Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Holiday steps and missteps

December 8, 2015

I’m head-down focused on my teen novel. Come first of the year, El Niño or no, it’s going to my editor. Who cares if I’m sitting on a coach adrift in dog hair? Or wearing the same socks five days running? It’s Food Truck Tuesday and I’m in the zone. And like yesterday’s Chinese leftovers, I’m serving up reheated holiday blog fare today. Tuck in! 

It's dark out there. Spread your light

It’s dark out there. Spread your light

T’is the season for spreading light in the darkness. And goodwill. Yeah. So why not go out of your way to be nice?  Or, at the very least, watch out for missteps. Some can’t be undone. Like when we make choices that negatively alter the course of a relationship.

Fortunately some missteps can be corrected before we royally muck things up. I got one of those the other day as David and I walked to the post office. We passed a neighbor wearing a thin blue dress, bedroom slippers and an agitated expression. She shouted something at us, but with the guy across the street running his leaf blower I couldn’t make out what she said.

This woman is… how can I put this? A bit erratic. Over the years I’ve seen her standing in front of her house screaming at cars (“SLOW DOWN!!”) and at me (“DID YOU SEE THAT GUY? JUST LETS THE DOG RUN AROUND! NO LEASH! NO SENSE!”) Because I never know what I’ll get from her I keep my distance. At that leaf-blowing moment I could easily have pantomimed: Sorry, crazy lady, can’t hear you!  I’ll just shrug, smile, wave and keep walking…fast.

But that felt like a misstep. And I had the weird sensation a campus rep from Karma College was taking notes… so I crossed the street and talked to her.

LADY: Did you see the mailman up the street? Has he come down the hill yet?

ANNIE: I didn’t see him, but we already got our mail.

LADY: So did I. But I wonder if he’s passed by yet.

ANNIE: Yeah. I think he’s gone for the day.

She stood there, frowning. The wind picked up and her feet went bluish in those flimsy slippers.

ANNIE: Was there something you wanted to mail? Because we’re walking to the post office right now.

She ran into the house while I imagined her coming back with a twenty-five pound box and a handful of stamps. I thought about leaving. A moment later she re-appeared waving a white envelope… Christmas card size.

LADY: It’s for a man in a nursing home. You’ll take it to the post office for me?

Sure thing.

Misstep unstepped. Right foot forward.


It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood… or is it?

February 25, 2014

Please won't you be my neighbor?

Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Marin County, where this story takes place, has the lowest violent crime rate of all nine San Francisco Bay Area counties. It also ranks 4th lowest in violent crime amongst all 58 California counties. You’ll need this for context. When folks in Marin have an issue with someone, we hash it out over organic Genmaicha tea down at the gluten-free bakery. Get the picture? Marin is a chill place. Which is why the little girl’s reaction to my friendly “Good morning” was such a shocker. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the sunny morning in question, I strolled my neighborhood and crossed paths with a five year old and her dad. I said “Good morning” to the father who stopped, smiled warmly and said, “Hey! How’s it going?” (Which is Marin for “Hi”) The two were obviously coming from the school down the hill, so I said to the girl, “Do you go to school at Brookside?” She looked down at her shoes and tightened her grip on her dad’s hand. Dad chuckled and informed me that his daughter is “kinda shy.” I didn’t think much of it and said to him, “My kids went to Brookside. It’s a nice school.” Dad agreed and started to tell me how his daughter was enjoying kindergarten. At that point the little girl yanked her father’s hand and said, “You’re not supposed to talk to strangers.” He seemed embarrassed but continued our conversation. “Yes, Ms. Hillson is a terrific teach… ” But he couldn’t finish because his daughter frantically pulled on his arm and tried dragging him away, all the while screaming, “Don’t talk to strangers, Daddy!!Don’t talk to strangers!!!”

She kept carrying on, pulling Dad along like a bad dog. He followed (lest his arm be severed from his body), but not before glancing back and giving me a helpless look.

Wow! I thought. That kid seriously needs some green tea and a yoga class. She’s obviously been indoctrinated into the “Stranger Danger” mindset to the degree that she believes everyone she doesn’t know is a lethal threat. She also doesn’t trust her dad can a) take care of himself and b) take care of her.

Walking on, I felt so sorry for the child and wondered what kids miss when they no longer have friendly encounters with neighbors.

