Why Does the “Mockingjay” Sing SO Damned Loudly?

For months, my son had been telling me to read it. Then, in hushed, conspiratorial “you’ve got to read this book” tones, every mom I knew said I should. By last winter, every teen, tween, and mom I knew had. I caved when my other son begged me to too.

Boom. I was hooked. Just like that. I inhaled it more than read it. Three weeks, three books.

Suzanne Collins’ work has haunted me ever since. How is it a book about kids killing kids has gotten under my skin so deeply, and seemingly everyone’s else’s too? What makes it so compelling, so perfect for this moment in our history?

It must strike a cord deep within us.

A mining town—dusty, dirty kids just eking by, resorting to living off the land, base, vile, grubby. District 12—home of the beloved heroine Katniss Everdeen, where parents are in every way powerless to make a better life for their kids. A geographically removed, hyper-privileged ruling class calling all the shots; so much so that they force their citizens to offer up their kids for sacrifice. A sacrifice to ensure the continued supply of materials for their cushy lives. To remind the nation of their fragile grasp on their humanity.

The country is divided into 12 districts, each having a primary product or service benefitting the ruling class—the absurdly posh living in the “Capitol.” Of course, I was not surprised that the Capital of post-apocalyptic America known as “Panem” is nestled in my own beloved Rockies. I can almost picture an uber-privileged, conservative, militaristic upper class rising out of the ashes of a self-inflicted climatic upheaval not too far from of our military bases and Academy near Colorado Springs. It makes sense that Collins would locate the ruling class in a hard-to-reach, easy-to-defend mountain fortress. After all, America did just that when placing NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain.

Even more resonant, though, is how all of Panem regards its most vulnerable citizens—its children—as leverage to ensure obedience, silence, and conformity.

Panem’s children, from 12 to 18, are at the mercy of the state. Prepared from birth for a voiceless existence, without any power to object to the “reaping” of one among them to kill or be killed and every adult petrified to speak out against it.

Once a firestorm of uprising is started in Panem, though, our heroine finds that the answer, the other end of the socio-economic ideology is little better. From oppressive capitalism in which every cost of business is off-loaded (externalized) so that the rich can enjoy cheap products without ever having to see how they’re made, to a culturally uniform, drab, obedient communistic “liberation,” Katniss’ options are so limited as to leave her little choice but madness.

How different—how similar—is Panem really from our own culture, right here and now?

We’re so enthralled by The Hunger Games because it echoes of ourselves on an archetypal level.

My son--in the out-of-doors while we still have it.

The way families are managed has changed in the last 50 years. Today’s parents have a harder time raising their children the way they see fit in ways that our parents never could have dreamed of. Yesterday’s parents, my parents, were the kings and queens of their domain. What they said went, and they meant what they said, and boy did we know it. Okay, I wouldn’t raise my kids the way I was raised, but I always felt my parents were in charge of me–were the final authority over me–and no one else. And if push came to shove in a family of ten kids, as it often did, my parents would have stood up for me and my siblings.

Today’s parents have a harder time raising children without an increased involvement of the state. It’s harder now to raise kids who are robust, vibrant, questioning rebels–in a country created by rebels. Today, children must be obedient to the State (with a capital S) to a greater degree than to their own parents, as expressed primarily through educational institutions whose authority has been growing, and creeping into the realm of the family more and more with each passing year.

Kids that don’t “fit the mold” that schools and society now require are medicated into submission where in the past, many were able to work or play off their energy throughout the day. They must sit for six quietly for six hours a day or more. That’s not new or unusual really, but now they come home to an hour or four of homework. I don’t know about you, but I hardly ever had homework and it was rarely more than 45 minutes. Perhaps I’m aging myself. Where school used to be where children would train their brains to create, invent, build; today they’re taught to be workers–drones that do not question, that can sit for vast stretches of time without complaint. They’re fed the pink slim the rest of us won’t eat, sugar, caffeine, and unpronounceable, barely edible foods and expected to perform poorly nourished. They’re taught to dishonor their bodies by rushing when they need to rest, to sit when they need to run, to be quiet, compliant, obedient little sponges.

All that wouldn’t be so bad or even that different from when we were kids, except that kids intuit that they are being prepared not for lives of greatness, but for jobs in factories or cubes where their hands will ache, their backs will give out, their faces droop and creases take their seat in their furrowed brows.

They know this because they see it in their parents. In us.

Sons watch their fathers slog off to work each day, sit inside buildings filled with florescent glare rather than warm, radiant sunlight; rub their eyes after staring at a computer screen for 10 hours a day. Daughters see their mothers get up, run two loads of laundry, fix lunches, do their hair, answer email, clean the kitchen, then go off to their jobs and come home with hunched shoulders, sighing deeply—then getting up to do it all over again. Kids may be living in McMansions but they sense their parents are collapsing under mounting debt and a loss of a passion to live and create.

Kids know that many of us went to college. They know that merely getting a degree does not guarantee a better life or joy. Not anymore anyway. They understand that they’re expected to conform, to sit quietly and not bother the teacher, to answer questions correctly rather than creatively, to assemble rather than to invent. And they sense, rightly, that they’re being prepared to serve the great monster—the 1% whose lives look so fucking fun on television—or to die trying.

Is it any wonder at all that so many children, boys mainly, seek an alternate reality in video games where they can move, run, shoot, hunt, explore? Why are we surprised that our sons have learned to hide out in a virtual world that is much more alive than the world we now offer them? Frankly, I’m not surprised at all.

