TIME Parenting

The Cult of Kiddie Danger

swings
Getty Images

We think we are enlightened in this quest to keep kids safe. Actually, we have entered a new Dark Ages, fearing evil all around us.

The Richland, WA, school district is phasing out swings on its playgrounds. As the district’s spokesman recently told KEPR TV: “It’s just really a safety issue. Swings have been determined to be the most unsafe of all the playground equipment on a playground.”

Ah yes, those dangling doom machines. All they sow is death and despair.

But while this sounds like yet another example of how liability concerns are killing childhood (seen a see-saw anywhere in the last 20 years? A slide higher than your neck?), it’s deeper than that. Insurance underwriters are merely the high priests of what has become our new American religion: the Cult of Kiddie Danger. It is founded on the unshakable belief that our kids are in constant danger from everyone and everything.

The devout pray like this: “Oh Lord, show me the way my child is in deathly danger from __________, that I may cast it out.” And then they fill in the blank with anything we might have hitherto considered allowing our children to eat, watch, visit, touch, or do, e.g., “Sleep over at a friend’s,” “Microwave the macaroni in a plastic dish,” or even, “Play outside, unsupervised.”

The Cult’s dogma is taught diligently unto our children who are not allowed to use Chapstick unless it is administered by the school nurse, nor sunscreen, lest they quaff it and die of poisoning, nor, for the same reason, soft soap in pre-k. It doesn’t matter that these fears are wildly at odds with reality. They are religious beliefs, not rational ones.

What’s more, this is a state religion, so the teachings are enforced by the cops and courts. Those who step outside the orthodoxy face punishment swift and merciless.

You can’t step outside at all, in fact. Americans are not allowed to believe any public place is safe for their children, ever, without constant supervision. Trust is taboo.

The logical under-current is illogical, as it’s based on a hapless understanding of basic statistics. How many children are kidnapped by strangers in a year? About one in 1.5 million — those are incredibly great odds. But odds don’t matter when we’re evangelizing about a vision of death and destruction.

That’s why, last winter, when a New Jersey mom left her sleeping 18-month-old in the car for 5-10 minutes while she ran an errand at an upscale shopping mall, she returned to find herself under arrest. Though the child was completely fine — he seems to have slept through the whole “incident” — the mom was found guilty of abuse or negligence. An appeals court of three judges upheld this conviction with the comment, “We need not describe at any length the parade of horribles that could have attended [the child’s] neglect.”

In other words: The judges need not spell out their Boschian fantasies. If an authority can envision something “horrible” happening — and even turn that adjective into a noun — it doesn’t matter how farfetched any actual scenario is. (In fact, the danger of dragging your child across the parking lot is larger than letting him wait in the car a few minutes.) Anyone doubting constant danger is a heretic. The mom is now excommunicated — that is, she’s on the New Jersey Child Abuse Registry. Good luck to her if she hoped to work with kids, at least while the case makes its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

And if you can stand to hear another one of these, a similar case concerns a Chicagoland mom who let her young son wait in the car for less than five minutes this September while she, too, ran an errand. An onlooker alerted the authorities, which brought not only the police but also the paramedics, who proceeded to examine the child as if he had been in grave danger. Sure, it’s the same grave danger any of us face when sitting in traffic — four minutes in an unmoving car. But magically, because the mom was not directly supervising the child, it transmogrified into a near-death experience.

Zero Tolerance laws are another code of the Cult, stemming from the same belief that while the danger to a child might seem minimal to the point of non-existent, to true believers it looms large and immediate. And so children have been suspended around the country for a plastic gun the size of a toothpick, a Lego gun the size of a quarter, and the infamous “gun” made out of a Pop Tart. And by “made” I mean “bitten into the shape of, by a 7 year old.”

How can we explain any of this hysteria if not by religious fervor? To see danger where there is none is no longer considered crazy, it’s a mission. Many authorities seem to believe the more danger they can imagine, the holier they are. In a letter home to parents, the principal at the Pop-Tart school wrote, “While no physical threats were made and no one [was] harmed, the student had to be removed from the classroom.”

Had to? Because…he had a Pop Tart? Or because the boy with the pastry pistol was magically dangerous, like a witch with her cat?

In a society that believes children are in constant danger, the Good Samaritans are often terrible people. So, recently, when a woman in Austin noticed a 6-year-old playing outside, she asked him where he lived, walked him home (it was just down the hill), and chastised the mom — Kari Anne Roy — for not being careful enough.

Then this Samaritan called the Inquisitors. Er…cops.

An officer showed up at Roy’s doorstep and despite the fact that the crime rate today is at a 50-year low, a CPS investigator was also dispatched to interview all three of Roy’s children. She asked Roy’s 8-year-old if her parents had ever shown her movies with people’s private parts. “So my daughter, who didn’t know that things like that exist, does now,” says Roy. “Thank you, CPS.”

It was almost seven years ago that I let my nine-year-old ride the subway alone and wrote a newspaper column about it. The result? A media firestorm. Back then I thought my crime, in the eyes of the public, was putting my child in danger.

