Up for Discussion

A lifelong appetite for reading begins with that first taste in the classroom.

A great debate is raging in the tech world. It concerns the type of devices today’s youth will be using to read books a decade from now. Will there be a way-cooler version of the iPad? Will smart phones become personal libraries? Will the printed page magically appear in space a foot or two away? Fun stuff. Star Trek stuff—going where no book has gone before. But these flights of fancy tend to overlook a more immediate issue concerning New Jersey’s parents and educators: Will tomorrow’s 20-somethings be reading books at all? Before sounding the alarm bell too loudly, it’s worth noting that New Jersey students, as a group, mop up on just about every standardized test that measures reading proficiency. However, proficiency does not guarantee a lifelong love of reading. Every scrap of evidence available on the reading habits of adults tells us that they echo their experience with literature in grade school and high school. Indeed, kids who regard reading as an unpleasant reality of their education— or worse, as cruel and unusual punishment that steals precious time away from video games, social networking and VH1—are unlikely to pick up a decent book after the age of 20. Conversely, kids who encounter great books and great teachers, or who are at least challenged in some way by important literature, are not only far more inclined to be eager readers throughout adulthood. They are much more likely to see the world in a layered and sophisticated way. Given the powerful pull of competing media, when is the right time to start introducing great books to young readers? Although educators may quibble about theories and practices, on this one point, there is near-universal agreement. Harriet Marcus, chair of the Upper School English Department at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit, insists that it is “never too early to present the great universal ideas to children.” Jane Freeman, of Solomon Schechter Day School in West Orange, maintains that great literature should be introduced from the moment “a child can understand the spoken word.” Noreen Andrews, of Union Catholic in Scotch Plains, concurs. “At birth,” she smiles. Actually, there’s some truth to this idea. “Babies are introduced to great literature when they are sung to and read to as infants,” points out Sister Regina Martin, Principal of Mother Seaton Regional High School in Clark. She says that “while the books they hear are not great classics per se, babies learn to love the sound of literature, whether it is from a song, a nursery rhyme, or a bedtime story.” Once a school gets its hands on a young reader, that’s when things can go very right or very wrong. Talented and impassioned leadership is a must; even for the most taciturn of students, a teacher’s enthusiasm for the material ultimately will prove contagious. An instructor whose primary goal is to plow through the material, test the kids and then move on, is likely to leave uninspired readers in his or her wake. From a parent’s perspective, there is only so much influence you can exert when it comes to picking a teacher to foster a love of books. Whether your child is in public or private school, it’s a hiring and firing issue that is out of your hands. Where parents can affect the outcome (besides encouraging reading at home, of course) is by asking questions about a school’s class size and format. Classroom discussion is absolutely, positively the number one factor when it comes to understanding and appreciating literature. Here, the private schools—by virtue of their smaller class sizes—typically have a distinct edge. Andrews says that small-group discussions “enable students and teachers to dig deeper for the full experience.” Karen Calta, Assistant Directress at Mount St. Mary Academy in Watchung, adds that they are “invaluable in that they serve students well in many academic areas.” Calta explains that students across a wide range of subjects are encouraged at Mount St. Mary to develop their own interpretations, while teachers serve as guides. Andrew Webster of The Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison agrees that an understanding and appreciation of literature is not merely a means for improving academic performance in English. “Done properly,” he says, “it enriches the lives of students and their understanding of what it means to be human. It allows them to step beyond their own experience, develop empathy, and form careful judgment.” According to Nat Conard, Headmaster of The Pingry School, literary discussion does more than motivate, challenge and engage. In a learning environment that embraces diversity (Pingry counts itself among the New Jersey schools that draw from a particularly broad cultural, religious and socioeconomic spectrum), it also fosters an appreciation for multiple viewpoints. “In class discussions, our students hear ideas from students whose backgrounds are very different than their own,” Conard says. Of course, the “must-reads” provide plenty of fodder for class discussion. Simple themes have a fun way of fueling spirited debates. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the lesson is that cruel people can change. In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, young readers learn that strong people can help those in trouble. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a reminder that life can be filled with fantasy and fun. A great book is never finished saying what it intended to say. The words may have been consumed and the thoughts digested, but the ideas never stop. The classics go on teaching, inspiring and enlightening long after that first, indelible classroom experience. And like the moon that goes through phases and moods, so do young people and their relationship with books. Their interpretations grow. They change and they question. And, if everything goes right, as they move into adulthood, their hunger for the printed word is never satisfied. EDGE

 EDITOR’S NOTE: Diane Alter is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She has become our go-to girl whenever there’s a high-risk, low-reward story to be done. Before we sent Diane “back to school” for this story, she was assigned to cover the dating scene in New Jersey and New Jersey after midnight—with explicit instructions to produce two entirely different articles (which, somehow, she did). A couple of years ago, for another magazine, Diane checked herself into a monastery for a weekend of quiet reflection about her previous life working for a huge financial services company. Talk about penance!

 

The Private Option

The state’s public schools are coping with shrinking budgets and teacher layoffs. Many parents are asking: ‘So what’s the deal with private schools?’

Say what you will about New Jerseyans. Compared to the average American, we are pretty darn smart. The numbers don’t lie. Our children consistently score at or near the top of the national rankings for math, reading, writing, standardized tests and  percentage of high-school grads headed to college. Some have observed that college students represent the state’s number-one export. As a people and as a state, in good times and bad, we spend a ton of money on K-thru-12 education. So how come we’re so clueless when it comes to choosing between public and private schools? Almost every parent agonizes over this  choice at one time or another. We weigh every variable, examine each statistic, poll our friends, and attempt to reconcile this information with our family and cultural values. Then figure out what we can and cannot afford. These are not simple  calculations. Ultimately, we go with our gut…and hope we’ve made the right decision. Statistically, the case for public education in New Jersey is a strong one (see sidebar). In addition, the state’s public schools hold the promise of a more realistic and representative preview of life, bringing together young people from different cultural and economic  backgrounds, with a wide range of academic capabilities and learning skills. Public schools also tend to have more competitive sports programs and, in the case of New Jersey’s magnet schools, focused educational tracts for high-achieving
students—from Engineering to Communications to Marine Sciences. Intellectually, we know that private schools tend to offer a number of advantages, including spiffier amenities and traditions of high achievement. Most of these are linked to the fact that private schools do not receive tax dollars, and thus are free from the vagaries of state policy-makers and budget woes, like the one we’re in right now. Private schools are free, so to speak, to do as they please—or, more to the point, to do as parents please.

A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
What bang do private-school parents expect for their tuition buck? For many families, the decision is all about college; the sooner they “mainstream” their kids, the better the university they are likely to attend. For others, the pull of going private is the extra attention that they believe will be (and typically is) lavished upon their offspring. And, of course, for some families, a driving force behind writing that big tuition check is the belief that it will open up all kinds of new social opportunities. Elizabeth O’Mara, Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications at Far Hills Country Day School, views the social  component of a private school experience through a different prism. It is an outgrowth of what she considers to be one of the key advantages of going private: an understanding of the partnership between school and home. “The school becomes the neighborhood for many of our families,” O’Mara says. “We have a community where parents are encouraged to get involved in the classroom and out. We think of our parents as partners. We value inclusion, and we ask parents and faculty to model that for our students.” Chad Small, Headmaster of Rumson Country Day School, has worked as a teacher and administrator in both sectors. He points out an inherent strength in this sense of community. “Families have chosen us and want to work with us,” explains Small. “If they don’t like us, or we don’t like them, it’s ‘See you later.’ That enables us to develop a core
sense of values we can pursue, in our case Kind, Honest, Respectful and Responsible.”

IT’S ACADEMIC
For those able to wangle the added cost of a private education, the benefits to the family as a whole are secondary to the advantages awaiting the individual student. That being said, the job of private schools is not to spin straw into gold. Rather, it is to maximize a child’s academic opportunities and challenges. To the naked eye, the greatest difference between private and
public education in New Jersey is class size. In this case, looks definitely are not deceiving. Every administrator contacted for this story ranked the smaller class sizes in their schools at or near the top of the list when asked about key points of differentiation. Obviously, this translates into more “teacher time” per student. But what does that mean exactly? In most cases, it gives schools the flexibility to recognize the different ways kids learn and achieve excellence. For schools that begin in kindergarten, it also translates into a formal plan for social and emotional learning, which is designed to create a stronger academic foundation, as well as opportunities for leadership. The goal is to turn out a child who is self-reliant, flexible and confident both in and out of school. Directly and indirectly, this is actually where a high percentage of tuition dollars go. Because its curriculum is not mandated by any legislative body, a private school can aim as high as it wants in terms of the type and quality of education it offers. It can be more rigorous, offering courses  such as Latin and Language Arts to grade-schoolers. It is also free to make course alterations when new research compels it to. Unlike public schools, private schools must continuously strive to improve. If they don’t, they risk going out of business.

NARROWING THE FIELD
Among the many private education choices in New Jersey are myriad schools with some type of religious affiliation, and also single-gender schools. Both have an added element of “mystery” for prospective parents, particularly if they did not attend these types of schools themselves. In terms of size, quality and cost, faith-affiliated schools (for lack of a better catch-all term) run the gamut. Many of these institutions also happen to be single-gender, such as highly regarded Mount Saint Mary in Watchung and Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child, which is located in Summit, both of which are all-girls. Needless to say, the perceived benefit of a religious school is the attention given to a student’s spiritual development. For some families, this is a primary concern when choosing a private school. To others, it’s an afterthought. Timothy Saburn, Head of School at Oak Knoll, sees spiritual development as part of the bigger picture of community. “It’s an important aspect of a successful school today, whether independent, public or otherwise,” he maintains. “Our school culture and program foster a sense of community, which is grounded in our spiritual commitment.” Does that hold true even when a student happens to adhere
to a faith other than the one with which a school is affiliated? Donna Toryak, Admissions Director at Mount Saint Mary
Academy, insists that it does. “The values, code of ethics, discipline and spirituality are universal features that attract
the applicants,” she says. “The faith journey of each student is enriched no matter what the practice of venerating their
own God.” In terms of the gender question, Saburn cites a 2009 UCLA study. It suggests that graduates of girls’ secondary schools have a definite edge over their co-ed peers. “This current research validates, and Oak Knoll proves,” he says, “that
young women in a single-sex learning environment are setting high educational goals, breaking gender barriers, and emerging as leaders. Our young women graduate with a sense of purpose and much promise; they have found their voices and are committed to making their marks in the world.” Finally, at the top of the private-education food chain in New
Jersey are its boarding schools, including world-class institutions such as Peddie, Blair and Lawrenceville. The decision to send one’s child off to boarding school—and how to pick the right one—is an article unto itself. For the purposes of this story, suffice it to say that for families leaning toward boarding school as a high-school option, the Garden State offers some superb options for those who don’t care to schlep to Massachusetts.

STARTING EARLY, FINISHING STRONG
For many families weighing the pros and cons of going private, decision time can come prior to first grade. More than 50,000 children each year are enrolled in private-school pre-K programs in New Jersey. The number of six year olds in private schools drops to around 15,000. From there the enrollment numbers dwindle by a few hundred a year until ninth grade, when there is a jump back up over 15,000. Families sending their public middle schoolers to private day schools and boarding schools account for some of this bump. However, in any given school year, a recent study showed, as many as one in five families is moving a child from public to private, or private to public, so it’s a fluid situation to say the least. What  happens after high school? For private-school educators and parents, this is where the rubber meets the road. For the  overwhelming majority of kids in private secondary education, college is not just an option. It is the next thing they will do. Will the same kid get into a better college as a private-school senior or a public-school senior? The answer honestly depends on the kid as much as the type of school. However, where private schools offer a clear advantage is in the college advisory and application process. There simply is no comparison. Students enrolled at private schools in almost all cases receive much better preparation for their college years.

According to Toryak, this is a result of several factors. “They are surrounded by classmates with similar values with regard to education and their future,” she points out. “They are success- and goal-oriented, and focus on their current situation as a stepping stone to the college years ahead.” Toryak adds that, because most private high schools have established communications and relationships with colleges, their counselors are better at helping students navigate what has become an increasingly tricky acceptance process. Willard Taylor Jr., Director of Admissions at Newark Academy, believes that private schools are also equipped to determine the “best fit” for students when it comes time to narrowing down their college choices. In terms of the commonly held belief that a top school “automatically” gets kids into a top college, he insists that strong students take care of that themselves. “What an independent school will do,” Taylor says, echoing the thoughts of his peers, “is give a student the opportunity to stand out…to participate and perform at a high level academically, athletically, and in the arts.” EDGE

Editor’s Note: Mark Stewart has two teenage daughters. One opted for public education, the other for private. Both attended a private day school through eighth grade.

Help…I Need Somebody

A beginner’s guide to tutoring.

As a New Englander in a small southern liberal arts college, I was intrigued by the small but natural differences in the way my classmates spoke. It wasn’t just “y’all”—in addition to their inflections and accents, there were phrases that I’d never heard before, phrases that made total sense to my peers and none to me. Twenty years later, one of these phrases has stayed with me: when a grade came back in a class, instead of asking “What did you get?” my southern friends asked, “What did you make?”

As in, “What did you make on the Econ midterm?” I loved that. It’s easy to think of a grade as something a teacher “gives” to a student, instead of realizing that a grade, more than anything else, is a product of the student’s creation.

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After two decades as a classroom teacher, I can appreciate even more the symbolism of this phrase, and I make a point to tell my students this quick anecdote at the start of every school year. I think of this distinction often when parents ask me about arranging a tutor for their children. Both as a tutor myself (and as a classroom teacher whose students occasionally need additional help outside the classroom), I’ve come to realize that the best tutoring experiences occur when the student and parent understand that tutoring is not a Band-Aid. Instead, it’s an opportunity for a student to make themselves better, to change both in habit and philosophy. Tutoring is, to riff on the phrase, whatever the student is willing to make of it.

To clarify, there are a lot of kinds of tutors—tutors for academic remediation are the first that come to mind, but there are also tutors who work with students in lower-stakes situations. When a child is doing so well in school that their parents decide to supplement their education with additional support, tutoring becomes less stressful and more engaging—like a piano lesson for an accomplished musician or a training session for a skilled soccer player. There are tutors who help students in non-academic ways as well. (I was once hired by a parent to give “social-awareness” lessons to their child. We covered some basics like how to shake hands, how to look people in the eye, how to make polite conversation, how to write a thank-you note.) Like enrichment tutoring, the stakes are low in these situations. The flip side is a tutoring situation in which the stakes are very high and there is a specific, external goal in mind. Most often this occurs with tutors who specialize in preparing students for certain tests—the SAT, for example—and this kind of tutoring is more formulaic and has a clear end-goal.

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But tutoring when a student is having difficulty in school is the most common kind, and it can be fraught right from the beginning. One of the first questions I’m often asked by parents when their child is struggling in school is: “Do we need to hire a tutor?” Some parents ask this question with a lot of trepidation, as if the answer is a kind of loaded diagnosis. Others ask the question clearly hoping my answer is “yes,” because then at least they’ll have what looks like a way to fix a problem. But hiring a tutor to occupy a weekly hour of a student’s life doesn’t instantly solve an issue, and so the tutoring question is one I have to weigh carefully before I answer. Because tutoring works really well in some situations and not so well in others. Sure, a lot depends on the quality of the tutor—their knowledge and experience and expertise. But there are a number of other factors at play.

In a perfect world, parents don’t have to make this call on their own: their child’s school does the responsible thing: after observing the student for a few weeks and meeting with a team of professionals, the school administration recommends that the child receive some academic help outside of school. Maybe the school even has a team of tutors whom they recommend, seasoned educators who know what they’re doing. And maybe, after a handful of sessions over the course of a few weeks, whatever academic issue the child was having disappears. This is an ideal scenario, but unfortunately, it’s not how it often plays out. In fact, it’s a bit of a fantasy.

Instead, the decision to hire a tutor usually comes in response to pain. Parents see their child struggling at home and it hurts. There is nightly pushback and fighting and exasperation: tears at the kitchen table because they don’t understand how to do their homework, a crumpled test at the bottom of their bookbag. Maybe the child becomes secretive about their performance in school; when their peers talk about their marks on the Spanish quiz or their study plan for the upcoming Math exam, the child clams up. Parents turn to tutoring as a kind of last resort.

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I would hope it doesn’t get to that. Actually, I would hope that every parent would consider hiring a tutor for their child, even if they don’t think they “need to.” Too often, parents rely on non-academic extracurriculars to round out their child’s schedule. Instead of signing a child up for that third sport, why not have them work with an academic tutor who could take them beyond wherever they’re going in the classroom?

A tutor should commit to working with a child regularly, but I would avoid meeting more often than once a week. I have found that 45-minute sessions are best for middle-school and high-school-aged students; anything longer can be a drag. I’m happy to travel to students’ homes to work with them, but I do ask that there is a dedicated and semi-private workspace is made available. Parents certainly want to avoid having their child work with a tutor in the middle of the house, which, depending on the family, can seem like Grand Central Station. Though parents like to “listen in” during a tutoring session, I find that students are less willing to engage if they know that Mom or Dad is listening from the hallway.

There have been a few times when I’ve worked privately with groups of students, particularly when we’ve read the same novel and the session operates as a kind of book club. This can work if the children all know each other and are comfortable with speaking up in front of their peers. Certainly, students benefit from attending another academic experience that mimics a small-sized class. However, though this kind of tutoring can seem beneficial and less intense, I don’t see the individual growth in the participants that’s often found in one-on-one tutoring.

It helps to see tutoring as a temporary experience for a finite amount of time. Both for the tutor and the student, understanding that their work together is not going to last forever can add urgency and meaning to their sessions. If I know I’m only going to meet with a student six times, I can set what I want to accomplish in that time period, and the family has the opportunity to reassess after we’re done. I can focus on the skills that I’m trying to impart, and our sessions are more likely to stay focused on an end goal. One thing I refuse to do as a tutor is to become the homework police. If students are not intrinsically motivated to complete their work, their parents are the parties most effective in creating change—having a stranger’s encouragement doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. This can be difficult for parents who believe that hiring a tutor “takes it off [their] plate.” Above all else, tutors should never complete a student’s work for them. There’s a clear line between supporting a student and covering for them, and in my experience, parents don’t seem to mind crossing it. I even had a parent ask me to log in to their child’s college application portal and complete all the submissions for them, simply because their child refused to do it herself. Tutors should run away from situations like these, as I did.

Sometimes when I’m calculating grades at the end of a marking period, I notice that despite the two-dozen-or-so assessments over the course of a few months, a student will have almost the exact same average as they did in the previous marking period. The answer, of course, is that the student is the same person they were in the fall, and this is not always a bad thing. It’s hard to change. Expecting quick miracles, especially when children are involved, can be a waste of time. Instead, I’ve learned to look for small, incremental improvements; a student whose average goes from 84% to 88%. These are the kinds of changes that parents can expect from good tutors, given the correct circumstances. EDGE

Well, That Worked Out

History’s greatest ‘best-case’ scenarios.

Roughly 3,000 years ago, the Israelites and Philistines faced off in the Valley of Elah for what promised to be a costly, no-win bloodbath. The two sides did the sensible thing and agreed to settle their differences in single combat, but the Hebrew warrior-king Saul was none too keen on tangling with the giant Goliath. People were measured in cubits back then and Goliath had cubits to spare; most Biblical scholars believe that he stood nearly seven feet tall, so Saul’s reluctance is understandable. You know the rest of the story: A boy named David, tasked with bringing food to his older brothers on the front lines, volunteered to take on the towering Philistine by himself. He selected five smooth stones from a riverbank, eschewed Saul’s offer of armor and spear in favor of his trusty sling and—after some Old Testament trash-talking—took out Goliath with a rock to the forehead…and then decapitated his corpse (because that’s how they rolled back then) as the defeated Philistines hustled back to wherever it was they came from.

As “best-case scenarios” go, this one is arguably the great-grand-daddy of them all, especially considering the worst-case alternative: the near certainty that David would end up squirming in agony on the business end of Goliath’s javelin, his head soon to be a hood ornament on the giant’s chariot. Over the 30-plus centuries since, we have used this Biblical encounter to characterize the most extreme mismatches or impossible odds. When you say “David versus Goliath” everyone knows exactly what you mean. For what it’s worth, the same Biblical scholars who worked out Goliath’s height have also suggested that David might not have been the stone-slinging hero that day. Elhanen may have taken out Goliath; or perhaps David and Elhanen were one in the same. Regardless, it is David whose name we remember. It’s a testament to good press, no pun intended.

What makes an iconic, all-time great best-case scenario? You begin with a bleak set of circumstances, brought on by bad luck, poor decisions or misplaced courage. Then you need to consider the horrible (and highly likely) worst-case scenario. Finally, there has to be a magnificent, wow-factor plot twist—one that almost no one saw coming—that transforms a worst case into a best one. Given those ground rules, these are some of my favorites…

Squeeze Play

Battle of Salamis • 480 BC
The Persian Empire, under King Xerxes, invades Greece—then a loose confederation of city-states—and crushes Greek land forces in battle after battle. Athenian general Themosticles hatches a plan to lure the Persian fleet of 1,200 warships into a decisive battle against 180 Athenian vessels in the narrow strait of Salamis.
Worst Case Scenario: Persia destroys the Greek fleet, picks off the remaining city-states and snuffs out Western civilization before it begins.
How It Went Down: The Persian vessels press for a decisive victory, but their lines become jumbled as the battlefield narrowed, just as Themosticles had planned. The Greek ships form a wedge and ram their way through the disorganized Persian navy, sending heavily armored marines streaming onto enemy boats against the lightly armored Persian fighters. Xerxes may have lost half or more of his fleet in the debacle and Greece was never threatened by Persia again.

Runaway Success

The American Revolution • 1775
British colonists, unhappy with their lack of say in Parliament, decide to take on the most powerful global military force in history for an idea: Freedom.
Worst Case Scenario: The Redcoats send their best troops to America, crush the ill-equipped and poorly trained colonial rebels, hang the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and then return to business as usual.
How It Went Down: Fighting an “idea” turns out to be a losing battle, at least in this case. The Americans know they had home-field advantage: They didn’t have to beat the British, only wear them out. With help from France, Washington’s army traps Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown and the rest is history. P.S. England saw New Jersey as a convenient highway between Philadelphia and New York City. How wrong they were!

Thigh Master

Harland Sanders 1930
An impulsive, self-righteous and occasionally violent 40-year-old ex-manual laborer and disgraced attorney is hired to run a Shell station in Depression-era Kentucky. He begins selling fried chicken out of the structure to make ends meet.
Worst Case Scenario: Sanders blows yet another employment opportunity or, worse, kills an unwary traveler with tainted chicken.
How It Went Down: Thanks to his “secret recipe” and pressure-cooking method, Sanders turns Kentucky Fried Chicken into one of the great franchise operations in the world during the 1950s and 1960s. Sanders sells to John Y. Brown for $2 million in 1964 and becomes KFC’s brand ambassador.