On the other hand, children whose parents choose to not let them go to public school—not to participate in societal preparation of kids—are ostracized, treated as deviant, and sometimes even targeted by an ever-more powerful nanny-state that steps in when parents do their job differently than what the government (read: the Department of Education) says they should.

For instance, I have an “unschooling” friend. She is one of the most involved mothers I know. She spends every waking hour with her kids, not teaching them any particular curriculum. They’d be in late elementary and middle school were it not for the fact that they’ve never set foot in a public school. Yet these kids read and do math almost as well as other kids. And what they may not have in skill, they have in gobs and gobs of real world experience—they have been entrepreneurs, town mayors, strategy game champions, jewelers, actors, and inventors. Yet, if she were ever to get “on the radar” of the state, she would surely have to answer to a judge for lifelong truancy and perhaps risk having her kids taken away from her or her kids be forced into a public school.

No state has validated “un-schooling” as a teaching method. Frankly, I wouldn’t do it because I’d worry too much that my kids wouldn’t have the practical skills they need. But I find it difficult to challenge when un-schoolers and home-schoolers seem to get such good results. My point is that even a child who is home-schooled must adhere to a state curriculum and prove they meet the minimum standards of learning at each age level—even if the parent is highly participatory and wants to educate their child in a different way. Each child must be enrolled in something, somewhere. Tracked and tested according to the state’s learning schedule with little or no accommodation for differing learning styles, strengths or weaknesses.

Just a few more examples of an expanding state involvement in the family:

  • Colorado’s Department of Education recently announced sweeping new regulations over every form of education with new rules that prohibit long-standing, well-respected techniques used in Montessori and Waldorf schooling. In hyper-regulating private schools, the state will squeeze out competition for funding by driving out of business schools that use these techniques, thereby channeling additional funds into the state’s educational coffers.
  • Schools advise parents that they must vaccinate their kids, but parents are never told of the risks nor that it is may well be unconstitutional to require their children be vaccinated without exception. Professionals who speak against blind obedience to the growing “Vaccination Nation” are blackballed, or worse, subjected to professional discipline, civil and criminal charges.
  • When parents choose alternate medical treatments for their kids rather than expose them to potentially damaging pharmaceuticals, they’re hauled into court and face having their children taken away from them.
  • When parents grow their own wholesome, untainted, local foods, they’re hunted, stalked, and their home-based herds of livestock seized and slaughtered because they dared to deviate from the corporate food structure.

It is an express goal of every public educational system to create workers for the future. Plain and simple–a workforce prepared for service. That’s been that way for oh, what, 75 years or so. What’s alarming to me is how much more interest the state has in parenting, and how much harder it is to stand up as parents to advocate for what we believe is best for our kids. And–how aware kids are of that. Deeper and deeper the state dives into regulating families, in forming a work force that will do as it’s told, resonating of Panem. State vision and mission statements frequently qualify the “worker production” goal in terms of helping children be successful in a global market. But the increasing authority of the state to involve itself in the family and in the everyday life of the child seems to have had the opposite effect—of creating subdued minds not prepared to innovate, invent, adapt to rapidly changing events.

Not one to be an alarmist most of the time, I’m actually pretty nervous. All the more so because my children are growing aware of the social, legal, consumerist climate in which they live. I’ve been challenged that the state has always been involved in schooling and parenting; that nothing’s changed at all. But I think it has. Our culture has changed, our values have changed. Sometimes that’s in awesome ways (super liberal that I am). But in other ways, it’s anything but awesome. It’s scary.

In every child is a Katniss Everdeen. Or a Peeta Mellark. Or a Gale Hawthorne– kids who want more for themselves than what’s being served up to them now. But unlike the parents of Panem in this mythical future, we need to be careful to not lose the power to give it to them.

Worth fighting' for? I think so.

Beware School Districts Bearing Gifts

Recently I received an email from my sons’ school telling me that the school district was going to give every middle and high school student their very own email account. The email read:

“In addition to streamlined communication between teachers and students, here are additional motivations for the District email initiative:

·Safe electronic communication system with protective internet filters.

·More effective enforcement of SVVSD Responsible Use Policy.

·Student access to digital communication tools, including instant messaging, real time document collaboration.

·Parent/Guardian access to their student s (sic) email account upon request.

Additional information about this email initiative is available on the District website where you can also access District policies concerning student Internet use. Parents and guardians who wish to exclude their student from this initiative are asked to complete the attached opt-out form and return it to your student s (sic) school by December 2nd.”

How nice, I thought.

Reading the Fine Print

But then, I wondered why would the district give children have a new email account when they know that most kids already have them? What’s in it for them? Safe internet access with protective filters. Great. More effective enforcement of the SVVSD Responsible Use Policy. Huh? What’s that? And why would the district give parents an opportunity to opt out? If it’s such a nice thing, they wouldn’t need to offer an opt-out, right?

NOTE: You can click the District’s link above to see the landing page which contains a link to the “Responsible Use Policy” page. That link takes you here: http://www.stvrain.k12.co.us/policies/E/EHC-E-2.pdf

On the last page of that policy was a statement that made the district’s new initiative make a lot more sense, That the things that I do using a school computer or network are not private and that my teachers and District staff may review my work and activities at any time.”

According to this policy, to which all students must agree or be barred from use, the district will have access all content of children’s email accounts—including their chats. Legally, that means that there is no privacy between the children and the school district, staff, and teachers. Anything children write in email or type into a chat, no matter when it’s written, at home or at school, no matter what it pertains to, personal or school-related, can be used as a statement against interest, criminally and civilly.

