Beren Academy Boys’ Basketball Team Forfeits Game for Shabbat by Judy Bolton-Fasman

I get the feeling that the Board members of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools—TAPPS—don’t meet a lot of people who are different then they are. Apparently, it’s impossible for those folks to understand that not everyone celebrates the Sabbath on a Sunday. Enter the Robert M. Beren Academy Boys’ Varsity Basketball—known as the Stars—to shake up the TAPPS Board’s world.

Perhaps it’s the first time that anyone at TAPPS has seen that serious athletes can also be observant Jews. Beren’s players tear up a court with their yamulkas pinned firmly in place. And for the first time in its 42-year history, this Modern Orthodox day school in Houston has made it to the play-offs in their division. Imagine the boys’ excitement when they realized they would be going to the semifinals in Dallas this weekend. Imagine their disappointment when they realized that their playoff game in Dallas was scheduled for 9PM on March 2, Friday night—erev Shabbat. Imagine their heartbreak when their appeal to TAPPS to move the game start time to earlier in the afternoon was unilaterally denied.

Yes, unilaterally denied. TAPPS acted alone when its Board decided to sideline Beren Academy. According to Beren Academy’s head of school, Rabbi Harry Sinoff, the heads of school of the opposing teams had no objection to accommodating the Stars. In fact, just the week before, Beren moved their quarterfinals game against a local Catholic high school to 2pm on a Friday afternoon. Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School had no trouble understanding that playing basketball on Shabbat is not an option for the Beren Academy boys.

If there was ever a perfect case for the Anti-Defamation League to broker, this was it. The director of ADL’s Southwest’s regional office in Houston wrote a letter to Edd Burleson, TAPPS’ director, which read in part:

Many of the private and parochial schools that are TAPPS members are faith-based institutions where religion is their guiding principal. As such, it is incumbent upon TAPPS to ensure that its members do not have to choose between observing their religious holy days and competing in championship activities. By asking a member school to participate on their Sabbath day, TAPPS will send the message to the Beren Academy team and all other teams whose faith prohibits Sabbath activities, that their religious principles are not valued and that they are not equal members of the TAPPS family.

But the hard truth is that at best TAPPS is sending mixed signals about religious observance and sportsmanship. In 2010, the Association accommodated the Arlington Burton Adventist Academy whose students also observe the Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sunset. The Seventh Day Adventist school had reached the soccer finals in its division and, with TAPPS’ approval, secured a location to play its soccer game after the Sabbath.

When I spoke to Burleson on the phone he said that the logistics for the Seventh Day Adventists’ participation in the soccer finals was simpler, involving only four schools. Logistics? This isn’t a military operation—it’s a high school basketball game. Burleson explained that, “In that case the one school that observed the Sabbath and their opponents were adamant that all of the qualifying teams play.” Okay, so where is Our Lady of the Hills this week? The Stars team has been forced to forfeit Friday night’s upcoming game and the Catholic high school will be taking Beren’s place.

Burleson went on to qualify the Arlington Burton decision. “The [TAPPS] Board made an exception when it allowed [Arlington Burton] to play. Afterwards the Board felt that they had made a mistake and they do not want to make the same mistake again.” Of course they don’t. Who wants to repeat an act of grace and empathy more than once?

This is not the first time that Sabbath observance has been an issue for a Jewish day school. In my backyard, the Modern Orthodox Maimonides School in Brookline faced a similar conflict in 2009 when the school’s mock trial club had reached the national championships in Atlanta. The competition’s organizers initially refused to change the Saturday date, but the school enlisted the help of the Justice Department and two days before the competition, the mock trial organization allowed Maimonides to schedule its appearance on Thursday.

“I’ve been bombarded with hate mail over this issue,” Burleson said. He sounded a bit incredulous. While it’s not right that Burleson has been the target of some folks’ frustration and venom over the incident, it’s not surprising that intolerance and ignorance lead to unpleasant things like hate mail.

Rabbi Sinoff wisely put the TAPPS fiasco in perspective. “Even though the start times for this weekend’s tournament in Dallas haven’t been changed, we’ll still celebrate Shabbat like we always have.”

Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name Two Fates by Judy Bolton-Fasman


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Wes Moore’s memoir, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. If Moore’s memoir had not actually happened, it would be a neat parable of two radically different lives that originated at the same starting point.

But this is not a There but for the Grace of God Go I story. Moore’s story may appear to be the very embodiment of the symbiotic relationship between fate and choice. But really this is a story about locating and then tapping into free will to beat the odds.

Here’s the book’s stark premise: Around the time that the author Wes Moore became Johns Hopkins University’s first Rhodes Scholar in 13 years and the university’s first-ever African-American Rhodes scholar, another Wes Moore—a contemporary—was wanted for the murder of a police officer in an armed robbery for which he would eventually go to jail for life. That was 2000.

“One of us is free and has experienced things that he never even knew to dream about as a kid,” the author Wes Moore writes in his memoir. “The other will spend every day until his death behind bars. … The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

The two men grew up in the same tough West Baltimore neighborhood, but irony does not hang over this book like a dark cloud. Wes Moore, the author, went to Oxford, was a decorated war hero who served in Afghanistan and was a White House Fellow. And yes, the other Wes Moore is serving a life sentence without parole and became a grandfather at the age of 33. Two paths began at the same point, but diverged. The road taken, the road not taken—each of them men spent time on both roads.

The Wes Moores converge on the same destination. Through prison visits and letters, the two Moores bared their souls to one another and laid out their lives side by side. Poverty was both the level playing field and the catalyst that propelled these two men in opposite directions. Both of them grew up without their fathers—author Wes’ father died when he was four, prisoner Wes never met his father. Both were grief stricken. But one mourns the death of a loving father, while the other seethes over his absent one.

The author’s mother was a teacher who kept careful track of her son’s growing apathy toward school and attraction to life on the streets. She moved her family to the Bronx when Wes was a young teenager to be near loving grandparents at the ready to help Wes and his sisters. Wes won a scholarship to Riverdale Country Day School, but he couldn’t connect to his rich white classmates. He missed school and failed most of his classes.

The Rhodes Scholar Wes Moore had a mother who never gave up on him. She bought her son Mitch Albom’s book about a Michigan basketball team, and his spark for reading caught on fire. She scraped together tuition money to send him to a military school in Pennsylvania where he thrived and became one of the youngest officers in the history of the school. The other Wes Moore’s mother did her best to protect Wes from the streets. She did that and more while trying to make rent and put food on the table. It’s heartbreaking that when someone bothered to teach the other Wes Moore to read, he soared up to college level.

There were other aching near misses in the other Wes Moore’s life. His mother enrolled at Johns Hopkins in the early 80s, determined to get an education that would have propelled her into the middle class. Government cuts abruptly ended her college career. Wes himself went through a year-long Job Corps program, earning high scores on his GED and training as a carpenter. But there was no job to be had afterwards, and the money to be made on the streets was too tempting.

You may be thinking “The Other Wes Moore” sounds like a fascinating story—an important call to arms to reform society—even offering a comprehensive appendix of resources at the end of the book to help at-risk youth. You may also wonder if these men’s stories have resonance for a reader beyond the book.

I lived in Baltimore for five years during the 90s. My husband worked at Johns Hopkins Medical School in rough, jagged West Baltimore. When I drove through those streets, I was always overwhelmed by the stories I didn’t know. And I’d think about one of my favorite quotes from Rabbi Hillel of the Talmud: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?



Le Bébé et le Gun-Toting Père: Pamela Druckerman Meet Tommy Jordan by Judy Bolton-Fasman

It seems the French do so many things better than Americans. The cooking is superior. Chicken nuggets? Non! The women are skinnier even though they eat their weight in cheese annually. And now we find out that the French are more successful parents. At least according to Pamela Druckerman, an American journalist who lives in Paris with her husband and three children. She details her anecdotal findings in her new book, “Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.”

The book is a breezy cross between parenting manual and personal memoir. The takeaway is that French parents don’t sweat the small stuff and their kids are better adjusted for it. For example, I was impressed that French babies “do their nights” far earlier than their American counterparts, sleeping through the night on average at six weeks old. I guess French babies don’t get “le colic.”

