Two simple words to help your “different” child

image credit: Southbank Centre

image credit: Southbank Centre

When my second grader told a classmate that she doesn’t believe in God, his response was immediate:

“I’m going to call the police!”

At the time, I educated her about our constitutional protections and assured her that the boy had no idea what he was talking about. But since then, there have been a lot of comments, incidents, and societal messages that have made her feel shamed and excluded in different ways. Actual comments from playmates include:

“Science proves that if you shoot a girl with a Nerf gun, it hurts more.”

“You can’t rake leaves – this is just for boys.”

“Only babies use training wheels.”

And ambient cultural ideas have definitely taken up residence in her head, from the feeling that we’re the only non-Christian family in the state, to the concept that being plump is both disabling and blameworthy.

I’ve struggled to equip my child to cope with these messages – to help her believe that they’re stupid, wrong, and should hold no power. But little kids are by nature impressionable and often unsure of themselves. Giving her the confidence to reject these ideas has been challenging.

But when the casual sexism from her male playmates got to be too much, I had a burst of inspiration.

“That’s bullying,” I said.

There’s a very strong culture against bullying in school now, with ongoing education designed to stop bullying. Every kid in our school knows “bullying” is unacceptable. The key is that they may not understand all the ways kids get bullied.

Using this powerful label to call out sexism proved to be incredibly effective. Suddenly my daughter’s eyes shined with certitude and indignation. Simultaneously, it gave her a tool to use in the moment – now when someone tells her girls can’t do something, she knows she can say, “That’s bullying!” She’s confident she has right on her side.

And this of course can be applied to discrimination she may face on the basis of religion, looks, or any other characteristic. Plus the beautiful thing is, she can use this concept as a self-check before making a comment to another child, and as a shield when other children get made fun of or excluded based on any difference they may have.

Maybe we can help our kids navigate this often-hostile world, and be an ally to others, just by teaching them that bullying isn’t confined to taking lunch money or excluding someone from a game.

Best excuse ever!

Sorry I haven’t been posting. I started working full time, the kids’ lives got very busy, I started hanging out with some really cool new friends. I was wondering how I could juggle everything. AND THEN I GOT FUCKING CANCER.

Yes, my right boob went rogue and tried to kill me. I sliced it up, and then to keep the rest of my organs toeing the line, I scorched the earth of my entire body, leaving no quarter for possible enemy agents. This is war, Peacock, and you can’t make an omelette without breaking any eggs! (Oh yeah, my ovaries shut down permanently thanks to the process.)

But I made it through the fight, and have come out the other side to tell you there’s still no God, and for the love of all that’s holy, eat brownies when you get the chance, because life can be short and the width of your hips can indicate a healthy recovery from 16 weeks of barely being able to eat. I eat the brownies, and the deep fried wontons, and I suck the literal marrow out of – well a literal cow bone, but metaphorically out of life too.

more to follow if anyone is interested.

Thanks for your comments!

I almost started this post with something like, “I’m terrible – I’m sorry,” but you know what? I’m not terrible – I’m just a busy parent! And I wish I had more time to devote to this blog lately, but ya gotta have your priorities. (I got a full time job, and somehow these kids are still around needing food and care and love all the time. Thank goodness for my fabulous co-parenting husband and my mother, the wonder-nanny!)

So instead, let me say that I just worked through approving a backlog of very nice comments, and I AM sorry about letting them sit neglected amidst the spam for so long! Thank you for reading and contributing!

And I did renew the blog for another year, so even if I don’t post any brilliant insights, at least people can still look at the old stuff. You never know when a ready-made, snark-filled rebuttal to Darcia Narvaez might come in handy.

Cheers, y’all!

Minecraft Creepers – Creeping on Little Girls

By Klapi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Good clean fun

Tweens love Minecraft, if my kids’ set is any indication. And it’s a fabulous game for creativity, persistence, and problem solving, as well as just being fun. Kids can play by themselves, or they can go online to one of many servers and play games together within a Minecraft environment. My daughter has found some really fun and challenging servers through YouTube videos by trusted Minecraft gurus, and of course through friends. She and her friends like to all join a server, and set their phones up in front of them so they can Facetime and talk while they play. (Due to the angle the phone is typically set at, my husband has taken to calling them “The Nosehair Club.”)