Did You Say Criminally?

Image

Yes! But the district’s policy doesn’t say that. It only says that if a student misuses school-owned technology that they’re at risk of suspension or expulsion. The district’s policy statement doesn’t say that kids could be prosecuted criminally or sued civilly, and that the content of their email can be used against them in court, with many of the due process protections of the Constitution waived by parents, inadvertently, by an act of omission—not opting out.

A quick background on children’s due process rights and the 4th amendment freedom from unreasonable search and seizure: kids don’t have the extensive protections against unreasonable searches that adults have. In fact, school officials need only a reasonable suspicion that a child is up to no good in order to search a locker or personal belongings. And a reasonable suspicion can be established by almost anything, and is quite a bit lower of a standard than the “probable cause” standard that applies to adults. Once a child is searched, any evidence found may be provided to police to prosecute the child in either a delinquency court or possibly in an adult criminal court. That makes sense. School officials need to do everything in their power to prevent violence and crime on school grounds and they should be able to search kids’ locker.

However, school-hosted email accounts are less private even than a kid’s locker, which is about as private as the trash left on your curb. The district’s stated goal is to better enforce the responsible use policy. It will not be long before the district discovers something in an email and hands it over to authorities as evidence against a child. The district needs no one’s permission to do that, has no obligation to consult with parents. The requirement for a reasonable suspicion has been waived along with the child’s right to be free of unreasonable searches.

Inadvertent Waiver

When we allow our children to email or chat on an unsecure, non-private email account for which we have unwittingly waived what few Constitutional rights they have, we put our children one dangerous step closer to “game over”. That is because the district’s opt-out policy skirts the prohibition against unreasonable searches in the 4th Amendment and 5th Amendment right to due process by obtaining parental consent to a search in advance.

Combined with the Zero Tolerance policy, the school district has an obligation to report and punish children for writing that is even remotely incriminating. Parents are waiving the regular rules of due process and evidence, which protect all of our rights, without even knowing that they’re making it easier for schools, police, and the DA to make a case against a child than the same would be against an adult.

That means that if we don’t opt out, we are handing our children over to schools and police, giving them power that extends far beyond the schoolhouse doors, into their personal lives outside of school, heretofore the province of parents alone. We give up our superior position as parents and abdicate our responsibility to discipline and guide our children—to the government—24/7. It also means that one little slip, and our child’s future could be over, and it is our own hand that will deliver them.

Picture this: Seventh grader who’s very expressive says something a little over the top to another student on a chat—as they’re wont to do. Teacher, who has a bone to pick with student, reads the chat thread and sees that little something. Teacher hands the transcript over to the principal, who may give that information to the Community Service Officer, who files a police report of harassment against the child. Never mind that the other child may not have even been phased by the communication, or perhaps even welcomed it.

The police have probable cause and evidence against the child. Child is arrested, released on bail, tried and the evidence admitted because the parent gave the district permission to invade the account in the first place. Remember that even one conviction can irreparably damage their school career as well as their prospects for college.

Without this email account, the school district, police, and DA have to go through the normal methods of building a case. They have to take statements, go through discovery, and subpoena the email or chat records to get that piece of evidence admitted—and defend motions to exclude evidence (motions in limine). With this ostensibly “public” email account, they can sidestep many of these due process procedures because of the parent’s waiver of their children’s access to constitutional protections.

You May Want to Waive Your Children’s Constitutional Rights

In all fairness, some parents may want their kids to participate in school-hosted and -regulated email, with the full understanding that they are waiving their children’s already limited freedom from unreasonable searches. Some parents know their kids are misbehaving and wish desperately for intervention from authorities. For those parents, by all means, do so. Just know what you’re doing consciously.

An anonymous member of the district told me yesterday that they don’t believe the district has any mal-intent in providing these email accounts and that they trust the district to not use email accounts against kids thought there are no assurances of that nor disclosure of the risks to children of criminal and civil liability in any of the district’s materials. Also the district member said, “behavior is always an issue in schools”. I agree. And I agree that the kids who are bullying, misbehaving, or worse should have to face the consequences of their actions. But I am not willing to hand my children over to the district or police if they make an error in judgment, which they will, that could easily be misunderstood or blown out of proportion, without the protections of the Constitution I have sworn to uphold and defend.

As a parent, I want my children to be afforded every protection the Constitution gives them, even if they make a bad choice. Especially if they make a bad choice. I will not waive their right to make a mistake and to recover from it. I may not bail them out of jail, but I won’t deliver them in handcuffs either—at least not by mistake anyway. And I’m not willing to leave it up to the goodness of the hearts of school officials to decide whether to prosecute my child or not. Because you know that the first time an incriminating email or chat comes up, the district is going to throw the book at the kid with all the firepower it’s got to make an example of him or her.

The district has an obligation to spell out exactly what the risks are so parents can decide based on proper disclosure. Every parent should make this decision with full understanding of what they’re doing. If you allow your child to utilize the school district’s email system, at this time, anything they say can and will be used against them in a court of law.

You be the parent. Keep control over your children and their online lives. Monitor them, teach them what is appropriate internet behavior. But don’t let the schools do it for you. Here’s the Opt-Out form:

http://www.stvrain.k12.co.us/news/201111140101.pdf

Parenting and Puppy-Raising

Way before I had kids, I had dogs—Lady and Kodi—my rehearsal for parenthood. Better to find out that I stink at it before the real deal, right? Well, this week, I’m reliving of those early days as a dog owner and as a new mom because…there’s a puppy in the house! Buster, the six-month old Australian Shepherd!