French parents’ success continues by cultivating patience in their children. From the beginning, French children are taught to tolerate frustration whether it be discovering ways to amuse themselves or waiting until a parent finishes a phone call. The French are also visibly less child-centric. Play kitchens and matchbox cars don’t take over a living room in Paris. At least not the ones Druckerman has seen.

About halfway through Druckerman’s book, it suddenly hit me that she should meet Tommy Jordan. He’s the guy who tried to teach his very American teenager a lesson by shooting up her laptop. Furthermore, he videotaped his serious lapse in judgment for the world to see. It wasn’t so much the shooting that scared me (although that was very disconcerting), but it was Jordan’s eerie calmness on camera – a saccharine-like calm studded with emotional landmines that could go off at any moment.

The catalyst for this brouhaha was daughter Hannah’s rude Facebook post in which she bitterly complained about her chore-laden life. Laced with adjectives unfit to print here, Hannah was sick of cleaning up after her siblings and making coffee for her parents. As she points out, her family has a cleaning lady and her name is Maria, not Hannah.

Jordan was also miffed that the day before he read Hannah’s post he had put time and money into fixing his daughter’s laptop, for which she didn’t offer a single word of appreciation. The man clearly was pushed to the brink. What else could he do, but shoot his kid’s laptop at point blank range nine times? I don’t know what 18 million-plus viewers felt when they watched the gratuitous shoot up on YouTube, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was witnessing a crime.

If my daughter had written a churlish screed like Hannah’s, I’d be pretty angry, too. By the way, someone should tell Hannah that emptying the dishwasher and making the bed does not qualify as indentured servitude. But here’s where Pamela Druckerman could be useful to Tommy Jordan. First, it’s helpful that they have some cultural commonalities. I don’t think his cigarette smoking would put her off. Everyone smokes in Europe. (I can generalize too, Ms. Druckerman.) And they both like hats. Druckerman appeared on the Today show wearing a beret to emphasize the oh-so-Frenchness of her book. As for Jordan, he sports a ten-gallon hat.

My guess is that mistakes were made with Hannah from the beginning. She probably didn’t do her nights until she was at least 1 – embarrassingly late for a French child not to be sleeping through the night. She was probably never told to be sage. (In French, the word sage rhymes with Taj). Druckerman explains that when French parents urge their children to be sage, they are telling them much more than just to be good. They are exhorting their children to use their discreet judgment and to be in control of their emotions. For example, if Jordan had told his daughter to be sage early and often, she might not have impulsively posted that letter on Facebook.

As for Hannah’s appalling language, the French have solved that problem, too. Preschoolers have their own swear words. That’s right, there’s a lightly scatological phrase particular to kids that allows them to use naughty language in a controlled (there’s that word again) and, albeit, civilized way. I’m sure Jordan would not have minded Hannah’s foul language nearly as much if she were using parent-sanctioned epithets. Hannah’s overall rudeness might have been considerably less offensive if she were taught at a very early age to look an adult in the eye and politely greet them. “Hello” and “goodbye” in France get top billing with “please” and “thank you.” (I’m with the French on that one). Yes Hannah, that means that Maria the cleaning lady must be properly greeted and seen off.

As I think about it, maybe Druckerman should first use French parenting techniques on Tommy Jordan. After all, he acted like the more petulant child.

Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox Satmar Polemic by Judy Bolton-Fasman






Author Deborah Feldman

At first impression Deborah Feldman’s new memoir,”Unorthodox,” reviewed feels like déjà vu all over again: Girl breaks away from her insular Hasidic sect after a youth of illicitly reading library books and sneaking into movie theaters. With subtitle like “The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” it’s tempting to consider the book as a sexier, 21st-century version of Pearl Abraham’s novel “The Romance Reader.”

But that would be a disservice to Feldman, 25, who has succeeded in writing a heart-rending sexual polemic.