A moment later another five year old girl appeared walking with her mom up the hill from the school (I do write fiction, but I swear I didn’t make this up.) Undeterred, I said, “Good morning” to the mom. At which point Little Girl#2 smiled brightly and said, ‘I go to Brookside School. I’m in kindergarten. Today my teacher read us Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Do you know that story? It’s about a donkey who turns into a rock. It’s kinda sad but then his parents make a wish and he turns back into himself again. Then they have a party. Do you have kids? Do they go to Brookside?”

Her mom laughed, delighted  her little girl was so confident and friendly.

I was delighted by her too. My kind of neighbor. We stopped and chatted for a while. I told her about a few other books she and her mom might enjoy together. Then we waved goodbye.

So what do you tell your children about strangers? I get that not everyone lives in a place like Marin, but what’s the right balance to strike when you teach kids about taking care of themselves when they are on their own and around people they don’t know?

Filed under: Helicopter Parents,Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 3:53 pm

Day 11: Kindness and Respect Challenge (T’is always the ‘season’ for spreading good will)

October 11, 2013

Sure been chilly in the mornings and evenings. My neighbor’s dahlias scream for their close-up. Local trees outdo each other in their annual “Look at me!” competition. And yesterday I went sweater shopping. So, yeah. No doubt about it, t’is the season to show a little good will toward our fellow humans.

T'is the season for bountiful kindness

Makes me wonder why Kindness and Respect isn’t a year-round thing. We’d all be better off if it were.

With that thought in mind, here’s excerpt from my book Teaching Kids to Be Good People. It’s a Christmasy kind of essay, but I’m putting it out here two and half months ahead of schedule to plant some kindness seeds and see what happens.

One Foot in Front of The Other

I don’t believe in Santa’s Naughty or Nice List, but I do believe in the inherent value of doing good deeds. I always try, at least in public, to be a positive role model, just in case some child happens to be watching and taking notes. In other words, I do my best to avoid missteps.

Some missteps can be corrected before it’s too late. Like when you choose a puny pot for making applesauce. After cutting up and tossing in four apples any fool can see that the other eleven on the counter will never fit into that pot. So you simply dump everything into a larger pot and carry on. Misstep unstepped. That assumes, of course, that a certain someone who already mentioned how the first pot was obviously too small isn’t standing right there watching. If he is and you two have been keeping score about such things, then timely self-correction without losing face is more challenging. But it’s still a viable and prudent option.

Some missteps, on the other hand, can’t be undone. Like making that offhand comment when you knew a certain person probably wasn’t going to fully appreciate the humor. Even if you swear you were “Just kidding!” you’re still stuck having to apologize and deal with your own disappointment in your lack of self-control. You’re also left wondering why the hell you haven’t yet learned that everything that pops into your head a) isn’t as funny as you think it is and/or b) isn’t worth saying.

As I write this, it is now December. ’Tis the season of spreading goodwill and comfort in the cold. So I light candles and look for opportunities to take steps in the right direction. And I got one this afternoon! As David and I walked to the post office, we passed a neighbor standing in front of her house. She wore a thin pink dress, bedroom slippers, and an agitated expression. She said something to us, but since the guy across the street was running his leaf blower, I couldn’t make out what it was.

Just so you know, this neighbor is . . . how can I put this . . . a bit erratic. Over the years we’ve heard her scream at passing cars, “SLOW DOWN!!”


Because I never know what I’ll get from her, I was a bit apprehensive when I saw her talking to me. At that moment I could easily have begged off by pantomiming something like: “Sorry, I’d love to stop and chat but I can’t hear you because the darn leaf blower is too loud. So I’ll just shrug and smile and wave and keep on walking.”

But that felt like a misstep. And I had the sneaking suspicion the campus rep from Karma College was lurking about taking notes. So I inhaled, exhaled, crossed the street and went up to her.

LADY: Did you see the mailman up the street? Has he come down the hill yet?

ANNIE: I didn’t see him, but we already got our mail.

LADY (frowning): So did I. But I wonder if he’s passed by yet.

ANNIE: Yeah. I think he’s gone for the day.

She looked upset as she stood there in the cold. Her toes were kinda bluish in those flimsy slippers.

ANNIE: Was there something you wanted to mail? Because we’re walking to the post office.

Magic words! She lit up and ran into the house. I stood there hoping she wouldn’t come out lugging a fifty-pound box and toss me some stamps. But no. She emerged a moment later waving a single white stamped envelope . . . Christmas card- size.

LADY: It’s for a man in a nursing home. You’ll take it to the post office for me?

ANNIE: Sure thing.

Misstep unstepped. Right foot forward.


Enjoy your mid-October weekend. One step at a time. And then check out Day 14 of the Kindness and Respect Challenge.


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