We Foul Up More Before 8am Than Most People Do All Day

The Wife headed off to work early. The rest of us were awake as well, and we’ve had a busy morning! Here are the highlights of what has transpired before 8:15 today (stand in awe of my parenting prowess).

I am upstairs getting dressed while Z complains about being in the Pack ‘n Play. MeToo has followed her mommy downstairs. The Wife says something as she’s leaving — I can’t really make it out from inside the closet, but it’s longer than a typical good-bye shout — and I holler back, “I love you, have a good day!”

Mere moments later, I (now meeting the minimum standard for “being dressed”) discover that Z isn’t unhappy because he’s been incarcerated. He’s unhappy because he suddenly has a lot of poop in his diaper and he can’t get away from it no matter where he scoots. There’s definitely been a containment breach. As the floor of the baby jail is normally light brown, it’s impossible to judge how bad. Z’s legs, on the other hand, usually aren’t that color…

By the time Z is changed and decontaminated, MeToo had been alone a lot longer than I had intended. I arrive downstairs to discover that RU is also there. I didn’t even know she was awake. Could that be what the Wife was trying to tell me on her way out? The girls are playing with toys they are not allowed to have without permission. RU wants to know where her pajama bottoms are.

Getting breakfast started, I notice that someone has been into the peanut butter cookies the Wife made last night. She may have taken some herself, but she likely wouldn’t have left half of one broken up and lying on the counter.

“Who’s been eating the cookies?”

“I didn’t eat any,” says RU the lawyer.

MeToo chimes in happily, “I had three.”

Hydration

Summer’s here, it’s hot as heck, and, as usual, my kids aren’t getting enough to drink. 

We got a big pallet of those cute half-size bottles of water just because we thought the girls would clamor for them and therefore drink more. They certainly want to drink out of them, but two sips later they are all done and the rest is usually wasted. I packed RU off to Drama Camp (not that she needs lessons on how to be more dramatic) all last week with one in her lunchbox and another one to start drinking on while en route. She’d come back with both of them still full. Sometimes, I think I can hear her crackle when she walks.

We try to avoid drinks with sugar (and all the other junk they put in things) and save gatorade for when they’re really being active outside. Coconut water is even more hydrating than gatorade but it is a little too costly for the girls to just take one sip of and leave the rest.

So I’ve started trying a different tactic when we eat at home. I give the girls little shot glasses to drink out of and a measuring cup to serve as a water pitcher. Normally, they just have a smallish (but not tiny) glass of water that they rarely finish. This way, they have fun serving themselves and end up drinking more over the course of the whole meal even though the glasses are smaller. Using the measuring cup means I can even keep track of how much water they’re getting.

There are some drawbacks, of course. If you tell MeToo “That’s enough, stop pouring, stop, stop, STOP,” she tends to just look up at you as if you’ve started speaking in tongues and continues pouring water into her overflowing glass until you take it away from her. You’d think I would learn to stop leaving important papers on the table. 

Still, it’s an improvement over the girls’ preferred method of getting more to drink: wait until bedtime and then alternate between begging for water and getting up to go potty, try to keep it rolling until midnight. 

We’ll see if this works out or ends up being just another failed experiment. In the meantime, cheers!

  

Bringing Up Ultron

With Father’s Day still on the brain, I’ve been thinking about the new Avengers movie. (Which may make sense to you if you’ve seen it.)

I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron a few weeks ago and this post may contain light spoilerage. Mostly, I’m more concerned with some of the movie’s themes than its plot, but even that might ruin your day if you want to see it with a blank slate. Consider yourself warned.

For some reason, Avengers: Age of Ultron made me think about the limits of a parent’s ability to decide the sort of person their offspring will be. In the film, Tony Stark manages to create life, but the result is never exactly what he’s hoping to achieve. To a degree, having children is like picking up a stranger from the bus station and bringing them home to live with you. You don’t really know who this person is but now they are a part of your life. Of course, it will take years for you to discover what sort of person your baby will be, which gives you a very gradual learning curve. But even from the outset, you don’t know if your bundle of joy will be a “good sleeper” at night or a colicky mess — or, Heaven forbid, have some as-yet-undetected medical condition. They are who they are, you don’t get to pick. That is true whether your child is adopted or as close to you as both nature and nurture can make them.