“I’ve never felt more Jewish than I do now,” Feldman told me, as nibbled on a scone at a whimsical Manhattan café called Alice’s Teacup.“I love mainstream Judaism. I’m still acclimating, but I love the diversity in a Modern Orthodox society.”

Her early life among the Satmar Hasidim was still exceptionally difficult. Her mentally unstable father was eventually matched with a hapless young British woman who had apparently been lured with gifts and promises of financial security. The marriage self-destructed soon after Feldman was born.

Feldman’s mother left Hasidism and her father retreated further into mental illness. Her paternal grandparents — stern, sturdy and idiosyncratically loving to her — raised Feldman. But her questionable family history made her an outsider in a community where social status affects a girl’s chances for a suitable marriage partner.

Temporarily breaking out of her private chrysalis, Feldman would haunt public libraries on long bus rides away from Williamsburg, checking out novels by Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. At home, she read in secret and stashed her bounty under her mattress.

She married at 17 to a boy she had only met twice. After her marriage she was baffled by her body’s rejection of sex itself. Between her husband’s sexual dysfunction and her own anxieties about her genitalia, it took the couple over a year to consummate their marriage. “In all that time I had no idea what my vagina looked like,” she said.

Cloaked in the anonymity of the Internet, Feldman began a blog called Hasidic Feminist. She posted essays about her challenging sexual experiences, her troubled marriage, and the hardships of teenage motherhood. Within weeks the blog went viral and was inundated with comments by Hasidic women who were in similar straits. The blog also attracted the attention of an agent who helped Feldman write a book proposal.

She began taking literature classes at Sarah Lawrence College, but told her husband she was taking business classes. “Sarah Lawrence was where I eventually came out of my cocoon,” she told me, recalling how she’d take off her wig and long skirt, and change into jeans before classes.

“I took a theater class where we did a writing exercise in which we had to elaborate on the sentence: My vagina is beautiful. In effect, I wrote an extended Vagina Monologue.

Shortly thereafter, Feldman left Hasidism for good with her young son, Yitzi, who was almost three at the time. “One of the first things I did when I left the community was to teach my [Yiddish-speaking] son to speak English.”

A kindergartner at a Modern Orthodox Jewish Day School in Manhattan, Yitzi spends most Shabbats with his father, who has also broken away from the Satmar community.

“Unorthodox” is distinctive for the way Feldman’s narrative emphasizes discovering her body, cultivating her own Jewish identity and initiating relationships with men on her own terms.

Still mastering the social learning curve, on our way out of Alice’s Teacup Feldman invited the handsome host at Alice’s Teachup to her book party. “I’m still figuring out the difference between flirting and being social,” she said.

This interview was originally pubished on the Sisterhood Blog of the Forward

The College Admissions Boondoggle- Part 2 by Judy Bolton-Fasman


When I first heard that an admissions officer at Claremont McKenna College in California inflated SAT scores for a better ranking, I thought: How did college admissions get to be such a boondoggle? Claremont McKenna is a fine school, ranked No. 9 on the list of liberal arts colleges in the U.S. News & World Report ratings. A top-10 spot on the magazine’s college lists is an admissions office’s equivalent of the Holy Grail. But as C-M’s president explained, a rogue admissions officer had been inflating SAT scores by 10 to 20 points since 2005 to upgrade the college’s percentile score.

The C-M story broke on the heels of the Vassar College admissions debacle. I wrote about the Vassar fiasco for The New York Times Motherlode Blog. My piece detailed the story of the 122 students who logged onto Vassar’s admission site (college admissions these days is pretty much paperless) and learned they were accepted. An hour later, citing a computer error, the college rescinded 76 of those acceptances – and the fireworks started.

The Vassar story makes a parent like me – who just finished the college admissions process with her oldest child – cringe. I can only imagine the crushing blow to those kids and their parents. When Vassar initially realized the mistake, the school was extremely insensitive. For starters, no one from the school was available until Monday to sort things out for those unfortunate applicants.

I was fascinated by the comments that were posted on my blog entry. A retired admissions director said that had this happened on her watch, her office would have stayed open the entire weekend to field the distress calls. Finally, a voice of reason and empathy.

