Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kids in the Neighborhood

Have you noticed how in the past 10 years the entire US has adopted a "no child left alone" policy?  The law in my state says that at age 14 a child is old enough to babysit, but the laws about appropriate supervision for children younger than 14 are intentionally vague.  More and more parents seem to be interpreting that vagueness to mean that children under 14 should be directly supervised at all times.

Clearly, a newborn baby needs a responsible person within sight or hearing distance every moment.  Anyone who thinks about it, though, will reach the conclusion that there should be some steps between the level of supervision appropriate for a newborn and the level of supervision appropriate for a teen one day shy of being legally capable of supervising a newborn.  What those steps might be, and when they might be implemented, however, are a point of great contention.

The New York Post recently published an article discussing research that demonstrated the greatest danger to children playing alone is "nosy neighbors."  People who think children should never be left alone because it's "too dangerous" are those who cause danger to children by initiating spurious child protection services investigations and police encounters.

Yesterday, Z, who is a second grader, went to a friend's house after school.  After the boys had spent some time there, the friend's mother texted me that the boys were going to walk the two blocks from his home to ours to play here.  After 20 minutes, they hadn't arrived, so I went looking for them, assuming they had gotten distracted collecting crab apples or throwing pine cones.

Instead, I found my son running home alone, and he told me the story of their 2 block walk.

First, a neighbor walking to the park had stopped them and asked if they were allowed to be by themselves.  My son's friend felt upset at her question, so Z walked him back to his mom, and the neighbor accompanied them.

The friend's mother calmed him down and sent the boys back on their way.  On their second attempt to get here, a car stopped at the intersection they needed to cross, and the driver looked at the boys critically, so the friend gave up and went back home.

I've told Z drivers aren't always looking for pedestrians, even at a stop sign, so he usually waits for any visible cross-traffic to pass, even if he has the right of way.  Because of this, Z was standing alone at the 4 way stop a block from our house, waving traffic on, when another person felt concerned.

A driver pulled up at the stop sign, rolled down their window, and proceeded to give Z the third degree.  Their questions included at least the following: How old are you?  Where are you going?  Where is your house?  Where is your mom?  Does your mom know where you are?

At that time, another car pulled up behind the first.  The driver rolled down their window and started shouting at Z: "Do you know this person?  Why are you talking to them?  You shouldn't talk to strangers!"

Finally, both helpers left, and my son was able to make it home.

We had a conversation.  Most people aren't used to seeing kids playing outside anymore, so they feel concerned when they do see kids.  Because you are just fine, I know where you are, and you are responsible enough to walk from one house to another or play in the front yard unsupervised, the appropriate response to a concerned stranger is, "I'm fine.  Thank you."  Say it sweetly the first time they ask you a question.  The second time, say it with a slight edge.  After the third question, you can make the words drip ice.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review: Like Family

I recently finished Like Family: Growing Up In Other People's Houses, by Paula McLain. This memoir tells the story of McLain and her two biological sisters who were abandoned by their mother at age 8. They spent time living with their paternal grandmother, who didn't want to raise them herself; their father, who was repeatedly incarcerated; an aunt; and a series of foster families.  The final foster placement- with Hilde and Bub Lindbergh and their biological daughter, Tina- lasted for over a decade.  However, given the foster care climate at the time, it's unsurprising that that girls were never adopted.

I would have enjoyed Like Family a lot less if I didn't have the experience and knowledge I've been blessed to acquire through my education and time as a foster parent. Something that brings both the content and the tone of this work into focus is this: quite often, children with difficult circumstances in their early childhoods will develop attachment styles other than a secure, warm, close attachment to their primary caregiver. Some children will have a full-blown attachment disorder, but more often, children will develop either an ambivalent or avoidant attachment style.