 

Hat’s Off

Harry Truman 1945
A former haberdasher and Kansas City ward healer chosen by President Franklin Roosevelt as his 1944 running mate, the lowly regarded and largely marginalized Truman ascends to the oval office after FDR’s death. Truman has never been told about the atomic bomb, believes that Russia and China might make good postwar allies, and has a habit of personally attacking anyone he feels has slighted him.

Worst Case Scenario: Truman’s inexperience, stubbornness and indecisive leadership prolongs the war in the Pacific, leaves Europe in ruins and chokes off the American economy, leading to a humiliating defeat in the 1948 presidential election.
How It Went Down: Truman brings the war to a rapid conclusion, resurrects Europe with the Marshall Plan, keeps Greece and Turkey out of Communist hands, orchestrates the Berlin Airlift, supports the formation of NATO and the United Nations, pioneers legislation that creates the FHA and ends segregation in the armed forces. And still almost loses the 1948 election!

 

Roll Up Your Sleeves, Boys

Polio Vaccine 1953
While still in testing phase, Dr. Jonas Salk brings home samples of his polio vaccine and inoculates his three young sons. Prior to this, Salk had mostly administered the vaccine to monkeys.
Worst Case Scenario: His sons turn into monkeys. No, just kidding. A life-threatening adverse reaction and the bad publicity accompanying it set back the polio program for years.
How It Went Down: The Salk children experience no ill effects and America welcomes the news with unrestrained joy. “There was jubilation,” Peter Salk recalls. “There was such a sense of relief that this fear, which had been hanging over everyone’s heads for years and years and years, was finally lifted.”

 

Top Cop

Lasse Viren • 1972
A police officer makes Finland’s Olympic team and reaches the finals of the 10,000 meters at the Summer Games in Munich.
Worst Case Scenario: He literally falls flat on his face. Which he did, midway through the race.
How It Went Down: Viren gets to his feet, catches up with the pack and stuns the crowd by starting his “kick” with more than a lap to go, winning gold in world-record time. In the 5,000 meters a week later, Viren wins again, beating heralded American Steve Prefontaine and other top international stars.

 

Vision Quest

Botulinum Toxin 1977
Ophthalmologist Dr. Alan Scott begins injecting botulinum type A neurotoxin into patients to treat strabismus, a condition that causes eyes to cross or diverge.
Worst Case Scenario: The neurotoxic protein is considered nature’s most poisonous substance; so blindness, paralysis and death.
How It Went Down: The experiments are an unqualified success and during the 1980s, Dr. Scott trains hundreds of ophthalmologists how to inject the drug he names Oculinum. In 1991, he sells Oculinum for $9 million to the drug company Allergan, which renames it Botox. In 2002, Botox is approved by the FDA for cosmetic use.

 

Emerging from the Rubble

The McRib • 1981
Following a promising test-marketing run, the McRib sandwich becomes a regular menu item at McDonald’s…and is a disastrous failure. It is removed from U.S. stores in 1985, then returns on a “limited” basis nine years later as a tie-in to The Flintstones live-action movie, with packaging that features Rosie O’Donnell as Betty Rubble.
Worst Case Scenario: The gray, “restructured” pork slab is a critical flop in its second incarnation, much as The Flintstones was.
How It Went Down: Over the next two decades, McDonald’s offers the McRib through special limited-time promotions before announcing a “Farewell Tour” for the sandwich in 2005. A grassroots consumer effort to save the McRib creates a groundswell of demand, which is further accelerated by social media posts that help fans “chase” the McRib wherever it is being offered. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, McDonald’s makes the McRib available nationwide for the first time.

 

Can Do

Pabst Blue Ribbon • 1996
A beer brand in business for more than 150 years shutters its flagship brewery in Milwaukee following two decades of declining revenue. Five years later, the company hires a former Benetton exec to turn the company around.
Worst Case Scenario: Marketing a beer brand that has lost 90% of its customers proves a bit more difficult than selling sweaters…and “PBR” joins Jax, Falstaff, Schmidt’s, Grain Belt and Narragansett in the pantheon of extinct and zombie beer brands.
How It Went Down: One word: Hipsters. Pabst finds a new fan base with urban 20-somethings in search of the next dive bar and an ironic down-market beer. The company pours marketing dollars into sponsorships of indie rock, cool small businesses, post-college sports leagues and social media…and the brand returns to market prominence.

 

Sticking With It

The Blair Witch Project • 1999
Wannabe film makers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez write an improvised script about a trio of hikers who disappear in the Maryland woods. They blow through their $25,000 budget in eight days and shoot 20 hours of action to create a grainy 82-minute film they hope will go straight to cable.
Worst Case Scenario: A sci-fi film with no witch and no special effects is of little interest to distributors, no network will air it, critics pan it, audiences hate it, Myrick and Sanchez are broke and never find work in the movie industry again.

How It Went Down: Blair Witch generates buzz at the 1999 Sundance Festival by listing its actors as missing or dead and is marketed to filmgoers almost exclusively through the Internet, receiving more than 150 million hits. It grosses $250 million, returning ten thousand times its original cost and pioneering the genre of found-footage film making.

 

Crab Fest

Deadliest Catch • 2005
Ex-Turner Broadcasting honcho Thom Beers films a pair of one-hour documentaries about crab fishing in Alaskan waters during the 1990s and successfully shops the concept as a cable-TV reality series.
Worst Case Scenario: Audiences quickly lose interest in a show hinging on how many crustaceans tumble out of a wire trap…episode after episode after episode.
How It Went Down: The gritty, true-to-life documentary style of the show—backed by the narration of Dirty Jobs star Mike Rowe—transfixes audiences, who learn that commercial fishing is not only wildly unpredictable…it does indeed have the highest mortality rate of any profession in the world. Deadliest Catch aired its 250th episode in 2020 and is still going strong.

 

It’s Complicated

There is simply no explaining some of history’s weirdest trends.

 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Until the imitators suddenly realize how stupid they are. Our cultural history is littered with absurd trends that enjoyed a shining moment of mass fascination, only to wind up as objects of ridicule. Most have been mercifully laid to rest for all time, yet others inexplicably continue to rise from the crypt, rediscovered or reinvented by a new generation. The following trends have yet to return—thankfully, but perhaps not permanently. Just remember, as you read about them and chuckle, there is no telling what can happen when a few million of us decide together that some thing is the next big thing.

Color Me Dreadful

The 1970s may be remembered for outlandish fashion and funky, eye-popping design, but that is more a product of retro TV commercials and revisionist history than reality. Clothing, carpeting, drapes, furniture, countertops, cabinets, appliances and even cars were drenched in drab, dreadful burnt oranges, dark walnuts and two of the ugliest colors ever yet realized: Avocado Green and Harvest Gold.

Those who claim there is “no accounting for taste“ might be surprised that a good deal of accountability for these nauseating hues lies right here in New Jersey. For more than a half-century, a select committee of 10 people, whose identities have never been disclosed to the public, has met twice a year with executives of Pantone, a company based in the Bergen County town of Carlstadt. Founded in 1963 by Lawrence Herbert—who created a system for identifying, matching, and communicating colors for consistency across all design industries—Pantone has a mind-numbing 1,925 colors in its current catalog. Its Color Institute studies how “color influences human thought processes, emotions and physical reactions, furthering its commitment to providing professionals with a greater understanding of color and to help them utilize color more effectively.” Avocado and Harvest were Pantone creations; their sister colors included Navajo White and Selective Yellow, which sound vaguely racist today.

I was a pre-teen in the early ’70s, and I swear that almost everything that came in more than one color also came in Avocado Green and Harvest Gold. My objection to these colors is perhaps more visceral than it ought to be. One weekend in 1972, my parents rented an enormous Avocado Green Plymouth Fury station wagon (with matching interior) while waiting for our little white Audi wagon to be repaired for the umpteenth time. Halfway through the 100-mile journey to our summer house in the Catskills, the noxious smell of the Naugahyde, combined with the nauseating color scheme, literally made me vomit. It was the last time that I remember ever being carsick. Now you won’t find a single Avocado Green object in my home. Well, except for actual avocados, which I love. Go figure.

 

Beanie Weenies

We all grew up with Jack and the Beanstalk, the tale of a boy who trades his family cow for a handful of magic beans. In most versions, Jack comes out on top of this transaction. This was not the case for the countless millions who exchanged fists full of cash for a different type of bean-based promise. This story begins in 1986, when Ty Warner, the top salesman at Dakin & Co.—the world’s largest maker of stuffed toys—suggested to the higher-ups that using plastic “beans” as filler instead of stiff cotton would make the toys more flexible and posable. He was thanked by being fired.

Warner pressed on with his idea and, in 1993, founded Ty Inc. to produce Beanie Babies. Warner saw the product itself as secondary to the marketing. He priced Beanie Babies at an affordable $5, but sold them only in limited quantities to small specialty shops and toy stores rather than big-box chains—to raise desirability by creating scarcity. Consumers could never find an entire collection of Beanies at one single store.

In 1995, Warner started “retiring” certain Beanie Babies, triggering explosive interest in the secondary collector market. Prices for these originals surged past $20. Meanwhile, Warner’s overseas factories were pumping out boatloads of non-retired ones. By 1998, Ty Inc. was making more than $1 billion in profits.

By the turn of the 20th century, rabid collectors and misguided investors, uninterested in trivialities like supply and demand, had become obsessed with collecting Beanies as an investment. The arrival of eBay around this time only fueled their madness; some of the rarest were selling online for as much as five figures. In 1999, Warner officially “retired” several more Beanie Babies, but this time there wasn’t any market response—no notable increase in value or spike in demand. It was the beginning of the end.

Collectors panicked and flooded eBay with tens of thousands of them and their value blew away like sand in the Sahara. In desperation, Warner ordered all production halted by the end of the year, but his announcement did nothing to stop the big bust. By the early 2000s, most Beanies were worth between 1 and 5 percent of their former prices and wound up in truck-stop claw machines. Don’t be too quick to shed a tear for Warner, however. In 2020, the 76-year-old ranked 359th on the Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America, with a net worth of $2.3 billion.

Record Breakers

Half a century ago, before the internet, cable and even VCRs, the big three national broadcast television networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) produced pretty much all there was to watch. When they struck gold with a hit TV series, they often attempted to leverage their stars’ popularity by ushering them into the recording studio—whether or not they had even a shred of singing talent. Not to worry, they could always cut a spoken record. With very few exceptions, the result was a hilariously awful novelty single or, worse, a full-blown album. And, of course, they sold like hotcakes. These ill-conceived celebrity records are collectible kitsch today, but back in the 1960s they could be found in almost every home in America. These celebrity recordings are a few of my personal favorites. All can be found online:

A 1965 episode of The Addams Family featured Ted Cassidy (aka Lurch) as an overnight teen idol pop star. Cassidy teamed up with Gary Paxton—producer of “Alley-Oop” and “Monster Mash”—on a Motown-style dance single entitled “(Do) The Lurch.” Cassidy actually performed it on the popular variety shows Shivaree! and Shindig! for Halloween.

Sebastian Cabot, who is best remembered today for his role as Brian Keith’s butler, Mr. French, on Family Affair—and as the voice of Bagheera in Disney’s The Jungle Book—recorded a full album of poetic interpretations of Bob Dylan songs in 1967. Sebastian Cabot, Actor featured a full orchestra, and included “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowin’ In the Wind” and “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”

Lorne Greene, who played frontier patriarch Ben Cartwright on Bonanza, had a #1 hit on the US Billboard charts on December 5, 1964 with “Ringo”— a 45 from his album Welcome to the Ponderosa. Singing satirist Allan Sherman re-recorded the song as “The Ballad of Ringo Starr.”

In 1966, when Batman was the top-rated TV show in the US and “Bat-mania” was sweeping the country, MGM Records signed Burt Ward (aka Robin) to release “Boy Wonder, I Love You” and “Teenage Bill of Rights”—written and arranged by none other than Frank Zappa and performed by The Mothers of Invention. “It was one of the weirdest projects I’ve ever been involved in,” Zappa later reflected.

On the subject of weird, among the most famous/ infamous celebrity albums was a 1968 LP entitled The Transformed Man by TV’s Captain Kirk, William Shatner. It included a disturbing version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” as well as dramatic readings of Shakespeare. George Clooney once included The Transformed Man in his “desert island disc” collection as an incentive to get off the island. Shatner’s rendition of “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” was once voted the all-time worst Beatles cover.

Unsafe at Any Speed

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, nothing was cooler than motorcycles and sportscars. Steve McQueen said so! Naturally, kids wanted bicycles that looked like both. So in 1963—the same year that Chevrolet began using the same name for its Corvette—Schwinn introduced the Sting-Ray (below), touting it as “The Bike with the Sports Car Look.” Schwinn’s R&D director Al Fritz was inspired by middle schoolers in Southern California, who customized their old bikes. The concept was quietly ridiculed by upper management… until the entire first production run of 45,000 sold out in two months.

Fast-forward to 1969, when Easy Rider grossed 60 million dollars worldwide. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper were nominated for Oscars, but the real star of the movie was Fonda’s “chopper,” which was fitted with Angel Forks that extended the front wheel far forward, with no front brake. Fonda couldn’t turn or stop it, but he sure looked good trying.

My 5-speed Sting-Ray was a dream ride: banana seat, ape-hanger handlebars, a fat rear tire, chrome flared fenders, hand brakes and a “Stik-Shift” mounted to the top frame bar. After Easy Rider, I was one of the countless kids who added Angel Forks to their Sting-Rays. The challenge was learning how to keep from jack-knifing on turns. It took a lot of nasty falls on unforgiving blacktop before getting the hang of it.

That same year, in Britain, Raleigh launched its competitor to the Sting-Ray: The Chopper. Loaded with many of the same features as its American cousin, it was also designed specifically for popping wheelies. Back heavy and inherently unstable (the front wheel was 20 percent smaller than the rear), it wobbled dangerously at even moderate speeds and was prone to flipping “arse over tea kettle.” As with the Sting-Ray, its solo-polo seat and sissy bar encouraged double riding; its stick shift was nicknamed the “Impale-o-Matic.”

A few years ago I wrote a story for this magazine that reminisced about potentially lethal toys from the 1960s and ’70s. The Chopper didn’t quite make the cut, but it provided some painful lessons in physics for its young owners. Despite an alarming number of near-fatal accidents being reported in the press—and public safety experts decrying the Chopper as “a dangerous toy”—sales jumped 55 percent in two years and remained robust until the 1980s, when the BMX craze arrived, replacing one cool trend with a safer one that included pads, helmets and other sensible items.

Both the Sting-Ray and the Chopper are fondly remembered today by 50- and 60-somethings. Why the nostalgia for all those face-plants and near-castrations? As Hunter S. Thompson wrote of this generation in his book Hell’s Angels, “They shun even the minimum safety measures that most cyclists take for granted. You will never see one wearing a crash helmet. Anything safe, they want no part of.”

Pole Cat

Alas, some trends truly defy reason or explanation. In 1924, a Hollywood theater owner hired merchant sailor, movie stuntman and childhood human fly (how’s that for a résumé!) Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly to perch atop his building’s flagpole, as a publicity gimmick, for 13 hours and 13 minutes. It worked…all too well. Almost instantly, Kelly became a national celebrity and flagpole-sitting became an American obsession. For the rest of the decade, young people were scaling flagpoles hoping to set new records and attract newsreel cameras for a few flickering seconds of fame.

Kelly pursued his new vocation with zeal for the remainder of the Roaring ’20s. He appeared in 28 US cities, continually raising the height of his flagpoles, duration of his performances and, of course, his appearance fees—to a jaw-dropping 100 dollars an hour. His crowning moment came in 1930 here in New Jersey, on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, when he sat on a 200-foot pole for an incredible 49 days and one hour, which is still a world record.

Daredevil stunts fell out of favor during the Depression, and Kelly soon came to be regarded as a public nuisance. His last hurrah was in 1939, when Dunkin’ Donuts sponsored him to consume its product while doing headstands on a wooden plank outside the 54th floor of the Chanin Building on 42nd Street in New York City. Kelly rejoined the Merchant Marines during World War II. After the war, he became destitute. He collapsed and died in 1952 on a street in Hell’s Kitchen, where he’d grown up as an orphan, holding a diary of his more than 13,000 hours of flagpole sitting. He had titled it The Luckiest Fool on Earth.

Editor’s Note: Luke Sacher is a documentary film maker who has authored several articles for EDGE, including loving looks at mad scientists, catastrophic business decisions and the aforementioned dangerous toys. He also interviewed Jerry Lewis and his son, Anthony, for the magazine. Luke actually does own one of the truly rare Beanie Babies, although it is no longer worth thousands; his mother bought it at a garage sale for less than a dollar.

Great… Outdoors

Selling your plugged-in kids on summer camp.

By Diane Alter

The current crop of 6-to-16-year-olds represents the most connected generation in human history. And the most disconnected. We have social media, gaming, smart phones and the Internet to thank for that. We also have those things to thank for the fact that our kids may never fully appreciate the sounds of frogs singing, crickets chirping and cicadas humming. They will likely miss out on trekking through unknown territory (without GPS help), the smell of liberally applied bug spray and what happens when you move too suddenly in a canoe. They will be camera-ready at all times, to be sure, but by the time they want to relive their childhood summers, it’ll be too late to realize that those cameras were mostly pointing the wrong way.

Fear not. Thanks to a robust group of thriving summer camps, unplugged and idyllic times are still possible. Camps offering unspoiled days starting with quiet, dewy dawns and ending with dusk’s pale pink and bright orange skies do exist. As for the kids who prefer to tap their inner selves and take a more cerebral approach to summer, the specialty camps that cater to this market also do a good job getting them out in the fresh air (albeit occasionally against their will). Study after study shows that kids exposed to camp experiences and outdoor sports at an early age are likely to continue them for the rest of their lives. They also have better self-esteem and tend to do better in school than non-campers.

“The benefits include everything from improved mental health to brain restoration to community building,” confirms Laurel Peak, program manager and mentor at Wild Whatcom—a popular adventure camp in the Pacific Northwest.

Seeing as this is the time of year most parents finalize their plans for sleep-away summers, it’s a good idea to get a feel for the range of offerings around the United States. These 10 do an excellent job of promoting outdoor experiences. Some are thousands of miles away, while others are a relatively short drive away.

The Appalachian Mountain Club, founded in 1876, promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions—with the goal of making kids lifelong stewards of the great outdoors. With chapters from Maine to Washington, D.C.—including groups in Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia—young people enjoy activities like hiking, paddling, cycling, and skiing. “AMC is committed to getting kids outside, enjoying the time spent outdoors and fostering a closer connection with nature through our many offerings,” says Rob Burbank. “Without question, it’s a challenge to get kids outdoors. But we offer a number of enticing programs that enable kids to interact with the outdoors and achieve a deeper connection with a great big world that’s void of cellphones and computers.”

Avid4Adventure in Boulder, CO teaches hiking, biking, climbing and paddling—building skills, grit and determination. “Kids from all over the country come for our outdoor adventures,” says Ileana Street. “Stand-up paddle boarding, rock climbing, and mountain biking are just some of our activity offerings. We make sports inviting not intimidating. It’s empowering to master a new skill and it’s a confidence-booster.” Campers stay in comfortable (but not cushy) cabins, and meal-wise, Avid4Adventure accommodates any kind of diet. Programs change every year so that repeat guests are introduced to new challenges.

Bold Earth in Golden, CO, offers teenagers an adventure-travel summer camp filled with exploration, learning and discovery. The camp focuses on small groups and promotes leadership, teamwork and excellence in a supportive environment. “We introduce kids, in a very successful way, how to be in the game instead of simply playing the game,” says Abbott Wallis. “There are no locked doors, no HBO, and it’s all super-honest. We teach kids how to connect with others. We turn the entertainment on while turning the computers off. In bringing out laughter, dancing, and singing, we make sure that when kids return home they have a big story to tell—It was incredible…I was incredible.” Since 1976, over 15,000 students from 50 states (and more than 55 countries) have attended Bold Earth. Parents and teens are actually interviewed before being accepted.

Camp Harmony in Warren, NJ has both day-camp and one-week sleep-away programs. It offers a safe and friendly environment where girls and boys can make friends, discover new passions and learn to be independent. Activities include archery, arts and crafts, computers, cooking, drama, earthlore, gaga ball (a type of pinball), hip-hop dance, karate, music, miniature golf, tennis and other sports. “Camp Harmony and its staff dedicates itself to the mission of ensuring the safety and well-being of every single child, while providing a fun, unique and creative learning experience that fosters unforgettable moments, lasting friendships, an unrivaled sense of belonging and lifelong memories,” says  Carol Amedo. The goal, adds her husband, Jerry, is to create the “ultimate summer of their lives.”

Hi-Hills Day Camp at Gill St. Bernard’s in Gladstone, NJ offers a variety of programs for children ages 3 to 15 across 10 summer weeks. Whether a family’s goal is enrichment, academics, sports, fine arts or traditional camp programs, Hi-Hill has become quite good at offering something for everyone. Traditional camp activities include instructional tennis, yoga, archery, pottery, nature, technology, swimming, and dance. Teen travel programs (for ages 13 to 15) offer a mix of day camp activities and travels to nearby attractions, plus one five-day overnight trip. Enrichment programs includes academics, athletics, creative and performing arts—all which can be combined with any of Hi-Hills day camps. “What makes Hi-Hills unique,” says Allyson Day, “is that we are one of the most flexible camps. We recognize that summer is just as busy, if not busier, than a hectic school year. With that in mind, children can attend one or more of our programs for a half-day, half-week or whatever fits into their schedule.”

International Ivy offers summer enrichments programs at 11 New Jersey locations. It was established to give kids creative, hands-on and intellectually stimulating learning experiences during the summer. International Ivy offers 50 week-long, full- and half-day classes that run the gamut from computer programming to biomedical engineering to the engineering of ice cream to golfing to chess. “Our ultimate goal is to help our students find their passion,” says Lily Wong. “Once they find it, they are self-motivated to learn and explore further. For students who opt for our indoor classes, we build in two 30-minutes breaks each day for some outdoor activity and sun.” A former head of innovation at Pfizer, Wong makes sure International Ivy’s classes always feature the latest technology. The Caldwell branch offers residential housing for international students.

Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School on the Salmon River in Northern California is a premier kayak school. Its location may be remote, but the atmosphere is intimate and friendly. “Our concept is simple: keep it small, personable and first-class,” says Peter Sturges. “While we specialize in river kayaking, we also offer a number of other outdoor activities. Some kids come as kayak newbies, while others are experienced. Many come back year after year.” There is no Internet service for the kids, adds Sturges’s wife, Kristy, and they aren’t allowed to bring any electronics. “We keep them busy from dawn to dusk, so they don’t miss their smartphones or video games,” she says. “We have found over our thirty years in operation that given the choice, kids would rather be outdoors, learning or perfecting a new sport than typing away on electronics.” She adds the kids actually enjoy the remoteness, church-like silence and absence of tech distractions.

Sandborn Western Camp in Florissant, CO has been hosting boys and girls from all over the world for six decades. The western-themed camp offers horseback riding, rock climbing, canoeing, swimming, tubing, archery, pottery and more. For many suburban campers, Sandborn is the first time that they know what it really means to be content without electronics. “We offer outdoor adventures that are appropriately challenging,” says Mike MacDonald. “We have over six thousand acres for kids to explore. They find great value and power in being outdoors.” Kids learn to become truly aware of nature’s bounty, he adds, and that awareness stretches their minds and helps them grow as people. “They’re eager to ‘climb the mountain’—whatever the mountain might be—and find out just how unique and strong they are.”

EXPLORE MORE

For more information on the camps in this section, log onto the web addresses below. Camps in (or close to) New Jersey are in bold:

Appalachian Mountain Club • outdoors.org Avid4Adventure • avid4.com

Bold Earth • boldearth.com

Camp Harmony • campharmony.com

Hi-Hills at Gill St. Bernard’s • hihills.com International Ivy • iisummer.com

Otter Bar Lodge • otterbar.com

Sandborn Western Camps • sandbornwesterncamps.com Wilderness Adventures • wildernessventures.com

Wild Whatcom • wildwhatcom.org

www.thinkstockphotos.com

Wilderness Adventures has dedicated the last 41 years to helping teens from all over the globe become responsible adults through challenging and meaningful year-round outdoor adventures—from surfing to snowboarding. With each passing year, the company finds it must focus more and more on what used to be considered the “basics” of the camp experience. “Many young people today don’t know how to communicate face-to-face,” says Mike Cottingham. “We show them how. We’ve been electronics-free from the beginning; these days it can be difficult to convince kids that escaping the comforts of home will open them up to a new world that’s far more fun than the one they leave behind. Yet we do. Our students experience beauty beyond description, and become valuable contributors to our small groups. They establish lifelong friendships and many discover who they really are for the first time in their lives.” Wilderness Adventures camps are located in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and in several international destinations.

Wild Whatcom in Bellingham, WA immerses boys and girls in exploration of the Northwest’s vast forests, wild rivers, mountainous meadows, tumbling waterfalls and pebbled beaches. “We aim to help kids discover their capabilities through suitable challenges, to better understand themselves and others,” says Laurel Peak. Wild Whatcom campers hike the Cascade ridges, watch the sunset over the Pacific, sleep under a star-studded sky, and play games that promote meaningful connections and new discoveries.

Editor’s Note: After working for many years on Wall Street covering for brokers, Diane Alter started covering the markets for print and electronic media in 2009. She is a regular features contributor to EDGE and other publications and web sites. When not writing, she is likely running.

Last year, Diane Alter wrote a story for EDGE about Extreme summer camps. You can find it at edgemagonline.com in the Family section. Also in that section is a helpful How-To story by Chris Gibbs on picking the right camp for your child.

Living Proof

Eight incredible tales of wilderness survival.

Nothing is more terrifying than a wilderness survival situation. In one jolting moment, you are torn from safety and security and thrown into profound peril. You are alone, with little more than your wits and endurance keeping you alive. It’s the stuff of nightmares. And, of course, the stuff of movies and television. Think Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Or James Franco in 127 Hours. Or, if you’re a reality TV fan, Naked and Afraid. The theme of man- or woman-against-nature is as old as literature. 

Older, in fact…hear me out.

I believe it’s a part of our basic biology. Think about it: We all are descended from at least one individual who found himself or herself alone in the wild, possibly left for dead, and then somehow beat the odds and made it back to safety. That little speck of DNA that survived along with that person has been passed down through a dozen or a hundred or a thousand generations—to me, to you, to all of us. Which is why our curiosity is triggered and our adrenaline begins to surge when we see or hear or read about someone who defies the odds and stumbles out of an impenetrable jungle or washes up on a distant shore.

One of the most enduring survival stories in the annals of popular fiction is Robinson Crusoe, the tale of a shipwrecked traveler who spends 28 years on a relentlessly hostile island somewhere in the Caribbean. The book was first published in 1719 and was an immediate sensation. Many readers believed it to be a real-life account and wondered how they might fare in similar circumstances. This was a new genre, “realistic fiction,” and author Daniel DeFoe had clearly tapped into that primal wiring all humans share. Although the plot details of Robinson Crusoe leaped from the fertile imagination of DeFoe, the inspiration for the title character almost certainly came from the incredible tale of Alexander Selkirk, our first of eight remarkable survival stories. 

ALONE ON AN ISLAND 

Selkirk was a 20-something Scottish privateer during the War of Spanish Succession, a conflict that embroiled all of Western Europe and its colonies in the early 1700s and helped England become a world economic power. Selkirk’s impulse control left much to be desired. He actually had chosen a life at sea over showing up in court to face charges of “indecent conduct in church.” In 1704, he was serving aboard  the Cinque Ports in the Pacific, fighting French  ships and plundering Spanish mining settlements in South America. When his captain, Thomas Stradling, overloaded the leaky ship on a resupply stop in Mas a Terra, an uninhabited island off the coast of Chile, Selkirk insisted he would not sail unless much-needed repairs were made. Captain Stradling took the unruly Selkirk at his word and abandoned him on the island with a musket, hatchet, knife, cooking pot and Bible. The Cinque Ports sailed away…and soon sank. 

 Selkirk set up camp on the beach, living off lobsters and waiting for another ship to sail by. His first of many rude awakenings came during mating season for thousands of sea lions, which chased him off the beach and into the island’s interior. There he lived off wild turnips and cabbage, as well as feral goats, when he could catch them. Unfortunately, Selkirk found himself plagued by rats, which attacked him every night after the sun went down. He solved this problem by using goat milk and meat to domesticate wild cats that lived on the island. They kept the rodent population at bay. Two ships did show up, but both were Spanish. One spotted him and sent ashore a landing party to capture him. Had they been successful, Selkirk would likely have been executed. 

Four years and four months after being marooned, Selkirk was finally rescued by an English privateer and went back to his plundering ways like a man making up for lost time. Still an impetuous risk-taker, he was given command of his own ship and enjoyed several successful forays into Spanish territories. He made enough to retire comfortably in London, and his story made him something of a celebrity there, but soon Selkirk grew restless and he joined the Royal Navy, probably to avoid the long arm of the law or some other offended party. He lived an eventful life and was buried at sea after contracting yellow fever at the age of 45.  

BEAR NECESSITIES 

Another familiar story inspired by a real-life tale of survival is The Revenant, the 2015 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. A “revenant” is someone who has been revived from death. Leo plays Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who, while serving on a westward expedition in 1823, was badly mauled by a grizzly bear in current-day South Dakota. He managed to kill  the bear before losing consciousness, but suffered what appeared to be mortal wounds. After dragging  the unresponsive Glass on a litter two days, the expedition’s leader decided he was slowing down  their progress and assigned two members of the party to stay with him until he died. While the two men waited for the inevitable, they dug a shallow grave. When the inevitable didn’t come quickly enough, they stripped Glass of his valuables and placed him in the hole they had dug. When the men caught up with  the expedition they dutifully reported the sad news of their companion’s demise.  

You probably know the story. Glass awoke sometime later to find himself alone and under the skin of the bear that had attacked him—with a broken leg and deep, festering wounds. He set his own leg and allowed maggots to feast on his dying flesh in order to prevent gangrene. He survived on berries and roots. Glass dragged himself to the Cheyenne River, made a crude raft, and floated down to Fort Kiowa—a six-week journey covering 200 miles. After recovering from his injuries, Glass set out to exact murderous revenge on the two men who left him for dead.  

Glass caught up with one of them, a teenager named Bridges, where the Bighorn River empties into the Yellowstone River. Seeing how young Bridges was, he decided to spare him. He found the second man, named Fitzgerald, in Nebraska. Fitzgerald had joined the army and was stationed at Fort Atkinson. Knowing he would be executed if he killed a U.S. soldier, Glass spared Fitzgerald, too, but warned him that he had better make the military a lifelong commitment—because the day he left the army he would end him. Glass never got the chance. He returned to frontier life and was killed during a skirmish with an Arikira war party. If you haven’t seen The Revenant, don’t worry about spoilers here; the movie is what they called a “fictionalized” version of the true story.

SNOWBOUND 

Jan Baalsrud’s story sounds like it must be fiction. A Norwegian commando fighting for the resistance against Nazi occupiers during World War II, Balsruud and 11 compatriots set out to destroy an airfield control tower in the winter of 1943. Their mission was compromised when they mistook a local shopkeeper for their resistance contact (both men had the same name) and the shopkeeper—fearing he was being tested by the Germans—turned them in. The next morning, Baalsrud’s boat, which was loaded with 100 kilos of explosives, was sunk and everyone except Baalsrud was either killed or captured. 

Baalsrud, soaking wet and missing one boot, hid in a snow gully, where he disarmed and shot a Gestapo officer with his own luger. From there, the Norwegian evaded capture for two months, surviving in frigid conditions with occasional assistance from locals. Suffering from snow blindness and frostbite, Baalsrud amputated his toes with a pocketknife to avoid gangrene. 

Baalsrud hid from German patrols behind a snow  wall for weeks and then was transported by stretcher to the Finnish border. Now near death, he was taken by a group of native Samis by reindeer to neutral Sweden. After months of recovery, Baalsrud made his way to Scotland, where he trained fellow Norwegian commandos. Eventually, he returned to Norway, where he worked as a secret agent until the end of the war. Baalsrud lived to the age of 71. At his request, his ashes were buried in the same grave with one of the partisans who had aided him during his escape from the Nazis in 1943, and paid the ultimate price.

SOUNDS BANANAS 

Staying alive in the wild often depends on one’s ability to take advantage of the local animals. Marina Chapman’s spin on this rule of wilderness survival is a jaw-dropper. Around 1960, she was abducted as a toddler and then left for dead deep in the Colombian rainforest when her kidnappers, possibly realizing that her family would be unable to afford a ransom payment, dumped her and drove away. She walked for days, hoping to find a village and crying for help that never came. What she found was a troop of capuchin monkeys, who eventually adopted her. She knew she had been accepted into the group when the monkeys urinated on her leg and, later, when they groomed her and allowed her to groom them. For as long as five years—Marina has no way to say for sure—she lived with the capuchins. During that time, she managed to decipher how they communicated and was able to produce a vocabulary of whistles, coos, chirps and high-pitched screams. She said all they (and she) thought about was what they would eat each day.  

By the time Marina was “rescued” by a pair of hunters, she had forgotten how to speak. They sold her to a brothel, where she did housework but managed to escape before being forced into prostitution. She used her “monkey skills” to survive as a street urchin in the town of Cucata before being taken in by a family in Bogota around the age of 14. She decided to name herself Marina after a Colombian beauty queen and eventually went to England as the family’s nanny. She married an Englishman and had a family of her own. 

Marina taught her children how to climb trees and liked to tell them bedtime stories about hunting for food in the jungle. Sometimes she’d walk around the yard on all fours. And she could spot a snake from hundreds of feet away. The kids thought she was just being funny until they were old enough to hear the whole story—which Marina struggled to tell because her brain still functioned in a non-linear way. Finally, they encouraged her to write a book, The Girl with No Name. Several publishers turned it down, refusing to believe it could be true. To this day, many doubt Marina’s story. True or not, it’s quite a tale.  

FALL GIRL 

A jungle survival adventure of an altogether different kind began on Christmas Eve 1971, two miles in the air, when a Lockheed Electra passenger plane was struck by lightning and broke apart, spilling its passenger into the angry sky. Seventeen-year-old Juliane Koepcke, the daughter of German parents working in Peru, was still strapped in her seat when it detached from the fuselage. Her mother, who was sitting beside her, disappeared as the entire row of seats plummeted to the earth. 

Koepcke regained consciousness and soon realized she was the only crash survivor. Experts theorize that the row of seats acted as a parachute, perhaps catching an updraft and, in addition, that the jungle canopy must have broken her fall. Even so, she suffered a broken collarbone, deep gashes in an arm and leg, and facial trauma. Koepcke pocketed some candy she found  at the crash site and then activated the wilderness  skills she learned while growing up in the Peruvian jungle with her father, a biologist, and her mother,  an ornithologist. Koepcke found a river and waded downstream in knee-deep water for 10 days before discovering a small boat. She poured gasoline over her wounds to sterilize them and then fell asleep in the vessel. She was discovered the following morning by a group of fishermen, who transported her to the nearest village. Koepcke was reunited with her father, who was stunned to see her alive. She then led the recovery team to the crash site.

Running on Empty  

Have you ever asked your iPhone “Where am I?” If it’s a geography question (as opposed to a career or relationship question) you’ll get an accurate answer that even includes a map. Thanks to GPS and online tools like Waze, getting lost is no longer the terror-inducing situation it was just a generation ago. Mauro Prosperi might be reluctant to admit it, but he really could have used one of those apps. He was competing in the 1994 Marathon of the Sands, a multi-day endurance race across Morocco’s slice of the Sahara Desert when a sandstorm separated him from the pack and left him alone and disoriented. Prosperi thought he was catching up, but he was actually running into neighboring Algeria. 

Out of water and realizing the magnitude of his error, Prosperi grew despondent and attempted to slit his wrists. However, he was so dehydrated that the blood clotted almost instantly. Then he recalled a bit of advice a Berber nomad had offered before the race: When in doubt, walk in the direction of the morning clouds. And so, he set off again. Eating lizards, bugs and cacti, Prosperi made it to a desert oasis and was rescued, 40 pounds lighter than when he had started nine days earlier. He had run, walked and crawled 300 kilometers in the wrong direction. 

In 1998, Werner Herzog made the film Wings of Hope, based on Koepcke’s remarkable story. It was a very personal project for the famed director. In 1971, he had been scouting locations in South America and was booked on Koepcke’s ill-fated flight…but missed it due to a last-minute change in his schedule.

WHALE OF A TALE 

Just because you can build a boat, it doesn’t mean you should be sailing it by yourself. Steve Callahan, a naval architect and avid sailor, designed and constructed the Napoleon Solo and sailed it across the Atlantic to England in 1981. So far so good. From the port of Penzance, at the extreme southwest tip of England, he joined a single-handed sailing race to Antigua in January 1982. Foul weather off the coast of Spain swamped many of the entries, including the Napoleon Solo, but Callahan made repairs and, though he was now out of the running, decided to complete the journey anyway. One week later, the vessel’s hull was punctured during a night storm in a collision with a whale. Callahan had time to collect a few items, including the book Sea Survival, by Dougal Robertson.  He climbed into a six-person life raft and watched his foundering ship drift away.   

Callahan’s first move was to activate the raft’s E-PIRB (Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon). In 2021, this would lead to a quick rescue. But in 1982, satellites did not monitor E-PIRB signals, and the raft was in the “fat” part of the Atlantic that commercial airliners did not use, so no one else was close enough to detect the E-PIRB. As days turned into weeks, Callahan put Robertson’s words into action. He noticed that a kind of ecosystem developed around his raft and was able to spear or hook a variety of fish. He also created a sun still and other improvised devices that produced a pint of water a day. Callahan fended off sharks, repaired punctures, lost a third of his bodyweight and endured painful saltwater sores for 76 days before drifting to the coast of Guadeloupe. 

After his ordeal, Callahan became a regular contributor to sailing magazines and also designed a lifeboat based on his survival experience. Callahan also wrote the novels Adrift and Capsized. During the making of the 2012 film Life of Pi, director Ang Lee hired Callahan as a consultant to make life aboard a drifting lifeboat more realistic. Callahan fashioned the various fishing lures and other tools that were used by Suraj Sharma throughout the movie.  

A FISHY STORY 

Callahan called the open ocean the world’s great wilderness. He gets no argument from Jose Alvarenga. An experienced Pacific fisherman, he set out from Costa Azul in Mexico on November 17, 2012 in a 23-foot fiberglass skiff with a big icebox and single outboard motor. His usual fishing partner was unavailable, so he took on a young, inexperienced assistant named Ezequiel Cordoba, whom he had never met before. The two men brought in 1,000 pounds of fish the first day, but a sudden storm prevented them from returning to port. For five straight days, the storm blew them ever deeper into the ocean, destroying the boat’s motor and electronics, and causing them to lose all of their fishing equipment. They had to dump their heavy catch when the vessel became impossible to maneuver. 

Fortunately, Alvarenga had managed to transmit a distress signal to the boat’s owner before going radio silent. Unfortunately, the ensuing search effort turned up nothing and was called off after two days. Alvarenga and Cordoba survived by catching fish and seabirds with their hands. After four months with no sign of rescue, apparently Cordoba gave up. He refused to eat and, after securing a promise from Alvarenga not to eat him, he slipped away and Alvarenga dumped his body over the side. Over the next nine-plus months, Alvarenga spotted several container ships in the distance but was unable to attract their attention. On January 30, 2014, he saw a speck of land on the horizon—it was a remote corner of the Marshall Islands, more than 5,500 miles from where he had started. When Alvarenga drifted close enough, he leaped out of the boat and swam to shore. Two locals encountered him on the beach naked and waving a knife, barely able to stand and screaming in Spanish.  

At first, no one believed Alvarenga’s story. It seemed implausible that he could have survived 14 months on the open sea; no one had ever survived more than a year under those conditions. Scurvy should have killed him, or so the thinking went. However, the vitamin C he got from the birds and turtles he ate probably saved him. Various ocean scientists studied Alvarenga’s claims and looked at the meandering mid-Pacific currents. They not only determined that such a trip was plausible, but that he was fortunate to have made it as quickly as he did. Alvarenga later passed a polygraph test, ending any lingering doubts. You may recall seeing Alvarenga on television. For a few news cycles back in those innocent days of 2014, he was the lead story. Later, Alvarenga gave a series of interviews to investigative journalist Jonathan Franklin, who published 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea. Finally, and perhaps predictably, Ezekiel Cordoba’s family then sued him for cannibalism.  

There are really important lessons to be learned from each of these remarkable tales of survival. If you’d like to know what they are, ask someone else. Or pick up a copy of Field & Stream or Soldier of Fortune. Not being an outdoorsman myself, I have no idea what they are—with the obvious exception of “If you’re thinking about doing something risky beyond the reach of civilization…don’t.” 

Did You Know??

Survival stories generate important information about how humans do without food and water. An individual in good health can last a week without food and water before vital organs completely shut down, assuming physical activity is kept to a minimum. Without food, the body needs about 1.5 liters of water (plus a teaspoon of salt) a day to maintain fluid levels. Unfortunately, we know this from hunger strikes. 

My stronger, more adventurous camping cousin, who had to get himself to a hospital following a surprisingly serious fly-fishing injury, would no doubt correct me. He’d say, “Aw, go ahead and do it…just do it with someone else.”  

That’s fine, I guess, as long as that someone else isn’t me.

And Cindy Makes 5

One family’s pandemic response. 

By Sarah Rossbach 

My kids, a boy and a girl, are grown and  I thought I was way beyond having another child.  Yet in the midst of the  first outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, on March 15th, we welcomed another daughter to our family. It was not an ominous, painful Caesarian delivery to beware of on the Ides of March, but the fortuitous and joyful arrival of our third child, Cindy. Really, I’m so over diapers and bottles, and, happily, so is Cindy—after all, she was delivered to our home at a full-grown mature-ish 26 years old.   

Cindy’s arrival was unexpected. As the pandemic raged in New York City, our daughter Charlotte had debated for over a week whether to leave her apartment in Astoria, Queens. On a whim, she sent out a blanket invitation to her New York-based friends asking if anyone wanted to shelter in place at our house in  New Jersey. Cindy, a former college classmate living  in Brooklyn, with 24 hours’ notice, filled a book bag  with clothes, grabbed her laptop and joined Charlotte on a turbulent ferry ride from Pier 17 to New Jersey and settled in our once empty nest. 

My husband and I didn’t properly welcome them, because we were “vacationing” for two weeks in Florida when the virus hit. Restful and relaxing, it was not. As Vero Beach restaurants closed like dominos, our stress level rose. We cancelled our plane reservations, packed up our shorts, swimsuits and sandals and headed north in our rental car five days earlier than expected. We spent two nights with relatives near Charleston and then stayed another night in Richmond at the huge, cavernous Jefferson Hotel, where we well may have been the only paying guests and certainly were outnumbered by the staff. For two weeks after we finally arrived home, our kids and Cindy social distanced from us—nothing new about that, only now they had a good excuse. 

I was curious how we, as a family that once lived separately, would acclimatize to being two generations of adults, no less with an additional Millennial in the mix. 

Cindy was ensconced in the guest bedroom and it was a huge relief that we could tell from the beginning that she easily was more like a family member than a guest. We carted up a small wooden table that served as her telecommuting desk and made sure she knew she was welcome to stay through the months ahead. Our main concern was for everyone to be healthy and safe.   

An extra person in one’s home could spell disharmony, stress and strife. To her credit, Cindy fit in seamlessly: a friend, confidant and walking partner to our daughter; the only one who could discuss Dungeons & Dragons and video games knowledgeably with our son; and a little buddy to me as we shared similar sensibilities and sense of humor.   

Cindy was socially astute as she quickly read my husband’s amusing, if naughty, trickery, cleverly dodging questions that really were ways to ensnare the unwary.  When his eyes narrowed in mock earnestness and he queried, “Who’s the most chill person in the family?” or “Who is or was the most badass person at the table?” or “Who is the shining star of the family?”, she would foil his ploy and answer with: “It’s a trap, right?” It’s not easy to fit into quirky humor, but Cindy did and even added her own brand to the mix. 

So that’s how we became a family of five, all with our own careers, habits and social groups. Every day, we met for early breakfast, and then we disappeared into our separate Zoom realms within our own bedroom cyber-offices where we dealt with educational funding, Garden Club challenges, asset management and cultural exchanges. (As well as the occasional dog-walking gig thrown into the mix.)  

My husband and I are not newcomers to taking in friends in need. In fact, after Super Storm Sandy, we invited a family of five—three boys aged one to six and their parents—whose home had been flooded and was uninhabitable for two months.  We and they had a blast together living like a cross-generational dorm. 

Our new family of five established a routine as the coronavirus lockdown wore on. Wednesday, for example, was family game night, where Cindy taught us—sort of—the finer points of poker and video dancing and our son set up amusing online group games. Our leisure pastimes became a cross-section of cyber activities  and capers. Saturday was Zoom craft night for the girls and Zoom cocktails for us. And every non-working moment, our son was gaming virtually with former college friends.  Saturday morning, Sunday and Tuesday nights, Cindy was telelearning French, Chinese and Japanese, respectively.   