A number of other readers suggested that Vassar make good on the original acceptances and let in the 76 kids it ultimately rejected. One comment even detailed how these kids should be tracked for all four years to determine if they were Vassar material after all. But an equally vocal group thought these kids should learn earlier rather than later that life is sometimes unfair. In the end, the school contacted the affected kids and offered to refund the application fee as well as help them with their college search. Too little, too late, in my view. I’m almost tempted to advocate for letting the kids in, for goodness sake.

The Vassar incident reinforced my feeling that the college admissions process is like a lottery. It also saps a kid’s strength and makes a pretty big dent in his self-esteem. How many times does a student hear that thousands of excellent candidates have very similar profiles? Color me naïve, but I believe that everyone is as unique as his or her DNA.

I got raked over the coals for a couple of points I made in the piece. The first was that this whole affair was traumatic for the students and their families. More than a few commenters stated that I was badly in need of some perspective. I appreciate that many worse things can happen to a person than to be mistakenly admitted and then declined by her dream college. A couple of presumptuous readers said that what happened to the 76 Vassar applicants was an upper middle-class problem.

I don’t see this as a class issue, but as a meritocratic one. I know it sounds Pollyannaish to believe that if you work hard enough, you’ll attain your goals. I also know there’s some random luck involved. For Woody Allen it’s even simpler: 90 percent of life is just about showing up.

But what really got me into trouble with the Times readers was disclosing that I had my daughter’s acceptance letter framed. The day after the formal congratulations arrived the old fashioned way, stamped and postmarked, I headed to the frame store. A couple of readers thought I was ridiculous. In fact, the framer asked me if I would have been so particular about the right mat if the letter had been from a state school. I’d like to think that I would have been.

A couple of people generously pointed out that I was simply rewarding my kid’s hard work by not stuffing the letter in a drawer. Others acknowledged that in the end, a college acceptance touches the parents, too. After all, we didn’t have the budget to hire a college coach, so Ken and I were the ones nagging our girl to finish her applications. Reminding a teenager to do anything isn’t pretty. There were a bunch of Sundays when it was all too much, and Ken and I avoided Anna for most of the day. There were also moments of clarity when we realized how ridiculous we were behaving.

As for the bit of the perspective some readers thought I lacked, here’s some from my dear, late father. He used to say you can get a great education anywhere.

Out of the Pink — The Color of Breast Cancer by Judy Bolton-Fasman

It’s time to give pink back to little girls and boys. The truth is that breast cancer—any cancer—is a hot angry bloody red, undiluted by white.

Last year my younger sister was treated for breast cancer. The cancer’s progression was caught early, but because of her relatively young age the protocol was horrific. I hope and pray for the day when the medical community will look back on these bald, brutal days—days when a mane of hair is gone and eyelashes fall away—as completely unnecessary. Every day of my sister’s treatment, she’d tell me through sharp, stinging tears how much she wanted to live. And through my own tears, I would tell her that I was certain she would.

Breast cancer is a muddied swirl of dark fear mixed in with light hope. When did pink intrude as the emblematic color of fighting for survival?

Pink is the color of the shag carpeting in the bedroom I once shared with my sister. It was a small room with just enough space for two twin beds and matching dressers. We’d frequently engage in sibling rivalry by running masking tape down the middle of the room.

When my sister had the chicken pox, I thought, at 11-years old, that my sticky border would establish a boundary that kept me safe from the disease. It didn’t. I was blotchy and itchy two weeks later. That was the beginning of the end of magical thinking for me. Now in this gritty, very unpink world of ours, I’m impatient. Hurry up, I shout to someone, anyone with a hospital research lab, and find the definitive cure for all cancers.

Pink is the color of the flowers that mysteriously bloomed alongside our driveway. Every spring my sister and I, in matching outfits, were posed in front of those floppy flowers whose name I still don’t know. Back then it was unimaginable to us that someday we’d be older than our parents when the picture was snapped. As for breast cancer, it only happened in the distance of long generations, to our grandmothers.