I recently realized that my expectation for what a two year old is like was set by RU and I’ve been waiting for MeToo to grow into that mold. But MeToo is her own person. She’s already grown into her two-year-old self. RU and MeToo have been different since they’ve been in the womb, as different as Ultron and the Vision (thankfully, neither of my girls have shown genocidal tendencies yet). 

You will have an enormous amount of influence on your children. But we parents can only influence, not determine, who our kids will be. What’s more, your influence isn’t restricted to just what you want your kids to learn from you. They’re watching and recording how you act and what you say all the time. Those words you said to the guy who cut you off in traffic? They heard that. The way you rolled your eyes behind your spouse’s back? You’ll see that look projected back at you one of these days. And just as when Ultron’s consciousness is forming and he fixates on an off-hand comment Stark made, interpreting it in the worst possible way, you never know just how children will perceive what you’re doing.

On the other hand, even when children seem determined to go their own way, they can never totally shake the influences that molded them during their formative periods. Ultron may despise his progenitors but no matter how many times he recreates himself, he always mimics the form of a man (even though he’s a digital consciousness and could give himself a robot body in any form imaginable). As Ulysses Klaw points out (to his regret), no matter how much he hates his “father,” Ultron sometimes still talks (and therefore thinks?) like Tony Stark.

Young children are learning machines. They come into this world as a blank slate and need to be taught how to be a human being and a member of society. So even though you can’t control what they will become, be mindful of the examples you present to your children.

The world may depend on it.

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there.

Today I’m also thinking of men who desperately want to be fathers but are struggling with infertility. Of those men whose babies did not make it earthside, whose pain is often overlooked.

I’m thinking, too, of all men whose own fathers weren’t shining examples of dadhood.

And I am thinking of all of you who have lost your fathers.

Today can be hard.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a MeToo Denied

We finally got rid of our cable TV service a month or so ago. Our television is upstairs, so we almost never watch it. The Wife and I may enjoy a show or movie every now and then after the kids are asleep and we have the occasional movie night. And, yes, we’ve had mornings where the girls were up at dawn so the Wife or I turned on the tube and let them watch Daniel Tiger or Curious George while we lay in bed and slowly booted up. For the most part, though, we haven’t noticed a difference in our day-to-day lives.

However… We still have Netflix, but it doesn’t have all the same programs that we had access to with cable, particularly when it comes to children’s shows. On the rare occasions when our girls do get the chance to watch a show, this inevitably causes some problems.

Which brings me to last week, when I told the girls we would get an early bath, put on jammies, and have popcorn and carrots for dinner while we watched a show.

“Yay,” RU cheered, “I wanna watch Spider-Man!”

“I don’ yike Spider-Man,” MeToo objected. “I wan Mickey Mouse Cub House.”

I sighed. Mickey Mouse Club House is one of those favorites that Netflix doesn’t carry. I’ve tried to explain the realities of the situation before but our girls are totally unable to grasp the differences between on-demand shows, Netflix, movies on DVD, and live television. (Seriously, they didn’t even know what a commercial was until a few months ago. It was cute.)

So I looked my two-year-old in the eye and said, as sympathetically as I could manage, “I’m sorry, MeToo. We can’t watch Mickey Mouse Club House because we don’t get it anymore.”

MeToo planted her feet, balled her little hands up into fists, and glared.

“Well,” she said, “you find it!”

And it’s hard to present the image of stern fatherhood when you’re doubled over with laughter.

Reviewing the Book: Protecting the Gift

As a way to finally stop flogging the deceased equine I’ve been working on for the past two weeks, I’d like to review an excellent book on the topic: Protecting the Gift by Gavin De Becker.

Like Wonder Weeks, I knew when I started this blog that I wanted to write about this book. Given the topics I’ve been discussing lately, now seemed like the best time for it.