But gradually I’ve come to realize my real crime was that I publicly disavowed the state religion. Talk show host after talk show host tried to get me to recant, asking: “How would you have felt if he didn’t come home?”

I could have sobbed and fainted, claiming it had been only a momentary lapse when I’d trusted my son in the world. Instead I said, “I wasn’t thinking that way. If I did, I could never let him do anything.”

Today it is a sin — and sometimes a crime — NOT to imagine your children dead the moment we take your eyes off them. The moment they skip to school with a Chapstick, wait in the car a minute, or play at the park.

We think we are enlightened in this quest to keep kids completely safe. Actually, we have entered a new Dark Ages, fearing evil all around us.

If we want the right to raise our kids rationally, even optimistically, it’s time to call the Cult of Kiddie Danger what it is: mass hysteria aided and abetted by the authorities. But as earlier holy books so succinctly instructed us, there is a better way to live.

“Fear not.”

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and founder of the book and blog Free-Range kids. Her show “World’s Worst Mom” airs on Discovery/TLC international. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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

Parents Should Try Being Present Instead of Perfect

family photograph
Getty Images

When it comes to feeding and caring for our families

For a lot of American families today, the dinner table can feel a minefield, haunted by the ghosts of Leave It To Beavers past and the present-day social and economic pressures to serve up from-scratch meals. The pressure for mealtime perfection can get overwhelming, even for a professional like Cat Cora, the first female Iron Chef.

“It’s a work in progress every day,” said Cora, who emphasized that even someone like her isn’t immune to the worries many parents have about the food they put on the table or send to school or practice with their kids. She shares a household with a wife and four sons, and is a representative of an emerging new modern family– a structure whose makeup is increasingly diverse and “becoming the majority in this country.” For Cora, this shift in family structures is creating a “place where parents both have a role in raising and nurturing the kids.” Yet, no matter how much parental roles have evolved, the pressures to be perfect haven’t followed suit. That’s something we need to change, suggested panelists who joined Cora at a recent New America event, underwritten by Betty Crocker.

“The Internet makes me cry some days,” said Frederick Goodall, the founder of the popular blog MochaDad, who condemned the shaming of parents on social media. “I always have to tell my wife — please do not look at Pinterest. Do not let that make you feel bad about yourself — just think of it as a fantasy land.” Social media, he suggested, perpetuates stereotypes about “homemaking” with little basis in fact.

And what are the facts, exactly? “Only about one-fifth of U.S. families have the structure of one parent staying home,” said Latifa Lyles, the Director of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. “It’s just not a reality anymore. And what that means is that families have less time.” For her, time is the focal point of good parenting, even if that means making PB&J more and visiting the farmers’ market less.

“Because time is so valuable, how we spend that time [with our children] is more critical than anything else,” she said. “When we get into being the perfect homemaker, we lose ourselves.”

We may also be missing the larger point: When it comes to feeding our families, being present matters more than being perfect. “Kids don’t care,” as Cora put it. “They just want to see you. They want to hear your voice. They want to be told they’re loved.”

Critically, this struggle between presence and perfection is one faced by parents from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Sarah Bowen, associate professor of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University, described a recent study in which she and her colleagues interviewed North Carolina moms from low-income and middle-class families over a five-year period about how they feed their kids and the challenges they confront in the process. They found that middle-class moms are cooking 4-5 nights a week but are discouraged by media messages that their meals should be organic and from scratch. Poorer moms are cooking at home too, but since unpredictable work schedules are increasingly the norm in low-wage jobs, they, too, worry that they’re not measuring up.

Both the shame and lack of time may be the structural results of a conflict between policy progress on nutrition and policy stagnation on other family-related policies. Liza Mundy, director of New America’s Breadwinning and Caregiving Program, noted that neither policy debates nor media narratives about childcare and parental leave have kept pace with those about food and nutrition, where a hard-won consensus now exists in favor of cooking healthy and eating well. Promoting healthy eating is important. But the failure to generate policy support for childcare and paid caregiving leave has obscured the lack of real choices available to American families.

Goodall, who used to work in construction, recalled his former boss insisting that he keep his Blackberry turned on while he was in the delivery room with his wife, who was giving birth to their third child. He resigned six months later to start MochaDad, where he has encountered a number of dads who stay at home because of persistent unemployment post-recession, not because they want to. Citing the White House Summit on Working Families this past June and the more recent viral #LeadonLeave campaign (which highlights the fact that the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world with no paid family leave), Lyles also criticized American’s limited choices and the gendered double standard around taking parental leave.

When women do it, employers question their commitment. Most men don’t take leave even when it’s offered, and those who do either face Goodall’s fate or get excessive praise for being dedicated fathers.

Still, there’s at least one national bright spot that could illuminate a path forward for the rest of the country. Lyles and Mundy both pointed to the example of California, which offers six weeks of paid leave to parents funded by the state’s payroll tax. Ten years of data show increased rates of fathers and mothers alike taking leave and reflect support from the business community. These results demystify the dissonance, according to Lyles, and show that having paid leave can become a norm. Mundy echoed this message of hope: “What you want is people making choices in a landscape where they have real options and where they have support.”

