12 posts categorized "Kids and sensitive subjects"

Shootings and tragedies and parenting in the midst of it

December 14, 2012

I didn't know what to say after the Clackamas Mall shootings. We have the radio on a lot, and maybe my kids are just used to tuning out stories about gun violence -- BBC shares a story of an explosion or shooting death almost every day. My kids didn't say a word, and I felt I should say something before they went back to school because maybe other kids would be talking about it. I said it plainly. "There was a shooting, and two people died, and people are really sad and scared." They didn't ask any questions. No "why would someone do that?"

I hope this is because of fiction; because we read a lot of books with rather strong evil vs. good storylines, and watch TV shows like Dr. Who and Merlin in which people do die, we talk a lot about what motivates people to do terrible things. It's often the small things that take the most explanation, but we talk a lot about fear, fear of change, fear of difference, fear of being found out to be a fraud, fear of punishment, fear of facing one's own shortcomings, and how terrifyingly motivating that can be. How people shut themselves down to the hurt they are causing others and act protectively in terrible ways. How people want to be loved and feel connected, and when they don't they act out. How a lifetime of being hurt in some way -- physically, or being abandoned, or being treated with indignity and contempt -- can change someone into an unrecognizable mess of hurt. How they take power back any way they can.

That's the story of Lord Voldemort, and the story of Uther, and the story of many of the most violent evil characters in fiction and history. It's why I turn to fiction so often to tell my story.

I, again, don't know what to say about this latest tragedy. It's on all the radio shows and on all the Facebook statuses. I feel like I can't escape it and so my kids shouldn't either. Should I? Should I get out a guide to how to talk to your kids after a tragedy? Should I, like so many people are saying eloquently, look for the helpers? Should I do what I can myself? Should I work on this web site, whose stated goal is to help you find community? Should I work on this magazine, whose stated goal is to share the real stories of parenting so that we can all feel less alone? Should I retreat to fiction, pull up a good chapter of Harry Potter where Harry gets to exercise that power we all think we lack? Should I give kids power in my own fictional work?

I think I want to do all of that. I feel the only power I have in this is to tell stories and to help other people share theirs. I feel that the cure for violence is love and the cure for isolation is seeing another person through their history. I feel the cure for sadness is knowing you're not the only one feeling sad. I feel the way to heal from everything is to reach out and be together; not to draw in and be apart.

What do you do? Where is your power? How will you exercise it? Is there a cure?


Down with the 'R' word (of course! But how?)

October 23, 2012

I'm the mother of a kid with Asperger's, and dear friends who have kids with Down Syndrome. I've watched as our cultural relationship to children with minor and major developmental disabilities has changed; when I was in high school, the students who were friends with the kids in the classroom behind the cafeteria were looked on with a mixture of awe and utter incomprehension. It was something like sainthood: lovely, admirable, but most couldn't see themselves on that path. But now, it's not unusual for children with Down Syndrome to be beloved by their classmates, and the ones with the kind of dear social ineptitude I sometimes see in my own child, tolerated with kindness. I've had conversations with the high schoolers I coach about the "r" word. All agree, it's totally uncool. I've watched my kids interact with children who have a variety of disabilities, and it's just a thing. Something that is, and is not to be pitied, or belittled, and does not detract from the coolness of the kid.

We have a harder time in my house with that word. My husband's family grew up in what seems to me to have been a lot of bigotry. (It was probably not unusual for the time, but my current context makes a stark contrast.) I'm often left correcting my brother-in-law for his use of the "r" word, or some similarly unacceptable cultural slur. I know he doesn't really mean any of this, and my kids are savvy enough to know that it's not o.k. just because their uncle says it, but it still rankles. I often pull him aside and have the talk with him, this is his nephew he's slurring, and the boys' friends -- he apologizes, promises to work harder. I get it. It's hard to undo that kind of aculturization.