There are a myriad of resources out there about attachment theory, but for the purposes of understanding McLain's narrative, ambivalent attachment usually develops in response to a primary caregiver who is sometimes emotionally available and caring, and other times is unwilling or unable to respond to their child with emotional connection. An ambivalent attachment style developed in infancy or early childhood carries on into later relationships, which often demonstrate characteristic push-pull behaviors. The child wants love and affection, but is unable to accept them when they are offered. As babies, they will cry, but refuse to be comforted. As they get older, they will reject or misinterpret demonstrations of affection.

McLain writes Hilde as a block of concrete, unyielding and unloving. Hilde was German, so she probably wasn't demonstratively affectionate, but she opened her home to three girls who needed help and kept them safe there for a decade. She may not have rocked them to sleep at night, but she cared for those girls. To my reading McLain is an unreliable narrator. Her attachment style deeply colors her experience of her foster families, so that she can't see Hilde as anything other than cold.

McLain herself admits being unable to ascribe motives to her foster parents. She can imagine some of them taking her and her sisters in for the money, and one foster father for worse reasons, but she can't imagine motivations beyond the purely selfish. Most of the foster families I know are involved with foster care because they want to help children from hard places. But McLain's attachment style is so deeply ambivalent that she can't admit warmth, love, or care as motivators for the people who raised her.

Later in their lives, adults with ambivalent attachment stay emotionally enmeshed with their attachment figures. They feel preoccupied with those relationships, experience ongoing senses of anger and ambivalence, and tell vivid stories to reinforce their perspectives.

I found Like Family to be a fascinating look at McLain's thought processes. I would hope that she develops more insight going forward, but reading her current perspective gave me a clear look at how ambivalent attachment can shape the outlook of a young person in care.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Extended nursing

If one, hypothetically, were to nurse their child beyond the American culturally normative 12 months, one might possibly find herself breastfeeding a verbal child.  She might, then, experience hearing some unique sentences.

For example, an 18-month old child might call from the top of the stairs late in the evening: "Tricia!  Tricia!  Milkie!"

Or, theoretically, a 24-month old child might complain: "All done this side.  This side slimy."

Possibly, one might even find oneself nursing a 30-month old, who despite hating cow's milk, might point to the fridge one day and say: "Want milk in here."  Which could reasonably cause one to question: "You want milk from the fridge in a cup?  Or you want mommy milk inside the fridge?"  And in response, a mischievous child might joke: "Want nursing inside the fridge!"

Hypothetically, of course.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Ridiculous Sexist Nonsense

One of the strange things about ridiculous sexist nonsense is that, because there's so much of it around and there always has been, it so often escapes our notice.  We're used to things just being the way they are, until somebody brings it to our attention, and we recognize the nonsense for what it is.

Case in point: why do healthcare companies treat "women's healthcare" like it's some kind of add-on to "regular" healthcare?  Half of the people in the world are women, and healthcare that is necessary for half of the people in the world is just "healthcare."  It's not a specialty product: it's a basic human right.  Even if it involves our woman parts.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lunchbox Mix and Match

If you troll pinterest for school lunchbox ideas, you will find lots of uber-cute suggestions, most of which require a ton of advance planning and/or preparation.  If you want a lunchbox full of "fruit sushi" or homemade fried chicken, you need to start cooking the night before.  Some people love to do that, and more power to them.  I hope they enjoy their successful blogs and book deals!  Some people (me) wish Jamie Oliver would parachute in and take over our school lunch program so we don't have to think about lunchboxes anymore.  Until that happens, however, our family does lunchbox mix-and-match.

Here's the basic idea: pick one protein, one starch, and two fruits or veggies.  When I've been strategic about pre-made foods (aka leftovers), it works instead for kids to have an entree that covers multiple categories, like soup or pasta with sauce, and to round that out with a side dish picked from the list.

In a pinterest-perfect world, the kids would spend 30 minutes helping you prep, bake, cut up veggies, and portion bulk items on Sunday afternoon, so that they can easily grab a tub of carrot sticks and a muffin all week long.  An alternative excellent plan would be to make lunchbox selections the night before so kids can help with any prep or portioning that can be done in advance at that time.  Even with the best planning, certain things will still need to be done in the morning, though.  For example, if they prefer their apples sliced, and you're a sucker for getting them to eat cheap and abundant produce.