 

Buster's doing a good job keeping our minds off the death of our Luna.

Having a puppy around makes me think about my shepherds, and the lessons they taught me, with new awareness. It’s not that I haven’t had dogs around. I inherited two geriatric gems, Peggy and Luna, when my fiancé and I moved in together. Luna was put down last week after a sudden downturn in her health, so I’m feeling introspective about dogs and kids—particularly of those early weeks and months of learning to be a good owner and a good mother. But by the time they arrived, Peggy and Luna were more like moving bric-a-brac than anything else. They needed sporadic attention and no training—not at all like a puppy.

Raising a Puppy is a Spiritual Journey, Like Parenthood

My first dog, Lady was a gift from my ex-husband when we lived in a not-so-ritzy part of LA. I’d always wanted a dog. My father would never let us have one. I already had a vision of the kind of dog I wanted to raise; one that is pleasant to be around, aware, obedient, personable, yet capable of doing the job that a good dog should do—protecting their pack. What I didn’t realize was that, to raise a dog to have all those qualities, the dog was really going to be raising me.

I read every book I could find on how to train a dog and ran across “The Art of Raising A Puppy” written by the Monks of New Skete—a Franciscan order in New York. The monks’ ministry is breeding and raising German Shepherd dogs. Theirs are among the most sought-after companion dogs in the world. As I read, I sensed that raising these dogs was going to be a journey that could change the course of my life and would teach me—on a cellular level—to be the kind of dog owner, no…person, I wanted to be.

Kodi--many years ago

For the Monks, puppy-raising is spiritual discipline. It opens us to a oneness with the divine that only surrendering to the smallest can give. It’s no coincidence that in advertising there are two things that always sell—dogs and babies. Because their mere presence in the world reminds us of our uniqueness among creatures. That we are given these beautiful beings to lead into maturity melts even the most hardened of souls. Their fragility demands our gentility. Their complexity demands our intelligence. Their sensitivity demands our gracefulness. Both puppies and babies bring us, unswervingly and unerringly into confrontation with ourselves. And we love them for it. Or hate them for it, as the overwhelming evidence of both child and animal abuse shows.

A Small, Painful, Joyful Reminder

Buster, as someone else’s puppy, was not bonded to me when he got here three days ago. He was nervous and scared, so that when I tried to put his leash on him to go for a run the morning he arrived, he dodged and hid from me barking in fear. Eventually, I got my arms around him but not before he sunk a lone tooth into my chin. I took him out for a run, talking sweetly and kindly, stopping to pet him and love him up.

Timothy’s sons were bewildered that I would continue to shower love on a dog that had just bitten me and I tried to explain that it wasn’t Buster’s fault that he was scared. He just was. But I couldn’t explain that underneath my calm exterior, I was struggling to like the dog. He’d just bitten me and it was looking like the week was not going to go well.

But, I remembered my old lessons…it’s my job to lead the pack…whether Buster likes me or not. I’m the Alpha. It’s my job to reassure this puppy that he is going to be just fine and to teach him not to bite out of fear. It was even harder to explain to the boys that this was not a one-time lesson but one that would begin at that moment and continue until Buster leaves our home next week.

When Buster and I came home from that run, he was a new puppy. He’d had the chance to trust me, to take his cues from me as we ran over the dam near our lake. He will not bite me again. As a good shepherding dog, he now follows me everywhere. But I’m on notice that he gets scared and I must stay aware of that so I can help him manage his fear whenever I sense it.

This same thing is true of parenthood. Raising a child, I know it sounds trite, is not unlike raising a puppy. Of course, there are huge differences, a main one being that we raise a puppy to be obedient and bonded to us for life while we raise a child to become independent and to be able to bond to others throughout life. But the early weeks and months of both new beings’ lives require our total attention and commitment. And I’d forgotten how true that is, now that my children are older and I don’t have a puppy.

Raising a Puppy and Raising a Child Require Deep Internal Work

Ask any mom and she’ll tell you how much self-discipline she must deploy every day just to get through. Ask anyone who has a new puppy and they’ll tell you how much self-discipline it takes to teach a dog to be the kind of animal people want around.  The two joyous lessons my dogs taught me that prepared me to be a mother—Self-regulation and Discipline.

Self-Regulation. It didn’t take me long to figure out that my dogs took unspoken cues from me. They’d watch my face to see what expression I wore whenever they needed guidance. They could sense the tension in my body or the ease as well. If I were tense, they were tense. On the other hand, I also could calm them just by calming myself. When they barked at a stranger, I would give them my calm attention, put my forehead against theirs and just think calm thoughts. Often that did the trick. It worked with Buster the other day, and I’d forgotten how powerful an influence that can be.  My experience with self-regulation as a mother began the day my first son was born. Ryan slept best when I meditated or centered myself first. Then one night that I’ll never forget, three-month Ryan was inconsolable. I stopped everything I was doing to attend to him. I’d already checked every possible cause of his crying and when I’d eliminated all those sources and he was still crying, I just sat down with him and held him. I quieted myself inside, assuring myself that I’d done all I could to calm him. Within a few moments his cries slowed, then became a whimper, then sleep. From then on, I realized quite clearly that my children were most upset when I was upset, most organized and calm when I was organized and calm. So it began. The proper feedback cycle—I began to deeply honor both my and my children’s feelings. By regulating myself, my children were able to regulate themselves.

