Saturday, December 6, 2014

On Innocence and Inequality (Updated)

We went to the protest and the part we attended was calm and involved various individuals sharing their experiences through a not-loud enough microphone. The kids ate ice cream and walked on the mid-level walls around the plaza. Noah asked me to read the various signs to him (All Cops are Darren Wilson, Black Lives Matter), but we didn't discuss them on a deep level. We left when they grew bored (actually, Ezra fell off the wall and bloodied his nose. We like dramatic exits).

The protest itself was not very impactful for the kids (demonstrators went on to block roads, including a highway, there were physical clashes with police and arrests, which I very much did not want to expose my kids to) but the conversations we had ahead of time with Noah were rich. Over dinner we talked about how a man was accidentally killed by police officers while being arrested for a very minor thing. Many people believe cops mistreat black people and we don't think that's right. We wanted to go to the demonstration to show support to the man's family.

"Why don't cops like black people,?" he asked. We discussed how not all cops are bad and that all of us, in fact, have some parts that can be mean ("Yeah, like when you yell at me.")-Ahem -and some parts that are kind . We reminded him how slavery and Jim Crow segregation (which he knows about on a cursory level) shaped many people's ideas about black people in very negative ways. We prepared him for some demonstrators saying angry things ("Will the people there have on grumpy faces,?" he asked). Most amusing of all, after our careful information session, he wrinkled his nose at the end and said he'd rather go to a bouncy house than a protest. Bwahahaha!

You know what? It was heartwarming to discuss these heavy issues with my son because it required us to distill the most important elements into simple terms that build on what he already knows but that don't overwhelm or traumatize him. We had to fine tune our responses on the spot, making them simpler or more nuanced depending on his questions and observations. Figuring out how to do this sensitively was a great parenting moment for Matthew and me and I really enjoyed it.

And...Noah lost his third tooth the next morning.

Cue Awkward Face Phase


Friday, December 5, 2014

On Innocence and Inequality

The many recent incidents of police brutality against black boys and men has my heart hurting and my moral pulse thumping. Twitter has been an amazing education in understanding the daily micro and macro police aggressions many minorities experience, as well as the bucket loads of white privilege I enjoy in my police interactions. Check out the hashtags #alivewhileblack and #crimingwhilewhite to  deepen your awareness (and trouble your soul).

Seeing the video of a grown man choked to death by police over the pettiest of acts sickens me. There is a protest in downtown Durham tonight and I want to be there. Do I want my children to be a part of it? (I have to bring them if I attend, as Matthew has another commitment)

This is a dilemma I have been wrestling with over the past few days. I've sought counsel from other mothers, and a common response is that mine are too young to be exposed to the heavy matters of the world, the  nuances of structural inequality, how the same police officers we wave to and call our "helpers" can, in a different circumstance, act despicably as foot soldiers of racism.

I very much want to prolong my children's naiveté but I also want them to understand the inequalities all around, including those that don't personally impact us as white people. I do think we can attend the demonstration and talk more generally about how we are there to support people who are sad and hurting. It does seem, though, that because my children's safety isn't dependent on their behaving in certain ways around the police, we have the choice to not discuss these matters. The reality is, they are not likely to suffer any negative consequences for being unaware. That is white privilege in a nutshell.

An incident from this morning heightens the sweet innocence of Noah, who turns 6 this month. He is fretting about a very loose tooth (his third) that will fall out shortly. Mama, I don't think I can go to school today because of this tooth. What if it comes out during lunch? Will it bleed? Will it hurt? Will I swallow it? Oh, to be a child!

What do you think? To paraphrase The Clash, should I stay or should I go?

First two out, #3 will be the top front one on his Right.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reasons My Two Year Old Is Sobbing Today

Reasons My Two Year Old Is Sobbing Today:
  • I asked him to stop pressing both feet into the soft tissue of my abdomen while snuggling this morning in bed.
  • I asked him to pick up the yogurt-laden fork he flung across the room.
  • He didn't want to nap.
  • Brother got the blue cup.
  • He doesn't want to wear an overnight diaper.
  • I included the family dog in my made-up lullaby at bedtime.

Wow, it's a trying time and I'm paying close attention to my reactions. I notice when I am tired or rushed, I have a hair-trigger response to defiance. Adding adult anger to a toddler meltdown never ends well, you probably know.

Little cherub looking onward towards the heavens - ha!
When I take care of my own physical needs (especially sleep, but also staying ahead of hunger and thirst), and when I can keep our schedule slow and spacious, my reaction is very different.

