Is Shouting the New Spanking?

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

Spanking—like fountain pens, hardback Webster’s Dictionaries, and control top panty hose—is one of those things that is still around, but hardly ever used anymore. According to a recent story in the New York Times, shouting has taken its place as the discipline du jour.

“Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children,” writes Hilary Stout. “We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (‘Good job!’), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.”

Of course I yell from time to time-usually something like “hurry up,” or “I can’t believe you forgot again”-but it’s really not my go-to behavior, as evidenced by the fact that both my husband and I can bring our son to tears by simply changing the tones of our voices.

When I get frustrated I’m more of a “mean-sarcastic-if-you-could-hear-me-you’d-be-crying-hysterically-commenter-under-my-breather” than a yeller. Of course I feel incredibly guilty about this within minutes. Probably even worse than I would have felt if I’d just yelled.

Apparently, I’m in the minority.

A study published in “The Journal of Marriage and Family,” says 88 percent of the families interviewed admitted shouting, yelling or screaming at their children in the previous year and that percentage jumped to 98 percent in families with seven-year-old children.


I decided to do a completely unscientific survey of my own and ask my friends what they thought about this shouting as the new spanking theory.

Not surprisingly, the yellers were in the majority.

“At our house it gets really loud. I am talking really loud,” says V. “Three kids (15, 14 and 10), two dogs, two parents in a 1,600 square foot house then add in the TV and doing dishes etc. My kids often say ‘mom stop yelling’ and I don’t even think I am.”

“I yell, I scream, I swear, and mostly I seem to be talking to myself,” says T. “Sometimes I give myself a sore throat from yelling at my kids, but it seems to have no effect on them whatsoever.”

“Dude, I am a total yeller. AWFUL yeller,” admits S. “I yell myself hoarse sometimes and my entire family just ignores me. Which is as it should be.”

But does yelling really yield any results other than working out your lungs?

Some parents say it does if used strategically.

“Sometimes when my toddler is yelling in the car for no reason-and she knows when she’s doing it to push my buttons-I yell back,” says G. “Not at her, I just yell out one loud ‘Ahh!’ and it immediately stops her. She doesn’t cry, she doesn’t sulk, she’s not emotionally scarred, she just looks at me like I’m a little crazy for a second then behaves.”

“Whatever works,” agrees L. “Two of my kids don’t need yelling at. They listen and are sensitive and know the right thing to do. The third is not sensitive and is very, very stubborn with wanting to do want he wants. I’m a different parent with him. I use yelling as a last resort to snap him out of his relentless behavior.”

Never one to mince words, M, the mother of four exceptionally well-behaved children, says, “People who don’t yell or spank are usually the ones with the biggest brats!!!!” This comment touched a few nerves.

“Yelling, like anything, can be abused. I teach two and three year olds and NEVER have to yell at them to get them to listen. I am consistent and loving and firm in my day. Children do not need to be yelled at nor do adults. Yelling solves nothing,” says J.

“I have never yelled at my son and he is nowhere near a brat. I agree with J, being consistent, loving and firm has worked for me. I just think you need to act like you want your children to act,” says L. “If you’re a yeller, I guarantee your child will become a yeller. We have to be an example to our children.”

No kidding.

All of this research and I’m still not sure how to feel about yelling, other than guilty. My extremely scientific conclusion: depending on who you want to listen to, you’re either setting a terrible example for your children by yelling at them or dooming them to a lifetime of brattyness if you don’t yell at them.

I guess the best news is that however you feel about yelling at your kids, and whatever you actually do behind closed doors, you’re definitely not alone.

When Leslie’s not yelling under her breath at her son, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 6, 2009.

Bringing up Babies

Claire Bloomfield photo

Claire Bloomfield photo

I was interviewing this fascinating, accomplished, professional woman and it was going great. Our conversation had a nice rhythm, she had some anecdotes and zingers I knew would jump right off the page. Oh joy, oh boy, this profile was practically writing itself. Then, when the interview was just about over, I dropped the bomb. A conversational dud that fell with a big fat thud: Do you have any kids?

It sounds like a pretty innocent question, right? It’s not like I asked her about her favorite sexual position. But she didn’t have kids and that simple truth made me feel like I had crossed a line and was intruding into her personal life.