Discipline. To teach a dog to be a good companion takes trust, love and time to practice each day. I try to tell my youngest son, who desperately wants a golden retriever of his own, that he not only has to feed, play with, and clean up after a dog, he must love it enough to train it. That means getting off his butt when the TV is on and taking his dog outside on a training lead with a training collar and teaching him to heel, sit, stay, come, fetch, catch. For children, the same is true. I have an acquaintance who used to yell at her kids from afar to do this or that. She was confounded, and often angry, that they never obeyed. But to me, this was not so much a failure on her kids’ part so much as laziness (or worse, lack of love) on her part. When you love your child, you will love them enough to get up off your butt and help them understand the meaning of your words. When you love your dog, you will teach him to not jump up on you because you want to keep loving him and a jumping dog is not lovable for long. With kids, the window for physical redirection is rather short. At some point, kids grow big enough that we can’t just turn their little bodies to where we want them to go. At that point, they must have a deep inner sense of trust in us and in what feels right to them, so that our words have import and heft. When our words don’t work, we need to get up off our butt and help them follow our guidance with more complex parenting skills. In the end, it’s up to us to continually acquire the skills we need to help our children become the kind of people who will leave the world a better place than they found it.

A dog is maybe a purer reflection of ourselves than our children are because they are far more “tabula rasa” than a baby. They’re more easily moldable, pliable, trainable than a child. So to that extent, the comparison does eventually fail. But in puppyhood and childhood, self-regulation and discipline are the gifts our little beings give us. Maybe these gifts are why we jump into dog ownership and parenthood so joyously. We know that in being good owner and a good parent, that we become more of who we really are. In that space that our children and our animal companions need from us, we can clear away the cobwebs of what doesn’t really matter or what no longer serves us. We become stripped of our monkey mind if only for a few moments every day because we have to stay clear-headed so we can help our little loved ones. This is the selflessness the Monks wrote of, the oneness in doing for another that brings us closer to the divine.

UPDATE: The other day, we took the boys to look at a puppy–thinking we may acquire one in the next few weeks. Note to self: Never take four boys to “look at” a puppy. We brought two home. Peggy seems to like them well enough and the boys have fallen in love! Here they are!

OMG! What Is That Smell?!

Are your kids getting a little ripe? Do they starting smelling a little funky if they haven’t taken a bath in a couple days?

I ask because, around here, as early as fourth and fifth grades, schools are telling kids to wear deodorant. They’re telling elementary aged kids, and I’m sort of paraphrasing, “You smell gross. You need to wear deodorant to school from now on.”

Next thing I know, my 11-year-old son is strutting around the house in a cloud of “Axe – Dark Temptation” spray deodorant—sending me into a tailspin of college memories I’d sooner forget. My son is so taken with the manliness of antiperspirant that he sprays himself with it from top to bottom.

Which one do you think is stinking up the joint?

The last time he did that, I marched him right back up the stairs and into the shower to get that god-awful smell off. I’ve confiscated the Axe and I dare him or anyone else to bring that into my house again. The recycle bin can hold a lot of spray cans.

This stinks on so many levels

First, our kids are hearing from teachers, not just television anymore, that their natural state, their natural aura is offensive. At the age of 10, before they’ve even hit puberty. Don’t our kids get enough messages that they are not okay as they are from every other corner of the world? Can we not just let it go for a few years—at least until they hit puberty?

Second, for the kids that really do smell offensive, empirically offensive, we’re overlooking the causes and going straight to a bad solution. After all, what’s worse than covering up a bad smell with a perfumed one? It fools no one and just makes the stink doubly disgusting.

Some kids-and adults-really do smell bad. But why cover it up instead of addressing the underlying causes of bad body odor? Instead of using the opportunity to address dietary, toxic, metabolic, and floral sources of the offending aroma, we’re telling our little kids to head to the nearest drugstore and pick up a stick of night-club scented deo and bathe in it. Health 911.com’s article here is a good start for pinpointing causes of unusually stinky BO.

There’s a kid that goes to school with my kids. I don’t know who he is or what his name is but the neighborhood kids talk about how bad he smells of both body odor and cigarette smoke. They’re certain this middle schooler smokes cigarettes because he reeks so badly—like Pigpen in the Peanuts comics.  Has no one had a talk with this kid’s parents about how his coating of tar and nicotine are affecting his ability to hang out–the main activity of pre-teens? Surely if the parents knew they’d do something about it. Okay, maybe not but someone ought to try.

Don’t Cover It Up? Figure It Out!

Our natural scent is supposed to be pleasant, even the end-of-the-day stink should not be so disgusting as to make people breath out of their mouth. If we bathe somewhat regularly (for kids) and eat well, we should all smell reasonably good even when we sweat. I wish I’d understood earlier in life how apocryphal one’s personal bouquet is of so many things—good health and romantic compatibility being the top two.

If we cover up our scent, how will we sniff out that we have a toxic build up, or cancer, or systemic candidiasis? How will we know that our partner actually smells good to us and we to him or her? What happens when we find out we really don’t like their natural aroma and that we picked the wrong person!? Our sense of smell can confirm or deny so much about the world around us—polluting the sense with overpowering aromas only deadens our instincts (pun not at all intended) and our awareness of the natural world.