Most importantly, Sunday was clean-your-bathroom day.  

Efforts to create positive experiences spilled over to internet activities. Charlotte’s co-workers hosted an international Zoom Karaoke night that engaged Cindy and me—although I am challenged tonally and ignorant of the hits of the last 20 years. And then there were countless girls’ movie nights watching a cache of chick-flicks through the ages from The Women to the latest release of Little Women and My Man Godfrey. Who could tire of a diet of binge-watching comforting Jane Austin films and their offshoots like Clueless for Emma and Bridget Jones’ Diary for Pride and Prejudice?  Thank goodness for WIFI and our unlimited usage plan

I recognize that it’s not easy to move into a family with a quarter-century of established traditions, habits and idiosyncrasies. Yet Cindy adapted to all, incorporating routines and rites, adopting family traditions and adeptly demonstrating that she too shared in (or at least accepted) many of our quirks. She further endeared herself by embracing our interests

My home activities tend to revolve around writing, cooking and gardening, as well as Garden Club. Our garden, the culmination of 26 years of planting, dividing, pruning and propagating, was particularly well-tended during Cindy’s months here thanks to our son being furloughed for a couple of months, and our hiring him to weed, mulch and plant. It became a subject of fascination for Cindy. While the pandemic has been frightful and constricting, the delayed Spring brought unexpected joys in the garden. It made me happy that Cindy seemed impressed and charmed as the seasons changed and blossomed in our garden; the years of planting perennials had created a magical botanical experience for her. The evolution from camellias and daffodils to tree peonies and lilacs to herbaceous peonies and hybrid tea roses to summer’s hydrangeas, daisies and phlox were highlighted by the delight  and wonder Cindy found in our garden. The sudden enlargement of our family, as well as concern for  food safety during the pandemic, inspired me to propagate edibles in window boxes, normally reserved for wildly colored ornamental flowers. Cindy watched as I harvested lettuce, radishes, chervil and micro-basil—all grown from seed among pansies and nasturtiums, also edible flowers. You may wonder why I didn’t plant a full-blown “victory garden”…the answer is a four-letter word: DEER.  

Wildlife presented diverting attraction, particularly hummingbirds—the kids found a nest the size of a demitasse cup. Also aggressive groundhogs, perhaps emblematic of the monotony of our COVID existence, ventured uncomfortably near our home. Cindy, in her fearless fascination and enthusiasm of the new, chased them away in energetic pursuit

When it rained, we occupied ourselves with 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, family Scrabble, and backgammon. Much of our insular pandemic life revolved around food. While none of us gained the legendary COVID-19 pounds, I cooked up a storm. Our kids, string beans all, ate like sumo wrestlers. A huge vat of Bolognese sauce disappeared in two sittings.  An iced chocolate zucchini cake for 16 vanished in two days with us ploughing through even the portion reserved for a godparent. And no one was more appreciative than Cindy. Every morning, be it waffles or oatmeal or smoothies, I’d hear her appreciative Oooooh. And Cindy always arrived first for lunch—often grilled cheese and homemade soup—and was my best customer for dinner. It’s easier to cook when everything you concoct is greedily inhaled. Nothing like a thankful public to spur on the home chef. 

I cooked during the week and my husband and kids cooked during the weekend and were specifically not allowed to ask me about recipes. Food, the source of survival, variety and taste thrill, was a gathering point as we all emerged from our bedroom offices to eat and savor, share work complaints and challenges and give positive support during the trials of the pandemic. 

During this anxious, dismal time of sickness, contagion and death, many have felt isolated, frustrated, and at loose ends. So much has been lost, even if temporarily. Gone are exotic travel to distant lands or even to  two states over. Visits to museums, the cinema and friends’ homes are temporarily obsolete. And our naturally social beings are being constricted. Our world has gotten smaller and we are living, communicating, working and amusing ourselves through home electronics. The days are monotonous, one running  into the next, with little change. Yet we hold on to a deep gratitude that we are alive and well.   

After four months, Cindy had become part of our  family fabric. She was a bright spot, always upbeat,  with a ready and, dare I say, infectious smile. We all  felt blessed to have her in our lives and I dreaded the day she would leave.  I saw Cindy as a buffer—a friendly shock absorber between potential sibling conflict  and a humorous shield between the generations, safeguarding family harmony in close quarters. 

Did I neglect to mention that Cindy’s mother owns a hair salon in Wisconsin and her mother trained and entrusted her to color her own gray locks? Due to social distancing and state-mandated closure of hair salons, many friends have had to embrace the truth of the  aging process. While I’m pretty low maintenance—no Botox, fillers, nip or tuck—thanks to Cindy, I can continue the pretense of forever-young hair. So as I started to observe during Zoom meetings and parties that friends and colleagues’ coifs were evolving into various iterations of the skunk family, my own tresses remained deceptively brown. I love my local salon stylist and wonderful colorist Coleen, but for endless months, that was not an option. Cindy and a regular shipment on “auto-order” of Madison Reed’s Veneto Light  Brown hair dye kept me looking like my old self—but not that old. 

Cindy and I also are crossword enthusiasts, and she would email me her Sunday New York Times—which she received, for an extra fee, that I have been unwilling to pay for but happy to print out hers. Cindy is a joy. She is fun, smart and engageable.  

It was a super sad day in mid-July when, after dinner, Cindy gulped and announced that she would be leaving our house to pack up her room in Brooklyn and drive with a roommate back to Wisconsin. While we knew the day would come, we choked out a Say it ain’t so.  I fretted with Cindy’s impending departure: How to  plan for meals for four rather than five? What or who would serve as glue for our vastly different offspring? How would our kids view us without the humor that Cindy brought to our family? (Don’t tell me, we’re still annoying.) The morning arrived with Charlotte loading her car to move out of Astoria and then drop off Cindy. I handed Cindy a bag filled with an assortment of her favorite foods—Heritage Flakes, smoked oysters in oil, chipotle aioli—and hugged her goodbye.  

Cindy had been an important part of our family’s emotional survival during the first four months of COVID-19. She was a sweet, friendly, sunny cure for the isolation and strangeness of the pandemic and we dreaded her inevitable exit. We anxiously speculated how were we going to endure what might be another year or so without someone who had become such an integral and positive member or our family. But it’s a funny thing, that life goes on. We are a family that has enough love to open our house and hearts to Cindy and we are happy she is back with her mother and on to a new adventure.  

We definitely miss Cindy and I think we are a better foursome thanks to her. But my heart doesn’t ache the way I worried it would. We stay in touch; she will always be a part of us. In case I forget, every Sunday—or sometimes Monday—an email arrives from Cindy to challenge and engage me with The New York Times Sunday crossword. 

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Charlotte became my expert new colorist. Before departing to the wilds of Wisconsin, Cindy taught her how.

Me, Myself & I

The more summer camps change, the more one critical thing stays the same.

By Rachel Rutledge

No industry is recession-proof. However, through good times and bad, summer camps have proved to be one of the country’s most enduring businesses. More than 10 million children in the United States will attend some kind of camp this summer, a number that includes both day-campers and sleep-away campers. The majority of camps are actually run by non-profit organizations. Roughly one-fifth of the nation’s 12,000 camps are for-profit businesses. More than half of U.S. camps are overnight camps. When every last penny is counted, the summer camp industry is estimated to generate more than $15 billion a year. Someone’s doing something right.

That “something” hasn’t changed in a long, long time. For the vast majority of kids, summer camp represents the first real step toward self-reliance and independence. One could argue that this step is more important than ever, given that we now find ourselves in an age of unprecedented over-parenting. 

The job of a summer camp is to provide a safe and stimulating environment for children. In the old days, that often meant a squeaky bed, a leaky cabin, pimple-faced counselors, hiking, paddling, toasting marshmallows and providing a meal for mosquitos. In other words, the greatest time ever. Today, the goal is the same but the offerings are a bit more sophisticated. 

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

If you are the parent of a “veteran” summer camper, then you already know what’s out there in terms of choices. If you have yet to go the summer camp route, prepare yourself to be overwhelmed. While there are many hundreds of long-established, traditional sleep-away camps (both for-profit and by non-profit religious and youth organizations), the most dynamic sector of this market is represented by camps that cater to a child’s talents and interests. Name a focus or specialty, and it’s a stone-cold guarantee that a Google search will turn up pages of possibilities. Is your child a lacrosse prodigy? A budding zoologist? The next Steve Jobs? The next J.J. Abrams?The next Gordon Gecko? Matching a young person with his or her passion has never been easier.

To the old leaky-cabin camper, this might seem like overkill. And perhaps it is. But that’s missing the point of the summer camp experience, which is putting your children in a place where they can be themselves for the first time. 

Read that again and understand it because, whether it’s for a day, a week, a month or more, it is the #1 reason why you send your child to camp. And it always has been. When children are free of parental oversight, the prism through which they experience new things and interact with new people is different and genuine. They become socialized by their peers, not by mom and dad. 

Many camps tout character-development as one of their main selling points. Looking past the marketing pitch, there is a lot of truth to this assertion. Character isn’t based on what you do when your parents are watching; it’s what you do when they’re not watching. Also, part of building character involves teamwork and leadership, which are baked into just about every camp experience.  

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PICKING A CAMP

With so many types, styles, locations and durations to choose from, the best way to find a good fit for your children is to identify camps that offer lots of activities based on their skills and interests. That means their interests, not yours. If you went to a traditional summer camp as a child, be aware that there is a natural tendency to be seduced by camps that you wish had existed 25 years ago. Your child isn’t you. You may be a 007 fanatic, but if your child is a soccer player, two weeks at Secret Agent Camp is probably a horrible idea (and vice versa). 

A couple more rookie mistakes to avoid are sending your child to the exact same camp you attended 30 years ago, and also sending your child to the same camp as an older sibling. Yes, we all know that girls-only poetry camp you went to back in the ’80s changed your life. However, your daughter may want to learn to build virtual reality programs this July. Iambic pentameter may not be her thing. And just because your older son improved his vertical leap by 6 inches at basketball camp, it doesn’t mean his younger brother needs to become Scottie Pippen to his Michael Jordan. 

Whatever experience you choose for your child, make sure to involve them as much as possible in the decision. Day camps can be time-consuming for a family and sleep-away camps financially challenging. Both can be emotionally stressful if you end up second-guessing your decision. But if everyone is on the same page, your first choice is likely to be the correct one.

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SEPARATION ANXIETY

For families that have yet to embrace the sleep-away experience, long-term separation and the anxiety or homesickness that can result should be part of planning an extended summer camp stay. Even if your child loves blowing you off at every opportunity, that may not be the case on drop-off day with the prospect of limited contact for the next 2 or 4 or 6 weeks. Expect some tears; if not theirs, then yours (see KIDSICK? on page 71). Interestingly, separation anxiety actually refers to a disorder where individuals suffer excessive fear or distress when they are removed from people (and sometimes places) with whom they have a strong emotional attachment. Mostly it applies to children under the age of 4, and is part of the development process. But it can occur in older kids, as well as adults.

In camp-age children, some degree of separation anxiety is normal during the first day or two away. Clinically speaking, it must persist for at least 4 weeks before it is considered an actual disorder. Unfortunately, that’s the duration of many camp sessions!  For the small percentage of campers who do have this problem, it’s no fun. They can experience intense anxiety and suffer panic attacks. They might also complain of medical issues, such as persistent stomach pain or headaches. Rarely, however, does true separation anxiety suddenly emerge at camp. Typically, parents of children with separation anxiety are aware of the condition long before summer camps are even discussed, which means sleep-away camps are not a viable option.

Needless to say, all types of camps—from sports camps to military camps to science camps to language camps—are not only good at dealing with mild bouts of separation anxiety, but tend to be experts with the specific type of kids and families that sign up. Truth be told, in the vast majority of cases, the recipe for success is identical: 20 minutes after mixing with the other campers, kids start looking forward, not back, and aside from an occasional pang of homesickness they are good to go for the day, the week, the month or more.

Should you suspect that you are the parent of an anxious camper, the one thing to avoid in the months prior to drop-off day is discussing how worried you are that the child will be lonely or homesick. Sharing your concerns is not making things better, and will almost certainly make things worse. Also, remember that kids aren’t stupid. If you constantly tell them how much fun they are going to have, and how they won’t miss home for a minute, they’ll know something is up. The same goes for constantly saying how much you’ll miss them for the time they are away. 

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TIMING IS EVERYTHING

We’ve all heard the stories about Type-A parents signing their kids up for private Pre-K when they’re still in the womb. Well, securing a spot for your child in your first-choice camp isn’t quite that bad, but if you are reading this story and the first day of spring is approaching, then the clock is ticking. In particular, traditional sleep-away camps tend to fill up quickly, as many families renew year after year. The more specialized sleep-away camps don’t get the same volume of repeat business, but open slots at the ones that market aggressively and are well-reviewed tend to disappear around this time of year.

A significant number of “resident” camps—sleep-away camps that like to make use of boarding school or college dorms—are built around one-week programs in sports, technology or creative and language arts. It is possible to program an entire summer of these short-duration camp stays for your child, usually with alternating weeks home and away. It’s a bit of a Rubik’s Cube to schedule (and not inexpensive) but from an enrichment standpoint it might be just what the doctor ordered, especially if you can’t find a 4- or 6-week camp that works for you.

Finally, don’t ignore day-camp opportunities that may exist close to home. Many of New Jersey’s private schools open their classrooms, gyms and playing fields to specialty camps during the summer as a way of generating extra income. Often, their best teachers (or coaches) either run or teach specific programs, so for the modest price of a day camp your child is exposed to high-powered educators doing what they love. 

KIDSICK?

Kidsickness may not be a real word, but it’s a real thing. Many are the moms who tumble into rudderless melancholy triggered by the temporary absence of their children. Grown men have been known to burst into tears the first time they wave goodbye to their young campers. That’s perfectly fine. Nothing to be embarrassed about. Just keep it to yourself. A hug, a kiss and a quick exit at drop-off make for an ideal send- off. Don’t freak out your kid. 

That being said, a certain percentage of parents really do find themselves suddenly and quite unexpectedly depressed and panicked—while their children are off having the time of their lives. According to the American Psychological Association, if you find yourself worried to the point of distraction while your child is off having fun in the woods somewhere, a session or two with a psychologist is a perfectly appropriate way to navigate your way through this new challenge.  If parental anxiety is a simple matter of not knowing what a child is doing, or fretting obsessively about their safety, or that they’re not having enough fun, then parents should do themselves a favor and pick a camp that posts photos every day.   

Editor’s Note: Each year in its first issue, EDGE writes about a different aspect of the summer camp experience. Log onto edgemagonline.com, click on the FAMILY tab and scroll backwards to find stories such as “Great…Outdoors” and “Extreme Summer.” 

 

Thought Provoking

How will Smart Technology change our lives?

By William Mehlman

Edgar Degas was dining at a friend’s home when the telephone—at that time a decided curiosity—rang. As his host finished his conversation and returned to the table, he asked Degas what he thought of the new device “So, that is the miraculous new thing?” the famous painter sneered. “The machine rings, and you run to talk to it?” 

Today’s “smart” technology gets a much warmer reception, although these products are frequently incomprehensible to many of us over the age of 50. My five-year-old solar-powered G-Shock watch, for example, has yet to be maximally programmed, because: (A) all I want to know is the correct Eastern Standard Time, (B) I can’t understand the manual, and (C) those buttons are so small.

amazon.com

Smart technology had its beginnings in products that, by today’s standards, are commonplace, if not actually antiquated. Mechanical adding machines gave way to electric calculators, which yielded to lightning-fast pocket calculators that provided, at their initial appearance, an astonishing array of functions. Today, every smart phone or smart watch can perform all of the standard math operations (ask Siri the square root of 200 or the cosine of 30 and you get your answer without even touching a button), —along with dozens of other functions. Familiar appliances are now performing unfamiliar tasks. For example, electronic ovens—which turned themselves off by means of a timer—are now being replaced by models that will shut themselves down when a probe reaches a predetermined internal temperature. 

Yet the truly remarkable inventions are not merely upgrades of existing technologies so much as purveyors of unimagined services. Laptops, tablets, cell phones?  Old hat. The smart technology that will soon be “everyday” includes quadcopters that are being built to allow same-hour deliveries from online retailers, and drones equipped with Go-Pro cameras, enabling humans to experience the thrill of flight without leaving the ground. Remember how Siri seemed unbelievable when it debuted in 2011? Now many consider Amazon’s Echo to be more versatile and accurate. Well, the next challenger may take us into the realm of social robotics. JIBO, an appealing little critter developed by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal of MIT, is billed as the “world’s first family robot.” JIBO is a member of the family, not just a search engine/database. It will answer questions, independently take photographs, provide audible versions of incoming texts, and act as a good-natured tutor. What it will not do (despite being called a robot) is heavy lifting. Or for that matter, any lifting—JIBO was not designed to do physical work of any kind. The projected sale price is in the $600 neighborhood, the cost of a high-end smartphone, or pair of designer shoes. 

Tesla Motors

SMARTER CARS

If you’ve gone car-shopping recently, you know that automobile manufacturers have been incorporating smart tech features with every new model. Many of these features already come as standard equipment on top-of-the-line models, including the dozens of microprocessors that control individual components and operate unseen by the driver. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class now incorporates Active Blind Spot Assist, which serves to alert the driver to unseen dangers, and will “intervene actively” to prevent an accident. MagneRide is a suspension system controlled by magneto-rheological dampers that adjust stiffness by sending an electric current through iron filings suspended in fluid shocks, and can react to road conditions in a few milliseconds. It is available in vehicles manufactured by Audi, Ferrari and General Motors.

And then, of course, there is the Tesla, an all-electric sedan that has a singular array of smart features, including door handles that open out as the driver approaches, a wildly modifiable seventeen-inch touch-screen video display, gull-wing doors and medical-grade HEPA air filters. These gizmos do not make the Tesla a nerdy, unattractive clunker; the design features are stunning, and the Model S can go from 0-60mph in 3 seconds—more than a second faster than a Porsche 911 Targa 4S.The big automotive project on the horizon is the driverless car, although there are still major bugs to be dealt with. Google’s self-driving vehicle was recently stopped by a California motorcycle officer who wanted to cite the driver for driving too slowly, but couldn’t find anyone to cite for the offense.

BUILDINGS & FOOD

The largest smart technology projects comprise entire buildings. These towers employ systems to reuse “graywater,” which includes all water other than sanitary waste, for use in flushing toilets, irrigation systems, heating and cooling operations and fire protection. These buildings may also have sophisticated security monitors, climate control, renewable energy from solar panels and windmills, and “green” roofs, which capture rainwater for reuse and, due to their heavily planted surfaces, help control the internal climate of the building.

On a smaller scale, many of the advances in smart technology have taken place in the kitchen. Borrowing from methodology employed in profes-sional kitchens, high-tech refrigerators can be programmed with recipes and lists of ingredients. As food is prepared, the software tracks expiration dates, computes the quantity of each ingredient used, and updates shopping lists and analyzes nutritional and caloric values. Further down the road, the smart features on their way to America’s kitchens are truly awe-inspiring. That explains why a past feature in this magazine entitled Kitchen 2020 (available in the HOME section at EdgeMagOnline.com) is one of the most-visited articles we’ve run. 

Advances in technology have made research and development cheaper, faster, and more precise. The result is smart technology popping up in some surprising places. For instance, garage workshop tinkerers can obtain hardware like Raspberry Pi and Arduino—small computers that can be used as plug-in components in new creations. Meanwhile, 3D printers, computer-controlled routers and multiple-axis waterjets (which can cut almost any non-ceramic material) will likely soon be available at your local Lowe’s or Home Depot.

WHIPPER SNAPPERS

The toy industry, for countless decades, has marketed two types of products: cool toys (kids want these) and educational toys (parents want their kids to have these). There have been a handful of crossover hits in recent years, but nothing like what’s in the pipeline. Artificial intelligence, voice recognition and adaptive learning technologies will be coming together soon to fuel a mind-blowing array of cool “smart toys.” CogniToys made a splash this year with its Smart Dinosaur, which is cool (Google the video) to watch. When some Apple-inspired engineer starts paying attention to this market, smart toys will also be cool to own, too. Another area of promise of smart toys is for children with special needs. 

Smart toys may not penetrate the market as quickly as parents want or expect. There will almost certainly be red flags thrown up by education and child-development experts. If a smart toy is doing the teaching, what does that make teachers? If a smart toy is storing all the facts, how are kids supposed to retain and synthesize information?

And if a smart toy becomes a child’s best friend, how will that boy or girl absorb crucial lessons in social interaction and be able to function as adults? 

So what’s the next big thing in smart technology? At this point, the Internet of Things (IOT) looks to be the new territory to be conquered. The IOT is a network connecting machinery, computers, tools, sensors, cloud-based information, rich analytics—in other words, pretty much anything and everything connected to the Internet. Google it. 

Global connectivity is the target for the engineers and scientists working on the Internet of Things. As artificial intelligence (AI) is woven into the mesh of the IOT, the resulting construct hopefully will be a rational solution to many of the world’s problems. Then again, technology sometimes turns out to be a double-edge sword. The combination of IOT and AI could be the beginning of smart technology’s absolute control over the human race, a la The Terminator or, worse, The Matrix.

Degas may have been onto something. 

Forget It

Inevitably, smart technology has a negative side effect, known as digital amnesia or digital obsolescence. This syndrome results from man’s ever-increasing reliance on digital equipment to store information that had always been held in the human memory. In effect, the “muscles” of the brain appear to atrophy as the cranial “hard drive” is employed with less frequency. Remember when you used to know all of the phone numbers of your close friends and family? If you’ve owned a smart phone for more than a year or two, you probably can’t recite half those numbers. Along similar lines, smart contraptions that perform functions traditionally performed by human hands are divorcing man from tactile knowledge and satisfaction. 

Close Encounters of the Medieval Kind

Researching your ancestors?  Be careful…you just might find what you’re looking for.

By Mark Stewart

My college-age daughter’s curiosity got the better of her one day. She spit into a plastic tube and sent it off to Ancestry.com for genetic analysis. The results were almost exactly what we expected. No exotic forebears. No mystery genes. No colors of Benetton. For better or worse, she is pretty much what you would have called “American” more than a century ago.  

Perhaps hoping to find something more scandalous, my daughter invited my wife and I to take the spit test, too. Back in junior high, I daydreamed through Biology, but I paid enough attention in Math class to know that our genetic results would not be any more revealing than hers.