How is it that we can live in a society that teaches the four R’s–Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic and Reproduction–and yet asking someone whether they have children can be considered rude? I wanted to explain to her that even though I’m now on the mom side of the fence, I’m not so far out of her neighborhood.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was childfree and working late nights at the office, cursing my colleagues who got to leave at 5 to pick up Timmy and Susie from daycare, while I had to work late to pick up their slack. I remember what it was like. As much as I love my son, I do sometimes long for the days when every dining out experience didn’t come with complimentary crayons.

There’s been so much written about “the mommy wars” between the stay-at-home moms and moms who work, but nobody really talks about the “my life choices are better than yours” tension between the women who have children and those who don’t. Like it or not: I could feel it in the air as I awkwardly ended the interview.

Now I’m not one of those women who believe it’s everyone’s fate to procreate. I can certainly understand why everyone doesn’t want a baby on board. Not everybody pines for progeny. I know plenty of cheerfully childless people, I thought. Look at Oprah, and Mother Teresa. What about Condoleezza Rice? What’s the big deal? I wanted to explain all that to this woman and couldn’t find the words. It just felt too personal, like I was asking her how much money she made or whether she believed in God.

But as I flipped through my address file later, I realized that the vast majority of people I hang out with have kids. It’s not that I don’t know a lot of childless people, but we don’t really run in the same circles. Apparently, they like their conversations uninterrupted by shouts of, “Stop stabbing your sister with a fork!”

The moment I walked down the aisle and got married it seemed like people started asking me about “the pitter-patter of tiny little feet.” It was amusing at first, but became progressively more painful and annoying as we struggled to have a baby, and the ticking of my biological clock joined in the pitter-patter chorus.

When I was struggling with infertility it seemed like the whole world was pregnant or potty training. I began to cringe inside every time someone asked about kids. Was this what it was like all the time for people without kids?

How do you keep your cool in a world filled with drool? My friend Cara, who gets asked all the time about kids, laughed, “I usually just tell them I’m raising kittens instead.”

Daisy, a college friend who tied her tubes in her 20s, said when people ask her “why don’t you have any children,” she simply retorts: “why don’t you have any class?”

Angie, who’s approaching 40 and is cheerfully childless, says she’s been asked, “Aren’t you getting to the age where you should be having babies?” Her favorite response: “Nah. But aren’t you getting to the age where you should have better manners?”

But my favorite response came from Camie, who said, “I’ll consider having a baby when maternity clothes and minivans are sexy.”

Hmm … I wonder what Angelina Jolie drives?

Is it rude to bring up babies? Share your thoughts–and horror stories–with email.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 11, 2008.

The Handwriting is on the Wall

By wikipedia:en:user:Sotakeit (w:Image:Cursive.JPG) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By wikipedia:en:user:Sotakeit (w:Image:Cursive.JPG) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In case you’ve missed the writing on the wall, cursive writing is going the way of eight-track tapes. Today’s students will almost certainly be the last generation to learn handwriting, and I’m not sure that this is a bad thing.

Until the 1970s, penmanship was a separate daily subject taught through sixth grade, but a recent survey of primary-grade teachers found that most now spend 10 minutes a day or less on it. Even kindergarteners are learning keyboarding instead of handwriting. And while we used to celebrate a National Handwriting Week, today marks the celebration of National Handwriting Day. There’s not even a parade, despite the fact that it’s also John Hancock’s birthday today, for which my husband and I usually exchange the traditional gift of fountain pens and parchment paper.

So much for the longevity of longhand.

After all, effective communication is the ultimate goal, so why bother with a time-consuming, archaic method of communicating when so many high-tech, high-speed methods are available? Anyone out there who is worried about the development of the next generation’s communication skills should watch how skillfully the average13-year-old wields the text message function on his cell phone. Of course spelling will be the next part of the curriculum to go, but that iz a topic 4 anoth col.

Sure, I’m a little dependent on my laptop–OK, I was semi-suicidal the day my wireless card stopped working–but that doesn’t mean I have anything personal against handwriting. Until recently, I took a certain amount of pride in my penmanship. It’s extremely legible, which is the point of writing. The other cool thing about it is that in defiance to all of the handwriting experts who say that they can predict your personality traits by looking at something you’ve written, my sister and I have almost indistinguishable handwriting and distinctly different personalities. It’s eerie when I get something in the mail from her. Cue the Twilight Zone music: “I don’t remember writing that.”

