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How I’m parenting these days

I also throw out tons of precious, irreplaceable art each day. I try to at least snap a picture of the more interesting pieces before binning them.

I also throw out tons of precious, irreplaceable art each day. I try to at least snap a picture of the more interesting pieces before binning them.

This morning I asked my five year old to retrieve her backpack from her room. She insisted it wasn’t up there. I was pretty sure it was. I also didn’t want to climb the stairs with my wonky ankles only to find it there. So I told my ten year old, “I’ll pay you fifty cents to go check Claire’s room for her backpack. And if it is there, you also get to go ‘nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah’ to her.” (Including taunting hip shaking and derisive jazz hands, naturally.)

Turns out, it was in the front closet. No wonder we couldn’t find it – it was put away where it belongs! I admitted I was wrong and Claire was right, paid Chloe her two quarters, and went about my business.

***

Claire is in a developmental stage with a lot of anxieties, especially about nightmares. She has trouble falling asleep, wakes up and comes to my bed in the night, and resists bedtime at all costs. I’ve worked with her to make bedtime less scary, empathized, expressed certainty that she can feel scared, have nightmares, feel bad feelings, and still survive, and that it will get easier. I’ve given her more bedtime help and support because she is truly in distress over this, and that is valid. But I also offered to pay her a quarter every morning that she doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night. And also, when she leaves that quarter lying around in some random place, I take it and put it back in the stash and pay her with it again the next successful morning.

***

The ten year old wants an Instagram account. I’m considering letting her have one (really, me getting one on her behalf and letting her post through me, since the age requirement is 13). But I’m thinking that I’ll make her write an essay about the potential risks and pitfalls of posting on Instagram and turn in it to me before we proceed. I will point her toward appropriate source material. But I will also grade it, and she has to pass to get an account.

***

Sadly, I say, “Pick up your damn _________ and put it away!” way too often. I pledge to at least try to leave the “damn” out, even if I don’t manage to make cleaning up a well-planned, Mary-Poppins-themed game as part of a thoughtful and consistent daily routine.

***

I let them attend church with friends. Until I hear a report that they were offered the opportunity to get full-immersion baptized last Sunday. Then I flip out. Then I hear the further report that she may have misheard, and I calm down. Mostly.

***

Most of the time lately, I feel like life is kind of a controlled fall. I’m doing the best I can, feeling a bit frazzled, but also having fun with the girls. I keep waiting for life to calm down a bit, for things to normalize and allow some predictability and routine. But I’m realizing that this will actually probably never happen.

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Instructions on showing love to your children – really?

Because I’m a masochist, I listen to Christian radio from time to time.  A few days ago I heard the intro to a Focus on the Family episode discussing how to show your children you love them.

This is a question that has never occurred to me in nine years of parenting.  “How can I make sure my kids know I love them?” is a completely bizarre question to me.  I may be anxious and uncertain about a lot of things in life, but I have always had 100% confidence that my children know I love them, such that it’s been a background certainty like the sun coming up each morning.

Now that I stop and think about it, they know I love them because I have always taken care of their needs, had fun with them, read to them, cuddled them, and treated them as individual human beings deserving of respect. I tell my girls I love them at least once a day, without calculation of how much it will reinforce our bond or boost their self esteem, but because I love them so hard it just bubbles up out of me and must be expressed!

I suppose there are loving parents out there who would like some concrete guidance on communicating love.  Maybe some people are just more naturally reticent, or they didn’t have role models in their own parents for being affectionate.  I’m not saying this show was a bad thing.  It just surprised me at first!

But I couldn’t help thinking that Focus on the Family in particular has to puzzle over how to express love to children in part because it advocates beating them.  FotF’s website has an extremely detailed manual on spanking, which instructs parents to hit their children with a wooden spoon, while weirdly saying it’s not violent, but also that it must inflict pain.  Oh, and equating this process with showing love:

The Bible never implies that the rod of discipline should be violent.  . . . When you spank, use a wooden spoon or some other appropri­ately sized paddle and flick your wrist.  . . . If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t really discipline, and ultimately it isn’t very loving because it will not be effective in modifying the child’s behavior.