Breast cancer was once the odd flesh color of a grandmother’s prosthetic breast. The rubber breast was built into her bra and my grandmother was forever adjusting herself. Grandma was diagnosed and treated for her breast cancer in the 1950s. My grandmother never said a word to me about her bout with breast cancer. My aunt told me about the mastectomy when I was a teenager.

When the buzz cut was over my sister was startled that our late father looked back at her in the mirror. Genetics can be shocking. And there wasn’t a note of pink when her steel gray wisps grew back like young shoots.

Breast cancer can lurk in the intense blank white margins where I’ve scribbled my mad notes about the disease. But cancer margins need to be wide and clear. After the lumpectomy my sister had a second surgery to broaden that protective border of symbolic white space. No masking tape this time.

When my sister told me that her lymph nodes were clean, I was struck by how filthy cancer is.

Pink is a color. Breast cancer is a disease. It’s time to stop confusing the two and return the color pink to little girls and boys.

Solving for X: A New Educational Paradigm–Khan Academy by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Geometry gives me bad flashbacks. Abstract theorems and impossible proofs are still the stuff of nightmares. And yes, my teacher was a nun who rapped your knuckles with a ruler when you were on the edge of making a mistake. When it was Anna’s turn to have a go at the dreaded subject a couple of years ago, she and my husband bickered their way to solving a proof.

Why then did I commit soon after to sitting through at least one on-line tutorial on basic geometry? Field work or, to be more exact, virtual field work to check out the latest sensation in on-line education—Khan Academy. Could Khan Academy live up to its intense hype? You tell me. Four tutorials later I was answering SAT-level questions on angles. Correctly.

There are thousands of success stories like mine. A middle school student pegged as mediocre in math moved into an honors class a couple of months after working from early prototypes of Khan Academy’s videos. A grateful mother reported that her autistic son stumbled on one of the Academy’s videos and finally understood decimals and fractions. On-line, there are any number of exclamation-filled comments gleefully announcing, “I finally get this!!”

Khan Academy itself is a growing collection of 2200 videos—ten-minute lessons ranging from basic arithmetic to vector calculus. Salman Khan, a former hedge fund analyst, is the founder of the virtual academy. Khan began his excellent adventure in education 7 years ago when he remotely tutored a young cousin in algebra. Logistics soon made it difficult to schedule their lessons in real time. A natural problem solver, Khan posted his lessons on YouTube so his cousin could watch at her convenience.  He soon realized that his cousin preferred to see him on YouTube rather than interact with him in person. On YouTube she could pause the video or watch it multiple times until she understood the lesson. After a couple of postings the videos went viral and Khan Academy was launched.

Much of Khan’s success lies in the fact that each of his videos tightly focuses on one concept. He coolly narrates every step of a problem with simple illustrations he sketches on a simulated blackboard. By 2009 Khan quit his job to build an educational video library that further encompassed subjects such as United States history, finance and biology. Since its inception, the virtual Khan Academy has attracted over 50 million views and its videos have been translated into 7 languages.

What makes Sal Khan at just 35 qualified to teach so many diverse subjects? With a dual degree in mathematics and electrical engineering from MIT as well as an MBA from Harvard, he’s obviously a smart guy. Perhaps most importantly, Khan is a gifted educator willing to immerse himself in various disciplines. He’s the sole voice of all the Academy’s videos and his affability stems from his endless patience and clear teaching style. He’s also strategically self-deprecating, humanizing him as both a person and a teacher.

But Khan is also data driven and tracks how engaged viewers are during a lesson. For example, if he notices that a number of users fall off at the same point in a video, he’ll go back and tweak the content. He also captures information on students’ progress, demonstrating the success of self-paced instruction for a struggling pupil.

A couple of years ago Khan Academy debuted in the classroom in California.  Part of the experiment was to flip homework assignments and in-class time by assigning students to watch Khan Academy videos for homework. The actual nuts and bolts of problem solving took place the next day in the classroom. When Khan’s self-paced lessons replaced the “one-size-fits-all” educational model a couple of things happened: supportive peer groups evolved in the classroom and students who were “behind” caught up more quickly.

