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Friday, December 12, 2014

Screaming and Crying in Pictures with Santa

Oh, ya, this is adorable. Can't live without a lasting moment such as this. Blech.
(For what it's worth, my mom has said she wouldn't do this again,
if she could do things over again.)
'Tis the season. We see it in our newsfeeds, on our "news" sites, all over the place really - the "hilarious" photos of kids crying on Santa's lap.

No. No, no, no. Why is this even a thing? Why is this considered cute? Why do so many think this is a holiday necessity? What in the name of all that is good and right in the world makes the sight of our most precious kin crying out for safety and security so got-dang funny?

Under no other circumstances would we turn our trusting babes over to someone who is a complete stranger to them, terrifying them and breaking that feeling of security for the sake of a picture that we later use for nothing other than to mock. Let's get our priorities straight here: picture of a screaming, crying child with some dude in a costume OR happy, not traumatized, trusting child? The length of time for which s/he is traumatized is irrelevant, as we cannot debate that the fear they have during those moments is, indeed, traumatizing, as evidenced by the reaction. They're speaking to us! This seems like a no-brainer to me, because I choose to respect my child as I do all other people, because he is a person, no matter how small. I don't believe him to be lesser than because he is shorter than I, because he is younger than I, because he cannot always tell me exactly what he means or how he feels. In fact, those things mean to me that I am responsible for protecting him from that which he finds scary even more than I would the average Joe.

Making fun of our kids' big emotions is not OK.
Putting them in positions to experience fear for the sake of our amusement and sense of obligation is not OK.
One picture is not worth it.
Kids are people, too. Listen to them. Yes, even when they can't speak our language, they can still tell you what they want and need.
You expect your kids to be trustworthy. You're their examples, their models. Breaking their trust at this delicate age (or any age) is not OK.
As with everything, consent matters. It matters more than your feelings and wishes, it matters more than your plans, it matters more than those who tell you it is a thing that "must" be done.
Start teaching them now that their feelings and wishes for themselves don't matter and you're setting them on the path toward a world in which their consent doesn't matter, which is a path nobody wants them on except the predators out there.

So, I'll ask the question again: Is that one photo really that important? More important than all the rest? I don't think so and I think if you jump off the Christmas track for just a moment to consider your children, you won't think so, either.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Ugly, Threatening, Punitive Christmas to You, Too

Here I am happily breastfeeding my son, pinning nummies and crochet patterns and humorous memes galore when I am stopped dead in my tracks by this ugliness and I just had to write.

Puke. Puke, puke, puke.

I'm often criticized for not using Santa in our home, but this is one of the myriad reasons we don't. "You're taking all the magic out of your son's childhood," I am told. This is magic, huh? Wow. We have some very different ideas about the meaning of that word or the meaning of the holiday in sum.

What is magical about focusing on the sometimes unseemly behavior kids exhibit, which we ALL exhibit from time to time, but which we, as adults, can control, whereas our kids have yet to develop that ability? What's so magical about threatening them with punishment, which, if you're being honest, is an empty threat anyway, since, c'mon, you're not going to take Christmas away from your kid?

I was watching Jessie with my son the other day. It was a Christmas episode. In it, one of the children learns about Santa for the first time and is, understandably, appalled and terrified. It went a little something like this:

Zuri: "He watches every child all the time. He knows when you've been sleeping. He knows when you're awake."
Ravi: "A fat man is constantly spying on us? Is it just me or is that really creepy?"
Zuri: "No, it's great! Because if you're good, Santa will bring you toys."
Ravi: "But, what if you are bad?"
Zuri: "Don't be."
and later...
Jessie: "Ravi, why do you look so scared?"
Ravi: "Because Zuri told me a horrible tale about this fat, judgmental gnome, a corpulent voyeur obsessed with children and their naughtiness!"
still later...
Ravi: "Please do not provoke Santa's peevish henchman."
Elf: "Get lost, before I convince a certain someone to put these kids on the naughty list!"

I knew there was a reason Ravi was my favorite. He's not wrong.

This horrible Elven citation above spells out exactly what I don't like about the Santa myth. I can't imagine St. Nicholas would've approved of such a bastardization of his legacy.

Say it with me: our kids are good. They are. We may not always like the way they behave sometimes, but I bet they can say the same for us (and probably more often than we'd be comfortable admitting). The behavior is not the person.