This bizarre, contradictory approach is continued in their recommendations for the “discipline” surrounding the spanking, which calls for extreme authoritarian interrogation and demands for capitulation, but also holding and hugging the crying child and telling God how thankful you are for them, in an “intimate, touching moment.”  This is supposed to demonstrate that you deeply love your child while also being willing to discipline them, but to me it seems more likely to make a kid very wary and confused.  You can’t average out abuse and emotional manipulation and call it an expression of love. (Frankly, it reminds me of the cycle of domestic abuse, where violence is followed by extreme affection, and yet also blamed on the victim: “You made me hit you by doing X.”)

And yes, I have smacked my kids on the butt a few times, when I flew off the handle.  But you know what I did next?  I apologized and said it was wrong for me to do that, as you do when you mistreat a fellow human being.  I can’t help but think that’s a better approach to making sure your children feel loved.

How I wound up nursing my kids till they were four

First, you must understand that I never imagined I’d breastfeed an older child.  When I was ten or so, our next door neighbor was still nursing her four year old, and let me tell you, we thought she was a freak!  I mean, she was a really nice person, and our families had a good relationship, but the nursing thing sure seemed beyond quirky.

Years later, when I decided to have a baby, my first thought on nursing was that I would do it, but I would stop once the baby got teeth.  Perhaps understandable for someone who didn’t know how young babies are when they get teeth, nor how nursing mechanics really work.  When I did some reading and learned that babies should nurse at least one year, I got on board with that.

Then my daughter was born – the day before I was scheduled to take a breastfeeding class at the birthing center.  I nursed her in the first hour after she was born and thought I was doing OK.  But in the next few months I had about every breastfeeding problem except for mastitis and low supply.  It’s funny how I used to be worried about nursing a baby with teeth, because a baby with tongue-tie quite effectively lacerated my nipples in short order, no teeth required.  Even after we corrected that, it was so hard to latch her on.  I felt like I needed at least four hands.  (I would have slapped anyone who suggested I put a blanket over the baby while nursing in public – I needed to use both hands and studiously watch what I was doing to get even a so-so latch – there was no way to drape a blanket over us and actually nurse.)  And once I had figured out oversupply and forceful letdown, I developed yeast.  Basically my nipples hurt like hell for at least three months straight.

And yet, I hung in there because I had decided breastfeeding was very important to me, and I felt if I could just get through the difficulties it would be worth it.  And I did, and it was.  Finally nursing became a good part of life.  It was a moment to sit down and rest, to love on my baby, and as she grew it became more and more of a parenting tool.  In addition to providing the nutrition and hydration she needed, nursing offered soothing, reassurance, and a gateway into sleep.

Before I knew it, my baby was turning one.  And she was still a baby.  It seemed silly to try to make her stop at that point.  How could nursing be recommended one day, but totally useless the next?  On her birthday she wasn’t a year older, she was a day older.  Besides, the WHO recommends nursing until at least two.  Plus I have to say there was a certain determination on my part, like “It took us sooo long to get this working, I’ll be damned if I make her stop now!”  So we kept going.  And nursing continued to be useful, quelling tantrums and making nap time peaceful, as well as serving as a nutritional safety net.

By the time Chloe turned two, I was a member of La Leche League, and I had a community where nursing until children are ready to stop is perfectly normal.  I really couldn’t see a positive reason to make her wean when she showed no inclination to.  Nursing was still a useful parenting tool, and something my daughter enjoyed and benefited from.  On the other side of the scale, the arguments for weaning were weak to say the least.  The predominant argument people have against continued nursing boils down to “It seems weird and makes me uncomfortable.”  My husband had the least dumb reservation about my nursing a two-year old – he said, “If it were me, it would drive me nuts to have such a big kid lying in my lap so often.”  Since it didn’t bother me, and other people’s argument of “Ew” was unconvincing to me, we kept going.

Chloe turned four years old shortly after I became pregnant with Claire.  Around that time it started to really hurt me when she nursed.  Aha!  – a good reason to balance against the arguments for continuing nursing.  Given her age, I felt comfortable telling her that nursing was hurting me and I needed to stop.  Of course by that time she had been “weaning” for years, so that she only nursed at bedtime by the time I decided to stop.  It was relatively easy to substitute a sippy cup of water and lots of cuddling, and we were done.