There are all kinds of  monsters in the Minecraft world, including the Creeper. It’s a nasty opponent that sneaks up and then explodes, destroying everything around it, including you and your constructions.  It gives very little warning, and can have devastating effects. Luckily there is a simple way to repel them – keep a cat around, and Creepers will run away.

The real scary characters

Unfortunately, there’s another type of creeper on Minecraft servers – creepy dudes who creep on kids. And getting rid of them is more complicated. I asked a certain ten-year-old girl I know (who I’ll call Bella) what kind of chat messages she had gotten from other players that made her feel uncomfortable.

“You’re cute.” (without preamble) 
“I want to fuck you.” (without preamble)
“Will you marry me?
Will you marry me?
Will you marry me?
Will you marry me?”
 [Is told, “NO!”]
“You fucking bitch. Stalker! [continued swearing until chat turned off]”

She also described another player constantly following her in “sneak” mode and mimicking all her movements.

I don’t know if players using male skins experience the same kind of thing, but referring to her girl friends who play, Bella says, “We’ve all had it happen to us.”

To me, it sounds like there are certain players who will flirt with, proposition, stalk, or abuse players who use female character skins. My guess is this is mostly coming from immature teenage boys (the bulk of players are 15-21, and 94% are male). Motivations probably range from clueless romantic excitement that “OMG, there’s a girl, an actual, real female person, who is into this game I love,” to older boys forgetting/ignoring that a lot of pretty young kids play, to just straight-up trolling jerkwads. As much of a worrier as I normally am, I doubt there are many actual child predators lurking for prey on Minecraft gaming servers.

But who cares? The point is that prepubescent children are trying to play a fun game with friends, when someone sidles over and sexually harasses them. My concern is protecting my kid from the feelings Bella describes: feeling stunned, wondering, “What’s wrong with you?!” and well, being creeped out.

“Minecraft is not a dating site!” Bella emphasizes. “It’s meant to play, and build, and construct, and, like, play cool minigames.”

What can we do?

I asked Bella what she does when this kind of thing happens. She replied that she tries to ignore it, waits for chat to end when a game round begins, and had just learned from a friend that you can block communications from individual players.

In reality, there is a lot more that one can do, but kids don’t necessarily understand the systems and procedures for reporting bad behavior. So here is some information on what you can do.

First, of course you could prohibit your child from playing online. Or from playing on servers you’re not familiar and comfortable with. I’m personally not willing to say “no servers,” because my kid really has a ton of fun with her friends online.

Second, you could identify certain servers that seem problematic, and avoid them. You need to be able to rely on your child to tell you what’s going on, and check in with them for this to work, of course.

Third, you and your child can take action against specific people. Typing “/mute” followed by the offender’s name will prevent that person’s messages from showing up in your chat window.

You can also research the rules for a server. For instance, Bella was playing on “The Hive.” Her dad Googled “the hive minecraft,” found the associated website, and had to click around a bit to find the in-game rules, listed in the forums. In addition to a no swearing rule, it also says,

“Bullying of any form will not be tolerated on our servers. If someone is being derogative towards you or another player, report it on the forums with a screenshot and the player(s) will be dealt with swiftly.”

So for this server, if Bella had someone swear at her or sexually harass her, she could take a screenshot showing the offending material in her chat window, then post it in the forum for a moderator to review. It’s a bit complicated – you’d have to create an account on the forums, and then upload the image of the screenshot. But at least there is recourse.

Servers often have moderators in-game as well. If you can identify one of the players as a moderator (or the administrator of the server), you can send a chat message to them asking for help dealing with abusive messages. Usually the command is /tell or /msg, followed by the moderator’s name, then what you want to say to them. Moderators will usually ban a player who has violated the rules, either for a certain time, or permanently.

Risk versus benefit

Each family has to decide whether the fun, camaraderie, and learning their child gets from Minecraft servers is worth dealing with the chat messages they’re seeing, and how the monitoring should be done.  And even if you hover and help respond to nasty messages, you can only react after your kid has seen them. It’s a difficult question. But I figured parents can’t think through how they want to handle it unless they know it’s happening. I was grateful to find out about it, and we’re taking action. As things develop, we might change our approach.