For the most part, our kids smell just fine if they’re eating a healthy diet as close to the source as possible. If they don’t, let’s at least be positive and helpful to each child. Let’s help them pin down the source and fix it–with love and humility. Don’t tell them they make you want to vomit–at least not until they start growing armpit hair. They already have enough to worry about in elementary school.

Formal Education–The Big Lie (Part 2)

By Chuck Rylant, MBA, CFP

(This is my blog’s first guest post, by author Chuck Rylant. Chuck is a former police officer, college teacher, financial planner, and most importantly, a husband and a DAD! This post is a great follow up to my post on mandatory schooling. Chuck put into words some of my sentiments about public education, though as I said, I am an “all-in” parent and do have high hopes for our system and how it serves my children. Chuck’s College Alternative is a fabulous idea and, when the time comes, I hope my kids will consider it! Maybe he’ll even start a company to do just that…hint, hint. Thank you, Chuck, for offering your insight and wisdom here!)

This is the second of two parts. You can find part 1 here.

During grade school, I spent more time in detention than I did in class, but by high school I was a little more successful at staying out of trouble.  I hadn’t really become a better student, but I figured out the game.

During my freshman year I discovered we could cut classes with little or no consequences. There were a few, but by my sophomore year, I had those figured out too.  Soon I made friends with a student aid in the attendance office or had a girlfriend call me in sick posing as my mother while I went to the beach.

Back then I didn’t know as much as I do now, but with the confidence of youth, I thought I knew it all. But now with more experience, “I know what I do not know.”  In other words, now I have more knowledge, but realize I do not know it all.

However, with that in mind, I wasn’t completely wrong back then with my pessimistic view of school.  The reason I spent so much time in detention was because I was bored. I was board out of my mind and had no qualms letting my teachers know it.   For the teachers reading this, I was one of those defiant brats in your class, and to this day, I secretly want to track them down and apologize.

My Strange Parents

I grew up with strange parents and one of the few benefits of an odd upbringing was that I was encouraged to question everything and always be suspect of authority.  As a result, I was wary of what was being taught in school and could not see the point of much of it.

“Why do we have to learn this” was a frequent question of mine. Occasionally the good teachers provided reasonable explanations, but usually I was told to shut up and do my work.  Sometimes it was put nicely, other times it wasn’t.  Growing up with little supervision, I did not respond well to the latter and that almost always led to a visit to the principal’s office.

Now, after having my own children and teaching some college classes, I wish my attitude had been better, but my complaints were valid.  One problem with education is the mistaken idea that all kids should be programmed to fit a predetermined mold, and any kid who doesn’t fit that mold is considered a failure and pushed aside.  This is a mistake. More

Co-Parenting Is Not For The Faint At Heart*

Even in the best of times, sharing parenting responsibilities with another human being is challenging. If you’re a married parent, you already know that the art of compromise is that the heart of any relationship and even more vital with parenting. Add the dynamic of a broken marriage to an already difficult balance and you’ve got trouble.

I live with two other single parents—all three of us share legal and physical custody of our kids with our ex-spouses. Across the street, my BFF Alexis doesn’t share custody with her ex, but she goes out of her way to make sure he sees their kids because she knows the kids thrive with both parents actively involved in their lives. Out of the four of us, Timothy, my fiancé, has the most cooperative, cordial, even warm relationship with his ex, Melissa.

Melissa, Devin, and Luka; part of my extended family

I’ve been at this co-parenting thing for over four years now and it hasn’t gotten much easier. But it’s worth trying every single day. Here’s why.

Shared Custody = Shared Decision Making

Divorced parents with equal legal custody share decision-making over major areas of their kids’ lives: healthcare, education, extracurricular activities, and dangerous instrumentalities (use of guns, vehicles, etc).

Did you notice that I didn’t include religion as one of the four? That’s because parents have constitutional rights to teach their children in the ways of their own religious or spiritual belief system. I’ve seen plenty of articles that say this is one of the main decision making areas parents share, but my reading of the case law suggests that, unless those beliefs pose a danger to a child (e.g. refusal of emergency medical care because it’s against one’s religion or disparaging of the other parent’s beliefs), parents can’t interfere with each other’s religious training.

When parents’ marriages are intact, they usually compromise on the main areas of child-rearing out of respect and love for one another. One defers to the other in some things and vice versa. Once broken, though, the incentive to compromise often goes down the toilet along with the marriage, replaced sometimes with a vindictive need to triumph over the other parent.

When parents can’t act in unison, children suffer, far more than parents ever will. That’s because kids then know that they can play one parent off of the other to get what they want. That’s just too much power for a child to handle–it tears down the basic premise of a well-bonded family–that the parents are there to care for the children no matter what. It’s not good for children to feel that they’re in control. If mom and dad aren’t in control, who is?

Who’s In Charge Here?

Kids need to know that the adults in their lives are in charge of their environment. While not perfect, parents stand between them and the big wide world out there. When parents are in charge and unified, kids aren’t forced to mature too early. They can grow at their natural pace not at the pace their parents’ divorce dictates. And both parents can more easily maintain an attachment to their children—a bond that will serve to regulate later teenage behavior and help to keep them out of depression, despair, and delinquency.

Different rules in two homes is standard in bi-nuclear families. Too much difference, though, can make one home way more attractive to children. If one parent is super lenient and the other sets clear limits, parents will inevitably hear “I want to go to Mom’s/Dad’s house!” While this may be gratifying to the parent who’s house the child wants to be at, it stretches the bond between parent and child. Sometimes the attractiveness of the one home stretches the bond with the other parent so far that it may break. And that break can plague the child well into adulthood, setting him or her up for unhealthy relationships, internal imbalance, and constant struggle with being real and authentic.