Of course with my second child, it seemed perfectly natural from the beginning that I would nurse her for years.  As time went by and she turned four herself, I thought about it and decided I would feel uncomfortable nursing a five year old.  That’s just my personal, arbitrary, gut-feeling limit.  (And for the record, I would never tell any mother she should nurse beyond her own emotional comfort zone, be that 3 months or 3 years.)  I started subtly discouraging nursing.  She had naturally pared down to nursing just at bedtime long before her fourth birthday, and shortly after turning four she began forgetting on occasion, or only wanting one side.  Finally, for various reasons we moved the girls into the same bedroom, and unexpectedly this caused Claire to totally wean.  The shakeup in bedtime routine along with the security of having her sister nearby seemed to extinguish her need for that last nighttime connection with Mom.

People might be shocked to learn that my kids are both independent and socially adept.  I’ll never forget that Chloe got on the bus the first day of kindergarten without sparing even a glance over her shoulder at me.  Claire is a favorite among the daycare kids – when she walks in, people call her name like she’s Norm walking into Cheers.  They’re normal kids.  Maybe even more confident and secure than average.  And people might also be surprised that Chloe has no memory of nursing.  I don’t know if Claire will remember or not.

The other thing you might find surprising: when I see another mother nursing a 3-4 year old, that kid looks GIANT to me!  Somehow when it’s your own child, who you’ve been with since infanthood, they still seem little enough to nurse.  But you can look at other people and think, “Wow, how does she balance that child on her lap anymore?”  So I can kind of sympathize with others who are shocked at older nurslings.  When it’s your own baby, and you hold them as they grow day by day, it just seems natural.

Extreme rice!!!

That’s an MST3K reference there, in case you wondered.  And I use it because my kid has taken picky eating to the level of an extreme sport.  Chloe is naturally a fairly high-anxiety, control-enthusiast type personality (wonder where she gets that?), and when she was 2, she got a dreadful stomach virus that caused continual vomiting for days.  It was bad enough that I actually stopped nursing her for 24 hours, because her stomach seemed unable to digest anything.  We wound up giving her 10mL of water a few times an hour to keep her hydrated, and had to give her Phenergan suppositories to even let her keep that down.  It was horrible and traumatic.  And ever since then she’s had almost a phobia of any new food, and tends to stick with bland, uniformly-textured, familiar foods.  She would quite happily eat nothing but refined baked goods and dairy products if I let her.

Let me tell you, I’ve grown to hate advice about picky eaters.  Making food into fun shapes, smiley faces, or forests of broccoli standing up in mashed potatoes is totally ineffectual.  Might work on amateur picky eaters, but not on my champ.  I bought The Sneaky Chef in hopes of getting some nutrition into her, but so many of the recipes are about sneaking vegetables into things like meatloaf, spaghetti sauce, and macaroni and cheese, none of which my kid will eat in the first place.  The other problem is she may be a supertaster.  Despite Missy Chase Lapine’s assurances that all her recipe shenanigans were undetectable to test audiences of real children, Chloe immediately called out my attempt to include a smidgeon of orange puree in a cheddar quesadilla.  My best friend says the truly epic level of Chloe’s sensitivity to flavors came home to her when she made macaroni sprinkled with cheddar cheese for her kids, and saved out a bowl of plain macaroni for my kid.  Much like a gustatory Princess and the Pea, Chloe politely declined the pasta, saying it tasted funny, and my friend found one lonely shred of cheese at the bottom of the bowl.

We tried therapy for Chloe, and the therapist suggested we use Ye Olde Sticker Charte as a motivational tool.  Chloe chose a toy she reallyreallyreally wanted as her goal, and agreed to the plan.  But even when she was 100% invested in eating new foods to earn stickers, she would choke and gag.  I honestly think that for her, swallowing a pea or a bite of chicken feels as scary and gross as it would feel for the average American to eat ant eggs or maggot cheese.  Soon, she decided that it wasn’t worth enacting her own personal Fear Factor to earn a measly sticker, no matter how cool the toy at the end of the chart.  (Due in part to this total misread of Chloe’s personality and the fact that the therapist advocated meridian tapping, we fired her.)