Jane Greenway Carr is an ACLS Public Fellow and Contributing Editor at New America. She holds a PhD from NYU, where she has been a lecturer and done research at the intersections between U.S. literary and cultural history and social and political activism. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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 Food & Beverage

The Staggering Cost of a Hipster Thanksgiving — and Other Pricey Alternatives to the Classic Feast

Overhead view of Thanksgiving feast
Marcus Nilsson—Gallery Stock

The average Thanksgiving dinner for a party of 10 costs about $50. But who wants a holiday meal that's merely average?

The traditional Thanksgiving dinner feast can be very affordable. On a per-person basis, the average meal easily costs less than bringing the crew to a fast food joint for supper.

But the total price of your Thanksgiving spread can vary by hundreds depending on where you shop, what you’re buying, and the overall quality and prestige of the meat, sides, and dessert, as well as how much time and effort you’re willing to devote to preparing your feast.

To give you an idea of what some different Thanksgiving dining styles will cost you, we’ve rounded up some sample pricing for groups with varying tastes and budgets–including some options for those who don’t want to cook at all.

The Average American
For a classic Thanksgiving dinner, plus leftovers, the American Farm Bureau Federation estimates you’ll spend $49.41 this year to feed a party of 10, including a 16-pound turkey plus bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, peas, rolls with butter, carrots and celery, pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream, and coffee and milk. Even though the wholesale price of turkey has soared for supermarkets this year, widespread price promotions have kept overall costs down for consumers, and the bureau’s estimated total for Thanksgiving dinner is only 37¢ higher than last year. That averages out to under $5 per person, which is still quite a deal.

What’s more, there are easy ways to cut costs even lower. If you were to take advantage of coupons, sales, and supermarket promotion, you could spend a lot less and still provide a feast. Wal-Mart estimates that you could buy the same menu for just $32.64 by shopping at its stores.

The Hipster
If you were to upgrade that conventional turkey to an organic, free-range one, the price jumps from $21.65 to well over $100 at specialty shops. A 16-pound turkey from Fleisher’s Pasture Raised Meats in New York City rings in at $127.84, or $7.99 a pound vs. the roughly $1.35 per pound for a supermarket bird. Add in organic, locally-sourced vegetables and dairy for your meal, and the costs for sides rise at least $15 over the Farm Bureau’s projection, according to our estimates. Altogether, a healthy, hipster-approved, fully organic Thanksgiving dinner for 10 will cost in the neighborhood of $170.

The Vegan
For a vegan thanksgiving, the “turkey” costs would be similar to that for an organic free-range bird. The soy-based Gardein Stuffed Holiday Roast, picked by Slate as the tastiest of the the faux turkey bunch, costs about $8 a pound. The costs for vegan side dishes and desserts would only be about $5 more than those of the Farm Bureau’s classic menu. Combine the price for 16 pounds of faux turkey and all the trimmings and dessert, and a 10-person vegan Thanksgiving dinner costs about $155.

The 1%
Upgrading to a purebred heritage turkey–which are leaner than standard supermarket birds, take twice as long to reach market weight, and have lineage that can be traced back to the 1800s–will cost upwards of $10 per pound for the meat portion of the meal. Factor that in, along with similarly upgraded sides and desserts, and Thanksgiving dinner for 10 will easily run $250 or more.

The Lazy Non-Cook
Not into cooking at all? Prepared meals save you hassle and time, but you’ll pay for it in more ways than simply losing out on the quality of home cooking. A prepared meal for 12 people from Boston Market, which includes an 11-pound turkey, spinach artichoke dip appetizer, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry relish, vegetable stuffing, dinner rolls and two pies, rings in at $99.99. That’s roughly double the Farm Bureau’s estimate for a home-cooked meal–but perhaps it’s money well spent if you’re hopeless in the kitchen or simply don’t have the time.

Supermarkets will happily do the cooking for you as well, for a price. A meal prepared by Whole Foods Market for 12 people, including a fully cooked 14- to 16-pound standard turkey, stuffing, cranberry orange relish, mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy, costs $200. An organic cooked turkey will add an extra $50, more or less, pushing the total up to $250 or more.

MONEY Shopping

12% of Black Friday Shoppers Will Be Drunk (and More Crazy Facts About the Holiday Frenzy)

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Shoppers wait to enter the Aeropostale store in Tyson's Corner, Virginia during 'Midnight Madness' at the Tyson's Corner Center in Tyson's Corner, Virginia.. Tyson's Corner Center is the largest shopping center in the Washington, DC area. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

How many people will go shopping this weekend? What day actually has the best deals? How much will the average shopper spend? How many of them are tipsy while they're browsing for gifts?

Read on for answers to the above, as well as other nuggets about what’s in store for consumers during the annual Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend shopping extravaganza.