De Becker is an expert on threat assessment and predicting violent behavior. His firm has consulted for government agencies, high-placed officials, and corporations. From what he reveals in the book about his own childhood, De Becker became familiar with most of the threats children can face at an unfortunately early age. When he turns that expertise towards the dangers facing children the result is a book full of concrete, practical information… 

“Wait,” I say. “Won’t your readership think you are talking about safety like, don’t leave diaper pins on the floor and make sure slides are some mathematical equation high to prevent traumatic brain injury? Isn’t it important that first thing they understand that this is a book about keeping your kids safe from child predators and sexual abuse?”

So The Dad says, “While I finish the dishes will you write about Protecting the Gift?”

“I’ll try,” I say. That was 5 minutes ago.

About 2 hours ago LifeLock alerted me to the fact that a violent sexual offender has moved into our neighborhood about 2 blocks away.  Before I read this book, I might have been tempted to freak out silently and then pretend I didn’t know.  That is common.  That is being a “denier” and it is dangerous for kids.

People who fixate on the wrong issues pretend that sexual abuse could not happen to their child or a child they know, or think that their money, power, or religion make them immune to such awfulness are in denial.  Denial is dangerous.  It robs a person of knowledge and knowledge is power.  Protecting the Gift helps identify the real risks children face and how to navigate this world without being afraid.  As a bonus it helps teach parents, teachers, daycare workers, and anyone else who works with kids how to raise children to be confident and capable but also protected.

When we were young parents and needing to hire a babysitter for our precious first child we did not have the alacrity to look someone in the eye and ask, “what would you do if you realized the child you were minding was masturbating?” or “Have you ever suspected that a child in your care was being sexually abused?  What would you do if you suspected a child in your care was being sexually abused?”  Of course we wanted our darling to have an amazing caregiver but we had no idea how to get from home wanted ad to actual safe, reliable sitter.  De Becker’s book opened our eyes to the importance of discussing these taboo things with anyone who was going to be a consistent care giver for our children.  It also informed our process for referencing of babysitters.

De Becker also lays out all the prerequisite skills a kid needs to safely navigate the world alone.  How does one know that a kid is ready for the wide open world of shopping at the mall with friends at 12, going to a slumber party at 9, or being left at a playdate under the other parents’ supervision at 4?

Lastly, and most importantly, Protecting the Gift talks about intuition and instinct.  About honoring it and acting on it even when our societal preference for nicety and quiet have to be thrown out the window.  It gives a permission that is lacking for most people—the permission to actively and without hesitation act to keep children safe.

This should be required reading for every parent.  End of story.

(That was a million times better than my first crack at this. Thanks, Dear!)

James Bond Ignores His Spidey-Sense

Before our brief intermission in my series on child abductions, I promised to talk about some things your child needs to be able to do in order to be safer as they gain some independence. Essentially, it’s the same things anyone needs to have a handle on in order to keep themselves out of harm’s way.

My previous posts have focused on the danger posed to your child by someone specifically targeting them. Statistically, such a person won’t be a stranger who sweeps in out of the blue. While that does happen sometimes, it’s far, far more likely for your child to be victimized by someone known to them (and to you). As I argued before, trying to instill in your kid a fear of all strangers isn’t going to help them. Ideally, your child (and you) wouldn’t be afraid that he or she will be kidnapped or abused by every person they don’t know but would instead only be afraid of the people (whether familiar or not) who actually do mean them harm.

Right now, the fact that you’re even able to engage in the activity of reading a blog on the internet suggests that you’re very far removed from the sorts of life-or-death struggles faced by every human being who ever lived up until the last few generations. We can’t relate to the harsh realities of life on Earth that our modern civilization has been designed to insulate us from. Nevertheless, you wouldn’t be here to read these words if it wasn’t for the fact that every single direct ancestor of yours survived long enough to successfully reproduce, all the way back to either the first single-celled organism or to Adam and Eve, depending upon your point of view. Not one of your direct ancestors got eaten by a tiger or killed in a conflict or fell off a cliff — at least, not before having children (who were almost certainly raised by someone who was clearly good at surviving).