I tend to forgive my brother-in-law. But I can't really forgive someone like Ann Coulter. That's why this post was incredible -- it took Ann to task for her slur, and yet, forgave her. (I want to see her fired, and her audience ripped from her, honestly.)

I keep thinking, oh how far we've come! And then something like this happens -- our President called the R-word by someone with a huge platform, who is paid well for her bombast -- and I think, oh dear. We Americans are still those people. We're still the bigots.

Can we change? Can we do like our children are doing already? How common is the Coulter sort of aculturization? Is Portland a bubble of peace and love? If it's a bubble, it's a bubble I'm happy to live in -- but I so look forward to the way forward. Do you ever hear the "r" word, or is it going away in your world too?

A mother's mortality; how much do we tell our kids?

July 24, 2012

Today I went, with my three boys, to my obstetrician's office. We weren't there for fun. I was undergoing a LEEP procedure to shock off some shockingly bad cells from my cervix. After one bad pap smear prior to becoming pregnant with Everett, the more-common-than-I-ever-knew-at-22 cervical "pre-cancer" had returned.

Dr. Kehoe was reassuring and spirit-cheering. She'd told me that I had nothing to worry about, really; we'd get rid of the bad cells and I'd still have a mostly-intact cervix and an ability to birth babies. I said something to Everett, who's now 10, about the aim of the appointment several weeks ago when I went in for the biopsy procedure. This time, though I skimmed over it (I think I might have said exactly, "cut some bad cells out of me so I'll be healthy") I didn't give as much information.

"Why do you seem so worried?" asked Everett as we locked the door on our way out of the house.

"I don't think it's going to be very much fun," I said. "It's going to be very un-fun."

But at its core what I'm worried about is the very real exposure to my own mortality. As sole caregiver to my boys for the next year -- and, as I sometimes worry, the only one so equipped to love them in the particular way they seem to need -- the idea of them having to live without me is too stark to face, for me, or them.

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More about relationships with teens: Sleepovers?

January 29, 2012

I clicked on the link to a post about whether or not you should let your teen child's boyfriend or girlfriend sleep over expecting a point of view that was very much permissive agnostic (think: the parents caricatured by the media when most of us were teens) vs. strict values-based (think: Rick Santorum). But what I got was a very reasonable post I couldn't agree with more -- basically, that sexual activity is not caused or curtailed by letting two young people of the opposite sex in a room together. And we should spend a heck of a lot more time on our relationship with our child than on putting our foot down over proprieties handed down from our parents and their parents before them. (Peggy Sue Got Married was very much top-of-mind as I read.)

I think a point of view that wasn't very much present in conversations of 20 years ago was this one: well, what about the same-gender teens? Why can they sleep over? They could be having sex, too! And while it certainly doesn't have me rubbing my hands together planning how I'll cook breakfast together with my boys' girlfriends in seven or eight or 10 years, it does have me rethinking previously-held views about such things.

For now, I'd love to hear your thoughts on something that came up in the comments on that post: the time-honored "no closing your door," or, depending on the house design, "no going into the bedroom together" with a member of the opposite sex. In general, commenters agreed that it made for bad situations; those who were having sex were doing so in cars or other semi-public places, those who weren't still didn't feel welcome to hang out in a house with "surveillance." Is this a rule you've considered imposing on your children once they hit a certain age? Or is it already in place? I've made a sort of rule like this about a neighbor kid who comes over sometimes -- I need him where I can see him. It all comes down to trust, and I trust my oldest to tell me the truth about what's going on; I don't trust the neighbor kid (a certain experience with certain Google searches performed on my computer when I was washing the dishes...).

As Rebecca said when she posted the link, the part of the relationship you develop long before sex is an issue is what will, hopefully, be a much better deterrent from bad choices made behind closed doors or up on Mt. Tabor after the sun goes down on a hot August night (not that I'd know where a good spot might be) (no way not me). And that's more of this kind of thing. I hope, anyway!

A bad man is dead...