With the snuggling in bed incident, I was able to just be present to his experience. I was enjoying the closeness, just not the pressure in my ribs. I hadn't shamed him in asking him to stop, I was simply expressing my bodily boundary. His tears were his own and I didn't feel compelled to make them stop or figure out a solution. It made me wonder how many of his meltdowns would melt away if I can just get to that place of feeling centered and gently curious toward his experience (versus anger, impatience, a desire to maintain my authority, teach a lesson, etc). What's the definition of mindfulness, again?: Awareness without judgement. That sounds so simple, doesn't it?

I know it would be cute to include a photo of Ez in an anguished-face tantrum but, you know?, I find that really disrespectful. I would be so pissed if someone took a photo of me in my angry meltdown face! Besides, it really does help me to visualize E as this sweet, small child bathed in light, needing my protection and guidance.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Family Milestone

An impromptu canoe rental was a highlight for the kidlets
I've been talking lots about milestones lately here, mostly of the 5 year old variety. This past week we reached a family milestone with our longest camping trip ever, 3 nights in the Pisgah Mountains near Boone, NC. It's still wicked hot here in Durham but we lost about 10 degrees with the increase in elevation, so it was perfect camping weather. Apparently, hundreds of other people shared our thinking, and the Julian Price campground was completely full while we were there. Ah, nothing like enjoying "seclusion" and "wilderness" with 200 other families sleeping near enough that I could hear snoring from someone else's tent. Perhaps our next milestone will be hike-in camping!?

A friend describes traveling with children as "travel" and not to be confused with "vacation." I find a lot of truth in this distinction, as the rigors of parenting are intensified in many ways for  me on these trips. There were, in fact, many highly unpleasant moments I can recall: Ezra screaming about whether the visor above my seat in the car should be opened or closed and at what angle, shushing the boys each morning as they began the day with wrestling and loud conversations at dawn, heavy Labor Day traffic, missed connections with friends due to no cell phone service, a broken AC on the hot car ride home, etc. Constant together time together for 72 hours created a lot of friction points for our family.

The gestalt of our trip, however, was highly positive and the kids reported loving our time together. We walked in the woods, checked out the Linville Caverns (do you know the difference between a "cavern" and a "cave?" I do!),  waded in cool mountain streams and threw many a rock in Price Lake. We slept in our cozy den of a new champion tent, which stood guard against a tremendous rainstorm on Night #2. I got over my disdain for S'mores by supplying good quality dark chocolate instead of that Hershey's schlock (though I later perfected the S'mores concept in my toaster oven at home). For me, the goals of travel are to experience something new or inspiring and to step away from the daily rhythms and routines of home.  Even though I didn't get to sleep in or lounge on high thread sheets or eat delicious meals not cooked by me in high quality restaurants with great ambience, our trip met these goals. Adjusting my expectations goes a long way in cultivating contentment.

What have been your most positive experiences traveling with children?

Hammock play starts off fun....

...and gets a little dicey. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Obligatory First Day of Kindergarten Post

He looks kind of scared, doesn't he?
Noah started kindergarten this morning, along with many other 5 year olds all over the land, judging from the pics and chatter on social media. There was no question that he is ready for a little more "action" in his days - he's been acting out and starting trouble seemingly out of boredom and/or maybe for the instant reaction he gets from family members.

I thought I would feel a bigger sense of nostalgia and sadness this morning and I did wake up nervous for him, mostly because his first teacher is a 3-week interim teacher, until the permanent teacher is hired! Uggh, that's not what I hoped for…

After all, it is truly the end of his babyhood, but ya know?-it's been over for a while now. The summer was full of milestones and his return from 2 happy weeks in the mountains of Utah with just his Papa was only the latest sign of growing independence.

good luck croc and "kissing hand"
He expressed begin "scared" each time we discussed the new school. We acknowledged that it was scary to make a big transition and that he'd probably make friends and learn a lot. With his two grandmas, we had an indoor "picnic" celebration on the carpet in the living room (weather looked stormy) this weekend. Each person offered him a wish or a memento for his new school experience, so that he'd feel circled in our love and support in these early days.

He requested his blue blankie this morning but seemed to know even while asking that it wasn't an
option. He had his Grandmothers' good luck croc and felt "kissing hand" in his bag instead when he and Papa took off on their bikes for the maiden voyage. There were some tears but nothing too intense.