Less Than 5% The average discount on Black Friday for 6,000 items tracked last year by the deal-hunting site ShopAdvisor; researchers found that the average discount during the holiday period was highest on December 18 (17.5%).

5 Number of hours that RadioShack will shut down on Thanksgiving (noon to 5 p.m.); it had originally planned to stay open from 8 a.m. to midnight, but decided to close during the middle of the day after receiving complaints from employees.

10 Number of employees at a Virginia Best Buy whose sole job is to restock items as soon as there are gaps on store shelves on Black Friday.

12% Proportion of Thanksgiving Day shoppers who admit to hitting the stores on the holiday while under the influence of alcohol, according to a survey conducted on the behalf of the coupon site RetailMeNot.

16% vs. 50% Respectively, the percentages of shoppers ages 55+ and 18 to 24 and who think it’s “a great idea” for stores to be open on Thanksgiving.

22 Number of days before Black Friday that two women in California began camping out at a Best Buy in order to be first in line for deals. They hope to buy a cheap TV.

25% Amount of extra trash thrown away by Americans during the Thanksgiving-New Year’s period, compared to any other time of the year.

28% vs. 32% Percentages of women and men, respectively, who plan on spending $250 to $500 on Black Friday (yes, more guys than girls).

At Least 3 Dozen Number of national retailers, including Costco, Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, and Nordstrom, that have decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving.

38% Percentage of shoppers who plan on purchasing holiday gifts with credit cards, up from 28.5% last year and the highest level recorded since the National Retail Federation has asked the question in surveys.

39% Proportion of Americans who feel pressured to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season.

42 Number of consecutive hours that Kmart stores will be open, starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and lasting through midnight on Black Friday.

70% Percentage of consumers who say that stores should be closed on Thanksgiving this year, up from 60% in 2012.

70% Percentage of consumers who say that Black Friday is meaningless because “there will be more sales throughout the holidays.”

71% Percentage of consumers who say they may not like the gift they receive over the holidays.

96% Percentage of consumers who say that discounts are important to their shopping decisions during the holidays, up from 94% last year—and three in ten say that they’ll hold out for discounts of 50% or more before making a purchase.

$407 Average amount spent by consumers over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, down 4% compared to the year before.

$450 Minimum you must spend at one of two malls in southern California in order to receive a free Uber ride home, starting on Black Friday and stretching through Christmas Eve.

140 Million Estimated number of consumers who will shop in stores or online this weekend, according to the National Retail Federation, roughly the same as the expectations leading into the 2013 Thanksgiving-Black Friday period.

 

TIME technology

6 Unexpectedly Absorbing Games to Play on Your Phone While Ignoring Your Family This Holiday Season

Using phone
Getty Images

Kidding! Don’t ignore your family. Unless your family is awful. In which case, enjoy these distractions

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

The realities of distance have long dictated that my time spent among family is somewhat limited to a couple weeks in total each year. My people of origin all live in South Florida, while I am in Boston, and although my in-laws in upstate New York are closer, they’re still far enough away, and everyone involved is so busy, that visits are special occasions and not predictable occurrences.

I miss them, enormously, all the time. Because of this, it’s actually pretty rare that I ignore anyone when we’re visiting, given that I treasure and cherish every moment with my beloved family.

But, you know, even I have my limits.

Sometimes, surrounded by people who love you, or at least people to whom you are related, you just want to put your head down and do something, anything other than listen to your cousin talk about her wedding plans for an hour, or your aunt ranting on with her offensive politics from 1953, or have to answer intrusive questions about your professional/marital/reproductive prospects. Sometimes you want to put on some headphones and just ignore everyone just for a bit. I am here for you. It’s OK.

(My husband writes about video games for a living, and when I told him about my “ignoring your family” angle, he called me a cynical jerk. That’s probably a fair assessment. But I thought it was funny.)

Monument Valley (iOS, Android)

I first saw Monument Valley at the Game Developers Conference earlier this year, and I was mesmerized. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when it received a bunch of positive attention right away, and went on to win a 2014 Apple Design Award.

Monument Valley follows Princess Ida on a journey through meticulously designed environments, in which the architecture hides puzzle solutions in optical illusions that borrow liberally from the work of M.C. Escher. In each chapter, you help Ida on her travels by pressing switches and rotating pathways and staircases to create a path for her to follow, and the solutions are elegant and often surprising.

Beautifully surreal, slow-paced, simple to learn and with a soundtrack like aural Valium, it’s an easy game to get lost in. Happily, new chapters are now available.

Device 6 (iOS)

Device 6 is similarly lauded and similarly surreal, but in some very different ways. A sort of hybrid visual novella and game, Device 6 tells the story of a woman called Anna, who wakes up in a castle on a mysterious island with no recollection of how she got there.

Device 6 dispenses with typical running/jumping game mechanics in favor of a more intuitive approach in which the text itself is the playing field. You read it as much as you play it, and the puzzles give the distinct feeling that you’re a detective collecting and analyzing clues to a much bigger mystery, rather than simply looking for the right random solution. And it is stylish as fuck, with a swingy midcentury vibe that somehow underscores how freaking creepy it can occasionally get.