May 01, 2011

The boys were still awake, as they usually are at 7:20, when I first saw the news on Twitter suggesting that Osama bin Laden had been killed by the U.S. military. I turned on the news, because I couldn't imagine missing this announcement. So I had to tell the boys (who were really more focused on their dinner) what was happening; and all I could say was, "the president is announcing that he killed a very bad man. He ordered attacks on the U.S. -- thousands of Americans were killed," and, "this is what started the war Daddy is fighting." The war is not over. This does not affect his homecoming, and probably won't curtail future deployments.

I was glad, then, when I turned on the radio later, turned my computer on, to see the celebrations (and they'd fallen asleep already when a neighbor set off fireworks). I don't like the idea of celebrating death, even of a very bad man -- however you feel about the news, I suspect parents have common feelings about that. And if any of our children were alive during the attacks on 9/11 (of the urbanMamas founders, only one, Olivia, already had a child in 2001), it's likely they were too young to understand any of it.

Honestly, I think I'll try to shelter my kids from the photos of celebrations and the related news. We'll just leave with the title of my post: a bad man is dead. And they can learn more once they hit high school and study recent U.S. history. There are lots of tragedies I feel I shouldn't keep from my children; knowing that bad things happen as part of this complex rich life is something we've accepted, more or less. Knowing that people celebrate someone's death is just too nuanced for them; or maybe it's just too nuanced and conflicted for me to explain. How do you feel about this news?

Stranger danger at the park: Sort of

May 14, 2010

Yesterday after we picked up Truman from preschool, we decided to enjoy the gloriousness of the day at nearby Kenilworth Park. We weren't the only ones: a group from Grout had biked to school and was enjoying a picnic snack at the western playground; numerous young adults were kicking back in the sun in the "bowl" of grass and staging their own impromptu picnics; a few men had taken advantage of the bowling balls ever-present in their friend's trunk and were playing a raucous game of bowling-ball croquet (with a modified sledge hammer as mallet).

The older boys ran ahead to the upper, eastern playground with the intention of giving Truman a (very short-lived) bike-riding lesson, and I followed behind, seeing from the corner of my eye a giddily happy couple disengage from what looked like an inappropriate-for-public embrace. I averted my eyes in discomfort and walked up to Everett, who was waiting for me. "Those people were just having sex," he said matter-of-factly. "They were?" I asked. "Yep. People have sex there all the time," he replied. (A few minutes later, I saw a condom wrapper a few feet away, confirming Everett's assessment of the situation. At least it was safe sex!)

The couple walked by the playground about then, probably not picking up on the context behind the murderous glance I shot at them (they smiled blissfully back), and it occurred to me that kids look at people in the way adults don't. I feel discomfort at some man's near-nakedness as he reads in the sun; I see excessive PDA; I look away. Not so my little ones.

All I had to say to Everett was, "that's not ok." I couldn't think of another response. But then I watched as Truman approached each and every arrangement of strange adults and teenagers, variously begging for snacks from a couple with eye-popping nose piercings; joining in the bowling ball game (the guys let him have his very own ball and roll it through the wickets while they played); going up to the near-naked reading guy and chat with him for a minute; taking a turn at a ball-throwing toy for a little dog, for whom Truman's misfires were entirely too stimulating; and finally, accosting a teenager practicing his tuba. The tuba player turned out to be extraordinarily patient, telling him about the parts of the instrument, showing him how the tubes and bell worked, and even letting him have a turn blowing into it.

My lesson from this was twofold: first, Truman's complete lack of social boundaries means I have to keep very vigilant (and indeed, during all this I was doing my best to be a careful observer without impinging on his child-joy of social discovery); second, I have to look at people the way my children do. See them, see what they're doing, steer clear or confront if necessary.