So, cashier at the grocery store, don't ask my son if he's a good boy, because we'll both look at you like you've lost your mind and, depending on my mood, you may get a little schooling on the matter. So, parents down the road, please stop using Santa in attempt to control your child's actions. So, you infamous Elf on the Shelf, unless you're doing things that the kids themselves would consider fun without any hint of spying and reporting back to the judge and jury wearing a red suit and beard, sit your butt down and shut up. These are not my ideas of Christmas and if that means I'm ruining the "magic," so be it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Banning at Home

During Banned Books Week, I generally bore my FB friends to tears with my endless posts about the subject. I'm not sorry. It's important. And I'm constantly shocked by how many people don't know the kinds of books that get banned or that it still goes on today and in our own society.

As a former English teacher, I have strong feelings on the topic. I never censored what my students read in my own classroom. We read many banned books in our classes and I provided them with a wide variety of books for them to read on their own.

As a parent, I feel the same. Sure, there are books I dislike. There are concepts with which I disagree, subject matters I find unpleasant, but I will not ban books from my home. Should my son wish to read a book I find inappropriate, I'll discuss with him my feelings on the matter, let him choose from there, and, should he choose to read it still, discuss the matter further after he has read it. I just can't justify banning books.

Some years ago, it was brought to my attention that a homeschooling parent I knew banned Harry Potter in their home. The parent had never even read the books, but they heard, they feared, they went on to ban. More times than I can count over the years, I've encountered similar stories. Recently, I ran across a story about a mom who was appalled that her son had read the ever-so-graphically-sexual The Grapes of Wrath and was terribly distraught that her teenager was now tainted and scarred by that for life. She'll take a more careful look, from now on, at what she bans from her home.

Really? Where to begin? A) Mommy, your teen has long been thinking of sex without reading Steinbeck's tame version of it in classic literature. B) Keeping sex from your child doesn't keep sex from your child. We're humans. Sex is kind of part of us. C) I fear for the sexual health of your son or daughter, because if you're terrified of a sex scene in a book, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you've not had frequent and open talks about sex with him or her, which will lead to nothing good in the long run.

I could go on and on about the sexual harm one is doing by banning this book and others like it, but I'd like to stick to the point at hand, which is banning books altogether, for whatever reason. I can't think of a better way to screw with a kid than to tell them that whatever they're thinking, whatever they're curious about, whatever they're interested in is wrong, bad, dirty, dangerous, and ugly. In fact, I think that's a pretty good way to drive them right to whatever you fear.

It seems to me that banning books is just another way to delude ourselves into believing we have some sort of control over something. However, we don't. Certainly, we don't have control over what another person thinks just because we've deprived them of reading and thinking on said readings for themselves. Removing sexual content from your bookshelf won't stop your kids from masturbating to, well, anything and everything. Removing books with unsavory language won't keep your kid from calling you an asshole in her journal. Removing all books about magic won't keep a child from using his imagination to fly outside of your bedroom window and change you into a cheese-eating rat in your sleep. We don't need books to teach us to do the things that are in us already. We do need books to help us learn about all aspects of life, because we can't possibly know all that is out there by ourselves, so that we can flesh out our ideas on our own, learn what we do and do not believe. The truth is, we don't get to control our kids any more than we do any other person aside from ourselves. Trying to do so will only drive us further apart from the person and end up a lesson in masochism.

Why not allow children to come to information honestly and draw conclusions from it on their own? That's scary, I know. I know that the possibility that my son might conclude that everything I've taught him goes against his own belief system is more than uncomfortable, but I would be even more uncomfortable knowing that my son is an automaton, spewing about only the ideas I've fed him or allowed him to contemplate, never really learning how he is in the process. So many aspects of parenting are frightening, but raising children who know only how to parrot someone else as opposed to stand tall on their own is perhaps the most frightening of all. Think of all the ramifications of the former.

My son is only four. He hasn't asked to read The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, so, no, I haven't encountered that conversation as of yet. He has asked to read Harry Potter, though. We talked about it beforehand and, as it turned out, he felt he wasn't quite ready for it, so we put it away for later. We're now onto the Bunnicula series. He's in love. Depending on how I read it, what tone and tempo I employ, it could be scary, so I keep that to a minimum at his request and we happily read together every night. We've already read some hotly contested books such as James and the Giant Peach, Where the Wild Things Are, The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Where's Waldo?, The Giving Tree, A Christmas Carol, and countless more.

We'll continue to read whatever we want until he no longer wishes to read together and then he's free to read what he wishes on his own, because, and repeat after me here, I do not control my child.