Here is what has worked (however slowly and gradually): her pediatrician talked to her about nutrition, and asked her to agree to two rules.  She won’t have second helpings of starch – one serving only.  And she needs to try a bite of one unfavored food at dinner each day.  Chloe agreed, and she seems to take her personal integrity much more seriously than a sticker chart.  When she’s reluctant to try a bite of something, I remind her that she won’t feel very good when she goes for her checkup and has to tell the doctor she didn’t stick to their agreement.  She still doesn’t like trying new foods, but she’s becoming much more inured to it.  Each time she survives having a bad taste or weird texture in her mouth, it helps her move away from her dread.  It’s very slow going.  Last week she opined that if Italian sausage was the last food on Earth, she would probably eat it, and her dad and I did a celebratory dance once we were out of her sight line.  The important thing to us is there’s progress, even if it’s extremely gradual.

The other thing that has helped is giving her control.  I taught her how to make scrambled eggs (using the only correct method – Alton Brown’s).  No kid can resist the allure of being allowed to crack eggs.  She will now make eggs for the whole family, all by herself, and she will eat them.  For a child whose sole sources of protein were peanut butter and cheese, that is HUGE.  I’m letting her help plan meals and cook more and more, and the kids are also helping us plant and tend a garden.  Perhaps a zucchini or blackberry that she observed forming from a flower, and which she tended herself will be less scary than an anonymous vegetable plunked on her plate.

Next week, I’ll post my review of The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution, as well  as a couple other tips that have helped us get our kids eating better.

Unassisted Childbirth

Believe it or not, some people do this on purpose.  They give birth at home, with no trained professionals helping them.  I think this trend is largely a reaction to our prevailing culture surrounding birth, where women go to the doctor, do what s/he says, give birth in a hospital, and probably have at least one medical intervention along the way.  This setup leaves a lot to be desired, and there is a counter-movement that celebrates birth as a normal function, and emphasizes respect for the mother.  This school of thought argues that birth has been over-medicalized, doctors treat pregnancy and childbirth as a disease, technology and intervention are revered (even when research shows that they cause more harm than good), and women are treated as dangerous baby-vessels from whom the fetus must be rescued, often resulting in contemptuous treatment of laboring mothers, sometimes even going so far as performing medical procedures without informed consent.

To a very large extent, I agree with this backlash against hospital birth.  I’m a big believer in free-standing birth centers, where practitioners tend to be more aware of evidence-based practice and more respectful of women.  I also think states should have straightforward processes for licensing and regulating midwives who attend home births.  For low risk pregnancies, particularly for women who have already given birth at least once, home birth is just as safe as hospital birth, and is preferable for many families.

My sense is that unassisted childbirth may often be prompted by a mother’s reluctance to subject herself to the standard practices at a hospital, combined with a lack of other options.  I suspect a good portion of mothers who chose UC would be happy to birth at home with a midwife, if that option were available.

But it also seems that some people have just reacted so strongly against the medicalized version of birth that they’ve landed in La-la Land, where birth is a breathlessly venerated spiritual experience, labor and delivery can be risk-free if only you eat right and exercise during pregnancy, and the presence of any person who wasn’t there when the baby was made is unacceptably interventionist, invasive, and disruptive to the natural process.  This is where it gets dangerous.  Birth may be a normal function, but especially in humans, it is a time of crisis, when things can and do go wrong.  Humans are unique in that our pelvic openings are only barely big enough to allow our babies through.  Pregnancy isn’t a disease, but it is a burden on the mother’s body.  Labor doesn’t have to be an emergency, but it does present health challenges to mother and baby that can become emergencies.

There isn’t a lot of research on unassisted childbirth, because it’s so fringe that there aren’t populations to study.  There’s some data on a religious sect that practiced UC, and of course there’s information from developing countries where women simply don’t have access to healthcare.  In both cases, lack of medical care during pregnancy and childbirth are associated with much higher levels of maternal and infant mortality.  UC proponents argue that these situations aren’t analogous because  good nutrition and healthy practices during pregnancy make UC safe.  However, at least one review of historical data shows that poverty and nutrition had almost no effect on maternal mortality rates in childbirth, and the WHO urges better access to medical care as the best way to save the lives of women and babies in underdeveloped areas.