My ten-year-old has been watching Maury – and it turned out OK

sex-for-can-of-sodaOy. We were at the dinner table, discussing puberty (as you do).  The six-year-old strongly expressed her desire never to “born a baby,” and said she never will, because there are pills that can keep you from getting pregnant. (We’ve discussed this particular issue before.) Then the older kid started listing other birth control methods. Like, really specifically, and with authority. I don’t have a problem with her knowing about these things, but I haven’t gotten to that level of detail with her, and I don’t think it’s in any of her books. So I asked where she learned all that. I think it helped that I had more of an admiring tone than a worried or judgmental one.

So she told me about encountering a link to the “Murry” show after watching a Minecraft video, and being so shocked and disturbed by the title she felt compelled to watch it. And that led to watching a lot more. Once she described stories of tweens having group sex, 14-year-old prostitutes, and nine-year-olds smoking and drinking, I figured out which show she was talking about.

And actually, it led to a great discussion. As I told her, this is one of the reasons why we’ve told her not to go exploring on YouTube. Because I would rather that she learn about normal, healthy behavior before being exposed to what is really just a modern-day freak show. Maury is designed to shock and titillate, and provide fodder for that impulse we have to judge others. It’s pretty much the worst sex-ed material you could find outside of porn. But, I was pretty impressed at her ability to digest the information and process it into useful caveats about sex and drugs. Of course, she is also naturally cautious, thoughtful, and eager to please authority figures, so that probably helped. But her overall reaction was shock, and a passionate determination never to do things like that.

I think this important conversation was only possible due to two major factors:

  • We mostly avoid punitive discipline. Not completely, but I do try to adhere to “connection before correction,” in an effort to keep my kids comfortable coming to me in situations that they worry might get them in trouble – whether that’s spilling something on the furniture, watching inappropriate videos, or (eventually) something bad or dangerous happening involving cars, alcohol, sex, or whatever.
  • Before encountering these videos, my kid knew quite a bit about sex, from a loving, factual, normalized perspective. I strongly feel that the best way to approach sex education is to treat it like all other education – answer questions as they come up, in an honest and developmentally appropriate way. I found It’s So Amazing to be a wonderful resource, which I could use for visual reference as I shared information with my pre-literate children, and then as an age-appropriate resource to be used by reading age children on their own.

I believe that pretty much everyone’s kids are going to run across some puzzling, worrisome, or disturbing content before we would consider them ready to handle it. Having so much information at our fingertips makes it nigh inevitable. It’s worth thinking about how your parenting might not just limit the chances of such an occurrence, but also give your child space to ask for your help if it does happen. I feel like if I’d been a bit less connection-focused (I’ve been working on minimizing punishment lately), or if my kids didn’t already have a firm track record of me talking about squirm-inducing subjects in a matter-of-fact and open way, or if my daughter had had no context whatsoever in which to place the extreme spectacle she saw, she probably would have simply clammed up, hidden it from me, and worried about it on her own.

A Southerner’s Guide to Playing in the Snow

snow pantsTwo weeks ago, we had snow. That stuck! So you could play in it and make snowmen, and sled, and everything. This is a rare occurrence – it happens maybe every two or three years. That means my kids were even more excited than a northern child to go play in it – and also that they were much less equipped. They stayed outside for 20-30 minutes, then came inside tearful as their soaked jeggings and wet cotton mittens contributed to a quick drop in body temperature and painfully cold fingers. They definitely had “The Umbles,” and it wasn’t very safe for them to play in that gear.

So when I heard Pax was headed for us, I shopped for snow pants, ski gloves, and boots. And died of sticker shock. It’s just crazy to spend several hundred dollars to outfit two children for a once-every-24-months event, especially when they’ll grow out of most of it in a year!

So here’s what I did to keep costs reasonable, and my kids relatively warm and dry:

  • They already have winter coats, so torsos and arms were taken care of
  • For gloves, I passed up the one remaining pair at our local Dick’s (cost: $50/pair), and ordered some extra long Thinsulate gloves – even with one-day shipping, the total for both pairs was about $40. These are the most critical item, and the hardest to fudge, so I made an investment. I did order on the big side, to stretch their useful life.
  • For keeping feet warm and dry, we used rain boots with thick socks. The strongest combination would be slightly roomy boots combined with one pair of technical wicking silly pantssocks and one pair of wool socks, but we did OK with fluffy cotton socks.
  • For keeping butts and legs dry, I used a technique I learned while cloth diapering – take some wool Goodwill sweaters, felt them, and make them into pants. If you have a small enough kid or a large enough sweater, all you have to do is cut off the sleeves (and maybe some of the body, if you need a bit more fabric) and sew them together. If you don’t have expertise or supplies to make an elastic waist, you can just cut slits for a drawstring or pin the waist to the child’s clothes. To take it over the top, lanolize them, and they’ll be practically waterproof!
  • Regarding lanolizing – I didn’t have time to completely soak thick wool and get it dry before the snow hit, so I made some lanolin spray with about 2 tsp each lanolin (it’s in the breastfeeding section of drugstores or Target) and hand lotion, mixed with about 1/2 cup very very hot water. I shook it up in a spray bottle, sprayed it on the outside of the pants, and hung them to dry overnight above a heating vent. Worked great!
  • Oh, and you probably don’t want to put the pants in the dryer after lanolizing, because they’re basically covered in grease. Please don’t burn your house down.

I had to stitch together swatches to make pants for the big girl, and they look awfully silly, but she didn’t balk at wearing them.  And they happily stayed outside for more than an hour. They made snow angels, and one completely buried herself in the snow. They came inside and their regular pants underneath were completely dry and warm!

So I invested about $50 and an afternoon, and now my kids can play in the snow safely and happily. I’ve even got some scraps of sweater left if they need an impromptu hat or some leg or wrist warmers. Happy snow day, y’all!

Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine – Review

goldieblox2There’s a lot of argument over this toy: is it feminist, or does it perpetuate pink princess stereotypes? Do girls and boys play and think differently? If so, should we use those differences to lure girls into STEM? Or should we assume that boys and girls actually tend to play and think the same way, when allowed to?

I don’t have answers to all these questions. But I can tell you I was really excited about this toy when it was first announced. Now that my five year old daughter has actually played with it, I’m a little disappointed. Ultimately I’d say it’s not worth the money, and other building toys are better. Upshot – the best thing about Goldie Blox is that it inspired me to buy some Tinker Toys for my daughter.

Here’s the good stuff:

  • Unlike so many cool building toys, here’s one that specifically welcomes girls. Too many nifty toys have only boys pictured on packaging, along with the blue, black, and green that places them squarely on the boy side of the toy aisle divide.
  • No batteries. I think this not only decreases the annoying factor for those around the playing child, but encourages more imaginative play.
  • It does offer some interesting possibilities for building and physics play.
  • The main character of the story is a girl who likes to build things and solve problems.

The drawbacks come in two categories – the toy actually has some sexist elements*, and the play value of the toy is limited:

  • Its premise is basically, “Can we make math pink?”
  • There are five character figures you can use in your constructions. Of the five figures, four are MALE. The female character is a ballerina. (Note to Goldie Blox: If you’re trying to make a feminist toy, you really should avoid the trope that men are the default, and try to keep the ratio of genders closer to real life. Maybe even three girls and two boys!)
  • Suggested play is focused on making different shapes with the ribbon as you set it up to spin the characters. There are no construction goals beyond “spin the characters.” Everything beyond that is about visual design. (Because girls don’t accomplish objectives – they make things pretty, teehee!)
  • There are actually further, more interesting ways to play with this, but they probably require far more pieces than come with the set. See below.

The tantalizing thing about this toy is that you could play with it in many other ways. There are slots on the top and on the sides of the board that accept the spindles. Likewise, the wheels have all sorts of holes, some of which fit tightly with a spindle, and some of which allow it to move freely. The blocks can be used as connectors, so you could build structures and include spinning, turning, and swinging elements. If only you had way more pieces.


Goldie Blox’s website draws attention to both the possibilities and the insufficiencies of their product on the Play page, which features constructions far more imaginative than the suggestions in the instruction booklet. However, many of them require a lot more pieces than come in the box. You can theoretically order a “Blox + Bits” expansion set, but currently it’s sold out. And honestly, if you ponied up $30-$60 (!) for ten measly spindles, do you really want to fork over $9.99 for some more?

Bottom line – this is an underdeveloped, under-equipped building kit with a slightly novel mechanical aspect (the ribbon) and a lot of flashy marketing. I don’t hate it, but I don’t think it’s worth the $29.99 I spent. I certainly don’t recommend spending $60 or more for it!