I can't wait to hear all about his first day!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Slow

Kamping with kousins!
 Our summer so far has been low-key and relaxed: swim lessons and 3 mornings/week of preschool camp for Noah, trips to the park, wading in the Eno River... It leaves LOTS of unstructured time at home, which I used to dread but now see in new light. Free time is a beautiful and necessary backdrop for deeply fulfilling creative play. I see how being engaged together in mutual projects and imaginative worlds deepens the relationships between the boys and their playmates in a really special way. It's different from more structured outings or games because they do it themselves, only asking me occasionally for help and, more frequently, permission to do the messy, slightly risky activity their hearts' desire (to pile every furniture cushion in the house next to the 3-step ladder and leap, get out the art supplies from the high shelf and use every staple in the box, zip up the princess dress, and so on). I'm not exactly resting on the couch with bon-bons during these afternoons, because there are frequent injuries and hurt feelings to soothe, hungry bellies requiring snacks and eventually, the dreaded clean-up period where I seek to return my home to a semblance or order.

We'll miss you, Sahara
I meant to sign Noah up for weekly music lessons this summer but every time I thought about scheduling it and following through with daily piano practice, I realized I didn't want to add even the minor stress of it into our days. Kid commitments equate to stress for me, both positive and negative stress. I'm learning to say No more than Yes to activities that may well be enjoyable but come at a cost to the family's free-flowing time.

The next month is a big one for our family and it will soon be the end of our lazy summer: a beloved neighbor girl (and near-constant summer companion) moves away, Matthew and Noah are headed to Utah to build a friend's mountain cabin, leaving Ezra and me at home for almost 2 weeks. Noah begins kindergarten at the end of August (talk about a major interruption to unstructured play..sigh. I teared up a little while entering the relevant dates for school into my Fall calendar, realizing how shackled we would now be to the Durham Public School calendar). My task is to remember the beauty of "summer slow"even as the days shorten and our schedules solidify with more daily structure.

Guess who passed the "yellow band" swim test?

Monday, June 9, 2014

On Raising (Mostly) Peaceful Sons

Noah comforting Ezra on the playground after a scare.
Photo by Betsey Ferney
My friend Miriam wrote a blog post recently about the efforts she and her mate are taking to protect their now-young daughters from future sexual violence perpetuated by males. She expressed concern that some parents of boys do not appear to feel any similar responsibility to teach their boys to prevent violence against females.

It's a thought-provoking observation and well-timed for me as as my older son shows more and more interest in Star Wars, gun battles, war play, etc, all of which feels violent to me on some level.  It's uncomfortable for me, honestly, and I especially hate when the 2 year old points his stick in mimicry and says, "Bang, bang, I shoot you." Never mind that we do not watch television depicting such material (not even in cartoon form), we do not purchase toy guns or encourage play fighting by participating. Hubs and I met at a Quaker college, for crying out loud!

Yet, my instinct is to approach the play lightly and not forbid it outright. I express my view in simple form ("Guns kill people and I don't enjoy playing gun games"), require that he stop when anyone declines to play, and give factual information about guns - the ways they are useful and the ways they harm, both. For instance, we bond by reading the Little House on the Prairie books, in which Pa uses his hunting rifle on a daily basis for killing animals to eat and for self-protection. I also shared with Noah about a neighbor child who recently accidentally shot his brother to death. He showed interest and concern, but it didn't dampen his gun play.

I mean, I've seen him fashion weapons from found objects of all variety, and it is creative play of sorts (not enactment of televised or actual violence that he's seen), so there's that. I simply don't believe a 5 year old's curiosity about war play means they are destined to be a sniper. Most action games kind of require an enemy, right, even if it's just Team A vs Team B?

You can probably tell that I'm not totally at ease with the matter, to tell the truth.

Here's what we do do to promote peacefulness in our boys:

We teach respect for their bodies, by not insisting on affection when it's not freely given, ending tickling when requested, seeking permission to pick them up or cut their hair or nails, using discipline methods that don't involve physical harm, encouraging and supporting conflict resolution through conversation, treating them like valuable human beings with ideas worth hearing...

We give them permission to be emotional creatures and other experiences long-associated with femininity: that it's ok and even good to cry, that tears deserve compassion, not scorn.

We reject silly and rigid gender norms: boys can like any colors and wear sparkles, enjoy dress-up, dolls and babies, and playing with kids of all genders.

It's not the time to talk with our children about sexual violence and cultural misogyny but we are laying the groundwork for those conversations. I am interested to hear from other parents exploring what it means to raise non-violent boys.