Some UC supporters say, “birth is safe and normal, otherwise our species wouldn’t be here!”  But they’re profoundly misunderstanding evolution, which only requires a process to be good enough to pass along genes.  Natural selection has resulted in a system where women can get pregnant very frequently, so that despite the peril that an upright stance and a big brain causes, enough babies survive to carry on the species.  I don’t know about you, but “a lot of babies die, but enough survive” isn’t an ambitious enough goal for me.

Some supporters of unassisted childbirth claim that it’s unnatural to have birth attendants.  Aside from engaging in the naturalistic fallacy, this argument fails because it’s just not true.  As far as we’ve been able to determine, mothers have sought help from others during birth for as long as we’ve been a distinct species.  For humans, having birth attendants is what’s natural, while closing oneself up in a separate dwelling and giving birth in the presence of only one’s husband is profoundly unnatural – a behavior emerging only in our modern culture.

Now, I consider UC to be overly risky and poorly rationalized, but I still think women have the right to do it.  Just as I’m pro-choice regarding abortion, I believe that a woman has a right to decide what kind of medical care she will receive, and to reject medical interventions, even if others would find her decision foolish.  I do have an issue with parents UCing and then failing to have the newborn checked out by a medical professional, though.  In some jurisdictions this might even fall under child neglect laws, and regardless I don’t feel comfortable with parents simply looking at a newborn and saying, “Gee, she looks like she’s doing OK.”  Again, birth is a tough process that can introduce a lot of life-threatening conditions, some of which will not be apparent to a layperson.  I remember when a friend had her baby a little early, we were all remarking how chubby and healthy she looked – we were sure she was just fine – only to find out that she had some kidney problems that required immediate intervention.

In the end, that is the biggest problem with UC – hubris.  People look at the few areas where doctors have embraced stupid birth practices that aren’t supported by the evidence, and take away the message that parents are just as capable of coping with the crisis of birth as any hospital.  Often their gamble turns out OK – the birth will be a normal, complication-free event, and no particular knowledge or expertise in medicine will be required.  But the problem is that no one can predict with certainty which births will become problematic, and if you have no one present who has training in recognizing and dealing with such situations, you’re headed for disaster.

Innocence is overrated

(Explicit language and concepts follow. Plus exposure to Ezzo philosophies.  You’ve been warned!)

When I was shopping for a “birds and bees” book to help explain to my 4yo about my pregnancy, I read a lot of reviews on Amazon.  I settled on the book It’s So Amazing (which is aimed at kids 7 and up) because it was quite comprehensive, while still having a very matter-of-fact, friendly tone.  Well, a lot of the reviews of this and other sex education books bemoan the premature robbing of innocence that would occur if 7 year olds were to read about such things.

A child who takes the book and begins to read will learn about body changes and babies being born, but many in the age 8-10 age group are not ready to learn about intercourse.

Homosexuals, abortions, intercourse, & HIV – I don’t think these topics need to be graphically and in-depth discussed with kids under 10. A simple answer is more in line with what they’d like to hear, not the depth of this information, which is more than they want to know when younger. I think they ought to live innocently a little longer.

I didn’t think this book was appropriate for my daughter who is almost 11 — My husband and I read the book together and agreed that it will have to wait until she gets her period and/or is almost 12. It is a good book though, but not for now! It gets a little too detailed about sex

My MIL bought this book for my 11 year old daughter and I was VERY frustrated at the content of the book. In my opinion it is a soft porn. [Regarding It's Not the Stork, for ages 4 and up.]

If “kids” are taught that is pleasurable and tickles etc. do you not think they will be starting sex at an early age? [Regarding Where Did I Come From, for ages 6 and up.]

Discussions about sex ed in general often appeal to “letting our kids keep their innocence” as well:

Keep your mandates off our children’s innocence.

. . . but government stipulated curricula must protect rather than destroy the innocence of pre-teenage children.

We believe it is right to let children be children as long as they can, and we believe it is wrong to rush children into adulthood. There is no faster way to rob a child of the innocence of childhood than with inappropriate sex education.  [This is from the Ezzo's sex non-education curriculum, entitled Reflections of Moral Innocence, wherein they decry use of proper anatomical words and encourage use of vague flower analogies to "teach" about sex.]