Also, the sound design on Device 6 is mind-rendingly brilliant.

Sometimes You Die (iOS)

Oh, what’s that? You’re a total freakbrain nerdo who’s captivated by the more meta-level questions of What Is A Game and What Is Fun and Why Does Anything Exist Anyway? ME TOO. This is a thing you will like!

Sometimes You Die has been a bit of a surprise hit this year, given that it is actually a minimalist question with no answer, given game form. Typically, “dying” in a game is a momentary setback, but in Sometimes You Die, death is a necessary part of success, as you must litter the screen with your corpses to carve a path to follow from level to level. (Your corpses are just little black blocks so this is less gory than it might sound.)

What you wind up with is an existential query into the nature of play that also manages to be fun and surprisingly difficult to put down.

Tengami (iOS)

First off, Tengami is beautiful. Taking its design from traditional Japanese arts and crafts, you guide a character through a pop-up book world in which you flip pages and slide tabs to discover hidden passages and other secrets.

This is a contemplative puzzle-solving experience that is more style than substance, so if you’re looking for a deeply compelling narrative, you’re better off with other games on this list. But as a chill, low-thinking break from holiday madness, it certainly does the job. And not only is Tengami pretty to look at, the soundtrack is gorgeous as well.

The Last Door (iOS, Android)

Moving from really relaxing to really really really not, The Last Door is a retro-styled old school point-and-click horror game that is legitimately terrifying. I still hold a special place in my heart for 8-bit games, but even I was surprised by how frightening this game could be, given that the graphics are limited to a heap of loosely arranged pixel chunks. It really makes the point that, in the right hands, lifelike visuals aren’t necessary to sustain an atmosphere of terror.

Set in England of 1891, you play as Jeremiah Devitt, who is investigating the suicide of an old friend, and as he digs up his past, things take an otherworldly, almost Lovecraftian turn. The Last Door owes a significant debt to adventure games of the ’80s and ’90s, and it manages to feel both nostalgic and new at the same time. You explore locations looking for items and clues at your own pace, and solve puzzles to move the plot forward.

Also, The Last Door uses an episodic format, so new pieces of the story are still being made.

A Dark Room (iOS)

A Dark Room has no graphics at all. It is a game that uses only text to tell its story; even the pseudo-graphical “map” you use to explore beyond your campsite is drawn with letters and punctuation marks describing the landscape, ASCII-style. It has no sound design. In the way of traditional resource-management games, it consists of tapping things on your screen to get other things, but it evolves into a role-playing game as well before long in which you’re battling enemies and exploring spooky caves, crumbling houses and abandoned mines.

All this you get to imagine in your head, because like I said: no graphics. Add a dark, convoluted story that is somehow all the more compelling for the lack of concrete details it provides, and you’ve got a minimalist masterpiece.

It is also weirdly addictive. The first time I played A Dark Room months ago, I suddenly realized I’d been sitting on the couch for three hours amassing wood and meat for I don’t even remember what. It seemed very important at the time.

There is also a prequel, The Ensign, that has recently come to the App Store. Enjoy both, and forget your family is even in the room with you.

Lesley Kinzel is Deputy Editor at xoJane.com.

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

I Can’t Get Back the Thanksgivings of My Childhood and That Is OK

Thanksgiving dinner
Getty Images

I learned that food cooked with love definitely tastes better than food that isn’t

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of whipped potatoes with sautéed onions. I haven’t actually had them at a holiday meal in about two decades, but that is the dish that tugs at my heart when I think about Thanksgivings past.

Our day-to-day was tumultuous when I was a kid and we weren’t the sort of family where food brought us all together. Instead, reheated macaroni from three nights ago was often on the menu — and if it smelled or tasted a little funny, we ate it anyway. My dad would show up highly intoxicated midway through the meal and complain. Sometimes he’d make himself something to eat before passing out, but most times he didn’t. He usually had just enough energy to criticize my mother’s lack of culinary skills and my brother and I learned to just keep eating with our eyes on the television as dishes and pans banged around the kitchen.

But Thanksgiving was different — we spent it with my mother’s sister’s family. My father never came with us and I didn’t have to ask why. There was plenty of food and all of it fresh. The table was set lavishly with linens and glasses, a far cry from the paper napkins and plastic tumblers we had at home. My aunt and uncle weren’t wealthy but they were generous and loved to celebrate holidays with those they held dear. The rest of the year they were the paper napkin and plastic tumbler sort, but Thanksgiving was special and sacred and deserved cloth napkins. My mother could have never pulled off a dinner like this. It would have required weeks of work just to find the dining room table under the mountains of junk.

