Tag Archives: kids

Teaching dating skills to elementary students

Dear elementary school teachers,

My daughter is dating. I know she’s dating because she told me. We talked about it.

I asked her what dating meant to her and what it meant to her dating partner. I asked if they had talked about it before they agreed to date, if they’d discussed what that word, that concept meant to them, what they wanted from their relationship, why they wanted to add this label to it. I asked if they had discussed boundaries and expectations. I asked if they had talked about what this label would change about their relationship with each other – and what it might change about their relationships with other people.

I made sure that my daughter understood that dating someone should not mean that you have to give up other friendships, and that if the person she is dating asked her to stop being friends with others or got jealous of other friendships, it was time to have The Talk – to remind her partner about mutual respect and trust, and boundaries and expectations, and the fact that we don’t own each other, not even when we’re dating.

I know this is unusual, for a parent to have this kind of conversation with their elementary school student about this topic. I wish that wasn’t the case.

Because, you see, this is the exact same conversation I have with my daughter every time she tells me she has a best friend.

Kids in love1

At this age, in this setting, there is very little difference between having a bestie and dating someone. Both need to be grounded firmly in open, honest, respectful communication. Both need to start with conversations about what this label means and why each person entering into it wants to take their relationship to “the next level.” They need to talk about what they want from this next level relationship, what it means for them, what it looks like and how it will affect things like recess activities, lunch time, class activities, etc. Often I even ask if they’ve considered what will happen if/when they “break up” because best friendships rarely last forever. (I always assumed that was the reason all the “best friend” necklaces came with the hearts pre-broken…)

My best friend broke it first.

Today my daughter came home and told me that dating had been banned at school. That the teachers had gotten everyone together and announced that there would be no more dating, that school was for learning and that they were all too young to date anyway. “Maybe when you’re in high school, or college…” As if human beings are ever too young to form and negotiate relationships.

I asked her if “best friending” had also been banned. Her eyes got wide as she made the connection I’m making here. No, they hadn’t. And wasn’t that odd? Why was she being taught that one kind of relationship forming was something she was too young for, too immature to handle? Why was she being taught that romantic love was too complex for her to navigate, while still being allowed, encouraged even to create “best friend” relationships that often devolved into battles for control, bullying and trauma. Why was one form of relationship being legislated away while another with equal potential for harm was being lauded and upheld? Why was she being taught that this one way of identifying with and relating to other students was “bad” or “inappropriate?”

She wanted to know why her teachers seemed so hung up on this word, this concept: dating.

I could only assume that it was because somehow we’ve equated dating to sexual intimacy, and that might scare teachers who are unprepared to see their elementary school students as physical beings who crave physical affection (not sexual attention, just physical touches like hand holding and hugs and heads resting on shoulders – and yes, even kissing because those things feel good…) Or perhaps it was because teachers thought about what dating meant to them as adults, or even high school students when hormones and a lack of real information pushed it toward the sexual and they couldn’t bear to think about their sweet elementary students in that way. That’s fair, but… elementary students by and large aren’t there yet either.

girlfriends

I told her I could only imagine it was because they had forgotten the sweet innocent puppy love of elementary school, the tender hand holding, the doe eyed looks, the silly gifts, the little ways of learning to say I love you, the little ways of learning how to hear I love you, the little ways that felt and what it meant.

I told her I thought maybe her teachers had forgotten this age of exploring, dabbling, trying on new words, new identities… What does it mean to date? What does it mean to be a best friend, to have a best friend? What does it mean to be a girlfriend, a boyfriend? Is it okay to have more than one dating partner? Is it okay to have more than one best friend? What do these words mean? How can be negotiated so that everyone gets what they want from the relationship in a respectful and mutually affirming way?

boyshugging

What does rejection feel like? How can they handle it? What can they do if someone they like doesn’t like them back, or doesn’t like them as much, or not in the same way? What are appropriate responses?