But we did the spit test, anyway. While waiting for the results, I took a closer look at the Ancestry.com web site. I was impressed by the number of family-research documents available, as well as the program’s ease of use, and the constantly churning algorithms that relentlessly pump out little green leaves, which hold potential clues to the next generation and the next and the next and the next. We decided to take the plunge and attempt to separate family fact from family fiction.

Upper Case Editorial

In both of our cases, a certain amount of family lore has been passed down to us through a combination of old-school genealogical record-keeping and oral tradition. For instance, we knew that a branch of my wife’s family came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s. One unlucky member of that clan failed to convince a jury that he was not a witch. (His genetic line ended on another kind of branch, at the end of a rope.) As a boy, I was informed that one of my 17th century Massachusetts relatives was accused of being a witch, too. He must have had the same lawyer, because he was squashed under a large rock. Did one of my un-squashed ancestors know one of my wife’s un-hung ones? They seemed to be moving in the same circles, and almost certainly interacted at some point, perhaps even at one of these executions. As they used to say in Old Salem, nothing beats a good tree-hangin’ like a good rock-squashin’.

My parents gave me two interesting lines to follow. My mother was Jewish and my father was Unitarian. Unitarians are like honorary Jews in that they are constantly debating the fine points of their religion and are (at least in my experience) prone to unfathomable interior decorating choices. The Jewish half of my family came to America from Russia and Germany in the 1870s and 1880s. They got into finance, journalism and shirt-making. For the better part of a century, each branch aggressively pitched their profession to the young up-and-comers in the family—sort of like a reverse Shark Tank—hoping you would choose a fulfilling career at the bank, at the newspaper or in the sweatshop. I actually picked the bank first. The fact that I edit this magazine tells you what kind of a banker they thought I would make. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I guess I was foreclosed on. I was able to trace my mother’s people four generations to eastern Russia, where any further evidence of their lineage abruptly ended.

One of my father’s ancestors, however, left us a genealogical treasure trove. Starting sometime back in the 1800s, a maiden aunt began her own primitive version of Ancestry.com, writing to various family members and church parishes to compile information on her particular branch of the family. When she passed away in the 1930s, she dumped a trunk full of these documents on a bachelor uncle, who proceeded to write a family history, which he printed up and distributed to his siblings, cousins and nephews. Uncle Alex’s work focused on his own specific branch of the family, which was fortunate because, as we would discover, this was by far the coolest group. He also constructed a tree that traced several family lines back to England and Scotland, by way of Massachusetts. 

CONVERGENCE

Given that England-to-Massachusetts also was the historical migration route of my wife’s family, we embarked on our genealogical journey suspecting—no, hoping really—that our family lines would cross in some long-ago time and place. The farther back in time the better, of course. I mean, we’re not hillbillies, right? Anyway, as we each worked backwards into the 1500s and 1400s and 1300s, it felt a lot like one of those old SAT word problems where two cars are driving towards each other and you have to figure where they meet. 

One of the first to-do items on my wife’s bucket list was to nail down the particulars on four famous relatives: Morgan the Pirate, George Washington and Ralph Waldo Emerson. My daughter’s middle name is Morgan, in honor of Henry Morgan, a ruthless 16th century English privateer whose image now graces millions of bottles of mid-price spiced rum. Do we pull down any royalties from this family association? No. Which is probably why we are Scotch drinkers. The GW connection is through the Martha Custis family. George was Martha’s second husband, so the line theoretically branches off at that point. Our first president was sterile, having survived small pox as a young man, so he and the first First Lady never produced any offspring. Interestingly, my in-laws actually own a letter penned by Washington along with a lock of his hair. Receiving a lock of hair was like getting a signed, game-used baseball uniform back in the old days, so it’s pretty special.  I recently met an antique collector who owns a beautifully preserved lock of Martha Washington’s hair. This sent me straight to the Internet to see where we are on this whole cloning thing. Apparently we’re not there yet, but check in with me 20 years down the road if you want a kid who’s handy with an axe, mostly tells the truth, and who can use a dollar bill as ID at the airport.

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Unfortunately, our initial foray into the Ancestry.com process didn’t shed light either way on these two connections. As for the Waldos, however, my wife hit the jackpot. The poet Emerson (right), it turns out, was indeed a cousin. His line branched off several generations ago, but the Waldo men who preceded him—Jonathan, Zacheriah, Daniel, Cornelius, Thomas, and Pieter—stretched all the way back to the 1500s. Jonathan had the good sense to marry a woman named Abigail Whittemore in 1757. Her mother, also Abigail, had a great-great-great grandmother named Jane Payne, who was born in Kent, England more than 200 years earlier. In terms of record-keeping, the Payne family was what every genealogist hopes to find. The underlying truth of genealogy is that, if one goes back far enough, one is almost guaranteed to find a prominent ancestor— someone clever, rich and fertile enough to dodge the kind of awful Upper Case Editorial fate that extinguishes a family line. The very fact that you exist and are reading this article means that none of your ancestors died a childless, anonymous death. You are almost certainly descended from a person of means and influence…a duke, a lord, a princess, a baroness, or even a king and queen; the trick is finding the paper trail to prove it. In our case, it was the Paynes. The royal Paynes. 

We picked through the birth and death information of the Payne family until we arrived at Sir Thomas IV. He lived and died between 1245 and 1288 in Bosworth, an important medieval market town in Leicestershire, a county in the Midlands region of England. Thomas’s wife was Mary Avis, three years his junior. They were my wife’s 21st great-grandfather and –grandmother. By 13th century standards, they were unquestionably people of considerable wealth and power, as were their progeny across many centuries. As we were marveling at the persistence of the Payne line, I recalled stumbling across a Phoebe Payne in my own family tree. Phoebe, my ninth great-grandmother, was born in Suffolk England in 1594, married a man named John Page when she was 27, and set sail to America a few years later. She lived to the age of 83, spending her final days in Watertown, Massachusetts. Could this be the same Payne family?

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Lo and behold, I worked it out that Phoebe’s third great-grandfather, Thomas Paine, was a knight who lived in Market Bosworth in the 1400s. Going back a bit further, the family was apparently using the y form of Payne and Bingo! I landed on the aforementioned Thomas and Mary Payne. It took more than 20 generations, but the family that Tom and Mary launched into the world unwittingly curved back on itself when my wife and I tied the knot in 1987. Note to self: see if anyone owns the url www.lncestry.com.

Now joined in our ancestor search, my wife and I pushed back in time to see where the Payne family line led us. The root of the very English-sounding Paine and Payne, we learned, was actually French: Payns, the name of a small town about 100 miles southeast of Paris, which was called Payen in the Middle Ages. To an old European History major, that town rang a bell. Sure enough, our superstar common ancestor was Hughes de Payen (left), the co-founder and first Grand Master of the Knights Templar. 

GAME OF THRONES

Well, you can’t do much better than Hughes de Payen, but we tried. Another branch of my family led to the Frankish king Hugh Capet, who was descended from Charlemagne. That sounds impressive until you do the math and realize that there are probably millions of people walking the planet who are descended from Charlemagne. Including every French person I have ever met. Yet another led to Berengar II, King of Italy from 950 to 961. His reign got off to a decent start but quickly went downhill after he got the bright idea to attack the Papal States. This did not sit well with Otto of Germany, the Holy Roman Emperor, who scooped up Berengar and his wife and threw them in jail, where they died four years later. I dropped the “Italian King” thing on the owner of our local pizza joint. I figured it might be good for a free topping or soda refill. No such luck

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My family’s French connection had a better payoff. They apparently did quite well during what we call the Dark Ages, occupying important regional positions and holding enough land and money to finance small personal armies (a key to survival during those violent times). How this happened became clear when I began encountering titles like Senator and Prefect in front of their names. They were descended from politicians who held power in the province of Gaul during the death throes of the Roman Empire. Tracing the family back further, I discovered three actual emperors in my line- Activus, Gordian III and Gordian I—none of whom was particularly memorable. “GIII” as we now call Gordian III (above), was notable for his age. He was just 13 when he assumed full legal control of the empire in 239 AD. Since most 13-year-olds think they’re smarter than everyone else, I’m sure he did a fine job. GIII was married at 16 and at age 18 led his army to victory over the Persians in Mesopotamia at the Battle of Resaena. Alas, like most teenagers, he became convinced of his own invincibility and was defeated a year later when he pushed his luck by trying to grab more territory. The Romans lost the Battle of Misiche and young Gordian was either killed in the fight or murdered by his own officers

My wife had some interesting characters populating the non-French branches of her tree. Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark and (briefly) Norway, was supposedly the first Scandinavian ruler to convert to Christianity. An earlier Norse ancestor, the famed Ragnar Lodbrok, is the inspiration for the popular cable series Vikings. We actually stumbled upon this genetic link shortly after watching the latest episode of the series, which stars Travis Fimmel, the Australian fashion model turned actor. According to legend, Ragnar was the warrior who led the Vikings into England and Europe, and possibly into the Mediterranean. Spoiler alert for series fans: The real Ragnar died in a pit of serpents. Yikes!

UHTRED VS. MALCOLM

In all of our genealogical research, the moment that generated by far the most excitement was the discovery that our families had first intersected 1,010 years ago. One of my more intriguing ancestors—and certainly the one with the best name—was Malcolm the Destroyer, King of Scotland. After assuming the throne in 1006, he launched a crech rig (translation: royal prey) on his Northumbrian neighbors. It was Scottish tradition at the time for newly crowned monarchs to attack their nearest weak neighbor. Malcolm picked on the newly founded city of Durham, which appeared to be defenseless. King Ethelred’s English army was occupied to the south fending off Danish raids. In his absence, my wife’s ancestor, a Northumbrian teenager named Uhtred, raised a ragtag force of fighting men from his neighbors in Bernicia and York and stunned the Scots on the battlefield—driving Malcolm back home with heavy losses. From that day forward, he was known as Uhtred the Bold. Uhtred’s reward for service to the king was the hand in marriage of his daughter, the radiant Princess Aelgifu. 

The echoes of Uhtred’s achievement still resonate in the Stewart home. And by “echoes” I mean that my wife and daughters now remind me of this battlefield humiliation at the slightest of transgressions. Did you feed the cats, Malcolm? Did you pay the cable bill, Malcolm? Are those your socks on the floor, Malcolm? Who left the seat up, Malcolm? 

After a thousand-plus years, you’d think maybe they could let it go. But if I’ve learned anything during this journey it is that, deep down, each of us is a product of our ancestors—good, bad and otherwise. 

Somewhere up there, Uhtred the Bold is smiling. And Aelgifu is asking who left the seat up. 

Upper Case Editorial

KNIGHT MOVES

Thanks primarily to the History Channel, the Knights Templar have become a hot topic in recent years. They were a sophisticated and wealthy religious military order that flourished during the Crusades. They built forts across Europe and the Holy Land, earning a reputation as a formidable fighting force and also establishing one of Europe’s earliest banking systems. After Jerusalem was lost, the Templars fell out of favor with the Catholic Church. Philip IV King of France, deeply in debt to the Templars, used this as an excuse to erase his debt by hunting the knights down and executing them as heretics. Through torture, he hoped to discover where their fortune was housed, but none of the Templars talked. Treasure hunters are still trying to find it today. Some believe it includes the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper, i.e. the Holy Grail of Arthurian legend. By the way, Philip launched his attack on the Knights Templar on Friday, October 13, 1307—which some believe is the reason Friday the 13th is considered “unlucky.”

Editor’s Note: One of our more entertaining Ancestry.com finds was that my wife is descended from Penelope Stout, who was famously tomahawked by natives and left for dead after her ship ran aground at Sandy Hook in 1643. She survived the ordeal, had 10 children, and one of her descendants, Betsy Stout, married the author of the golf story on page 59. Betsy’s mother sold us our house. Small world. 

 

Mystery of the Pledge

You heard it here first.

By Mark Stewart

New Jersey is a land of famous firsts. According to the state.nj.us web site, we have played host to the first light bulb, first steam locomotive, first phonograph, first submarine, first drive-in movie, first electric guitar, and first football game. There are many more, of course. And yet, in this litany of #1’s, there is one fantastic first that is nowhere to be found in school textbooks or anywhere in our popular culture. On April 25th, 1893, during a ceremony atop the Navesink Highlands overlooking Sandy Hook, the Pledge of Allegiance was given as the national oath of loyalty for the first time. 

How this day came together is a tale of passion, politics and power. How it ended up in the dustbin of history is a reminder of how fragile our cultural heritage can be. 

The Pledge of Allegiance looked a little different back then. It read: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Subsequent wording referencing the “United States of America” and “Under God” was added in the 1920s and 1950s, respectively. The original version was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy (right) and published in The Youth’s Companion as part of a school program to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas

All images courtesy of Upper Case Editorial Services

The Columbus Day ceremony was held on October 21. A mere seven months later—blinding speed by 1890s standards—Bellamy himself led a group of young men in reciting the Pledge during an event in New Jersey that might draw millions were it recreated today. It involved an unprecedented international naval review (above), followed by parades and parties in New York City that went on for days. The next time anything like it was even attempted was during the Bicentennial, in 1976, when the tall ships arrived

JERSEY BOY

The key player of this story was not Bellamy, but William McDowell (right), a Newark-based financier whose business occasionally took him across the Atlantic. Upon each return to the U.S., McDowell marveled at the excitement that spread throughout the passengers as the first piece of American soil appeared. For the immigrants who filled steerage class, this moment was particularly meaningful. It marked the start of a new life. Roughly a third of Americans can trace some ancestry back to one of the people on these vessels. On a clear day, that first glimpse of America was the majestic Navesink Light Station, now known as the Twin Lights. Wouldn’t it be something, McDowell thought, if—before the two brownstone towers came into view—a gigantic American flag rose dramatically above the horizon? McDowell may not have been the first person to think of such a thing. However, he knew how to make things happen. His “Liberty Pole” plan first needed to gain the approval of the U.S. Lighthouse Board in Washington. The board was not known for its rapid decision-making. Fortunately, McDowell had friends in high places. 

An ardent patriot, he was among a group of patriotic Americans who hoped to rekindle America’s national spirit, which had been profoundly fractured since the Civil War. In 1889, McDowell founded the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, or SAR for short. Its aim was to recognize and celebrate American ideals and culture. The group enjoyed rapid acceptance and growth, counting among its early membership several wealthy and influential business and political leaders. In the summer of 1890, SAR officers decided to take the “Sons” part of the organization’s name literally and denied membership to women. McDowell was appalled. His great-grandmother, Hannah Arnett, was a popular heroine of the American Revolution. In 1776, a group of men meeting in her Elizabeth home were preparing to take the oath of loyalty to Great Britain in order to protect their lives and property. Arnett overheard them and called them traitors to their faces. Mr. Arnett’s attempt to remove his wife backfired; she threatened to divorce him on the spot. Eventually she convinced the group to reject the oath. An editorial by Mary Smith Lockwood published in The

Washington Post asked, “Where will the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution place Hannah Arnett?” McDowell offered a response in the same newspaper, offering to help start the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

A few days later, with McDowell among the attendees, the DAR had its first meeting. Its President General was First Lady Caroline Harrison, wife of President Benjamin Harrison. With his new allies, the Harrisons (left), endorsing his plan to erect his Liberty Pole, McDowell had no problem getting a thumbs-up from the lighthouse board members—and little trouble raising the money to realize his dream.  The Liberty Pole would be 135 feet tall—think of a car dealership flag on steroids—standing twice the height of the Twin Lights’ massive brownstone towers. The pole was constructed from two separate poles, hinged in the middle. The base was larger than most people could wrap their arms completely around.   

HELLO, COLUMBUS

McDowell actually hoped to place Liberty Poles at the high point of every harbor where immigrants were flooding into America. This ambition (which ultimately went unrealized) paled in comparison to a proposal made by a group of Chicago millionaires that included familiar names like Swift, Armour, McCormick and Marshall Field. They convinced Congress to approve the creation of a Columbian Exposition, a World’s Fair to end all World’s Fairs. They managed to outbid New York for this honor—no small feat, considering the backers of the New York bid included J.P. Morgan, William Waldorf Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

New York’s “consolation prize” would be the aforementioned week of patriotic celebrations, all kicked off by a flotilla of international warships. The vessels would gather at Hampton Roads, Virginia, and then steam north to anchor in Sandy Hook Bay the day before the naval review in New York Harbor. Once these plans were set and a date (April 26, 1893) picked out, McDowell scheduled his Liberty Pole dedication ceremony for the morning of April 25. The program would include the raising of the John Paul Jones flag timed to coincide with the passing of the warships. 

The John Paul Jones flag (below) was the flag in America in

 the 1890s. Its history stretched back to the 1779 seas battle where Jones refused to surrender his battered ship to the British, exclaiming, “I have not yet begun to fight!” Because the flag made famous by the Star-Spangled Banner was still  in private hands, the John Paul Jones flag was considered one of the nation’s most treasured artifacts. It was transported from event to event by  a Mrs. H.R.P. Stafford (right), and always drew a large and enthusiastic crowd. Special trains and steamers were scheduled to carry the many hundreds of people who wanted to travel from New York City and Northern New Jersey to attend the Liberty Pole dedication. At this point, McDowell had every reason to believe the Harrisons would attend. However, things didn’t quite work out as planned.

SELLING THE FLAG 

Unbeknownst to McDowell, he had an important partner in Boston. The publisher of The Youth’s Companion, Daniel Ford (right), shared his belief that America needed to rekindle its patriotic pride. As the owner of the largest-circulating weekly publication in the country, Ford had the ability to promote this idea to his 500,000-plus readers. Of course, Ford was also a businessman. His nephew, James Upham, was in charge of the magazine’s premium department. Upham launched a plan in the late 1880s to sell flags by convincing the Companion’s legion of young readers that no schoolroom should be without one. The plan met with moderate success, but had yet to realize its potential. Then Francis Bellamy joined the staff.

Bellamy was an unlikely candidate for everlasting fame. He was a Baptist minister in Boston who had recently been relieved of his duties for pushing the Christian Socialist message too hard in his Sunday sermons. Fortunately for Francis, one of his congregants was Daniel Ford. Ford wasn’t a fan of the minister’s politics, but he admired the 36-year-old’s way with words and offered him a job at the Companion.Like McDowell, Ford had some influence in the White House. He encouraged President Harrison to okay a plan to make Columbus Day in 1892 a national school celebration…and to anoint The Youth’s Companion as the creator and distributor of the official program. Once Ford received the go-ahead, he assigned Bellamy to work with William Torrey Harris, head of the National Education Association. Harris was an admirer of the Prussian education system and believed the primary role of schools was to turn children into obedient citizens. Together, they hammered out a carefully orchestrated one-hour ceremony. At the urging of Upham, the program included the raising of a flag. Upham hoped that any school that did not yet have one would order a flag from his department. Taking this idea a step further, Ford and Upham also instructed Bellamy to pen a 15-second oath of loyalty for the children to recite. The program—including Bellamy’s Pledge of Allegiance—was published in the September 8,1892 edition of the magazine. On October 21, 1892, thousands of schools celebrated Columbus Day. 

Since every school now had a flag, most continued to have their students recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day. It became so popular that a movement started to make it a national oath for all Americans, not just kids. This concept attracted broad support, and not just because it might awaken the nation’s patriotic spirit. Ellis Island had opened a year earlier to accommodate the ever-growing influx of immigrants. Unlike, earlier waves, this one included a high percentage of people from Southern and Eastern Europe, many of them Jews or Catholics—religions that were misunderstood in the 1890s. Some questioned whether these new Americans would be loyal to the United States. An oath of allegiance thus held great appeal. President Harrison, who was preparing to run for reelection, thought a national oath was a superb idea. 

The push for a national loyalty oath was not without its potential obstacles. Caroline Harrison, McDowell’s great friend, succumbed to tuberculosis that fall. Benjamin Harrison then failed in his bid to retain the presidency, losing to the man he had beaten four years earlier, Grover Cleveland. Fortunately, while Cleveland steered away from many of Harrison’s policies, he continued to support the idea of elevating the Pledge of Allegiance to national-oath status. The new president also gave his blessing to the great naval celebration in New York. Better still, Letitia Stephenson, the wife of the new vice-president (and grandmother of Adlai, the future UN ambassador) became the President General of the DAR.

With everything still on track for April, Ford, Upham and Bellamy—along with John Winfield Scott, who ran the Companion’s New York offices—began working with William McDowell to co-opt the Liberty Pole dedication on the 25th, including the reading of the Pledge of Allegiance during the flag raising ceremony. 

RAIN RAIN GO AWAY

On the morning of the 25th, a cold and drizzly Tuesday, hundreds of dignitaries disembarked from railroad cars and excursion steamers and made their way to the top of the Navesink Highlands for the Liberty Pole dedication. Thirty-five naval vessels cruised past the lighthouse, with the lead ship firing a salute. An artillery crew from the New Jersey National Guard returned an ear-splitting volley. Mrs. Stafford displayed her famous flag and Bellamy led members of the Lyceum League in their historic recitation of the Pledge. The crowd performed the “Bellamy salute” as first described in his Columbus Day program. (During World War II, the salute was deemed too close to the Nazi salute and was changed to the current hand-over-heart version). An enormous “peace flag” covered the front of the lighthouse. The day concluded with speechmaking and poetry readings. The event was covered on the front page of all the New York papers the next day, and in various magazines for weeks afterwards. By any measure, it was an unforgettable occasion. 

Except that, almost immediately, it was forgotten. 

So what happened? The weather was lousy, making photography a challenge. There are a handful of images from the day, but few convey the importance or scope of the occasion. Near the end of the program, a steady rain began, scattering the crowd. Letitia Stephenson, who suffered from crippling rheumatism, did not show. Then came the much sexier news stories. The following day, the same warships assembled in New York for a review by President Cleveland. Days of parties and parades pushed the Pledge event off the front page. Harper’s Weekly created a spectacular six-sheet foldout feature that showed all of the ships in the harbor. A few days later, the Chicago World’s Fair opened, seizing the national consciousness. 

More distractions followed, including a financial panic that spring. It was the worst in American history to that point, putting one in four Americans out of work. McDowell abandoned his Liberty Pole scheme and got back to business. Francis Bellamy continued to work at the Companion. And even though the Pledge of Allegiance would soon come to be regarded as America’s national oath of loyalty, no one could quite recall when and where its first recitation took place. As for the John Paul Jones flag, it was donated to the Smithsonian after the death of Mrs. Stafford. Curators there felt they did not have the necessary documentation to establish its authenticity. It was boxed up and never displayed in public. A few years later, the enormous Ft. McHenry flag made famous by the Star-Spangled Banner was donated to the Smithsonian, and the John Paul Jones flag was soon forgotten.