My uncle and I shared a bond in the kitchen. I’d stand and watch as he went from counter to stove to refrigerator and back again, simultaneously preparing various dishes. Everything was timed perfectly and he had a schedule to keep, yet he never hesitated to teach as he went so that I could maybe host the traditional Thanksgiving dinner someday. I learned the invaluable lesson that you can always add more of an ingredient and never take away, so never pour with a heavy hand. I learned that you have to be patient with food; it is art and it cannot be rushed. I learned that food cooked with love definitely tastes better than food that isn’t.

But the mashed potatoes were always my favorite part. He whipped them with the electric beater while adding the perfect ratio of cream and real butter. Just when they were at the tip of perfection, he’d add in the sautéed onions. They always came out just right and, topped with his signature pan gravy, they were heavenly. He knew I loved them and even if it’s not true, I liked to think he kept making them because I loved them and he loved me.

Thanksgiving dinners were special, a respite from daily life. They were a time to love and feel loved. I thought maybe this was what most families had year round and I was happy to catch a glimpse of it.

Life marches on though. Families change over time until we look back and everything is different.

My father left when I was ten and I no longer hoped he could clean up and make it to a holiday meal. My mother was stricken with multiple sclerosis and as she lost her mobility over the years, getting her wheelchair into her sister’s second floor apartment became unmanageable. I started spending holidays with my future husband’s family and my brother did the same with the family of his future wife. The strain of my mother’s illness from a chronic, degenerative and ultimately fatal disease was felt by all of us. Tempers flared and we backed away from one another. My grandparents died, my aunt and uncle moved away.

None of this happened all at once. Little by little, inch by inch, the distances grew. It seemed someone would always say next year, for sure, we’ll get back to the old way, all of us together. But those who left didn’t come back. And things kept changing.

I tried to recreate the big family dinner several times, looking to recapture the magic of the ones I remembered. The meals were nice with scads of relatives seated elbow to elbow at tables too small to accommodate them, laughing and eating piles of food. The feelings I had weren’t the same as the ones I had in my younger years. I couldn’t recreate it no matter what I did.

So I stopped trying. Our Thanksgiving dinners are smaller now but we still share our table with family and friends. I’m grateful when my son eats with us, despite his food aversions and flair for dramatics surrounding his pickiness. I whip the potatoes, but I don’t add the sautéed onions because no one would eat them except me and that’s just fine.

As I cook, I take a quiet minute and remember those holidays from decades ago. I can’t get them back but I can remember fondly the love and how good it felt to be together when the rest of the year wasn’t so happy. I can think about my grandfather standing on chairs trying to take candid photos of people eating. I remember my grandmother laughing so hard that she’d cry when, during the annual after-dinner board game, she’d accidentally answer an entire round of Scattergories in French instead of English. I am careful not to use a heavy hand with the cream or the butter or any other ingredient because, like memories, you can always add more.

I still cook food with love.

Even though those seated at the table aren’t the same, we’re making new memories ever year that we gather together. Expecting the magic and wonder of youth is a fool’s errand, and there’s no way to bring back those lost. Some fences are far too damaged to mend and sometimes the holidays mean acceptance that we won’t ever again be with those we’ve held dear.

There is significant pressure, I think, for Thanksgiving to be so many things. Now, I work to appreciate it for what it is — and also for what it isn’t, for what it could have been but might never be. I’m happy with what we have, even if it’s not what I ever expected.

Michelle Longo is a writer living in New Jersey.

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

7 Thanksgiving Mishaps That Will Make Your Turkey Time Look Good

Even Mayor Bloomberg doesn't have the best Thanksgiving luck

While Thanksgiving is often touted as a bright, warm time full of family, food, and friendship, not everyone has an Instagram-perfect holiday. To give you that extra bit of Turkey Day ego boost (or schadenfreude), here are 7 Thanksgiving mishaps that we think rank up there as some of the all-time biggest turkeys:

The Bloomberg Family Had a Crappy Thanksgiving — Literally
Georgiana Bloomberg, daughter of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, explained her family’s less-than-ideal Thanksgiving, at the Humane Society’s gala Friday. Bloomberg recounted her first Thanksgiving with her 10-year-old adopted Chihuahua, at the New York City Animal Care & Control center. “For Thanksgiving, she got to come to Gracie Mansion,” NYMag reports Bloomberg said. “And she proceeded to have explosive diarrhea all over the front hall of Gracie Mansion. And we always joke it was her way of thanking the city for deeming her unadoptable.”

Thief Takes Turkey
A Connecticut man was on his way to a friend’s house on Thanksgiving 2013, turkey and stuffing in-hand, when he got held up at gunpoint, a local Fox affiliate reported. Not only did the thief take Jimmy Mulligan’s wallet, but he took the turkey and fixings to boot. After police officers learned that the 911 call was not, in fact, a joke, they felt so bad that they bought Mulligan two Thanksgiving dinners from Boston Market.

Turkey Takes Down Thief
In 2008, a North Carolina carjacker was served his Thanksgiving turkey early. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, bystanders witnessed a man trying to steal a woman’s keys outside of a grocery store. When he started attacking his resistant victim, onlookers decided to take action and started hitting the thief over the head with a frozen Thanksgiving turkey. WRAL News reported that police later arrested the carjacker.