All of that is to say that human beings are actually really, really good at detecting potential threats. You wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t true. The real trick, in our modern society, is being able to stay in tune with that intuition and knowing how and when to act on it. People constantly ignore that inner voice when listening to it would be disruptive or might make them seem rude. It’s like if Spider-Man’s spidey-sense were to go off while he’s in his civilian clothes and he chose to ignore it because suddenly leaping or dodging away might freak people out. Don’t take my word for it, though. Go watch The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and you’ll see the killer telling James Bond the same thing. When people feel like they’re in a social situation, they won’t act like they are in a survival situation, even when it’s just them and their potential victimizer.

Children are even easier to manipulate into danger because they are inexperienced, easy to put pressure on, and they are accustomed to having to go along with what adults tell them. Imagine that someone who doesn’t have your kid’s best interest at heart is trying to get your child to do something when you aren’t around. Maybe it’s a stranger trying to lure your boy away from the playground or a teenager trying to convince your daughter to have a drink or whatever. What would your child need to be able to do to protect themselves? They’d have to understand that whatever’s going on isn’t right — that’s probably the easy part. Then, they’d have to be able to say no and insist on that. Maybe loudly and forcefully. If that didn’t work, they’d have to have the wherewithal to leave and seek help. Are they self-possessed enough to handle that? Can they be confident that you’ll support them after the fact?

Keep in mind, if they’ve successfully avoided trouble, it might not be clear that anything would have happened. Instead, it may appear that they’ve talked back to an adult, refused to go do the really fun thing, or come home earlier than arranged. It can be hard to support your kid when they can’t find the words to say, “Mr. Brown gives me the heebee-jeebees and he was at the park so I wanted to come home early from the playdate rather than be there.” Instead, you get a phone call from Mrs. Smith telling you your kid is already asking to go home and you are having your first few minutes of peaceful alone time in weeks. You talk to your kid and all they can say is, “Mom, I want to come home. Come get me. Please.”

It’s good if your child is able to make a scene and break away from someone who is, say, actively trying to touch them inappropriately. It’s best if that situation is avoided entirely before it ever arises. Managing that mostly requires diligence on the parents’ part. Does that daycare place actually do background checks on people before they’re hired? Did you call all of the references your babysitter listed? Have you checked to see if a sex offender is registered as living near any place your children spend a lot of time?

Heavy stuff! Next time, I will be reviewing a book the Wife and I like a lot that covers all these topics and more and is written by an actual, real-life expert. Then I’ll get back to lighter stuff, like cute things my kids say. Promise.

The Danger of Stranger Danger

Welcome back, Dear Reader, to our week-long discussion of child abductions. Last time, we looked at the Very Interesting World of Numbers and saw that while most parents fear that their child will be kidnapped by a stranger, the reality is that such a scenario is extremely rare. In most cases, a missing child hasn’t been taken by anyone — they are runaways, throwaways*, or their parents just don’t know where they are. In cases where a child has been taken, it’s far more likely to be by someone they know than by a stranger. Often, it’s a custodial interference situation where one parent has taken the child away from the other, or the child’s legal guardian.

Which isn’t to say that our children don’t face very real dangers from the big, bad world. So what’s a parent to do? What strategies can we employ and teach our kids that can help them be safer?

[Hang on. Speaking of child safety I just saw something tumble off the couch onto the floor near where little Z is… Okay, everyone’s off the baby now.]

Many of us fall back on the old “don’t talk to strangers” routine. If I’m not mistaken, the first mom in the video I discussed last time said she tells her daughter every day not to talk to strangers. It didn’t work for her, though, and it’s not likely to work for anyone else. After all, our kids see us break that rule every day, don’t they? And we encourage them to break it, too.

“Oh, she’s just being shy today,” we say. “Now, honey, the nice man/my friend from college/our minister/the grocery clerk we see every week/your sister’s teacher/our new neighbor/the policeman/that old woman/the cheerful waiter/my cousin who never visits/the vaguely creepy guy in line behind us asked you your name. Answer him, please; don’t be rude.”

All of those people are strangers to your child, even if they aren’t to you. (And, yes, any of those people might be capable of abusing or kidnapping your child, even the ones you already know.) Insisting that your child talks to some strangers while telling them not to talk to any strangers just confuses them and erodes your credibility. Anyhow, children learn from watching adults, and they can see that you don’t run away shouting “stranger danger!” whenever someone you don’t know talks to you. And why don’t you?