I used to wonder if my son’s writing would look the same as ours did. Would genetics kick in, the shape of our hands perhaps? With two professional writers for parents, it was no great surprise that our son was an extremely verbal, great natural communicator. He started out this way on the page too, filling his kindergarten journals with imaginative stories about silver-tongued aliens and basketballs that could fly five zillion feet in the air and return with the snap of his fingers.

Then came the dreaded D’Nealian Alphabet.

Bearing only a slight resemblance to the loopy cursive writing style that I was taught in elementary school–and have barely used since–the D’Nealian Alphabet is designed to be a bridge between printing and cursive writing, adding curves and slants to the traditional circle and stick printing that children learn first.

Sounds simple enough. Almost logical.

Not for Koss. His previously legible printing quickly curved and slanted its way into oblivion. Before we knew it, none of us knew what the heck he was writing about. His sentences became shorter and less and less coherent. There was so much red ink when he got his papers back that I thought he might have had another bloody nose. The poor kid was thinking and worrying so much about his handwriting that he forgot what he was trying to say.

His well-intentioned first grade teacher gave him extra handwriting homework. Just imagine how much fun it is for a six-year-old kid to do an extra two pages of letterforms a night. A-A-A-A, B-B-B-B, C-C-C-C, D-D-D-D, just shoot us now and take us out of our D’Nealian misery! Talk about D’wasting D’time.

But his motor development is fine. You should see him put together those Bionicle pieces. What he suffers from is called dysgraphia, otherwise known as “bad handwriting.” Luckily, we’re living in an age where it doesn’t really matter that much in the larger scheme of things.

I’m doing a little happy dance because Koss’s teacher this year is letting him use a computer for some of his writing assignments.

I’m sure my own second grade teacher is rolling over in her retirement home. I can just hear her say, “Penmanship is extremely important. Don’t you know that the health of at least 1 in 10 Americans is endangered by the poor handwriting of their physicians?”

To which I’ll say, “So what. By the time Koss graduates from medical school there won’t be any more prescription forms, we’ll have prescription chips embedded in our bodies.”

And she’ll reply, “But did you know that up to $95,000,000 in tax refunds are not delivered because of unreadable tax-forms.”

And I’ll say, “Haven’t you ever heard of Quicken?”

To which she’ll reply, “But more than $200,000,000 in time and money is lost because poor handwriting results in phone calls made to wrong or non-existent numbers.”

I could tell her about cell phones and email, but at this point it seems more merciful to send her a little hand-written note, thanking her for teaching me how to write…or just transfer her to voicemail.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound

Embracing the joys of laziness

The Joy of LazinessPreparing to embark on a week of holiday leisure, I inventoried my reading material and came across the book I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It’s called The Joy of Laziness. The early bird may get the worm, but late sleepers live longer, according to this wonderful book by German Scientists Peter Axt and Michaela Axt-Gadermann.

You hear that, mom–and every single boss who has dared to give me the stink eye when I stumbled in a few minutes late because I needed that triple latte more than I needed to be on time–late sleepers live longer!

According to The Joy of Laziness, everybody has a limited amount of life energy at his or her disposal. The speed with which this energy is consumed determines your life span. Every day we encounter countless demands on our energy, such as stress, hurry, frustration, cold, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and an inappropriate fitness regimen. A lifestyle that uses a lot of energy accelerates the aging process, makes you more susceptible to illness, and can even shorten your life.

In other words, laziness rocks! And I’m not the only one who thinks so. I’ve got German scientists behind me on this.

My theory is that the only reason we don’t embrace our laziness more openly–and less guiltily–is those darn pilgrims. All that nonsense about every hour needing to be spent productively and idle hands being the devil’s workshop is just that: nonsense.

Most men I know already embrace the laziness rocks theory. They don’t even notice the dust bunnies hopping off the sofa as they plop themselves on to it. And it would never occur to them to wash the dishes immediately after a meal, or fold clothes as soon as they come out of the laundry. They may be on to something there.

The women I know, on the other hand, have an almost impossible time relaxing just for the heck of it. They join book clubs, so they’ll have some justification to read for pleasure, and get dogs, so they’ll have an excuse to walk on the beach.