A note on my organization: Things that require no prep beyond putting in a container are at the top of the list.  Things that require more extensive prep are at the bottom.  Many of the items that require more prep can be made ahead and frozen in individual portions.  I've got a few fresh fruits and veggies that I almost always have on hand listed individually, but I also have spaces on the list to write in whatever fresh or prepared fruits and veg are handy this week.  Also, it is clearly just fine to combine items from the list to make an "entree," should one desire.  For example, peanut butter can be combined with bread to make a sandwich.  Or, you know, this thing, if you prefer.

Lunchbox Mix and Match

Yogurt cup
Cheese slices or sticks
Cream cheese
Ricotta cheese
Cottage cheese
Lunch meat
Peanut butter, nut butter, or sunflower butter
Nuts: Cashews, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts
Sunflower seeds
Ricotta- or yogurt-based dip
Beans (baked, refried, plain, or seasoned)
Bean dip
Hard boiled egg
Energy balls
Tuna salad
Egg salad
Chicken salad
Mini quiches
Pre-prepared meat (pulled pork, steak strips, diced chicken, etc)

Corn tortilla
Wheat tortilla
English muffin
Chips or tortilla chips
Frozen corn
Muffin or quick bread
Corn bread
Sushi rice
Cooked grain: couscous, quinoa, wild rice, etc.
Grain-based salad
Pasta salad

Fruits and Veggies
Frozen peas
Pickled vegetables
Tomato sauce
Frozen blueberries
Apple sauce
Canned fruit
Dried apriots
Bell peppers
Cooked vegetable


Fresh fruit


Fresh vegetable


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Liking Things

I was familiar with "basic" as an insult for both people and items before I really understood what it meant.  Uggs, scarves, and pumpkin spice lattes all get called out as basic, as do people, particularly women, who enjoy them.  For all intents and purposes, "basic" applied to an item means a lot of people like that thing, and applied to a person, it means they like things a lot of other people like.

That's correct: "basic" is an insult that means, "You like things that are popular."

Hipster is another word generally used as an insult.  Here's a joke by way of illustration: How did the hipster burn his mouth?  He drank his soup before it was cool.

Hipsters like things that few other people like; they like things that aren't popular.

Take away from this that regardless of what you like, lots of people out there are happy to judge you for liking it.  Popular things?  Obscure things?  If you like anything, there's an insult waiting for you.

There's more!  There are also ways to like things that are less acceptable to the world in general than other ways of liking things.  Take, for example, teenage girls enjoying music.  They're derided for just liking how cute the boys in the band are and not understanding "good" music.  They're mocked for screaming, making posters, and decorating their bedrooms as shrines.

In fact, the behaviors associated with teenage girls liking things are so universally disdained that anyone liking anything exuberantly is mocked as "being a fangirl."  In case it's not clear that fangirl is also an insult, go ahead and do a quick google search.  I'll wait.

The safest way to like things is ironically: people pretend to like things, or they pretend that they're pretending, or they pretend that they're pretending that they're pretending until even they aren't sure what they legitimately like anymore.

Here's the thing, though, if there's nothing that's safe to actually like, and liking anything too much isn't safe either, all that's left is cynicism and boredom.  I reject cynicism and boredom as a cultural aspirations.  I challenge the narrative that liking things is bad.  In fact, I choose to embrace Liking Things as inherently positive.

I am all for liking Uggs, scarves, and pumpkin spice lattes.  I commend liking DIY Frankenstein bicycles and indie rock bands.  If you like a book, I am glad you like it, be it Twilight, Moby Dick, or Guide to Computer Forensics and Investigations.  If you like a movie or movies in general; if you like making art or looking at it; if you like birding or fishing; if you like tatting, online video games, archery, or all three; if you like anything or things at all, good for you.  Liking things is wonderful, and I think we should all do more of it.

Enough irony.  Go out and enjoy some things.

Hey, what do you like right now?