a letter to her best college friend, who had joined the Iowa diaspora to Los Angeles. It read like a funeral notice. “Oh, my beautiful little boy,” she wrote in ending. Lois confided to her favorite aunt that she feared the boy would die.

Why didn’t Lois vaccinate me? Because she had not been given that choice. I had fallen ill 224 days before the announcement, on April 12, 1955, that the field trials of the Salk polio vaccine were a success.

As she lay in bed that night, digesting the news that had been shouted out across the country over radio, television, and public address systems in workplaces and schools, Lois had a choice to make. Because kicking inside her was the boy she had conceived in her grief the previous fall.

Today’s parents make those choices knowing much more than she did about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines offered to their children. They can rely on decades of experience and scientific research.

Lois faced only scientific uncertainty. The Salk vaccine was new. It had been only 60 to 70 percent effective in the trial but had been deemed safe. Some of the world’s top polio researchers weren’t so sure. They had publicly opposed the trial, thought the vaccine the wrong approach, maybe even dangerous. Their fears materialized within weeks. Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley shipped vaccine contaminated with live virus. More than 200 children and family members were paralyzed, and 11 died. The vaccination campaign was briefly suspended.

But from her own experience, Lois Mace knew things that today’s parents, thanks to vaccines, have never had to learn—need never learn—about pain and grief and loss of control. As soon as she could, she took all her children to get the shots, and went back again after the Cutter fiasco.

She could not be certain it was the best choice for them. She knew, to her very bones, that it was the right choice for her.

Mark Paul, formerly deputy editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee and deputy treasurer of California, is co-author, with Joe Mathews, of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It. He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Travel

Millions of Families Will Soon Get Free Admission at National Parks

family sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon
Jens Lucking—Getty Images

A new initiative called Every Kid in a Park will give fourth graders and their families free admission to national parks and recreation areas for a full year.

President Obama will be in Chicago on Thursday to designate the Pullman District as a National Monument. While he’s there, Obama will also introduce a very special program called Every Kid in a Park that will provide free admission to fourth graders and their families at national parks, forests, monuments, and other federal lands for a year.

The Every Kid in a Park initiative will be available to families at the start of the 2015-2016 school year, in advance of the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service being celebrated in 2016. How it works is that next fall, all interested families with fourth graders will essentially be provided with a free annual pass (normal cost: $80) granting admission to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including world-famous national parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon—which each normally charges $25 to $30 per vehicle for a seven-day pass.

The program is “a call to action to get all children to visit and enjoy America’s unparalleled outdoors,” a White House press release explains. “Today, more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas, and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces. At the same time, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens instead of outside.”

Why only families with fourth graders? Presumably, it would be too costly—and likely, too crowded at the parks—to give free admission to everyone. What’s more, the thinking is likely that fourth grade is an ideal time to expose children to the wonders of the outdoors, with the hope that doing so promotes a lifelong interest and appreciation of nature.

The initiative actually has a parallel in the ski industry. Around the country, Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado, and several other ski-friendly states offer ski and snowboard passport programs that typically provide a season’s worth of free lift passes for fourth or fifth graders. The concept makes sense because kids don’t go to the mountains alone; their families generally come along, and they spend money at the resorts. The program also obviously helps get kids interested in winter mountain sports, potentially turning them into paying customers for years to come.

Likewise, free admission will nudge families into visiting national parks and recreation areas. And ideally, the kids who go hiking and camping and whatnot will fall in the love with the experience, and become lifelong visitors and supporters of the parks and the great outdoors.

As for those who don’t have a fourth grader in the house, you’re not entirely left out of the freebies. Every year, the National Park Service lists a handful of fee-free days, when admission is free for all visitors. Last weekend, in fact, admission was free in honor of President’s Day. The next freebie event is the weekend of April 18-19, which kicks off National Parks week.

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