That’s a Big Carving Knife
Police told NJ.com that a Montclair man was arrested after threatening a group of people, who had “excluded” him from their Thanksgiving festivities, with a machete. He was arrested and no one was injured.

Speaking of Utensils…
Thanksgiving dinner conversations can get heated, but a Maryland woman might have taken the pie in 2012 when an argument ended by her stabbing her half-brother with a serving fork. He was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and she was arrested for first-degree assault.

Catching Fire
Of course, one of the most common holiday disasters is house fires. According to the American Red Cross, cooking-related infernos occur twice as often on Thanksgiving than on any other day.

Deep Fried Disaster
On that note, here’s someone who almost lit himself on fire when he tried to deep fry his Thanksgiving Day turkey:

Bon appetite!

TIME celebrities

Angelina Jolie Says She Still Needs to ‘Get This Wife Thing Down’

In an interview on the "Today" show

The notoriously private Angelina Jolie is finally opening up about her marriage to Brad Pitt.

In an interview with Tom Brokaw on Tuesday’s Today show, Jolie revealed that her relationship with Pitt has changed since they said “I do.”

Though they had already been together for nearly a decade prior to tying the knot on Aug. 23, she admitted that “recommitting after 10 years of being together” provided an added level of “security and comfort.”

“We were fortunate enough to be in that unusual situation where we got married with our children and they were part of the ceremony and they wrote some of the vows,” Jolie said.

That’s not all – as PEOPLE previously reported, her six children also had a hand in designing her Atelier Versace gown! Maddox, 13, and Pax, 10, walked their mother down the aisle, and Zahara, 9, and Vivienne, 6, acted as flower girls. Shiloh, 8, and Knox, 6, were ring bearers.

“[Our wedding day] was all of us agreeing to be together and to just commit to this life together,” Jolie continued. “Not because we had to or because anything was missing in our lives, but because we were absolutely sure we felt that much of a family. … It was really lovely. It was a lovely day.”

And apparently, even Oscar-winning actresses and UN special ambassadors have their moments of insecurity.

“I think we have more moments where I’m like, ‘I’m gonna be a better wife. I’m gonna be a better cook.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, honey, know what you’re good at. Know what you’re not,’ ” she said, laughing. ” ‘No, no, I’m gonna get this wife thing down!’ But he knows my limitations and where I’m a good wife and good mom.”

Not long after their wedding, the couple began filming By the Sea, a romantic drama set in the 1970s about a troubled marriage.

“It felt like the appropriate thing to do on our honeymoon,” she joked.

Jolie, who wrote and directed the movie, admitted that while it’s not necessarily difficult to direct your spouse, “I had moments with the actor and I’m sure he had many moments with the director.”

This article originally appeared on People.com

TIME Parenting

Raising a Deaf Child Makes the World Sound Different

baby ear
Getty Images

When I found out my son couldn’t hear, I figured out that I wasn’t really listening, either

Just before my youngest son Alex turned two, we discovered that he had significant hearing loss that was likely to get worse. A few weeks later, I found myself in the gym at the school my two older boys attended. I was there for the regular Friday morning assembly. I’d been in that gym dozens of times for such events—dutifully clapping and cheering, chatting with other parents, and then moving on with my day.

On this morning, my routine was upended. The noise of the kids filing in echoed through the bleachers; the PA system squealed once or twice. When quiet kids took the microphone it was hard to hear them. All of that was normal, yet I hadn’t really noticed it before. Now, I was hearing the world differently, imagining it through the ears—and the hearing aids—of Alex, who might someday be a student here. Having a deaf child, I realized, was going to teach me to listen.

Once I started listening, I started to learn. Research came naturally—I am a journalist—and became my coping mechanism. Through books, conferences, and conversations with as many experts as possible, I began to understand the power of sound—how the speech of parents and caregivers and teachers shapes a child’s spoken language; and then, how a child’s own spoken language—the rhythm and the rate of it—helps that child learn to read. I also saw and heard more clearly the troublesome effects of sound’s alter ego, noise—the unwanted, unlovely cacophony of our industrial world, or the magnified, amplified effect of too many people talking, or music that’s too loud or intrusive.

What struck me most was that sound doesn’t matter any less for hearing children like my older boys. From the minute a child is born, every experience that child has is being etched into his or her brain. Sound, or its absence, is part of that experience. Neurons make connections with each other, or don’t; the auditory system develops or doesn’t, based on experience. Sound is essential for anyone learning to speak and to listen—and that includes every hearing child, as well as every deaf and hard of hearing child using hearing aids or cochlear implants, which send sound signals directly to the auditory nerve.

Before we figured out that Alex couldn’t hear, he was using every visual cue available—smiles and frowns, waving hands, pointing fingers—in order to make sense of his world. For a time, he compensated well enough to fool us into thinking he could hear, but he couldn’t keep up once his peers started talking.