There is a small but dedicated cadre of history bugs who have managed to piece together the origins and early days of the Pledge of Allegiance. They were deeply disappointed in 2014 when New Jersey celebrated its 350th anniversary. Not a word about the Pledge or the Liberty Pole or the great naval procession could be found anywhere in the official literature or on the state web site. And if all those amazing things aren’t part of the state’s official history, well, who’s to say they even happened at all?

Winston Churchill famously observed that, “History is written by the victors.” There is a lot of truth to this thought. Unfortunately, it fails to answer a critical question about the history that isn’t written…namely, who decides what is worth throwing away? 

Editor’s Note: It turns out this is one piece of New Jersey worth saving. At the Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City this spring, one of the nominees for Best Documentary is a 40-minute film narrated by Ed Asner entitled You Heard It Here First: The Pledge of Allegiance at the Twin Lights. 

 

Strength In Number

We’re number one! We’re number one!

By Diane Alter

I grew up in New Jersey, mere steps from the Jersey Shore. My birth certificate (wherever it is, it was a long time ago) is proof. An avid runner, cyclist, and lover of all things outdoors, I have explored much of the Garden State on foot, or on family road trips that were more exhausting that any trek I ever tackled. Needless to say, I’ve learned a couple of things during that time. 

First, New Jersey is more than the sum of its beautiful beaches, sylvan suburbs, picturesque farms, busy roads, fantastic foods, powerful politics, and original culture. 

Second, to truly appreciate the collective character of the state, you have to understand the curious pride we New

Jerseyans take in our accomplishments. Read on and I think you’ll see what I mean. The force of one is definitely strong with us.

New Jersey has more engineers and scientists per square mile than anywhere else in the world. 

The state’s biopharmaceutical industry is its largest. The sector encompasses pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and medical device manufacturing. Also, if you consider pharmaceuticals to be chemicals, that makes us the largest chemical-producing state in the nation. 

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New Jersey has more diners than any state in the country. 

The Garden State boasts more than 500. The oldest still in operation is the Summit Diner. If you haven’t wolfed down Taylor ham, egg, and cheese on a hard roll, some would say you haven’t really lived. If you consume these sandwiches regularly, some would say you don’t have long to live.  

Courtesy of akaBuddy

New Jersey is home to the most haunted house in America.

The Seabrook-Wilson House (left) in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown has earned that distinction, according to Weird NJ, thanks to the ghostly apparitions that are frequently reported in and around the house. Built around 1650 and referred to locally as the Spy House, it was originally a tavern where British troops got liquored up enough to spill military secrets. 

The world’s largest indoor farm is located in New Jersey. 

And you’ll never guess where: Newark. AeroFarms took over an old industrial site and transformed it into a 69,000-square foot vertical farm. By employing LED lighting and nutrient-rich “aeroponic” mist, it is capable of producing 2 million pounds of herbs and vegetables. 

New Jersey is the fluorescent mineral capital of the world. 

More specifically, the neighboring towns of Franklin and Ogdenburg in the northwest corner of the state. At least 56 minerals found in the mines glow brightly under a blacklight, many of which exist nowhere else on the planet. 

The world’s champion gum-chewer calls New Jersey home.

In 2014, Michael Amato blew 15 bubbles in 60 seconds to set a Guinness-certified world record. Another recent Guinness record-setter was Manny Yarborough of Rahway, an American sumo wrestler. At 6’8” and 704 pounds, he was the world’s largest athlete. Manny passed away last December of a heart attack.

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The world’s longest boardwalk is in New Jersey. 

That would be Atlantic City, of course, at 4.5 miles. It’s also the oldest, having opened in 1870. In 2013, Seaside Heights set a record for the longest ribbon-cutting in history when it finished rebuilding after SuperStorm Sandy. The ribbon measured 5.1 miles. 

The first professional basketball game was played in New Jersey. 

In 1896, Trenton’s Masonic Temple hosted a meeting between teams from the Trenton YMCA and Brooklyn YMCA. The players all got a cut of the gate. New Jersey also hosted the first official football game, between Rutgers and Princeton, in 1869. The first “official” baseball game was supposedly played in Hoboken in 1846, but newspaper accounts of games dating back to the 1830s have since come to light.

Scott Kelly

Mark Kelly

New Jersey has put the most identical twins in space.

One set is enough for the record here. Mark and Scott Kelly grew up in West Orange. Mark, who is married to Gabby Giffords, is six minutes older. New Jersey also put a man on the moon (Buzz Aldrin, Oradell) and produced the first American woman to walk in space (Kathyrn Sullivan, Paterson).

Courtesy of Dusso Janladde

New Jersey has the world’s tallest roller coaster. 

Great Adventure’s Kingda Ka stands 456 feet tall. The ride is basically a dead drop, and is less than 30 seconds long. At a top speed of 128 mph, it’s the second-fastest on the planet. New Jersey can also claim the most insane amusement park ever: Action Park. That was actually the name of a 2013 documentary, which featured the unforgettable Cannonball Loop. If you rode it, you know what I’m talking about. 

No Longer a Game

Will your kid’s summer on the sofa translate into a six-figure salary…or college scholarship?

By Mark Stewart

That’s it…no more video games! What parent of slothful teenagers hasn’t issued this threat? And yet, here we are, at the dawn of a new era, when low-energy “gamers” are increasingly on the radar of higher education. More and more colleges are assembling “eSports” teams to carry their school colors into virtual battle, in hopes of securing much-coveted championship banners—which they aim to fly side-by-side with those won by traditional sports teams. A handful of schools are even offering scholarships. 

Has the world gone completely mad? Have you just discovered a way to cover college tuition?

Maybe. And, again, maybe.

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It doesn’t take much of a business mind to grasp what a huge industry video gaming has become. Rare is the young man who hasn’t gone down the rabbit hole playing some online battle game only to emerge, unshowered, hours or days later with a temporary case  of PTSD. Multiply that by, oh, half a billion connected adolescents and 20-somethings worldwide, and you get a sense of how big the market and its potential is. The actual numbers are a bit foggy, but most experts agree that somewhere between 600 and 700 million people participate in online games, which equates roughly to 40 percent of the planet’s digitally connected population. More than 200 million people actually sit in front of their computers and watch others play these battle games, like an NFL fan watches the Jets or Giants. One wonders how anything in the non-online world gets done, or how dating is even possible. 

On college campuses across North America, eSports teams have been representing their schools unofficially for years. There are several leagues that hold competitions and tournaments for players from more than 350 colleges and universities. Most are the digital equivalent of “club” teams—sanctioned and supported, but not part of an official athletic program. Young men and women (but mostly men) who were slumped in dorm rooms gaming with their buddies, got good enough to compete online against their peers at other schools, and the video game industry was all too happy to create an infrastructure for them to do so.

The school that changed the game was Robert Morris University, in Chicago. In 2014, RMU officially added eSports to its athletic program. It began recruiting the country’s best League of Legends players with the lure of partial scholarships. The move paid immediate dividends: Robert Morris was featured on a 60 Minutes segment, bringing the university unprecedented recognition. Several small schools followed suit and, in 2016, UC Irvine became the first large Division I school to offer eSports scholarships. Irvine, a PAC-12 university, has gone all-in, doling out enough scholarships to build two 5-player League of Legends teams. And this fall, top gamers (both scholarship and non-scholarship) will be able to compete in a new 3,500 sq. ft. facility with 80 computer terminals.  

Tom Parham, Irvine’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, says that the school’s eSports program will be built on competition, academics, entertainment and community. “We hope to attract the best gamers from around the world,” he says, adding that, “our academic programs in computer-gaming science, digital arts, computer science, engineering, anthropology, law, medicine, neuroscience and behavior create a strong foundation for research and inquiry related to gaming.”

If history tells us anything, it’s that where one PAC-12 Conference school goes for glory, the others soon follow. By the end of 2017, the conference almost certainly will have absorbed eSports teams and tournaments into its existing athletic structure, meaning that scholarships from other PAC-12 schools won’t be far behind. Those schools, by the way, include Stanford, USC, UCLA and UC Berkeley. That means you may soon be screaming at your kid to stay on the couch and keep playing—otherwise he or she won’t get into Stanford. So yes, the world has gone a little mad.

Then again, don’t get your hopes up. Your child may be a video game prodigy, but the moment top colleges begin offering full scholarships, the competition is going to get nasty. Right now, the world’s best gamers don’t even bother going to college. They are plucked out of their parents’ basements by heavily sponsored eSports teams to compete in international tournaments as professional gamers. They earn salaries and endorsement dollars that can easily get into six figures. Their team owner houses, clothes and feeds them and hires coaches and trainers to keep on top of them, and to keep them on top of their games. Typically, team members live together under one roof and practice as a team 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. This is called the “gaming house” model. On some teams, players live separately but meet in a common location for practice. This is called the “office” model. 

Either way, when they enter a tournament, they function like a well-oiled machine. By the time every dollar is accounted for, a sponsor’s investment (sponsors include major brands such as Monster, Hyundai and Geico, as well as various computer companies and even some venture capital groups) can top a million dollars annually. 

Morgan Spurlock, who nearly killed himself eating three meals a day at McDonald’s for the film Super Size Me, immersed himself in the eSports world for a recent episode of Inside Man on CNN. He spent time with LA-based Counter Logic Gaming (aka CLG), the 2015 North American champions, playing and training with the likes of Yiliang Peter Peng (right), a 23-year-old born-and-bred Californian who goes by the handle “Doublelift” in the eSports world; CLG’s general manager, Matthew “MaTTcom” Marikian describes him as the LeBron of gaming. Spurlock wasn’t shocked by the level of skill demonstrated by the CLG players. However, he was surprised by the contributions of the grown-ups in the room.

Courtesy of Counter Logic Gaming

“It’s incredible to see the amount of coaching Courtesy of Counter Logic Gaming that goes into being an eSports athlete,” he said during his report. “It’s just like being any other type of athlete.”

Tadayoshi “Hermit” Littleton confirms the huge role management plays in the formation of a world-class team. An avid player in college during the pre-scholarship days, he became the coach for NRG eSports in 2016 after guiding Spanish-based Origen to an impressive string of first- and second-place finishes in European League of Legends competition. NRG is the third pro team Littleton has assembled.

Courtesy of Origen

“There are two types of players we look for,” Littleton (left) explains. “One can do everything at the highest level. Their talent is really obvious. We also look for players who are very team-oriented. They can be harder to identify from their solo scores, but with my experience I am able to spot them.”

Littleton says communication is the most critical component in building a team, and considers this his specialty as a coach. Getting the players to mesh as he likes can take about a month, but sometimes the best individual players find it difficult to play a true team game, which can slow down the process.

“It depends on how much of a knowledge sponge they are,” he says.

Before college scholarships changed the game, so to speak, many eSports player turned pro, pocketed enough cash to pay for college and then went back to school—much to the relief of their parents. Top-tier gamers tend to be pretty intelligent, so for most of their lives, higher education was a foregone conclusion. Imagine the parent whose son or daughter announces that college is off the board, and that they plan to become professional game-players. Doublelift’s parents didn’t speak to him for three years, even though he may have made close to a million dollars during that time.

So what does this all mean? Probably that your parenting skills need to keep up with your child’s eSports skills. The better they are at playing their games, the more prepared you may need to be to help them make the right decision—now and come college time.  

LoL

League of Legends—LoL or just plain League, for short—is the multiplayer online battle game favored by a high percentage of eSports teams. Each player controls a character called a champion, who has unique abilities that hopefully mesh with those of other champions on the same team. The goal is to destroy an opponent’s fiercely defended Nexus (think Capture the Flag), with each champion gaining strength he-she-it fights his-her-its way through the game. A five-player LoL team can be five friends or classmates in the same room, or complete strangers at consoles thousands of miles apart. About 30 million people play League of Legends. A day.

 

State of Play

John Nash, Ralph Kramden and Game Theory in New Jersey

By Luke Sacher

Sorry, Harvard and Yale. When it comes to Game Theory, you’re just safety schools. The Einsteins at Princeton basically wrote the book used by everyone from economists and multinational corporations to defense strategists and Survivor contestants. Which, for all practical purposes, makes New Jersey the birthplace of Game Theory. Most of us were introduced to the idea of Game Theory in the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe as Princeton professor John Nash. Some may remember the Matthew Broderick vehicle, War Games (“Shall we play a game?”), which introduced the concept to moviegoers as far back as 1983.   

Courtesy of the World Economic Forum

Whether you realize it or not, if you happen to be the parent of a college-bound teenager, Game Theory is coming into play again, this time in a much more personal way. Both the application process and admissions process involve the fundamentals of high-stakes probability that were originally hammered out by three Princetonians: John Von Neumann, Oskar Morganstern and Nash (above)—right here in the Garden State. More on these three on page 78. 

In a twist that this trio would no doubt appreciate, many colleges now invite young applicants to expound on Game Theory in their essay options. So let’s just say that it’s good to know what you’re getting into. 

Game Theory is the application of mathematical probability and symbolic logic to the understanding of rational human behavior in interactive situations between two or more “players.” It takes how we expect individuals to behave, or to make decisions, and then adds the element of interaction with others who are also seeking to maximize their benefits by acting rationally. In other words, Game Theory is no game at all. Rather, it is a tool for analyzing situations where each player is exercising “strategic interdependence”—calculating actions and outcomes based on the decisions of others in the game.

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THE ADVERTISER’S DILEMMA

In its most basic form, Game Theory helps to understand situations that are familiar to all of us. Take the “Advertiser’s Dilemma.” Two companies producing a similar product (let’s say Hershey and Nestlé and chocolate bars) are in competition with each other for customers. The maximum payoff for both companies happens if both do not advertise, since they are saving the expense of advertising. The minimum payoff for each company happens if it chooses not to advertise and the rival company does—thus cratering its market share. So both companies decide to advertise, dividing market share more or less evenly while squeezing out a small profit. 

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Even if Hershey and Nestlé were to hammer out a gentleman’s agreement not to advertise, the two companies would likely operate in a state of sustained paranoia that the other might betray them and advertise (which is no way to run a business). The lesson Game Theory teaches us in this case is that expending resources and not getting much in return is preferable to not expending resources and risking getting even less. It’s akin to the spiraling logic employed by Ralph Kramden when he launches into one of his “You know that I know that you know that I know…” soliloquies in a Honeymooners rerun. 

The difference between Ralph Kramden and John Nash (who, ironically, were contemporaries) is that Nash was able to express this idea mathematically and arrive at an elegant, logical conclusion—for which he eventually won a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, in 1994. The Nash Equilibrium, his solution concept for non-cooperative competition, is now employed in one way or another in almost every aspect of global business. 

GAMING THE SYSTEM

Although all roads leading to college run through Princeton (where SATs, ACTs, Achievement and Advanced Placement exams are scored by the College Entrance Examinations Board), only 6 percent of the 30,000 or so kids applying to New Jersey’s top school will get in. That leaves a lot of smart kids looking elsewhere, and this is where a firm grasp of Game Theory can be helpful. 

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If your kids can write with imagination and authority on the topic of Game Theory in a college essay, more power to them. Not only have they managed to stand out in a crowded field, they have made the job of the admissions officers reading that essay easier. Which increases their chances of landing on the acceptance pile. If that sounds

like an example of Game Theory within Game Theory, then you’re getting it! The fact is that—because of the sheer volume of applications they now receive—college admissions departments are applying Game Theory to their acceptance strategies. 

Let’s say that a school has 10,000 qualified applicants for 1,000 openings in the incoming freshman class. How many should it accept, given that an unknown percentage will inevitably decide to attend another college to which they have also been accepted? If the college accepts 3,000 and half show up for orientation, the extra 500 kids will overwhelm the school. But what if, of those 3,000, only 10 percent decide to attend? With 300 incoming freshmen instead of 1,000, a financial crisis would almost certainly ensue. 

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In this game, one of the players is the college and the other is the student. Both are attempting to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty and incomplete or “hidden” information. It’s been described as a chess match, but it’s not. Poker is the game here. And in poker, you don’t always need the better hand to win—you can also win by maneuvering your opponent into a bad decision. 

The college is trying to reduce uncertainty and achieve its goals by convincing the most qualified applicants to show up on their campus instead of someone else’s, even if that other school might represent a better choice. The win here for the school is filling the 1,000 spots with the most talented group of freshmen possible. The student, of course, is trying to wangle as many acceptance letters as he or she can, in order to go to the best possible college. The win for the teenager is gaining acceptance to that coveted “reach” school, ideally under the best financial circumstances. Keep in mind, for every kid that gets into a reach school, there is probably a more qualified student who is rejected, often because the admissions department “knows” the better student is headed elsewhere anyway. Which is why no reach school is ever a slam-dunk rejection. 

One aspect of Game Theory that has come into play in a big way on the admissions side is the extensive wait listing of qualified applicants. This strategy gives schools more time to understand and evaluate the pool of prospective freshmen, and to create more certainty in achieving bottom-line goals. Of course, our kids are bright enough to know the correct response: Apply to 30 schools!

It’s a solution both Kramden and Nash, in their own utterly unique and ingenious ways, would probably appreciate. 

OUTSTANDING

Who has the power in the college entrance process? The more skilled player. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal offered some thoughts on gaming the admissions system:

  • Play the Oboe or the Harp, and play it well. The old ideal of the All-American athlete/Latin scholar/musical-comedy star is long gone. Schools today want to see a lot of talent in a specific field, though exactly what they’re looking for varies. Colleges are looking more for a well-rounded class than well-rounded freshmen.
  • Spend a summer at the school of your choice. A growing number of schools, like Brandeis and Harvard, are trying to get to know potential applicants by offering summer programs. Some let high school kids take college courses and earn college credit.
  • Move to Idaho. Seriously. Colleges and universities want geographic diversity.
  • Get a life. A survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that extra-curriculars now rank ninth in importance. Grades in college prep courses were #1. Colleges like to see students who take time to develop into more complete human beings, including those who take a gap year after high school to explore the world.

 

GAME ON

There are four core elements of all games:

1) Players (sometimes called agents)

2) Information available to each player, whether complete or incomplete, symmetric (common to all players) or asymmetric (unique to individual players)

3) Actions available to each player at each “move,” whether simultaneous or sequential, made by the players based on their information

4) Payoffs (positive or negative) available to each player for each outcome of their actions

A game theorist typically uses these elements, along with a solution concept of their choosing (such as the Nash Equilibrium), to deduce a set of equilibrium strategies for each player. These equilibrium strategies help determine a stable state in which either one outcome occurs or a set of outcomes occur with known probability. If these strategies have been correctly calculated, no player can profit by unilaterally deviating from his or her strategy. However, where Game Theory falls apart is when one or more players acts irrationally. In poker, it’s not the end of the world. 

In thermonuclear warfare, it is.

NEW JERSEY’S “BIG THREE”

Courtesy of the Mises Institute

Oskar Morgenstern

(1902-1977)

Morgenstern grew up in Vienna, Austria and graduated from the University of Vienna in 1925. After earning his doctorate in political science, he succeeded Nobel laureate economist Friedrich Von Hayek as director Courtesy of the Mises Instituteof the Vienna Institute for Business Cycle Research, and held the position until the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. Fortunately, he was visiting Princeton University at that precise moment, where he met and befriended John Von Neumann. The two began a six-year collaboration at Princeton that would result in the publication of The Theory of Games and Economic Behaviorin 1944, which is universally recognized as the first book on Game Theory.

John Von Neumann 

(1903-1957)

Von Neumann (below left, with physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer) was born on December 28, 1903, in Budapest, Hungary. By the age of 8, he was familiar with differential and integral calculus, and published his first paper at the age of 18. He earned his first degree at the University of Budapest in 1925, in Chemical Engineering, 

books while operating his vehicle, occasioning numerous arrests, as well as accidents. Von Neumann was not only one of the fathers of Game Theory, he also worked on the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, made invaluable contributions to the Manhattan Project, and was involved in the development of the first programmable digital computers.

John Forbes Nash, Jr. 

(1928-2015)

Nash was born June 13, 1928 in Bluefield, West Virginia, where he demonstrated his exceptional talent for mathematics as early as age 10. He was accepted to Carnegie Tech on a full Westinghouse scholarship and graduated at age 19 with a Master’s Degree in Mathematics. Nash then won a graduate studies scholarship from Princeton University in 1948. From the early 1950s to the mid-1980s, Nash suffered tortuously from extreme bouts of psychosis, and was often hospitalized and institutionalized. Forty-four years after completing his revolutionary 27-page doctoral dissertation at Princeton, he shared the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with game theorists Reinhard Selten and John Harsanyi. His theories and algorithms continue to be used today in the fields of economics, computing, politics, accounting, military strategy, and even evolutionary biology. On May 23, 2015, Nash and his wife Alicia were killed in an accident while riding in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike.

 

Editor’s Note: Luke Sacher has written for EDGE on the greatest disaster films and Baby Boomers’ beloved dangerous toys. He spent countless hours researching this story, watching online lectures by distinguished professors and reading several graduate theses.

Luke believes that Nash’s contributions to Game Theory offer keen insights on human behavior, however he says that basing the world economy on the ideas of a paranoid schizophrenic worries him sometimes.  

 

Just A Moment…

New Jersey may be greater  than the sum of its parts,  but some of its parts are pretty darn good.

By Mark Stewart

Life, Hindu spiritual master Amit Ray once observed, is a collection of moments. I maintain that the same could be said for our state. In fact, I can’t think of a more effective way to capture its complex personality than through the unique touchstone moments, both big and small, that collectively define who and what we are as New Jerseyans. We’re not talking about best or worst moments, or even greatest hits; those are way too hard to define. Rather, think of these moments as daubs of pigment on the palette of a painter in the midst of a great (yet unfinished) work of art…   

Library of Congress

A EUREKA MOMENT

1877 • Mary Had a Little Lamb

When Thomas Edison uttered the words Mary had a little lamb… into his “talking machine” in 1877, it marked the first time sound produced by humans was recorded and played back. No one in his West Orange lab—Edison included— held much hope that their first prototype would work. When it reproduced his words perfectly, Edison later recalled, “I was never so taken aback in my life. Everybody was astonished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time. Long experience proved that there were great drawbacks found generally before they could be got commercial…but here was something there was no doubt of.”

A(NOTHER) EUREKA MOMENT

The light bulb. Edison did not invent it, but his team made it cheaper and more reliable. Over a dozen versions of the bulb were in production when Edison threw his hat into the ring. The combination of a vacuum tube and the right filament produced the first commercially viable bulb.

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A SWEET MOMENT

1883 • Taste of the Town

A summer storm in 1883 overwhelmed the resort town of Atlantic City, adulterating the water supply with ocean water. AC and its famous boardwalk drew more than a half-million tourists a year at the time, many of whom treated themselves to taffy. That summer, however, there was something wonderfully different about it: the unmistakable taste of salt. New Jersey’s iconic candy was born. In 1923, a storeowner trademarked the name “salt water taffy” and promptly sued the boardwalk’s other sellers. He lost the case in 1925, with the court deciding that the name had already been in common use for four decades. The taffy sold today contains salt and water, but no seawater. 