My friend Suzanne, who is a stay at home mom, says that she feels guilty for playing with her kids unless her house is perfectly spotless.

“You’re a stay at home MOM, not a stay at home MAID,” I reminded her. Her perfectly clean house always leaves me with a sense of wonder. That is, I wonder how much happier she would be if she stopped cleaning and took the time to read People Magazine, watch Grey’s Anatomy and play computer games like I do.

Nonessential household duties have no hold on me. I hate to do things like wash dishes and make beds when I know that the next day there’ll just be more dirty dishes and more unmade beds. Doing the same housework over and over again makes me feel like a hamster on a wheel to nowhere. Look, it’s a sink full of dishes. Look, it’s a sink full of dishes again! Ooh, look, the dishes are here again!

Sure it’s wonderful to have a clean house and a home cooked meal, but I would much rather write a few more stories and pay someone else to provide those things for me. Especially since the domestic arts are not exactly where my talents lie.

I’ll confess, the worst grade I ever got in high school, I kid you not, was in home economics.

Admitting I’m not a domestic goddess takes a lot of the pressure off, especially this time of the year. One of the great advantages of not cooking–or not cooking well–is you get to be the one who brings wine and cheese and crackers to Thanksgiving dinner.

In addition to not having to ruin my makeup while slaving over a hot stove, there are actually intellectual advantages to idleness. According to the book How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson, Einstein launched his theory of relativity by wondering what it would be like to ride on a sunbeam; Newton discovered gravity while sitting in an orchard; and the Harry Potter character popped into J.K. Rowling’s mind as she was gazing out a train window.

I’ll be counting my blessings that a few more people have figured out that laziness rocks, and also makes you healthier, smarter and more creative. And by the way, have you read the latest positive news about dark chocolate and red wine? We’ve got a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving–except for those stupid Pilgrims.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

Not Me (By Koss Klobucher, understudy for Leslie Dinaberg)

Courtesy Adam S., Flilckr.

Courtesy Adam S., Flilckr.

Do you remember how every time Bil Keane was sick, he’d have little Billy draw the Family Circus comic like a real six-year-old would draw a Family Circus comic… if that six-year-old was extremely precocious with the same soul-crushingly bland sense of humor as Bil Keane?

Well, Mommy is sick, so I’m Billy this week. But I promise I won’t do any “Not Me” or dotted-lines stomping through clothes-line jokes. Even though I’m only six and I’ve never actually read a Family Circus cartoon, I’m sure that I’ll grow up to have the same disdain for it that my father does, since I worship him and want to be like him in every way.

Nonetheless, I decided to steal this idea from Bil Keane, even though my mommy has two Ls in her name like a real person, unlike some people.

If, purely as a hypothetical, my dad was helping me write this column, and he was stuck trying to describe exactly how he felt about the Family Circus in the first paragraph, then I might chirp in with something like, “Glassy, shallow, hi-tech, furious, other stuff. Just think of adjectives.”

I like to help. And, I’m good at Mad-Libs.

The other thing I might do while I’m writing this column is sing a ten-minute song composed purely of stream-of-conscious ramblings, and then ask if it’s good that I’m singing, and ask how it’s helping.

I suppose I should let you know why Mommy is sick, and how she got that way. My dad thinks it has something to do with how I came into their room the other night at two a.m., crying. I told them about a nightmare I had where I stepped on a bunch of cats, and where Dad got really mad at me.

I know if Mommy was in my nightmare, she wouldn’t have gotten mad at me just for stepping on cats. She hates cats. And we’ll never have a cat in this house. I know. I know. If Mommy was in my nightmare she’d probably raise my allowance for stepping on the cats. So, really, she got herself sick by not showing up in my dream.

Anyhow, I told them my nightmare, they patted my back, and then I barfed all over Mommy’s side of the bed. I felt better.

So that’s my dad’s theory. I think she’s sick because an evil Genie was released from a jewel and spread this green mist stuff all over her, which made her look very green and stony.

You know what I’m saying?