Both the quantity and the quality of the words children hear in their first years affect language development. Over time, as kids have more experience listening, the auditory processing in their brains speeds up and becomes more efficient. The repetition, rhythm, and rhyme in nursery rhymes, poetry, music and even Dr. Seuss help children learn language by getting them to listen for patterns. That listening practice then forges the neural networks necessary for reading because an ability to make sense of what you hear and break speech into syllables and phonemes is the foundation of reading. How a child reacts to sound—meaning how efficiently his or her brain processes it—on the first day of kindergarten correlates to how many words per minute that child will read in fourth grade. It turns out that problems with processing sound are at the heart of the majority of reading problems. On the other hand, children who read well have built strong brain circuits connecting hearing, vision, and language.

It’s important to note that if a deaf child is going to grow up using sign language, he does not need sound in order to develop that language because his world is visual. Sign language, if it’s a first language, gets laid down in the brain in the same areas as spoken language does in those who learn to speak. Reading, however, is another question. Native signers must learn to read in what to them is a second language, and deaf students have historically struggled with reading in numbers far greater than their hearing peers.

When Alex did eventually attend school with his brothers, he was using a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other. It turned out that small strategies designed to improve the classroom environment for him benefitted everyone. After we taught Alex to politely ask his friends to speak up or repeat themselves, circle time was suddenly full of children using their manners to do the same because no one else could hear the shy kids who mostly whispered. None of the children in his first grade classroom heard the math assignment because the air conditioner sounded like a standing mixer. Swapping out the old equipment helped 20 kids, not one. Ditto for adding carpeting and curtains, and covering the metal legs of chairs. According to the Acoustical Society of America, noise levels in many classrooms are loud enough that those with normal hearing can hear only 75 percent of words read from a list.

Something else happened, too. Alex’s needs subtly shifted some of the group dynamics, encouraging a new level of attention. Hearing people don’t have to look at someone who’s talking to take in what they say, but deaf people do. Although Alex’s hearing equipment does allow him to hear without looking, he still benefits from visual cues, and in his classes we applied a lesson from American Sign Language about the need for eye contact. The lovely thing about looking at someone when that person is speaking is that instead of just appearing to pay attention, you probably actually are.

Paying attention matters on a deeper level. Children’s ability to pay attention matures over time just as their language does. And like language, selective attention—the kind kids need in the classroom—is affected by experience. Practice and you get better at it. Neuroscientists have shown that when children pay attention they learn. Focusing on something specific—one voice over another or your book instead of your friend—results in a bigger response in the brain measured in electrical activity even in children as young as three. That bigger response helps build networks between neurons and trains the brain to learn.

Alex is now in sixth grade at that same school. I can’t change the acoustics of the cafeteria, but in the classroom, we still begin every school year reminding his teachers to stop and listen. We encourage them to amplify sound by, for instance, remembering to face students instead of the board and to damp down noise by consistently keeping hallway doors shut and the like.

At home, the boys used to do homework at the kitchen table while I cooked dinner and occasionally stepped in to quiz them or offer suggestions, often without leaving whatever was simmering on the stove. I no longer do it that way. I turn off the radio and hush my older sons then I sit next to Alex (or whichever boy needs help) and give him my full attention. He learns the material better, and I learn more about him. I wish I had never done it any other way.

Lydia Denworth is the author of I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language. She is a blogger for Psychology Today and contributes to Scientific American Mind, Parents, and many other publications.

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

How To Acknowlege Native Americans this Thanksgiving

Burke/Triolo Productions—Getty Images

Thanksgiving, you might vaguely remember from elementary school, celebrates a feast shared by the Wampanoag tribe and European settlers the tribe had saved from starvation. It turned out, of course, that the presence of Europeans was tragic for the Native Americans who had welcomed them.
With such a troubled history, how can we talk with our kids about Thanksgiving in a way that recognizes both sides of the tradition? Here are some tips from Dr. Randy Woodley, a Keetoowah Cherokee descendent, Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies at George Fox University, and author of Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision.
For young kids, “It’s important to understand that the ‘first Thanksgiving’ was not really the first,” Woodley says. “Native Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving feasts for thousands of years prior to the European arrival. And those celebrations took place many times throughout the year.”
Middle school aged kids can understand their role in the occasion a bit more clearly. “Native Americans were the hosts of Thanksgiving,” says Woodley. “It’s part of our values, to welcome people.” Thanksgiving is still a celebration of hospitality. But Woodley also believes it’s a good time to think about what kind of guests we want to be, either at a feast, or as visitors to a new country.
By high school, the lens can be widened. “Feasts, and the hospitality of the Native Americans, can serve as a lesson for inter-cultural hospitality in America,” says Woodley. To him, it’s a natural time “to encourage reconciliation between your family and those who share a different history.” What does it mean to be a host, to extend yourself? This also might be the time to talk about how many Native Americans do not celebrate the holiday because of the painful history that followed. “Eventually the story did not end well for the Native Americans,” Woodley says. “We are still waiting for justice and reconciliation to take place. Perhaps over another feast in the future.”

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