There are lots of therapists and experts that help people co-parent—to cooperate—so that kids have a strong beginning with two parents who can communicate respectfully and make decisions together. This is the ideal. The courts, however, are filled with parents who can’t make it happen. When parents fail at it, courts will sometimes give one parent decision-making power over one or more of the major areas—splitting authority for the sake of peace. That’s how important experts and courts think a harmonious co-parenting relationship is!

Wonderful Sons to Co-Parent

Trouble is, neither party can predict who will get what decision-making authority. Litigation around those determinations can persist for years! And children will continue to witness parent vs. parent, further confusing an already wandering internal compass.

With Clarity Comes Healing

High-conflict parenting is damaging to kids whether parents are married or divorced. In family law circles, it’s a basic principle that parents who remain in conflict with one another after divorce are actually maintaining their connection–albeit in a negative, hurtful way. Recently, I heard a statistic that said about 25% of co-parents have cooperative relationships, about 25% are in high-conflict, non-cooperative relationships, and the rest are somewhere in between. That high-conflict 25% are people who really do still have feelings for one another but aren’t able to acknowledge that and respectfully, lovingly separate.

The first 25% of parents recognize that parenting is not, should not, be about our adult baggage—though it does bring up old wounds for healing. Parenting is about putting someone before ourselves. It’s about raising a new generation to help solve the cultural and environmental problems we ourselves are saddled with, and to live full and abundant lives. When each of us puts our kids first, before our own difficulties even, we help create a healthy, promising, joyful future because we send out into the world people who have learned how to resolve conflict, how to honor the good in others no matter what, how to find balance in a tumultuous world. Divorce is not the worst thing that can happen to a family–though it does “suck monkey balls.” It’s a path to healing ourselves and each other.

So when I see my fiancé and his ex-wife chatting over tea, I’m really proud. The two of them must have done a lot of internal work to heal their wounds to be so kind to each other through one of the hardest jobs known to mankind–raising another human being.

*This post is not about families experiencing physical or mental abuse requiring immediate intervention–it’s about the standard, run of the mill divorced family with parents sharing custody. Abusive situations demand that the ties between abuser and child, or abuser and abused spouse be severed, sometimes permanently.

Mandatory Schooling for Parents Who Don’t Like the Word “Mandatory”

Perhaps you are one of the many parents who approach parenting not just as something that happens to you, but as a vocation, a sacred duty, a calling. If you are, I like to think of you as “on-purpose parents.”

Whether you planned to have a family or were surprised by it, if you’re an on-purpose parent, you make it your business to raise your kids according to your deepest beliefs, your inner-knowing. You want to raise kids who are awake, aware, creative, civilized, powerful, joyful, giving, self-directed, and above all, free.

On-purpose parents like us want to show our kids how to live a free and abundant life. For us, the word “mandatory” anything feels intrusive and oppressive, after all, we’ve already taken full responsibility for our children. For a grown adult deeply committed to parenting, hearing that something is “mandatory” raises the hackles. Nevertheless, every parent in Colorado must sign an acknowledgment that school attendance is mandatory in this state.

When I signed the acknowledgement, my internal dialogue went something like this, “Hey, who’s raising these kids? Who’s reading every darned parenting book they can lay their hands on? Not you, Ms. Attendance Clerk. Who’s paying the bills? Not you, Mr. Superintendant. Who’s staying up into the night with their child suffering from an asthma attack? Not you, Mrs. School Board Member. Who’s cooking, cleaning, folding clothes, matching socks, kissing boo boos? Certainly not you, Mr. Governor.

The Government Tells Great Parents What to Do

My BFF Alexis, like me, is an on-purpose parent. She’s also an entrepreneur, a go-getter, an inspiration to woman all over the country who look to her for guidance as they reach for their fullest potential. She’s had to make the call about whether to bring the kids with her on her travels or to find someone here to care for them. She decided to bring them with her and show them the world.

And so, the kids have missed a lot of school—really, a lot. Now the school district has served her with a summons to appear for a hearing to force her to sign a contract that the kids won’t miss any more school this year, backed up by the threat of fines or jail. The summons even said the kids are failing to achieve even the simplest of academic goals (despite the note on one’s report card that said she’s doing really quite well).

Wait. What? Forcing? Can they do that? Can a school district ORDER a parent to keep their kids in school?

More

Skechers Zevo-3: How far is too far for marketing to kids?

One of my very favorite organizations (headed by the remarkable Dr. Susan Linn), Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) filed a petition with the FCC to declare that Skechers new television program violates the very few rules we have in the United States about marketing to kids.

The FCC has given the public a chance to comment on the petition. Of course, I couldn’t help myself. This is my comment. If you’d like to comment too, see how to file a PDF here:

http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2010/db0922/DA-10-1762A1.pdf

October 11, 2010

Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554

RE: MB Docket No. 10-190.

Dear Ms Dortch:

This provides my comment on the Petition for Declaratory Judgment filed by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood for your consideration.

I am a mother, an attorney, and a former advertising executive. I worked in the advertising industry for about nine years before I retired to raise a family. My clients included Carl’s Jr. Restaurants, the LA Dodgers, Unocal, and Acura Automobiles among others. As a strategist and a manager, I have effectively leveraged communication for the benefit of my clients. This work I enjoyed. Over time, however, it became all too clear to me that the advertising and marketing industry is not one rooted in a sense of fair play or honor but in profit. The ad industry uses information, a key element to a free market economy, to its exclusive advantage. This information includes the emotional and psychological makeup of a target audience, not simply economic, demographic, and factual information. Feeling that I was compromising my integrity was also a part of the reason I retired from the industry.