Khan doesn’t follow a particular curriculum. His only goal is to impart “a deep understanding” of a given subject. Deep understanding goes hand in hand with mastery. And mastery happens when a student has the opportunity to delve into a subject. Khan’s latest software can generate hundreds of exercises until a student solidly understands a concept. For me, it was figuring out the value of interior angles in a given shape. My basic understanding began with knowing that a circle is 360°–a fact that Khan repeated until it felt natural and intuitive.

Khan has thus far passed on taking venture capital money. His funding currently comes from the Gates Foundation and Google. “When I’m 80,” says Khan, “I want to feel that I helped give access to a world-class education to billions of students around the world.” To that end Khan Academy’s videos are free to anyone who can get an Internet connection.

This year Adam is taking geometry and Anna is tackling calculus. When they get testy over math homework, I send them to Khan Academy. Or better yet, I offer them more than moral support after viewing the relevant video myself.

Your Brain on Adolescence by Judy Bolton-Fasman

When Anna was a little girl, she once asked me if she had to hate me when she became a teenager. “Of course not,” I told her. I wanted her to love me unconditionally. I wanted her to love me forever.

But unconditional love for a parent is not that helpful for transitioning into adulthood. The better answer is, “Yes, you’re supposed to hate me once in a while. It’s part of a healthy teen’s developmental separation from her parents.” But bear in mind parent teen relationships are not black and white. There are many shades of gray between love and hate.

A recent study out of the University of Virginia found that allowing a child to argue with a parent calmly is important preparation for her to cope with peer pressure down the line. Specifically, the study found that 13- and 14-year olds who backed down from an argument with a parent were more prone to succumb to bad influences when it came to alcohol and drug us at 15 or 16.

Helping teens to argue fairly and effectively is often a two-step forward, one-step back process. I know for the sake of my children I must have the last word on a sensitive topic such as drinking at parties or teaching them about sexually transmitted diseases. This is tough stuff so a dialogue – albeit one that is managed by a parent – is essential for allowing kids to talk through these difficult subjects.

When I’ve stepped back and listened, I often like what I hear from my kids. They’ll tell me that they have sound judgment and hang out with a group of like-minded friends. They’re right, but I’ll necessarily counter that there are strict under-age drinking laws in this state. Or that one careless physical encounter can saddle them with a chronic, or even fatal, illness.

Then there are the complicated mechanisms of the teenage brain. Over the past decade, researchers have found that a teenager’s wild mood swings and penchant for risky behavior are not just about raging hormones. The adolescent brain – particularly the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for rational thinking – is developing at lightning speed during the teenage years, causing dramatic changes in behavior. Complementary research on the adolescent brain has also found that teenagers don’t necessarily underestimate risk. Rather, they overestimate the reward that comes with dangerous activities.

Throw into the mix that many of us have prolonged our kid’s childhoods by giving them a free pass on making adult decisions. National Public Radio recently reported that a number of parents negotiate job salaries and apartment leases for their recent college graduates. This kind of interference short-circuits the evolutionary hardware that allows young adults to accumulate the hands-on experience to make thoughtful decisions. On the other end of the spectrum, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that with puberty starting earlier and adulthood starting later for our children, emotional and physical maturity might not be in harmony until the late 20s.

“If you think of the teenage brain as a car,” wrote Alison Gopnik, a psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, “today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.”

This temporary brain disconnect brings about a couple of 21st century parenting conundrums. How do you deal with a 10-year old going through puberty when adulthood is so far off? How do you cope with a child approaching 30 who has postponed life in favor of shelter and dependence?

With the first stirrings of puberty, it’s important to avoid what Laura Kastner, a clinical psychologist and author of “Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens,” calls “co-flooding” –adding to the high emotions with which your teen has already “flooded” a conversation. Simply put, don’t spar with your child. Have a full-fledged conversation and listen to each other. Even when parents offer praise with constructive criticism, a teen just hears that as blah, blah, blah. Sometimes it’s simply better to set the rules. When you tell your child that he can’t attend a party where trouble is likely to brew, make sure that he knows that it doesn’t reflect your level of trust in him. Your daughter should know that even though not every piece of clothing is going to flatter her, in no way does that detract from her beauty.