But: what is there to be done about strangers who choose to have sex in the public-that-includes-your-kids? I thought about this afterward and couldn't come up with a sensibly effective response. Confronting them after the fact would have been, well, pretty confrontative and angry, not something I wanted my kids to have any more exposure to than they already do; calling the police would have broken something in me (not to mention required a very public retelling for Everett, the "witness"); appealing to them quietly and privately would have meant leaving the children, which was at that point an impossibility. Perhaps there's no solution but to ask your child to please, please, never do that himself.

Talking to kids about others with disabilities and differences

February 08, 2010

Now that I'm a relatively experienced mama, I've lost the anguish felt the first time a child under my care ever stared and pointed at someone who looked differently: whether because of darker skin, an obvious physical disability, or other not-typical appearance. I've learned to respond with equanimity or avoidance when appropriate: "Yes, there are a lot of different people on the bus!" or "Sweetie, let's use our quiet voices please." And what to do when a four-year-old kindly, loudly asks about "the old lady over there" when you suspect she's only middle-aged? An urbanNanny asks:

The 18-month-old girl that I watch has been crying every time we are near a person in a wheelchair. These experiences on the Max or in a coffeeshop we frequent are likely the only times she has seen a person in a wheelchair. When the crying happens it appears (by the look on her face) that she is scared, so I have been talking to her about how it is okay, that the person uses a chair to get around and that she uses her legs or a stroller. I'm not sure how to best handle the situation so I would love to post this as a discussion topic to get advice. 

I've often subscribed to the "tell as much of the truth, as simply, as you can and leave it at that" philosophy -- she's using that tactic admirably -- but when a child is visibly or audibly upset by a different-looking stranger, what do you do? How best to balance the child's own needs (is she unusually sensitive and empathetic?) with your desire not to hurt another human being's feelings?

Talking to young children about a painfully estranged relative

January 20, 2010

Many of us have in-laws, step-parents or aunts and uncles with whom we never wish to speak again. A lot of this never needs to be discussed with our children until they are much older. But sometimes, the relationship is so close and seems that it should be such a normal part of your children's life story that it continues to surface -- even though your children are too young and the subject still too raw for you to address it evenly. What do you do? A. asks:

I have been estranged from my father for just over 10 years. He sexually abused me when I was a child, and needless to say I don't want to have him in my or my children's lives. What I really could use, is some advice on how to approach the subject of my father with my children. Tonight my daughter (who is 4 1/2) asked my who my daddy is.

That sent me into a panic. I stammered, he was a daddy, and promptly changed the subject. I don't want to say something like "he wasn't very nice to me so I don't talk to him anymore" because I worry that my daughter will make a connection that if she's ever not very nice to me than I may not talk to her anymore.

Any thoughts you wise mamas have would be very much appreciated, for both short term (what do I say now about my dad in my past/present, and why there's only grandma on Mommy's side and no grandpa) and long term ideas (like should I actually tell my kids the details one day? How old should they be? when they are young adults themselves??)

talking to kids about Martin Luther King, Jr., race relations, and ethics

January 18, 2010

As with everything, I launched into it without much thought. "You see," I told the boys one night last week, "many people in this country used to think people who looked different than them -- with darker skin or different hair or different-shaped noses -- weren't as good as them. They even sometimes thought they weren't fully human, like animals or something! Isn't that awful?"

"That sounds pretty stupid to me," said Everett. He's the oldest, seven-and-a-half. Emboldened, I marched on, describing how people who needed to make decisions they weren't totally comfortable with -- like owning people, treating them horribly as slaves, making them do the worst work and endure terrible living conditions -- used this ethical trap to convince themselves it was o.k. "If they believed it, then they wouldn't think of themselves as so mean and awful," I said. "And it made them feel good, to think of themselves as better than these other people."

Lately, I've been referring to Hitler in a few different contexts, telling Everett the story of the man who put the heads on Pez (I had discovered he'd ended up working for the same Nazis who had sent his entire family to their deaths in concentration camps, after the war, and been stunned by this) and another story about the man who first put jigsaw puzzles on cardboard, making them available to the masses (his family, too, had needed escape from Nazis; we don't know if they made it).