These are all really valid and important questions and skills that students need to practice and learn before they become adults, before they become tweens and teens even, before the hormones kick in and flood their brains and make them forget that before they get sexual, they need to get real. They need to check in and make sure that they are operating under the same set of assumptions, expectations, desires, goals and boundaries as their partner. Whether that partner is purely platonic, romantic or physical is irrelevant IF students have learned to start their relationships from a place of open, honest, respectful conversation and IF they’ve learned how to handle rejection when it comes, because it will come.

I know you all have a lot on your plates already and I’m sure that the idea of having this kind of conversation about dating with your students is terrifying. I imagine you are already hyperventilating over imaginary phone calls from outraged parents.

But what if we simply backed it up. What if we went back to that moment when you heard that students were dating. What if, instead of banning it, you asked the students what it meant to them? What if you led them with questions like the ones I led my daughter with, the same ones we should be asking of students who are forming best friendships, and listened to what they had to say? What if you helped students to think critically about it themselves?

What if you used this moment to remind your students that all relationships – friendships, work partnerships, relationships, marriages, benign acquaintanceships, all of them are founded on the same basic principles, the same foundation of mutual respect, trust and vulnerability. If those are in place, the rest can build from there, but without those it all crumbles.

What if you used this moment to remind students that if they aren’t comfortable having those challenging conversations and being honest with each other about what they want, what they need, what their boundaries are and listening to and being respectful when someone else tells them the same – they aren’t ready to take that next step – whatever it is.

Respect

It’s not their age that limits them, it’s their skills.

So let’s help them practice, now while it’s safe, now while the stakes are low, now while we’re not actually worried about the sexual aspect or the physical aspect. Let’s help them build their emotional relationship skills so that when they start dating “for real” and those hormones have kicked in, communication is a habit, respect is a habit, honesty is a habit, listening is a habit, setting and respecting boundaries is a habit, coping with rejection in healthy ways is a habit…

Why not use this time to make sure that all the elements of forming healthy relationships are there, ready to be utilized before things get messy.

We talk about “teaching to the test” so often, but we forget, life has bigger tests with higher stakes than any politician could dream up. When I look at the statistics on teen dating abuse, on teen sexual abuse, on teen pregnancy and STI rates – what I see is that we are failing our students. I know there is all kinds of weird baggage around the idea of teaching elementary students sexual health education – I get that. (I hate it, but I get it.) But this isn’t that. This isn’t about sex education. It isn’t about sex. It’s about relationships.

How to negotiate them. How to form them. How to maintain them. How to renegotiate them as they grow and change. How to end them if they become toxic. How to spot if they are becoming toxic.

Toxic

This is about the health of our students.

Banning them from interacting with each other in ways that feel natural to them, ways that they see modeled all around them is a failing strategy. But teaching them how to interact in healthy ways, that is something we can all pitch in and do. Helping them slow down and think about the words they are using and the meanings they are creating, that is a life long skill, and its one they desperately need. We all do.

Friendship

Imagine how much pain you would have been spared if someone had only taught you this lesson instead of making you piece it together on your own.

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Running toward inspiration.

I don’t run. Unless Zombies are chasing me. And they never are.

I used to be a sprinter, back in middle school and briefly in high school. But the jogging, running for miles and miles thing – never understood that.

And then, yesterday, I ran a 5K with my youngin.

She’s been training for it since September with a group called Girls on the Run (Can I just say – I don’t think they thought that name through. As a girl’s empowerment group, shouldn’t they be “Girls Running Into the Fray” or “Girls Run the World” or… I mean, aren’t girls sort of on the run already, and isn’t that what we’re trying to change…?) anyway, poor name choices aside, it’s a cool group and it has done good things for my kid.

Twice a week for two months she would stay late at school and train with two coaches and 16 other students – all female.

They stretched, ran and practiced positive self-talk and team building for an hour and a half twice a week.

Two weeks ago they ran their practice 5K around a lake by our house that I like to ride my bike around. When I signed the permission slip for her to go there was a box for people who wanted to run with their girls to check. I asked The Kid if she’d like me to come do it with her and she said yes, so without really thinking it through, I checked the box and committed myself to running 3.5 miles around a lake. (The practice run was longer than the actual run because… That’s just how big the lake is.)