And then there’s a parent’s default argument – the one with a snappy catch-phrase that stops a discussion from veering further off course. Mine is: “Save it for the Supreme Court.” Even if my kids make more sense than I do, I’m still in charge. And I’m in charge because their brains are still developing and syncing, making them the most misunderstood of all people: teenagers.

The Children Who Brave The Homefront: Military Families by Judy Bolton-Fasman

There is one standing order that I’ve given my children with which they have never argued. When we see a woman or man in uniform, we go up to them and thank them for their service to our country. No exceptions. A few years ago Adam and I had a stark and unforgettable encounter with a veteran. We were out for lunch when we saw a young man in a wheelchair pull up to the table across from us. There was something about his demeanor that made me think this young man wasn’t in a wheelchair because he was reckless. And then I saw the Semper Fi sticker on the back of his chair.

“This man is a Marine,” I said to Adam.

My son didn’t have to be told what came next. He knew I’d learned it from my own father, a World War II veteran. Adam accompanied me to the man’s table. “I used to be a Marine,” the man said softly. We told him once a Marine, always a Marine. Adam shook the man’s hand and said, “Thank you for your service.”

“Any time, buddy,” said the Marine. “Any time.” His mother had tears in her eyes.

My children and I don’t know anyone personally whose sibling or parent is serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. All the more urgent for my kids to acknowledge a soldier. All the more urgent for them to seek out information in articles and books that will help them understand what families in our country sacrifice when a loved one in the Armed Forces is in harm’s way.

Novelist and playwright Laura Harrington published a novel in the past year that should be mandatory reading for parents and teens alike. It’s easy to remember the title, Alice Bliss. And it’s impossible to forget the eponymous protagonist. Alice is 15 and the older of two daughters. You see the deep father-daughter bond Matt and Alice share – a bond that’s already there when she’s a younger girl helping her father shingle a roof, trusting him as he coaches her through a bout of vertigo.

Matt, a National Guard reservist, signs on to fight in Iraq because he believes it’s the right thing to do. His patriotism is unquestionable, but there’s also a bit of the adventurer in his decision to ship out. Alice knows this about her dad in the same way that she knows that he can fix anything in the world.

When you read this quiet, contemplative novel, be prepared to be both enlightened and moved to tears. The book further piqued my curiosity about children with a parent deployed in a war zone. During the decade-long fights in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military has spent millions of dollars to train hundreds of American school counselors and psychologists to help children cope with the fear, confusion and the unthinkable. What if a parent returns with a physical injury? What if he or she needs psychological help? Or what happens if a parent doesn’t return at all?

As I surfed the Internet for information about kids with deployed parents, I imagined Alice Bliss doing the same thing in the bedroom she shared with her little sister. Skipping from link to link, I thought of my father refusing to answer a factual question. “Look it up,” he’d always reply. If I had been around when he served in World War II, how would I have borne his absence?

I eventually landed on a recent article in The New York Times that reported on the accommodations public schools near bases make for military families. If only fictional, Alice had been so lucky. Harrington is so good at capturing Alice’s isolation in her upstate New York community. She inhabits her character’s adolescent soul. When Alice is running off her fear and anxiety in a cross-country meet, we’re also short of breath and bumping up against hopelessness. Reading “Alice Bliss” is a visceral experience.

According to the Times, the public schools near Camp Lejeune, a military base in North Carolina, coordinate support services through the Marines with programs like the While You Wait Club. It’s a crowded club. Some 15,000 children in the area, including those of reservists, meet to talk, to journal, to draw – to do just about anything to make the waiting bearable. With a little luck and vigilance, counselors and teachers may catch a spiraling depression or notice mounting anxiety. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, pediatric behavioral disorders steadily increase while a parent is deployed.

Maybe the study states the obvious, but the courageous Alice Bliss and her creator demonstrate that the obvious quickly becomes complex. Alice is a great character – an all-American girl that a military teen needs in her corner. She’s everyone’s daughter. And the Marine Adam and I greeted at lunch is everyone’s son