Alley kids

Remembering seven years of parenthood in print

One of the best parts of writing this column is something realized every year around this time — the opportunity to reread, to go back in time and remember the silliness, the triumphs, the milestones that come with raising four children.

It’s a form of spring cleaning where I go through the closets and attics of my kids’ childhoods. Instead of tossing out, though, I’m gathering. I make piles from the good times and the bad, the happy moments and even the sad.



Mailbox full of milestones for oldest son — like taxes and college

My oldest son, Calvin, began working last fall at an East Memphis veterinary clinic. He goes in after school for a few hours a couple of days a week and on Saturdays. Last weekend, we logged on to TurboTax, and he filled out his first-ever income tax return. In a matter of weeks, $38 in refunded cash will be deposited electronically into his bank account.

Welcome to the real world of tax responsibility in the 21st century, Calvin.READ MORE


Mid-South Book Festival leads children to path of lifetime reading

Photo by William Deshazer

Photo by William Deshazer

My kids talk. A lot. But a large and healthy vocabulary is a gift all parents should give their children. At least that’s what I keep telling myself whenever I can get a word in edgewise.

The seed to a garden of so many words and sentences and paragraphs is found in a book. My children have outgrown “Goodnight Moon” and “Knuffle Bunny” and “One Fish, Two Fish,” and the truth is, I miss them sometimes. Reading to my kids gave something to both of us; it’s a give and take of knowledge and language, but also of bonding and irreplaceable memories. I could probably recite “Goodnight Moon” from memory if they’d ask, but they aren’t asking anymore; they’re too old for that “great green room.”

There are plenty of ways to keep our kids reading even once they’ve passed the age of tuck-ins at bedtime. There is school, of course, and read-a-thons. There are books that are made into films to capture their interest and, hopefully, make them curious for the source material. There are wizards and castles and magic tree houses. There are lions, witches and wardrobes.

And there is the library. I defy any child to walk through the pastel forest that is the Children’s Department entryway of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, and not be drawn to the stained-glass house, the low-to-the-ground tables and the rows upon rows of mind-opening books.

Kids, this department is your great green room that will set you on a course of lifetime reading.

I learned the other day of a policy I hadn’t previously known. It seems that if your child has late fines in the Memphis Public Library system, he or she can go in and read for a preset amount of time in the presence of a librarian and that fine, or portions of that fine, will be dismissed.

Had I known about it over the course of the last 16 years with four kids, it could have saved me tens of dollars in nickel late fees.

What a wonderful policy, though. It teaches children that knowledge is more valuable than money.

Another way to interest children in the world of literature happens this weekend. It’s Literacy Mid-South’s first Mid-South Book Festival taking place from Thursday to Sunday. Saturday afternoon at Memphis Botanic Garden, there will be an outside children’s area with costumed characters, sidewalk chalk for writing haikus, a play by ShoWagon of Theatre Memphis, and Chef Dough Dough (Dolores Grisanti Katsotis) will give a cooking demonstration from her children’s cookbook.

There is plenty for adult readers, too, of course, and I’ll be moderating a Q&A session Saturday morning with Courtney Miller Santo, local author of “Three Story House” and “The Roots of the Olive Tree.”

Kevin Dean, executive director of Literacy Mid-South, warns that “If a child isn’t proficient in reading by the third grade, there’s a good chance that we’ve lost him forever. And you can’t rely solely on the school system to do that, that has to start at home.”

My passion for reading began early through trips with my mother to the public library when it was at Peabody and McLean in Midtown. That interest and curiosity is probably the greatest gift she ever gave me.

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of “Because I Said So” on Facebook:

More information on the Mid-South Book Festival at
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$1,000 says money buys stuff, not happiness

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

June 23, 2011

On a particularly hot and muggy day last week, the kids and I stayed indoors and played a little billiards on the Wii. I tried to concentrate on my next shot as Somerset jumped around the living room and goaded me like a virtual Fast Eddie Felson.

We kept the game light and friendly, though, and I took my lumps from the 8-year-old hustler, and at some point the talk turned to money. Like most of my kids’ conversations, I’m not quite sure how this topic came up, whether it was a discussion carried over from the day before or due to the wager I had just offered my daughter. Who really knows what wheels are turning inside our children’s heads?

They asked each other what they would do with $1,000, and whether they’d rather have “this” or “that” instead of a thousand dollars. One thousand dollars appears to be the benchmark of financial success for my kids.

But not necessarily happiness. One of those little pool-hall philosophers spoke up to say that money can’t buy happiness; he said it’s what “they” say. Somerset, banking the 8 ball easily off the far bumper and into a pocket, was insistent that things could be bought that would make us happy. When I asked, “Like what?” her eyes grew big and she said, “stuff!”

Stuff is usually what it all comes down to for kids because they think that once they get all the stuff they see in television ads, they’ll be happy. It will be years before they realize that the acquisition of stuff only leads to more stuff until your house is full of stuff that doesn’t really have the ability to make you happy … (read more)