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.