During my years in advertising, which were quite exhilarating, I learned that ad campaigns are built primarily around creating and filling psychological needs in the target audience. For instance, in the automotive business, our strategies were based on people’s aspirations for more. “I want to look more [prestigious, smarter, cooler, etc.] than I feel inside.” Our campaigns were intended to make people feel better about who they were when they bought the right automobile.

Internally, though I didn’t much like the thought of making people feel less than they were, then “helping” them to feel better by buying a certain automobile, I was able to justify it because we were speaking to adults with some education.

More

Kids, Schools, and Shots! Oh My!

In my inbox recently:

Dear Parent or Guardian of (Name),

If your child will be entering 6th or 10th grade this fall, please listen to the following message: All 6th and 10th graders must have received one dose of the Tdap vaccine before they begin school in August. The Tdap vaccine protects against Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (whooping cough). To avoid any missed school, contact your health care provider today to schedule an appointment before school begins. If your child has already received one dose of this vaccine, please disregard this message. Thank you for helping to keep your child’s school healthy.

You’ve probably gotten this or something like it. Many parents read it and rush off to the pediatrician to make sure their kids have been vaccinated because they think someone will meet them at the schoolhouse door and block their germy unvaccinated kids from getting in. The message to moms and dads is that they have no choice in the matter. But do they?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

When the Government Has a Say

There are two main areas where the government gets actively involved in meddling with an otherwise functioning and health family—education and vaccination. Federal, state and local governments all have laws and regulations about these two aspects of every child’s life. At the local level, these are affirmative laws, meaning that something is required of the family to satisfy a state’s interest in those children.

In the case of education, all children must receive a basic education through 12th grade. The reason for this is to reduce the burden on the country’s budget in having to care for the kids who are unable to fend for themselves as adults. I’ll save the debate of rightness or wrongness for another post as I’ve plenty to say on that too.

The other is vaccination.

The Story of Mandatory Vaccination

In 1905, when vaccines first became widely used, the Supreme Court ruled that the state could force parents to make their children submit to small pox vaccine[i].

But that ruling hasn’t been challenged since and for good reason. No one wants a ruling on whether that’s still good law because the rationale for the Jacobson decision has begun to fade due to the growing understanding that vaccines themselves pose a risk to children and that parents have a right to refuse treatment on behalf of their children.[ii]

Because the safety and efficacy of vaccinations are far from conclusive, a ruling overturning the Jacobson decision could endanger the CDC’s “mandatory” vaccine schedule. More and more parents might then opt out of vaccines if they knew more of the potential dangers and if it weren’t such a social stigma to be unvaccinated.

Vaccine manufacturers “immunized” against lawsuits

Vaccines had such a high rate of reactivity that Congress “immunized” vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits even for their own negligence in developing, testing, and making vaccines. Before this immunity, the pharmaceutical industry had begun to shy away from developing new vaccines because it’s impossible to make one that doesn’t cause injury. Their exposure to suit slowed research and development for new vaccines to a crawl.

Attempting to rescue the industry because of fears our population would be at grave risk without mass vaccination, Congress prohibited lawsuits for vaccine injuries. Forever.

No other industry in the world enjoys this kind of immunity. None. And with it, manufacturers have come flooding through the CDC’s doors insisting that must be vaccinated against all kinds of childhood illnesses that are both mild and catastrophic.

Consequently, through the miracle of modern “agency capture,” the CDC and FDA have become strongholds of the pharmaceutical industry. Thus, the people who stand to profit by mandatory vaccination are often those that set the policy behind it.

More

To Spank or Not to Spank?

The debate goes like this:

Pro: Spanking works. It deters children from doing things that will hurt himself or herself or someone else. If a kid sticks his finger in a socket, slap his hand and he won’t do it again. If she runs across the street into traffic, swat her bottom and she won’t do it again. A parent has the right and duty to use corporal punishment to civilize a child and to make them safe.

Con: Spanking hurts both child and parent. Spanking is a violation of the child’s bodily integrity and shuts down emotional development. Children learn to obey not because they know the difference between right and wrong but because they fear getting hit. Spanking is really a parent’s own temper tantrum and there’s no excuse for a parent acting like a baby. Parents can find other ways of training and controlling the behavior of a young one. A child has a right to be free from the fear of battery and abuse.

My son, on his way to the pillaging.

Massachusetts lawmakers took up the question back in 2007 and even that liberal, pro-child state refused to disallow parents to spank. But 19 countries, including the United Kingdom and Sweden, have banned spanking outright.

The United States, however, is generally pro-corporal punishment as a tool of discipline. One would be hard pressed to find a parent who says they would absolutely never spank their child. Even die-hard pacifists like me can imagine situations where it would happen.

Still, the number of parents deciding consciously to not spank has grown to 50% from 25% just a few years ago.

Parents who do not spank say that the biggest issue is the possibility of escalation. Parents do get frustrated, regularly. And having a hard and fast rule of never spanking helps parents monitor themselves, take care of their internal emotional life, and excuse themselves from the conflict before they lash out at their child.

How could anyone spank a kid with that face?

Parents who believe in spanking say that it’s okay for kids to see their parents lose their cool because that’s reality and kids need to learn to deal with other people’s reactions. More

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