Well you know what?  I don’t want my kids to be innocent.  I don’t want to protect them from information about sex, even scary and squicky information.  Of course I wish they could stay innocent of scary and squicky stuff, but they do not live in an innocent, safe world, so it’s my responsibility to teach them about these things.  As a parent, one of my primary burdens is to lift the veil of innocence from my children’s eyes so they can recognize the scary and squicky and defend themselves from it.

Case in point:  a third grade teacher in Oklahoma has evidently been putting her students on display for one or more pedophiles.  When I read that, I cannot express how my blood boils, especially as the mother of a third grade girl.  But you know what made it possible for this behavior to continue for months and months?  Innocence.  Those kids had no idea what twisted desires some adults have, and that the kids might be sex objects to some perverts.  Lacking context about the scary, squicky world, most of the girls at the teacher’s “Christmas party” gleefully put on bra and panty sets and performed a cheerleading routine for the video camera.  It makes me feel like puking when I think about it.

And the best way I can think of to protect my third grader is to read this news story to her and discuss what happened.  Some of you are now clutching your pearls at the thought, but get this: she already knows that some adults want to do sexual things with children.  When I talked to her about it, her head didn’t explode.  She didn’t become a rampaging sex fiend either.  But I’ll tell you what did happen – she became a bit more likely to recognize and fend off inappropriate advances if someone should make them, and also more likely to come tell me about it.

Of course I could preserve her innocence and protect her by never letting her go to a friend’s birthday party unless I’m there (could be awkward at sleepovers), never letting her participate in sports or extracurricular activities, indeed, never letting her attend school for fear that some subhuman fuckstick would try to pimp her out over the internet.  I could be the perfect helicopter parent and shield my child from all danger, and all growth, fun, and challenge.

Me, I’m opting for getting rid of that blindfold called “innocence,” a little bit at a time, and on my terms.

The Art of Parenting: Bedtime

Sure, science can inform parenting, but a huge proportion is pure art.  What are the personalities of all involved?  What is your parenting philosophy?   How does your household work?  We all just feel our way with most parenting decisions.

I’ve got a three year old and an eight year old, and I’m usually putting them to bed by myself.  How does one accomplish such a thing?  One thing I learned quickly was “Cooperate in getting ready so I can put you to bed” is the worst gambit since, “Tell us what we want and we’ll burn your house down.”  Rare is the child who looks forward to going to bed.  So of course they resist, dawdle, and attempt to work up some adrenaline so they won’t have to go to sleep.

My three year old in particular is tough.  She is very physical, and instead of getting sleepy when she’s tired, she revs up, becoming what my husband calls “untired.”  She becomes a manic superball, bouncing off everything in sight and giggling maniacally.  She also hates the idea of bedtime, so she will refuse to cooperate with pajamas, brushing teeth, and so forth.  If I try to read books with her, she gets up and runs in a circle, ignoring me with all her might.

Finally, I decided Mary Poppins was right, and I needed a spoonful of sugar.  Here’s our new routine.  About an hour and a half before Target Unconsciousness Commencement, we go upstairs.  Claire needs to try to pee, let me brush her teeth, floss, and use fluoride.  She has to cooperate with diaper and pajamas.  Then we turn the lights out, snuggle on the couch and watch a show of her choosing.  If she doesn’t cooperate in getting ready, she loses minutes off the show.  If she tries to get up and run around like a cracked-up jackrabbit, I fast-forward the show.  This has finally, finally gotten her to sit still long enough for her to start feeling sleepy.  It also gives me great leverage to get her cooperation in getting ready for bed.

Since we established this routine, she typically cooperates happily.  When the show is over, she likes to turn off the TV, then she picks out a book for us to read in her room.  By then she’s settled enough to sit still and pay attention.  We like to play a game: I pretend that I want to turn out the light, but I’m really incompetent in getting over to it, and she beats me to the switch and turns it out herself.  We nurse and snuggle and sing a lullaby.  These days I usually just stay till she falls asleep, because it only takes about 5-10 minutes after all that setup!