NJSports.com

A WINTER MOMENT

1889 • Flexible Flyer

Sledding for most of the 19th century was fun but dangerous. State-of-the-art was the toboggan, which could not maneuver around trees, people or any other kind of obstacle. Samuel Leeds Allen, a manufacturer of farm equipment, came up with a less concussive option: a steerable sled that went on the market in 1889 and was an instant hit. He knew for a fact his product was safe—he had used the men, women and children of his native Cinnaminson as crash-test dummies in order to perfect it. 

Library of Congress

A FEMINIST MOMENT

1919 • Alice Paul 

Protests, civil disobedience, hunger strikes—Mount Laurel native Alice Paul used every trick in the suffragette playbook to force President Woodrow Wilson into supporting the 19th Amendment. She was a thorn in Wilson’s side from Day One, organizing an 8,000-woman suffrage parade in Washington the day before his inauguration, which devolved into a near-riot. With America’s entry into World War I, Paul knew she had the president where she wanted him: How could Wilson ask Americans to lay down their lives to “free” countries where women had the vote…and not give the vote to their mothers, sisters and daughters?

NJSports.com

AN AQUATIC MOMENT

1925 • Strokes of Genius

The 1920s are considered the Golden Age of Sports thanks to iconic athletes like Babe Ruth, Red Grange and Jack Dempsey. Every sport, it seemed, had its superstar and swimming was no exception. In 1925, 19-year-old Gertrude Ederle was among the dozens of men and women who took off from the tip of Manhattan on a 21-mile swim to Sandy Hook. She completed the journey in the astonishing time of 7 hours, 11 minutes—a record time that would stand for more than 80 summers. So powerful were Ederle’s strokes that she decided her next swim would be across the English Channel. The following year she became the first woman to make the rossing, once again in record time. “Gertie” had developed her remarkable strokes anstamina as a girl in her summer home of Highlands. Her parents tied a rope around her and set her loose in the powerful tidal currents of the Navesink River. 

Triangle Publications

A COMEDY MOMENT

1946 • Martin & Lewis

In the summer of 1946, a run-of-the-mill crooner and manic lip-sync comic took the stage at Atlantic City’s 500 Club as the unlikeliest of pairings: Martin & Lewis. For the next decade, no show business act surpassed their fame, popularity or earning power. Their madcap, improvisational performances transformed live comedy. The original act featured the 29-year-old 

Martin attempting to sing while the 20-year-old Lewis—dressed as a busboy—dropped dishes and created general chaos and mayhem. Audiences literally laughed until they cried. Hollywood soon came calling and the duo made 17 pictures between 1949 and 1956, when they parted ways.

National Archives of Quebec

A SPORTS MOMENT

1946 • Jackie Breaks the Color Line

Even the most ardent New Jersey sports fans are unaware that Jackie Robinson’s official debut in organized baseball came not in Brooklyn with the Dodgers in 1947, but in Jersey City as a member of the Montreal Royals one year earlier. The Royals were the Dodgers’ top farm team and they played the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Stadium on April 18 to open the 1946 season.  Robinson (whose middle name, coincidentally, was Roosevelt) gave a crystal-clear glimpse of the great things to come when he collected four hits and scored four runs in five trips to the plate, including a three-run home run. 

Courtesy of NASA

A SCIENCE MOMENT

1964 • Not Bird Poop

In 1964, a pair of Bell Labs radio astronomers in Holmdel—Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson—inadvertently discovered a “snapshot” of the early universe when they found cosmic microwave background radiation wherever they pointed their receiver. Initially, they believed this anomaly was caused by something “terrestrial,” perhaps pigeon or bat droppings on the huge antenna. When the results were the same after a big clean-out, they realized they were on to something: evidence that the “Big Bang” theory of the universe’s origin was correct.

TIME, Inc.

A DIPLOMATIC MOMENT

1967 • Glasnost at Glassboro

The Cold War took an important turn for the better on the campus of Glassboro State College—now Rowan University— when President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin met for three days at Hollybush, the historic home of the college president. Aides to both world leaders expressed grave doubts about the outcome of the summit, which was held in southern New Jersey as a compromise between New York and Washington (where the threat of protesters was problematic). The two sides had not held formal talks since 1963. In the interim, Vietnam, the space race, the build-up of nuclear arsenals and the development of anti-ballistic missile systems had ratcheted up tension to its most dangerous level since the Cuban naval blockade. The substantive portions of the summit involved Johnson and Kosygin alone in a room with only their interpreters present. Although no formal agreements were reached, both men gave ground and developed a respect and friendship that was called the “Spirit of Glassboro.” We may all still be here because of it. 

YouTube

A MUSICAL MOMENT

1978 • Springsteen at the Capitol Theater

Every New Jersey Bruce Springsteen concert has a can-you-top-this quality, including the recent four-plus-hour show at MetLife Stadium. But to the 1,800-or-so fans who saw him play the Capitol Theater in Passaic in 1978, the Boss could never, ever be better. The proof is on tape. The concert, which was a stop on Springsteen’s Darkness

On the Edge of Town tour, was broadcast over WNEW radio and recordings have been circulating ever since. The E Street Band’s renditions of “Prove It All Night” and “Thunder Road” are unimprovable. YouTube

A POLITICAL MOMENT

1982 • Must Have Musto 

To qualify as a truly great political moment, you need a unique partnership between the people and the politicians. William Musto was a career politician, serving in the State Senate and General Assembly in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s—and occupying the Union City mayor’s office twice. In 1981, during his second term as the town’s mayor, Musto was indicted for racketeering, extortion and fraud. In 1982, with key testimony from a 28-year-old former aide named Bob Menendez, Musto was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison on May 10. On May 11, the people of Union City re-elected him mayor. The man he defeated was Menendez.

A SPIRITUAL MOMENT

1995 • Pope John Paul II 

During his 1995 tour of the United States, Pope John Paul II celebrated evening prayers at the Sacred Heart cathedral—the fifth-largest in North America—elevating it to basilica status. The French Gothic style cathedral was first conceived in 1859, and built between 1899 and 1954. “This magnificent building stands in the heart of Newark as a powerful reminder of God’s steadfast love for his people,” said the Holy Father, “and as a sign of faith in Christ, our hope of glory.”

Grounds for Sculpture

AN ARTISTIC MOMENT

1992 • Grounds for Sculpture 

In 1984, philanthropist J. Seward Johnson launched a plan to make contemporary sculpture accessible to the public in a comfortable and informal setting. Eight years later, the Grounds for Sculpture opened in Hamilton with an exhibit featuring the work of 13 prominent artists. An indoor museum opened in 1993. Johnson, the grandson of Johnson & Johnson founder Robert Wood Johnson, is an artist in his own right, known for his trompe l’oeil painted bronze sculptures. The 42-acre site is home to nearly 300 works of art.

A SOPRANOS MOMENT

1999 • College

In the Season 1 episode entitled “College,” Tony Soprano encounters a relocated mob informant while taking Meadow on a college visit. The following day he slips away to strangle the “rat.” It marked the first of many instances where Tony’s family life would collide with his professional life with brutal, deadly consequences—and demonstrated that the show’s writers were unafraid to plumb the depths of this dark dichotomy as the series unfolded.

U.S. Senate Democrats

A CRIMEFIGHTING MOMENT

2011 • Foot-Swept

Jon Jones, a mixed martial artist preparing for a Saturday night Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavy-weight title bout in March 2011, decided to walk to nearby Paterson Falls to clear his mind before the fight. On his way he spotted a man breaking into a car. Jones shouted at the thief, who took off. Jones pursued him and took him down with perfect foot-sweep. He then double-legged the criminal and subdued him with an arm bar. Seven hours later, Jones stepped into the Octagon at the Prudential Center and employed the same moves to defeat Mauricio Rua in the main event of UFC 128.

U.S. Senate Democrat

A HEROIC MOMENT

2012 • Well Done

Newark mayors have experienced their fair share of heated moments over the years. In Corey Booker’s case, he had to rush into a burning building and break free of a police U.S. Senate Democrats detective’s grasp to save his neighbor’s daughter, who was trapped on the second floor. He fought back flames in the kitchen to reach the stairway, dodge an explosion on the second-floor landing, threw the woman over his shoulder and carried her to safety. Booker suffered second-degree burns on his hands and was treated for smoke inhalation at the hospital. On the way, he tweeted that he was okay. The hashtag #CoryBookerStories immediately started trending on Twitter. 

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

A MOVIE MOMENT

2013 • Thank God for Me

The “science oven” scene in American Hustle is Jennifer Lawrence at her absolute best. After nearly setting their home on fire by putting metal in the just-installed microwave, Lawrence’s Rosalyn turns the table on her husband Irving (Christian Bale) with an Oscar-worthy, expletive-laced Jersey tomato diatribe that makes all of their money and marital problems his fault—including the newly blackened cabinetry. She finishes with the classic line “Thank God for me.” Thank God, indeed. 

NJ: A NETWORK NO-NO

When the producers of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire decided to base their shows in the Garden State, it is quite likely that a staff member with knowledge of network television history pointed out that few if any scripted series set in New Jersey had ever succeeded. Charles in Charge (126 episodes) and House (177) were the most successful. According to TV Guide, one of the worst sitcoms of all time revolved around Sheffield College, a fictional school located somewhere in our state. One of the Boys ran for 13 weeks in 1982 before being cancelled by NBC—though not for lack of talent. It starred Dana Carvey, Nathan Lane, Meg Ryan, Mickey Rooney, Scatman Crothers and Cleavon Little. 

Was there a defining moment in any Jersey-centric network series? Unfortunately, the moment that defined the series didn’t say much about New Jersey. But here it is, anyway:  

Courtesy of NBC Universal Television

2006 • It’s Never Lupus

Fans of the medical drama House, which is set in a New Jersey hospital, lived for the show’s running jokes—above all the suggestion in virtually every episode that the mystery disease flummoxing the Courtesy of NBC Universal Television Princeton-Plainsboro team might be lupus. House’s response, invariably, was “It’s never lupus.” So when the painkiller-addicted doctor revealed where he’d been hiding his meds, an incredulous Dr. Foreman says, “You stash your drugs in a lupus textbook?!” 

Editor’s Note: Do you have a quintessential Jersey moment? Share it with EDGE readers on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

 

Project 125

The ups, downs, ins and outs of raising a child who is probably smarter than you are.

By Jim Sawyer

Over the past few decades, the validity of IQ scores has taken a beating. For all that number does say, there is an awful lot it doesn’t. For better or worse, however, we are a score-keeping society, thus we continue to honor high IQs. For the record, a young person with an IQ of 125 or above is considered to be “gifted.” This is no guarantee of success in life, but it is strongly indicative of a complex, fertile intellect.

If you happen to be the mother or father of such a child—or suspect that your child is gifted—you know that parenting is anything but easy. Nor, in many cases, is recognizing your child’s “giftedness” in the first place.

Indeed, high-intellect kids don’t all act or think or look the same. They do not always stand out from their peers in obvious ways; often when they do, it is for behavior that is negative rather than positive. The National Association for Gifted Children—a Washington DC-based organization dedicated to supporting families and teachers of gifted and talented kids—points out that 60 percent of gifted five-year-olds already know nearly all of the material taught in kindergarten the day they walk into the classroom. A bored five-year-old can easily become disruptive.

What qualifies a child as gifted? He or she is able to reason and learn at a high level from an early age, demonstrating proficiency in math or music or language. You’ve probably encountered a three-year-old with a broad vocabulary who speaks in long, complete sentences (with grammar that’s as good or better than yours). This is a major tip-off. Sometimes, however, giftedness in a young child is more noticeable in the physical realm, such as artistic talent or athletics. Either way, gifted children almost always learn faster than their peers and perform better in testing and on exams. Because they deal with a larger and ever-changing “sample size” of students, educators—particularly classroom teachers—are often the first to notice a gifted child. It’s not always news to the parents, however it is gratifying to have their suspicions confirmed.

What happens from that point—how development is encouraged and accelerated through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, and how certain obstacles are eliminated along the way—will determine how a kid’s gifts manifest themselves in later life. So, hey. No pressure, right?

School is tremendously important. Or, perhaps more to the point, education is tremendously important. Finding a school with a “gifted” program is a start. But not all programs are created equal. Ideally, gifted children will be exposed to a wide range of educational experiences (both in and out of school) at a young age and, then, as they grow older, more of a focus on the areas in which they show the most promise. A good gifted program will be nimble enough to keep adjusting to a child’s capabilities, while also pointing parents to outside resources and programs that will keep nourishing his or her intellect. Parents need to stay on top of their gifted child’s progress, taking advantage of whatever assessments are offered and being open to suggestions and even criticism. Indeed, parent education is a huge part of the process.

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What if your son or daughter has not been identified as gifted, but you are convinced he or she is? Actually, this is not all that unusual. Not every elementary school (and not every elementary school teacher) is equipped to spot giftedness. In many cases, this type of evaluation won’t even be made until your child is six or seven, particularly in a public school environment. If you suspect your three-year-old is miles ahead of the competition, go get him or her independently tested. The sooner you can evaluate needs and opportunities, the better off your child will be.

That is doubly true for children who exhibit early social or behavioral problems, or who are hyper-focused on a single area of interest (e.g. being able to name 100 dinosaurs). While these can be signs of giftedness, they may also be early indications of ADHD or Asperger’s. IQ testing is one way to avoid a misdiagnosis. A gifted child who underperforms in the classroom may not be connecting with the teacher, or be bored or disorganized. But he or she may have an attention deficit issue, too. Both can be true. Testing will usually solve the mystery, but it is up to the parents to push for that; the school may see a lackluster student and never think to do any screening.

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What Now?

Once your gifted child has been identified and you’ve found programs and resources that will feed his or her intellect, the rest is easy, Mom and Dad. No…just kidding. Your work as a parent actually has just begun!

Consider, for instance, the fact that gifted children sometimes act their age. Their minds may be careening into adulthood, but their bodies and emotions are always playing catch-up. It is not unusual for incredibly able and mature kids to melt into disabling temper tantrums over the tiniest things. They are under constant pressure of one kind or another, and often suffer from severe anxiety—without being able to articulate their frustration. This is only exacerbated by bouts of disorganization and by a feeling of isolation from their peers. A high-functioning mind is rarely a peaceful one. Constant love, support, understanding and recognition are a must. A little courage doesn’t hurt, either.

Ironically, the best bits of advice for parents of gifted children may be the most counter-intuitive. Parents who push or overschedule their gifted child, or who defer to them on big decisions, are likely to do more harm than good. On three specific points—all don’ts—there is strong consensus among educational and developmental health experts:

  • Don’t push for perfection. Good grades and scores are not a measure of success for a gifted child. Encourage your gifted child to develop and pursue multiple interests at whatever pace makes sense to them. Voracious learners will learn voraciously without parent reminders.
  • Don’t confuse challenging your gifted child’s mind with keeping the child constantly busy. Maintain a reasonable schedule with lots of downtime. When a gifted child is “doing nothing,” the kid’s brain is still percolating.
  • Don’t let your gifted child call the shots. You are the grown-up. You make the important decisions.

Go ahead and add to “that Don’t make your gifted child an example for your other kids.” Rather than elevating the performance of siblings, this is more likely to lower the performance of the gifted child, who might choose to “dumb down” in order to fit in with brothers and sisters.

Friendly Advice

Finally, parents of high-intellect kids should understand that their child may need help or encouragement forming social connections. This is really important. Popular culture tells us gifted kids are nerds or geeks who naturally isolate themselves from others. This is untrue. Gifted children play sports and perform on stage and get into all kinds of mischief. They want to fit in with schoolmates as much or more as they do with their siblings.

Ask a gifted child what he or she wants most in the world and the answer is likely to be “a friend.”

Often, a gifted child will seek friendship from an older child who is at a similar stage of emotional maturity. Interestingly, this is often misinterpreted as a lack of maturity, which is 180º wrong. A study by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development concluded that intellectually gifted children start looking for friendships based on closeness and trust at an age when their classmates are still looking for play partners. Naturally, they gravitate toward older kids. This gap narrows by the end of elementary school, but the intervening years can be isolating. The study’s author, Miraca Gross, suggests that parents actually discuss the hierarchy of friendship conceptions with their gifted children:

“Because gifted children begin to make social comparisons earlier than their age-peers, they can become acutely aware that they seem to be looking for different things in friendship than are their age-peers. A frank but sensitive discussion of this can help ameliorate the feelings of ‘strangeness’.”

Gross adds that high-intellect children tend to prefer one or two close friends to being part of a larger friend group:

“It’s okay if your gifted child prefers to link with one ‘special’ friend rather than ‘play the field.’ Parents sometimes worry that the child seems to be putting all his or her friendship eggs in the one basket—but we must remember that because the quality of gifted children’s friendships is different, they have an earlier need for the exchange of confidences and the discovery of mutual bonds. This is more easily achieved in pairs than in larger groups.”

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If you are the parent of a gifted child, good research and advice is available on a wide range of topics, both online and on bookstore shelves. Several organizations have dedicated themselves to maximizing the brainpower and mental health of high-intellect kids, and most elementary schools do employ someone who can spot a superior student who has somehow slipped under the radar through nursery school and kindergarten. If you suspect your child is gifted, these same resources can point you toward the kind of testing and expertise that will let you know for sure.

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Summer Solutions

According to the National Association for Gifted Children, even the brightest kids can backslide academically during an unstructured summer. The solution for many is an overnight camp experience. Parents of gifted children face some challenges finding the right fit, however. The boxes you’ll want to check (and, frankly, this goes for parents of every child) include:

  • Good balance between academic, physical and social activities
  • Active, hands-on learning vs. passive learning
  • Exploring areas beyond what a child is learning in school
  • Progress assessments at the end of a session
  • Staff trained to address intellectual and emotional needs

According to Dr. Denise Drain, who consults on gifted programming strategies, professional development and program review, a good summer program should build on children’s interests and expertise.

“They may give children and adolescents an opportunity to develop expertise in areas such as sports, visual and performing arts, music, and academics,” she maintains, adding that being engaged in their own learning “increases motivation and helps children to develop goals and positive attitudes toward their abilities.”

There are a number of exceptional residential summer camps within a day’s drive of New Jersey, which make use of high-end college facilities. If you are in the market, these might be good starting points:

Summer Institute for the Gifted • Bryn Mawr, PA

Residential students live in dorm groups of a dozen or so, with four-period academic days and special trips and programs on the weekends. Classes are comprised of students in the same age- and talent-range.

The Center for Talented Youth • Baltimore, MD

This organization has a summer camp program for gifted children at Johns Hopkins. The three-week sleep-away programs begin in 5th grade and offer courses in the humanities, sciences, math, writing, and computer science.

Duke University Summer Camp • Durham, NC

Duke’s youth summer programs encompass math, science and engineering, but also offers creative writing and performing arts for gifted campers. The programs run for about two weeks, again starting at 5th grade.

Black Book Partners

Clearing the Bar

Which public figures just cleared the 125 IQ gifted threshold? Vladimir Putin tested at 127, while President Lyndon Johnson was a tick lower at 126. Also at 126 are NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady (right) and Steve Young. Right at 125 are guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen, along with actors Chris Pratt, Tom Cruise and Mira Sorvino. Who fell just short of gifted status? Among public figures who tested at 124 were President George W. Bush, X-Men actress Famke Janssen and serial killer Ted Bundy.

Jobs 2050

What will today’s toddlers be doing three decades from now?

by Luke Sacher

If you’ve recently been blessed with a child, grandchild or great-grandchild, I’m guessing the furthest thing from your mind is the kind of work they’ll be doing when it comes time to raise a family of their own. Granted, it’s a long way off. And the world will certainly look much different than it does today. However, one thing that is unlikely to change is that what we do will still determine, to a large degree, who we are. Which makes what we do important. What will the employment landscape of 2050 actually look like? That great Bronx philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said It’s tough to make predictions—especially about the future. Don’t expect any here from me. I’m just a 58-year old idiot who writes magazine stories. But I do know what the “experts” are saying and, although their predictions vary dramatically in regard to specifics, in two general areas they seem to agree.

1) About 60 percent of currently existing jobs will remain,  particularly those involving technical and mental skills that automation simply cannot replace. The human factor will still be at a premium. By contrast, according to a 2013 Oxford University study, the least safe jobs (those currently performed by humans that are most likely to be fully automated over the next 20 years) are, in percentage of probability: Telemarketer 99%, Loan Officer 98%, Cashier 97%, Paralegal and Legal Assistant 94%, Taxi Driver 89% and Fast Food Cook 81%. The same study identified the “safest” jobs as Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker 0.3%, Occupational Therapist 0.35%, Dietitian and Nutritionist 0.39%, Physician and Surgeon 0.42%, Clergy 0.81%. Wow. Clergy? That means Woody Allen was wrong. In his classic film Sleeper, he makes his confession to a robot priest that is one of the funniest scenes in movie history. Not going to happen, says Oxford University. Futurist.com, a website run by trend expert Glen Hiemstra, lists the Top 10 currently existing occupations for 2050 as Dental Hygienist, Human Resources Specialist,  Pharmacist, Biotechnology Sales Rep, Biomedical Engineer, Programmer/Software Developer, Network and Computer Systems Administrator, Nuclear and Solar Power Engineer, and yeah, you guessed it, Attorney. Hold it, that’s only nine. I’ve saved the best for last: Entrepreneur. Don’t you think that’s a bit misleading? Yes, technically, that kid who needs a diaper change could conceivably join the entrepreneurial ranks of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Joy Mangano, Sarah Breedlove, Mark Cuban, JK Rowling, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, Jack Dorsey, Sarah Blakely, Mark Zuckerberg, Weili Dai, Peter Thiel, Ariana Huffington or Elon Musk. All they’ll have to do is create an entirely new product or service that billions of people need or want, and for which they will line up around the block to hand over hard cash. Nice work if you can get it. Personally, I would also add these three to the list: Politician, Soldier, and Master Artisan. For complicated ethical and psychological reasons, people will continue to prefer being lied to and killed by other people rather than by androids. And there will always be a high demand for unique, hand-crafted beautiful things with charming imperfections, such as Michelin 3-star dinners, Patek Philippe watches, Tiffany engagement rings and Lamborghini sports cars. Oh, and also Bartender. Would you really want to go to 21 in New York or Harry’s in Paris and be served a dry and dirty vodka martini or Pimm’s Cup—just the way you like it—by a mechanical arm or silicone-skinned cyborg? Could you imagine Frank Sinatra singing Make it one for my baby and one more for the road to something that looks and walks and talks like a refugee from an auto assembly plant?