Alternative ideas include:

  • Tinker Toys, which have a similar pieces and connection, and allow spinning and rotating elements.
  • K’Nex, which explore gears, wheels, axles, levers, pulleys, incline planes, bridge engineering, etc.
  • Lincoln Logs – a classic.
  • For older kids, good old Erector sets.
  • Of course, there’s always Lego. Add girl figures to taste.
  • Toys that explore other ways of building such as wooden blocks, magnetic building kits, marble runs, snap circuits, vehicle models, anatomical models, and so on.

* I hear tell that the follow-up game is even worse, the goal being to help a friend win a princess pageant and ride a parade float. I haven’t seen that game, so I can’t comment, but it seems consistent with Goldie Blox’s intentional “girls are girlie” approach.

Confessions of a Fever-Phobic

jonaylorUntil this week, I was shockingly misinformed about fever. Despite being generally well educated and pretty savvy about medical stuff, I had some serious misconceptions. Misconceptions that may have led to unneeded treatment of my child, and definitely led to a lot of unnecessary anxiety for me!

My poor kid has had some UTIs lately, and one involved a fever up to 104° (40° C) for several days. My husband and I had to threaten, coerce, and manipulate her to get her to take some ibuprofen to get the fever down. I was terrified she’d get brain damage, start hallucinating, or seizing, or . . . I dunno, other unspecified awful stuff. I slept next to her, my clothes arranged like a firefighter’s, so I could jump up and run her to the emergency room if the fever went over the magic number (101° while on ibuprofen) one of the doctors specified.

During our next visit with a different doctor, he mentioned that fever is not a problem, and doesn’t need to be treated. But it was a brief comment amongst a lot of other critical information about kidney involvement, ID and sensitivities, and the right antibiotic. I felt like I’d gotten some mixed messages, but I didn’t think about it much at the time.

Two weeks later, my lucky kiddo came down with Fifth Disease. And her temperature went up. When it rose to 103.7°, and her skin felt as hot as a baked potato fresh from the oven, I woke her up and tried to get her to take some medicine. Despite (or because of?) her evident misery and restless sleep, she refused, so I pushed fluids, kept the covers off her, and stroked her with a wet cloth.

Now, we had called the advice nurse that evening, and she told me, “A fever between 100 and 104 is therapeutic.” In Worried Mom mode, I didn’t reflect on it much. My baby was frighteningly hot! Everything in my guts said, “Fix it! Cool her off! NOW!”

But later, with a little distance and a lot more sleep, I decided to investigate just what the deal is with fever. Turns out, fevers in response to illnesses are relatively harmless. (Heat stroke is a separate issue.) They might even help get you better faster. They don’t cause brain damage or any other lasting harm, and are self-limiting to 107° or less. Pediatricians do not recommend taking a child’s temperature frequently, or waking them up to take “antipyretics” (that’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to bring fevers down. Many parents dose antipyretics wrong, which is a much greater risk to a child’s health than a fever is. Even febrile seizures are not likely to cause harm, and using antipyretics doesn’t seem to prevent them. Oh, and if it’s lower than 100°, it’s not a fever, it’s a normal fluctuation in body temperature that happens every day for all of us.

TL:DR version – even high fevers in children are harmless. (NB: Fever in young babies is more complex.) You can give your kid medicine if they are suffering, but the fever itself isn’t anything to worry about.

This still feels wrong to me. But I checked. And checked. And checked. And checked. And checked. I think part of the reason fever phobia is so stubborn in our culture is that pediatricians focus on fevers. Every office visit starts with taking the child’s temperature. Any fever is focused on and investigated – how high? How long has the child had the fever? Presumably they’re trying to find out what is causing the fever, and to eliminate possible serious underlying conditions. Which is sensible, but gives us parents the impression that fever is scary. Plus clearly different doctors have different attitudes and give conflicting advice about fever management. Add in the historical use of “fever” in the names of many scary childhood illnesses, and it’s a great recipe for continued fear in parents!

Fever itself isn’t dangerous, and in the future I’m going to attempt to stow my anxiety and deal with it more rationally. Of course, my child tends to feel quite miserable, has trouble sleeping, and won’t eat or drink much when her fever goes over 101°, so I might still give her medicine, but at least I know now that the risk I’m battling is her discomfort, and I don’t have to worry that she’s cooking her own brain.

For reference by worried parents, here is a nice rundown of the common worries and the facts about fever.