Meanwhile, Chloe can get herself ready while I deal with Claire, and when I take Claire into her room, Chloe gets her turn to start watching a show.  When I come out, we finish watching together.  Hopefully someday Claire will be as easy as Chloe, but for now our (admittedly somewhat lengthy) routine is really working.  I would much rather invest time than endure stress and struggles.

How do you make sure bedtime goes smoothly at your house?

(Fridays we’ll talk about tips and tricks that have worked for our kids.  Clever ideas and novel approaches for common problems.  They certainly won’t work for everyone, either philosophically or practically, but they still might offer ideas to explore.  This is where one of the wisdoms of La Leche League really applies: Take what works and leave the rest.)

A Skeptorama of a Day!

Yesterday I really earned my keep as a skeptical parent.

Cold reading

Two ladies at the gym were talking about a TV show called Long Island Medium. One woman described the classic cold reading scenario, saying how impressive it was.

Now, I’ll let you, dear readers, do a little test to see if you are psychic:

Did I keep my mouth shut?

Wow, I’m psychically detecting that you’re psychically detecting that I didn’t! Good job!

In a very friendly way, I said, “Hey, have you ever heard of cold reading?” They both said no, so I gave a little summary – how you say something vague like “I’m getting an ‘M’” and once someone responds, you let them feed you information. The one lady mentioned that the psychic asked one person who had lost his brother, “is your brother bothering* you,” and the subject said yes, he was having bad dreams about his brother. The lady thought this was really impressive, but I pointed out that the psychic didn’t say, “I sense your brother is keeping you awake at night,” but rather asked a very open-ended question, which would allow the answer to be spun as a “hit.”

It was all very friendly and I tried to be like, “Hey, here’s this cool thing, isn’t this neat?” instead of being superior or stuffy about it. I also took pains to say that it sounds like an entertaining show, and the psychic sounds like a real pip. I could tell the one lady felt a little embarrassed, and I felt bad about that. But really, if no one has ever told you about this stuff, it’s perfectly natural to be taken in – that’s why psychics are so successful!

Columbus and the shape of the Earth

Chloe started telling me about Columbus and how he wasn’t the first person to find America (so far so good). After a bit, the part I was waiting for came: everyone then thought the world was flat. I told her no, that’s a popular myth, but back to the ancient Greeks, people knew the Earth was a sphere. Then I corrected myself and told her it was a spheroid, and bulges around the equator.

Later, my husband and I had a debate over whether the Greeks “knew” the Earth was a sphere, or if it was merely a hypothesis until Magellan circumnavigated the planet. So not only did my kid get new facts on the subject, she saw us taking apart an idea and examining it. What better way to build a thinker?

“They’re insane!”

At another point yesterday, Chloe said, “Mommy, Anne, Beth, and Cathy [names changed] are insane!” I asked why she thought so, and she said, “I told them how there was no first person, and your 185 million X great grandmother was a fish, and they didn’t believe me! They said the first people were Adam and Eve!”

And I said, “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!” (in my head).

But out loud, I told her that they weren’t insane – they believe something different, something their parents probably taught them. And I told her it’s OK for people to believe all kinds of different things (a million thank yous to Dale McGowan and his daughter Delaney for that). We talked about how we ought to respect people and be kind, even if we believe different things. She said she wanted to bring The Magic of Reality on the bus and show them what it said, and I told her she could, but she needed to do it in a gentle way, sharing what she believes, not saying, “SEE, it says right here you’re WRONG!”

I tried to introduce the idea that people can be very sensitive about religion, and we should tread lightly. But most of all, I repeated what I wanted the take-away message to be: be kind, and remember that we can all believe different things, and that’s OK.

Community Involvement

Finally, right before bed, I got my rear in gear and actually joined my local branch of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. What prompted me was a friend’s story of how her Baptist church seemed pretty apathetic about her organizing a program to get food to school kids whose only sure meal each day is free school lunch. I reckon if the church doesn’t want to help, I might be able to organize some heathens to step in. Or even better, maybe the FFRF folks and the few interested people at the church could work together!

* Perfect example of how memory quirks help psychics: when I started typing this up, I started to write “is your brother keeping you awake at night.” And I’m a skeptic – if my memory can be slanted toward her getting “hits,” imagine how well it works on the uninitiated!

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