Man, these columns are tougher than they look. I just asked Mommy how long they had to be, and she said 600-800 words, and I’m only about 400 into it. I’m tempted to start one of my rambling tales about when I went skiing with ghosts. It was a long time ago, when I was about three or four, and I was…

Sorry. I digress. It’s part of what happens to us six-year-olds when we recover from being sick. We get strange little bursts of energy, and… whoa! Did you hear that hiccup? I’m going to check out

I sure hope Mommy gets well soon. I want her to start playing with me again, ’cause it’s not that much fun to bounce on the bed while she just lies there and moans. I also miss the story-tales of her life she tells me right before I fall asleep at night. Dad tries, but most of his tend to be about getting drunk in college, which seem kind of inappropriate to me.

Mostly, I miss her working, because I simply do not have the focus for this. What do you expect? I’m six. Maybe I could draw a bad comic, but not write a whole column. Billy had it easy.

Phew. Finally. 600+. I’m going to go give Mommy her column, but first I’ll visit all the neighbors, and draw huge dots to mark my path. Just my luck, I’ll run into some of their cats on the way and step on them.

Not Me!

Leslie Dinaberg will be convalescing and, if she loves me, ignoring the e-mails you send her at email

Originally appeared in in the the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 21, 2006.

The ABCs of Parenting



Sure, Passover has just passed over. I’ve got a Matzo Ball hangover to prove it. Yes, the chocolate bunnies are in their spring finest for the first-ever rainy Easter in Santa Barbara. Keep those chocolate umbrellas handy. But with all due respect to those observations, I’ve got another holiday to celebrate. Today, April 14th, is the 178th anniversary of the day that the first edition of Noah Webster’s “American Dictionary of the English Language” was published.

Inn honnor of speling gud, Iv ritten a shoret dixionarie uv mi owne.

A is for ALCOHOL: an essential ingredient to household harmony. It may lead to AMNESIA, which is the condition that allows a man who has watched his wife give birth have sex with her again.

B is for BABY: my husband when he gets a slight cold. B is also for BASKET CASE, if he actually spikes a fever higher than 98.7.

C is for COOK: a mythical household creature that, legend has it, mixes more than two ingredients together to make something called “not-take-out.”

D is for DATE NIGHT: infrequent outings where Mom and Dad try to find something to talk about besides their kids.

E is for EXCUSE ME I FARTED, I’M TERRIBLY EMBARRASSED: a phrase my husband, and now child, says repeatedly, with a huge grin.

F is for FEELINGS: which were discussed three times a day before you got married, and are now part of the date night discussion at least every three years.

G is for GENIUS: your own child, of course.

H is for HOOKER: anyone else’s child.

I is for INTAXICATION: the short-lived euphoria when you realize you are getting a refund from the IRS this year. I is also for IDIOT, when you blow it all shoes

J is for JACKPOT: when your kids are unexpectedly invited to sleepover somewhere else for the night.

K is for KARMA: what you threaten your kids with when, “Santa and Mommy know if you’ve been good for goodness sake” loses its effectiveness.

L is for LIKE: ya know, like, as if, like, m’kay?

M is for MAYBE: which usually means no.

N is for NO: which means no, no matter how many times you ask.

O is for OK: which means you wore me down this time, but next time, “No means no.”

P is for PARK: Before children this was a verb meaning, “to go somewhere and engage in an adult activity, such as necking.” After children, it became a noun, meaning, “to go somewhere and engage in what now passes for adult activity, such as nodding hello to other adults.”

Q is for QUEEN: a figurehead title, referring to mom’s role before the children were born.

R is for ROYAL RELATIVE: mom’s new role now that his highness has arrived.

S is for SHOW OFF: which is any child more talented than your royal heir.

T is for TOWELS: a mysterious cotton floor covering that can apparently only be hung up or folded by the Queen.

U is for UMPTEEN: the number of times Mom must instruct her husband and offspring to do something before it actually gets done.

V is for VALENTINE’S DAY: I have no idea what that means.

W is for WEINER: a hotdog if you’re at all mature, something else entirely if you’re my husband or child.

X is for XOXOXOXO: mom’s lunch box note signoff guaranteed to delight anyone under 7 and horrify a teenager.

Y is for YIPPEE: what mom would jump up and shout if her kid stopped asking “WHY” for at least seven consecutive minutes.

Z is for ZILLION: the number of times mom tells you why, goes to the grocery store, picks up your towels, and counts her blessings every week.

Gut eny werds tow ad? Email email

Originally appeared in in the the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 14, 2006.