It's context that I feel the kids need to understand why Martin Luther King, Jr's speech is so important -- why it is I still cry when I hear it, for the umpteenth time -- how our generous minds let us take cruel shortcuts, sometimes, without owning up to the cost. How we build up a whole infrastructure around this cruelty, laws and societal norms and unkind jokes, to protect our fragile consciences from the truth.

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Talking to your kids about drugs: New 'strawberry' meth makes it scarier than ever

November 03, 2008


Unaccountably, when I read this article about drugs being marketed to kids forwarded to us by an urbanMama, chills go through my spine and I wonder, should I start talking to Everett about drugs, now? He's six, and certainly old enough to get the concept. We have talked about drugs, but it was more one of those "in the far distant future make sure you don't, because..." kind of conversations.

I don't know if there's any evidence that this "Strawberry Quick" (meth mixed with Kool-Aid powder) has popped up in Portland, yet, but it's both insidious and a likely big hit in our rather meth-soaked streets. The other scary drug for beginning users is "cheese," black tar heroin mixed with Tylenol PM and snorted, rather than shot up, as regular "adult" black tar heroin is. Kid-friendly. [Shudders]

I'm going to email the drug task force in Portland and ask if there's been any reports of this stuff on our streets. In the meantime, when do you plan to talk to your kids about drugs? Have you already? Any insights?

Tethered Spinal Cord & Helping with Understanding Blood Draws

May 07, 2008

We're always amazed to see support and stories for other mamas about their experiences with difficult medical situations.  Cindy recently emailed us about her child's diagnosis of Tethered Spinal Cord.  Have you experienced this? And can you give her some advice?

I am seeking information from your wonderful community.  I have a wonderful six year old boy (almost seven!) who has been struggling with potty training for most of his life.  We were finally referred to a Pediatric Gastroentologist about six weeks ago and found out yesterday that he likely has a Tethered Spinal Cord.  We have to confirm with a Neurosurgeon and discuss treatment options.  However, our doctor and apparently all of the information available on the internet, says that surgery is the only effective option.

I would love support on a couple of fronts.  First, has anyone gone through this surgery with their child?  We had to use General Anesthesia to do the MRI this week so I know he tolerates that anesthesia well.  The anesthesia for the surgery may be different.  I am also finding information on-line that says once nerves are damaged, there is no repairing them.  Does anyone out there know if he may, someday, have control over his bowels and bladder?

The other element I’m interested in is how to help my four year old through this chapter of our lives.  We had to have blood drawn on my six year old several weeks ago for this issue.  My four year old and I had to take him and I think the little guy was the most upset out of all of us.  He somehow has associated blood with dying and so any quantity greater than just a scratch really scares him.

Daddy's in the ICU

April 09, 2008

Communicating delicate topics to our kids is something that can be difficult.  Melissa's husband was recently in an accident, and she needs your help in explaining the situation to her son and prepare him for visiting his daddy in the ICU.  She emails:

I need some help....my husband is in the ICU and has been there for about a week in a half.  I need some book recommendations to help my 2 year old son.  His dad WILL live but he had a serious head injury.  His dad is not himself & looks different.  I need to eventually bring him to the hospital but I don't want to scare him. I tried to draw a picture of what daddy looks like, but when I do that he looks like a monster.  Trying to show a picture of a daddy with a neck brace on, one eye swollen and shut, and a scar that is like a rainbow over his head from ear to ear with staples in it that DOES NOT look like a monster is very difficult to do.  I am planning to try to draw it on a doll or a stuffed animal to take away the scare factor.  I am planning on buying a doctors kit.  It is hard to find the time to do all of this while my husband is in the ICU & hurting & not himself.  I am pulling it together for my family.  I just need some more ideas so that it is not that hard to FIND the tools I need.  Where do I get this stuff?  What do I get?