Seriously, think about it for a moment. Adults get assaulted and robbed and kidnapped by people they don’t know, right? Happens all the time. So the next time a stranger talks to you in the grocery, how to do know they aren’t about to pull out a weapon and ruin your day?

Well, you have several years of experience dealing with human beings that help you judge these things. Drawing upon your knowledge of body language, facial expression, and the context of your surroundings you decide that this guy isn’t about to pull out a trench knife and gut you like a fish in the middle of the store.

Though, if you’re a woman, you would probably have warning bells go off if you were to notice him following you out to your car. That’s because you know what behaviors might lead to danger and can take action before the danger happens. That is what will keep your child safe, too.

Kids don’t need to be afraid of all strangers, they need to be able to make accurate assessments of them and to be able to understand when something isn’t right. In order to do that, they need a baseline to know what “normal” is, which can only be gained by interacting with people. In fact, teaching your kids how to talk to strangers, rather than to always avoid them, is a better safety strategy, especially if they ever need help and you’re not around.

(By the way, in addition to “don’t talk to strangers” parents often tell their children to seek out a policeman if they are lost or need help. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Just to name one, where we live you almost never see a police officer just standing around, waiting for someone to come to him with a problem. In order to get help from the police, a kid would need to be able to dial 911 and then describe where they are — or approach an adult and ask them to do that for them, in which case we’re back to talking to strangers. Instead, teach your children that if they are separated from you and need help they should go find a woman. They’re much more likely to be able to locate one quickly and women are far more likely than men to stay with a child until they get the help they need.)

As a way to give her experience interacting with adults she doesn’t know, and because it’s a good way for her to learn important social skills, we will often let RU (and, more recently, even MeToo) tell the waiter her order at restaurants. After we’ve helped her decide what she’s having, of course. Every now and then we have her handle paying for something while we stand behind her and give her help if she needs it.

[Me: “Honey, what else do we do to help the kids get used to dealing with strangers? I’ve mentioned that we let them order their food and sometimes we let RU pay at a register. What else?”

The Wife: “We also model talking to strangers ourselves.”

MeToo: “RU not like strangers.”

The Wife: “RU doesn’t like strangers?”

MeToo: “No. I — I like strangers.”

The Wife: “You talk to them a lot don’t you?”

MeToo: “Yeah!”]

My kids are all under five, so they’re too young to be responsible for their own safety, anyway. It’s not their job to be on the lookout for possible kidnappers or other dangers, it’s mine. If I may return to the “social experiment” video I talked about last time, did those kids look old enough to be responsible for themselves? No, of course not. Had a similar situation happened to my child** and a stranger with a cute little dog started talking to her on the playground, I would not be worried for her. That’s not because I know she wouldn’t talk to a stranger but because if my child is at the park, I will be nearby where I can see her. If I’m sitting on a bench, it will be a bench that affords good sight lines and is between my child and the nearest exit. I’m not worried about any stranger approaching my child because I will be there to intervene (and may Mr. T have pity on them, because I sure won’t).

One day, my kids will be old enough to be an active partner in keeping them safe. I’m trying to raise them to become independent, confident, competent adults (ideally, adults who are better at life than those around them and who have an appreciation of the classics). The kinds of skills they will need for that are the same ones that will help them be safer in the world while they’re still young.

Which is what I want to talk about next (same Dad-time, same Dad-channel).

*This is not my word. It is apparently the term for kids whose parents threw them out of the house and have no place to go. Doesn’t that make you want to punch someone in the mouth?

**And if someone approaches me in public about letting my child be a part of their social experiment, I would turn them down. If I were to say yes, it would only be so that I could step in and put an end to it just as if it were the real thing. I’m not going to let anyone I don’t know and trust lead my kid away, even if it’s just for a social experiment or whatever. My kid doesn’t need to have that experience. Besides, if you’ll watch the video again, you’ll notice we never see the boy in the dark blue outfit with white stripes again after he’s lead away. We never see him being returned to his mom… Joey Salads claims another victim…