 

2) Outside of the truly high-end professional careers— including medicine, surgery, law, clinical psychotherapy, and rocket science—most of the professions we think of as being mainstream will come to an end, fully superseded by that of the “gig” (aka freelance) economy. In other words, we will be witnessing the last vestiges of the “cap-and-gown to gold watch + pension” economy in the decades to come. The vast majority of today’s newly born will most likely have to live by the old Marine Corps motto: Improvise, Adapt and Overcome. Or if you prefer: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The take-away? Be flexible. Never stop learning. Take earned personal pride in adding more and more tools to your toolbox, and in expanding your potential. Knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon said. Now for the most interesting part. What about the jobs of 2050 that don’t yet exist, or are presently in the prototype or metamorphic stages? Good news! While so many old jobs will disappear, lots of new ones will be created. According to the Institute for the Future (IFTF), 85 percent of them haven’t even yet been invented…which means that tomorrow’s workforce will likely be unrecognizable to us old geezers who hang on for another 30 years. So when your child or grandchild or great-grandchild proudly announces that he or she plans to be something you’ve never heard of, it’s okay to say What? What the heck is that? But be proud, too.

 

Virtual Store Manager

More and more consumers are shopping online, but still seek personal advice and assurance from vendors. In a recent Google survey, 61% of online shoppers reported that they call a business before making online purchases. Producers and retailers will be incentivized to expand and maintain their staff of real salespeople with real sales expertise in their online spaces. 

Human-Robot Counselor/AI Therapist

As robots become ever more sophisticated,  reliable and cost-effective, they will creatively destroy many muscle-driven jobs in heavy industries, such as mining, auto, and aviation manufacturing, shipbuilding and construction. At the same time, they will also create new jobs for humans as their task- and maintenance-supervisors. As working relationships between robots and humans become the norm, personal conflicts are sure to manifest themselves. Who will address them? Robot-Human Resources Counselors. and AI (Artificial Intelligence) Therapists, of course. Thus will be born an entirely new mental health field, geared to help people adjust to and cooperate with their cybernetic colleagues. Think of Fry and Bender on Futurama.

Algorithm Programmer/Robot Trainer

Software and firmware algorithms enable computers to perform sophisticated interactive tasks (i.e. Alexa or Siri). Today, only a small number of elite programmers are capable of writing those algorithms. But over the next decade or two, it’s a good bet that their now-rare skills will become standardized and commoditized—and assumed by mid-level or entry-level employees. Remember, not so long ago, when a working knowledge of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint was a cutting-edge advantage in the job market?

Drone Air Traffic Controller

In 2016, almost 700,000 aerial drones were registered with the federal government. Amazon and Google are actively beta testing delivery of goods by aerial drones, and future drone pilots are already attending specialty technical schools. Three decades from now, millions of drones will fill the skies and will need to be monitored by an air traffic control network similar to that for passenger airplanes. If you’re a glutton for punishment and high stress, this just might be your dream job. I can’t help picturing Lloyd Bridges in Airplane.

Micro Gig Agent

More and more agents, reps and consultants will be needed as independent contractors as tomorrow’s freelance economy grows. Just like today’s talent and professional services agents, “Micro Gig Agents” will work on commission or retainer, finding and matching goods and/or services offered by their clients to the everchanging demands of potential customers and/or employers.

Robotic Surgeons & Surgical Technicians

Precision surgeries are now being performed using multi-armed robots, such as the da Vinci system at Trinitas. Articulated arms are fitted with instruments, providing virtually unlimited degrees of motion and precision, while another holds a high-definition 3D camera to assist the surgical team and minimize error. As more and more medicine is practiced remotely—and as more sophisticated surgeries are executed robotically—robotic surgeons and their supporting technicians will need to possess both the knowledge of traditional physicians and surgeons and technical proficiency with their new high-technology equipment.

 

Organ Transplant Engineer

In the United States, dozens of people die every day waiting for transplants that can’t take place, primarily due to the shortage of compatible donated organs. Last February, scientists at the University of California, Davis successfully cultured sheep embryos containing human cells—a major step forward to the goal of growing complete human organs inside animal hosts. Xenotransplantation will eventually be the primary source of transplant materials, designed and engineered to ensure 100% effectiveness and 0% probability of autoimmune rejection. Engineers of xenotransplant organs will occupy a critical role in future medicine.

Cyber Security Specialist

Given the relentlessly increasing number of security breaches of both government and private corporate networks, more and more cybersecurity experts will be sought to counter future threats to the online universe that we love and depend on. Calling all keyboard warriors! How cool would it be to work for the CIA (or PayPal), catching truly bad guys?

Security/Police Officer

Security and police officers have existed pretty much since ancient Babylon. In the near future, they’ll no longer need to pull long hours at the station house or cruising streets in a squad car, as they’ll be able to respond even faster and more effectively with robot “muscle” backup— advanced audiovisual surveillance capabilities, and airborne vehicles.

Space Tourism Guide

We’ve been waiting for it since 2001: A Space Odyssey, but at last, space travel and tourism for the common man are drawing closer and closer to realization. By 2050, a trip to a space station or even the moon will most likely be as common as a business junket to Cincinnati or a family holiday to Orlando. Those working to make their passengers comfortable with these probabilities will require strong people skills, similar to those of current air flight attendants, such as knowledge of safety procedures and resistance to motion sickness and vertigo.

 Augmented/Virtual Reality Designer/Engineer/Architect

Marketing and retail companies are already actively seeking augmented/virtual reality designers, engineers and architects to create interactive, immersive experiences for their consumers. Those with expertise in AVR technology—combining computer-generated images with physical environments— will be hot prospects in the job market,  conceiving and creating for everything from job training to outdoor advertising to (one day) Star Trek “holodeck” experiences.

Automated Construction Specialist/Architectural Engineer

Using innovations like 3D modeling/ printing and advanced robotics, architectural engineering and construction in the future will be nothing short of revolutionary. Specialists in these fields will be equipped to build human habitats straight out of science fiction. Imagine apartment buildings perched thousands of feet in the sky like the Jetsons’, mobile floating “sea stead” towns in the oceans or subterranean Logan’s Run-esque cities.

Data Analyst/Future Forecaster

For a hundred years or more, since the founding of IBM or maybe since the Age of Enlightenment, analysts of empirical data have been instrumental in advancing humanity’s understanding of itself. And they will continue to do so. They are the high priests of our culture, producing the charts and graphs that explain the present and predict the future. Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going? Will stock and bond prices soar or plummet? Will we run out of fresh produce, water, petroleum or gummi bears? Will there a war? Don’t ask me…call your analyst.

Genetic Counselor

The term “designer baby” isn’t anything new. Genetic and genomic scientists are already able to detect many inherited abnormalities that may jeopardize a child’s health or quality of life. Doctors and scientists generate the raw information, but genetic counselors will be needed to help parents make the best choices for themselves and their posterity. About 2,000 professionals are currently recognized by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Look for that number to skyrocket as we learn more about ourselves at the molecular level.

Transportation Engineer

Autonomous personal aircraft, pneumaticintercontinental trains, maglev monorails, moving sidewalks—science fiction novels, movies and television programs (as well as magazines like Popular Mechanics) have dangled images of such futuristic vehicles before our starry eyes for decades. We are still fascinated by their possible realization.  Transportation engineers will be the ones to make them happen. Most of us spend more waking hours working than with our families and friends. So, if I may argue, matching our personal strengths and aptitudes to our interests and passions, and choosing wisely what we work at (whether a profession, vocation, occupation or trade) is the most important existential decision any of us make in our lives. If what we do is indeed a big part of who we are, then the best advice we can offer to the young workers of 2050 is aspire to do what you love, and love what you do.  In closing, I also think it’s worth considering the words of Saint Jerome: fac et aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum. “Engage in some occupation, so that the devil may always find you busy.” In other words, if you sit around doing nothing, you’ll be more tempted to do questionable things. For those who love to do and make things, the world of 2050 should be a moveable feast of possibilities. If so, sit down to the table and order up.

Positive Deflation: Can It Happen?

As productivity increases by way of automation, material scarcity decreases. That means less and less of us will be needed to work at producing the materials for basic human survival, such as food, clothing, housing, energy, and transportation. These commodities will become so abundant that their prices will plummet…which means that everyone will be able to consume them for less and less money. Working simply to earn enough money to purchase them might soon be practically unnecessary. Economists call this Positive Deflation. Difficult as it may be to imagine today, in 2050 the goal of “freedom from want” may be achievable—and a fact of life for many of us. People will be empowered to pursue their unique individual talents and creative passions in the Brave New Economy liberated for the first time in human history from the fear of privation.

Recommended Reading (and Viewing)

If you’re interested in wrapping your mind around the twists, turns and unintended consequences of the future, I highly recommend immersing yourself in the work of some highly imaginative people who have already done a deep dive…

Sleeper • Woody Allen

I, Robot • Isaac Asimov

I Sing the Body Electric • Ray Bradbury

Fantasia/The Sorcerer’s Apprentice • Walt Disney

Futurama • Matt Groenig

Brave New World • Aldous Huxley

The Stepford Wives • Ira Levin

Player Piano • Kurt Vonnegut

 

Food for Thought

For more and more summer camps, nutrition is now on the menu.

By Mark Stewart

Of my many vivid summer camp memories, I am struck by how often they revolve around some aspect of food. I was a reluctant eater back then (not anymore) so naturally, I have quite a few culinary-nightmare tales to tell. I was horrified when I discovered that the much-celebrated campfire burgers were cooked on a metal bed frame from the 1930s. The camp spaghetti sauce, which I refused to touch much less eat, looked like it came from Custer’s Last Stand. I also recall being deeply offended that the toast served at breakfast each morning was brown and rock-hard on one side and essentially uncooked on the other. I’m pretty sure it was broiled Wonder Bread.

And yet, lo these many decades later, I am still tempted to purchase a quarter-pound of the cheap bologna at our local grocery store, pair it with a slice of imitation cheese food, and then slather on so much yellow mustard and fake mayo that it oozes out the sides of the sandwich. Ah, memories.

The backstory is that a group of us older campers had set out deep into the Adirondacks on an overnight hike. A three-day storm surprised us and we had to ride it out in a lean-to, with little more than meticulously rationed Gorp to sustain us. I almost strangled a kid over an unclaimed M&M. Anyway, when we dragged our famished 13-year-old bodies back into camp, the cooks were nowhere to be found and all we could scrounge were the aforementioned mystery-meat sandwiches. On my initial bite, the MSG, sodium, and preservatives ignited in my mouth like Sweet Tart fireworks and literally made me shudder. I’m still not sure what cyclamates are, but I’ll bet there were tons of ’em between those flabby slices of white bread.

And curse it all…I don’t think anything has ever tasted that good since.

If I’ve ruined your appetite, I apologize. The good news is that it’s highly improbable that your kids will share anything like this experience when they go off to camp this June or July. Day camps, sleep-away camps, tech camps, sports camps, you name it, have really stepped up their game where nutrition and food quality are concerned. Okay, they still serve burgers and dogs and chicken nuggets. But the meat is no longer the mystery. It’s probably low-fat and preservative-free. In fact, any of those three camp classics may even be meatless. It’s all about providing healthier meal options—a goal that begins with a nutritional philosophy at the top of the camp food chain and trickles down to the cooks and counselors.

We as parents know that healthy food can be delicious. Fruit and yogurt are smarter breakfast choices than Lucky Charms; salads and whole-grain sandwiches beat Sloppy Joe’s for lunch; and lean grilled meats and vegetables are a vast improvement over high-fat, high-carb, high-sodium dinners like the one the cooks at my old camp titled “turqué alla king.” (I hope at least they used real king, since it was the only part of the dish that was not misspelled.) We can’t always convince our kids to eat right, but it’s encouraging to know that camps now have our backs when it comes to sending the right message.

As anyone in the camp business will tell you, doing so is in their best interest. It requires a lot of energy to plow through a typical day of activities, and healthy food and snacks are the fuel that makes campers go. You definitely don’t want kids to crash and burn in the middle of a robotics showdown or in the front of a canoe.

What should campers be consuming? The U.S. Department of Agriculture—the same folks that brought you the much-maligned food pyramid—actually has an answer. The USDA’s MyPlate initiative lays out an ideal, albeit aspirational, set of guidelines for kids to follow. It’s no longer a pyramid. It’s a pie chart and pie is nowhere to be found. It suggests a daily diet of 30 percent grains, 40 percent vegetables, 10 percent fruits, and 20 percent proteins. A smaller circle is dedicated to dairy products, including milk and yogurt. The MyPlate program also preaches portion control. Do summer camps adhere to these guidelines? Some do. The rest are getting there.

As a parent, it is probably unreasonable to expect a dietary expert to be looming over the shoulder of each and every camper. But you can ask good questions about a camp’s nutritional philosophy. For example:

  • How often does the camp provide sweet snacks and desserts, such as cookies and ice cream? Once a day is okay. More often might be reason for concern.
  • What kind of proteins are on the menu? Lean meats, chicken and fish are ideal; the healthier versions of burgers and dogs are fine.
  • Are sweet and sugary drinks always available? If so, you know your kid is going to go for those. Low-fat milk and water are preferable, along with some juice in the morning.
  • What percentage of bread, rice, cereal and other grains served at camp is whole grain? It’s not difficult or expensive to achieve a 50–50 split.
  • What percentage of the food consumed is fruits and/or vegetables? Again, a 50–50 split is an achievable goal.

In many cases, summer camps cover this territory well on their web sites. Food and nutritional information may be listed under a Medical or Wellness tab on the home page. The word you want to look for (or ask about, if it’s not there) is “dietician.” This is a food professional who oversees the content and quality of the camp’s menus and hopefully is involved on some level in educating campers about healthy eating.

A good example of this shift is Campus Kids, a weekday sleep-away camp in Blairstown. Eight years ago, the camp added a staff specialist who oversees the menus and helps manage food allergies, as well as the overall medical needs of campers. Owner/operator Tom Riddleberger acknowledges that more and more children have allergies and food preferences that must be accommodated and managed, but says it’s actually not a big deal.

“This is a trend we are seeing throughout society,” he says, “which in general has become much more open to recognizing individual needs. Food service personnel have moved with the times, and have that expertise. I think the key from a camp perspective is not to have an attitude about accommodating someone’s requests or needs. Homesickness is a need, and camps have always dealt with that. If a child is vegetarian or gluten-free or lactose intolerant, we deal with that smoothly, too, in a way that doesn’t make the child feel singled out.”

I think it’s safe to say that, back in the bologna-sandwich Stone Age days of summer camp, the concept of hiring a staff member with actual nutritional expertise never crossed anyone’s mind. Camp directors were more focused on swimming, boating, hiking, sports, outdoor skills, arts & crafts, and activities and challenges that nourish a young person’s spirit.

Which is where the emphasis still should be.

Indeed, the search for the right-fit summer camp is all about the quality of experience available to your child, about the confidence- and skill-building opportunities offered. Today’s camps are all about nourishing the body and mind, often in ways we could not have imagined a generation ago. Just don’t forget that they’re feeding your kid, too.

DEALING WITH ALLERGIES

According to the CDC, food allergies among children have increased by more than 50 percent in the last two decades. This has had a huge impact on summer camps, which need to understand who they can and cannot accommodate—and communicate this clearly to parents. In this case, communication is a two-way street. It is incumbent upon parents to be crystal clear with prospective camps about the nature and extent of a child’s allergies, both to food and also environmental allergies.

Another hurdle that summer camps may soon encounter is the possibility that childhood food allergies will fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Indeed, there are a great many camps right now that are ADA-compliant but might lose that designation if allergies are classified as a disability.

PEAK PERFORMANCE

With the steady rise in the number of sports camps in the country, diet and nutrition have become part of teaching athletes to hone their competitive edge. U.S. Soccer, which oversees the training of the sport’s elite competitors, has issued a set of guidelines for its players, including:

  • Choose the least processed foods possible
  • Consume lean protein and fruits/vegetables at each meal
  • Eat healthy fats (i.e. fish, nuts, avocados)
  • Have breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up for max energy
  • Make 4 to 6 small meals throughout the day
  • Have a high-carb, high-protein recovery meal or shake after workouts
  • Stay hydrated at all times

 

Mama Bears

So you think your mother-in-law is bad…

By Sarah Rossbach

My husband used to tease me that my mother paid him a huge fee to marry me. But that jest perhaps hides the real truth: On Christmas Eve, the year we were married, my mother-in-law, martini glass in hand, cornered me at a family gathering and tearfully thanked me for marrying her middle son. While no money was exchanged, I registered the gratitude that with her son in my hands, she had one less worry on her mind. I must admit I was lucky in the mother-in-law department.

Mother-in-law. An appellation so resonant that it is almost onomatopoetic in evoking a mixture of fear, humor invasiveness and sometimes loathing. My father used to say that he married a “Rose that grew from a dung heap.” And when my mother married my dad, her new sister-in-law took her to lunch to warn her about the well-manicured claws of her future mother-in-law. My mother actually got along swell with my grandmother, perhaps because she was a vast improvement to her own mother. Meanwhile, the sister-in law’s mother was referred to by her husband as “The Toad.” That being said, mothers-in-law can occasionally be outright fun. An older friend said his early-to-bed wife’s night owl mother used to commandeer him after the witching hour to squire her around to Palm Beach nightclubs. (And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson!)

The evil or comic mother-in-law has been a casting staple in Hollywood: From the movie Monster-in-Law to Samantha’s mother, humorously invasive and sardonically witchy Endora, on Bewitched to Game of Thrones’ murderous Olenna Tyrell, the theme of mothers-in-law is rich territory.

Mother-in-law stories start with the tying of the knot. There are endless stories of mothers of the groom wearing funereal black at the wedding, or trying to upstage the bride by wearing white. And then there are the mothers-in-law, with shriveled hearts, who forgo the wedding altogether. Probably good riddance. No one could be good enough for Sonny Boy or perfect Poopsie. The umbilical cord knows no ends. Oedipus, anyone? Speaking of Oedipus: imagine the nightmare of his mother, Jocasta, who by unwittingly marrying her son, incestuously became her own mother-in-law. 

Mothers-in-law may have the best intentions, such as Recounted that, on a first visit to her husband-to-be’s hometown, his mother drove her around on a tour of all her son’s ex-girlfriends’ houses. The not-very veiled message being: there were many before and, if she didn’t take good care of him, there could be many afterwards.

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My own area of study is Chinese culture, where there are hundreds of stories of young Chinese wives becoming slaves to their tyrannical mothers-in-law, thanks to Confucian expectations of filial piety, respect and obeisance: The custom was that, on marriage, the wife moved into her husband’s multi-generational home and was at her mother-in-law’s beck and call. The mother-in-law continued a cruel cycle of abuse, no doubt similar to how her own mother-in-law treated her. There are so many examples in Chinese history and fiction of wretched mothers-in-law that one doesn’t stand out as more horrible than the others.

Library of Congress

Which is better—the coldly snubbing or the insanely smothering mother-in-law? History has something to say about that. In the 19th Century, when John Ruskin, the Scottish art critic and champion of Pre-Raphaelite artists, married at his mother’s urging the high-spirited Effie Gray, he caught a chill on their honeymoon and had to be nursed back to health by his mother. However, his mother’s lack of boundaries in over-nurturing Ruskin can’t be the only cause of six years of an unconsummated marriage. With reason, Effie annulled their union and married Ruskin’s more handsome and appreciative protégé, the painter John Everett Millais.

The White House has housed four mothers-in-law and, not just one, but two of them were domineering and judgmental. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed to Eleanor, his meddling mother Sara took him abroad to discourage their union. When that didn’t work, she built double townhouses in New York as a wedding present, so she could be near her dear one. Wherever they lived, she always shared a roof. Her overbearingness did “save” the marriage, as she objected to the possibility of Franklin divorcing Eleanor when he strayed from the marriage, saying she would cut him off without a dime. FDR’s successor, Harry Truman, gained a disapproving mother in- law when he married Bess Wallace. Bess’s mother never considered Harry—a former dirt farmer and failed shopkeeper—good enough for her daughter, even when he became president (!) and she settled into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Victoria and Albert Museum

History offers plenty of Game of Thrones-esque stories about overbearing and conniving (to the point of felonious and even homicidal) mothers-in-law. In the 16th century, Mary Stuart, aka Mary Queen of Scots, after her husband Francis II’s untimely death, was cast out by her mother-in-law, Catherine de’ Medici (right). Mary fled to Scotland, leaving the Crown Jewels behind at Catherine’s insistence. (But that was certainly better than the imprisonment and beheading that ultimately awaited her in Scotland.) Catherine also tangled in her daughter’s marriage and may have poisoned her son-in-law’s mother as well as caused religious riots. And although one marries for better or worse, it couldn’t get worse than the domineering Bona Sforza (1494- 1557), the poisonous and poisoning Italian-born Queen of Poland. Bona, by all accounts, was a horrible mother to her five children, but she was far worse to her daughters-in-law. After unsuccessfully attempting to prevent her son’s marriage to Elisabeth of Austria, she is said to have poisoned Elisabeth within two years. Her son remarried his mistress, who quickly and mysteriously died mere months after the wedding.

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We may feel safely centuries away from these murderous mothers-in-law, but the beat goes on. Closer to here and now, in 2013, a Florida newspaper reported that a 70-year-old grandmother allegedly offered a supposed hitman $5,000 to knock off her daughter-in-law. Fortunately for the intended victim, the hitman was an undercover cop. 

FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION

Dell Publishing

Darrin Stephens’s mother-in-law, Endora (played to virtuoso perfection by Mercury Theater veteran Agnes Moorehead), earns high marks as one of TV land’s great sitcom mothers-in-law. Moorehead is hardly alone. Some of history’s finest character actors have made this role their own on the small screen.

  • In the 1960s, Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard took turns chewing the scenery in the sitcom The Mothers In Law. They played embattled neighbors whose children married, forcing their parents into uncomfortable closeness week after week.
  • On The Honeymooners, the mere mention of Alice Kramden’s mother (played by sneering Ethel Owen) sent Ralph into a quivering rage. She rarely missed an opportunity to mention the boys her daughter could have married…and once had Ralph arrested as a counterfeiter.
  • Sitcom mothers-in-law could be tough on daughters, too. Frances Sternhagen, who gained TV fame as Cliff Clavin’s mother on Cheers, was even better as Bunny MacDougal on Sex and the City. Bunny took meddling in the lives of Trey (her son) and Charlotte to a whole new level.
  • On Everybody Loves Raymond, Doris Roberts made Debra’s life a comic nightmare, while standing up for her son at almost every turn. Roberts was nominated for seven Emmys as Marie Barone. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ambitious mothers-in-laws always run the risk of a double-edged sword. Literally. When King Herod the Great discovered his mother-in-law and her daughter were conspiring to regain power for their dethroned family, he had both executed.