On the designated day, we showed up at the lake, stretched, listened to a wee pep talk and started running. Then we stopped and walked a bit. Ran a bit, walked a bit. As we got to the last 1/4 of the route The Kid and I decided to sprint, walk, sprint, walk. That was silly and fun and made us both giggle. It took us about an hour to complete our lap around the lake.

We didn’t care – we’d had fun, that was what this was supposed to be about. It was a win in our book.

About a week before the official race day I got an email about The Race that said there would be about 5,000 people running. I told the youngin and asked if she’d like me to do the run with her. Again, not thinking this through all the way.

She said yes and I registered.

I announced on facebook that the apocalypse was imminent and that when future generations asked when it began, those who survived could say it all started on November 8th at The Great Candy Run in Denver, CO at around 10 in the morning.

I did not train. As I told one of my friends, training is for people who intend to repeat their mistakes.

Instead, I woke up Sunday morning, put on a tutu, spray painted my pigtails a matching green, borrowed my kid’s polka dot socks, ate breakfast and went to the race with my kiddo. I didn’t even wear running shoes because they didn’t match my outfit and I was going to be silly, and support my kid and remind her that this was for fun.

running in tutus

Tutu Momma and her “Panda Blur” aka The Panda Express getting ready to run.

I was not going as a runner. I don’t run.

The apocalypse (zombie or otherwise) did not start yesterday – but something else did.

My daughter and I ran together – the whole 5K, walking only once at the 1/2 way mark where they were handing out water. We slowed to a fast walk there and sipped a cup of water each and then started running again. When we made the final turn on the course, I looked at my youngin and said, “Do you have anything left?” She nodded. “Want to leave it on the track?” She nodded, and together we sprinted the last 100 or so yards, kicking into high gear, we ran all out, putting everything we had into every step and left it all on the track.

It felt great. Better than great. Doing something like that with my kiddo and finishing strong – together – was… awesome.

At the beginning of the race, the youngin told me that she wanted to finish in the top 3,000 because those people got medals. There were 6,000 participants. I figured even if we just walked fast we’d probably make it. But then we started running, and we kept running, and when her legs got tired and I asked her what she wanted to do and she said, “let’s go a little more.” and again when she pushed through sore knees and sore feet and kept running and kept running… I realized we were definitely going to make it.

She was going to make it. I was just being pulled along by her strength and her gravity.

girls run the world

Who Runs the World?
These girls!!

When the race results came in, I read them to her. She placed 400th in her class out of 2,300 participants. We placed 1220th over all, out of 6,000 participants.

We ran the 5K in 36 minutes.

Not bad for a first time.

And there it is – I said it – for a first time.

Because… We had fun. We worked hard, we struggled at times, it hurt like hell in places, but we pushed through and we had fun.

And this is how it starts.

You wake up one morning and run a 5K and have fun, so you start thinking – imagine what we could do if we actually trained? Imagine how much fun we could have training together?

And then you run another one. And it’s more fun and sucks less than the first one. And you start wondering, what would it be like to run a 10K or a half marathon. And then, before you know it – you’re a fucking runner.

It’s already happening. Last night I looked up the Spartan races – I’ve been thinking about them for a couple of months, but never thought I could do one, because I don’t run.

I don’t do endurance. I’m a sprinter.

But the Spartan races aren’t just running, they’re also obstacle courses. In the mud.

I like mud.

I discovered that there is a Spartan Sprint happening in my state right around Mother’s Day. A sprint being “only” 5 miles, instead of 10.

And my first thought wasn’t, “5 miles? Welp, guess I’m not doing that.” Nope, my first thought was, “I better get registered so the kid and I can have a training goal.”

I’ll say it again, the apocalypse is imminent.

That said, I learned a lot yesterday.

After years of wondering about runners and fully, firmly believing that they are mentally ill, I had a moment yesterday where I got it, because running with 6,000 strangers was fun. It was crazy and silly and ridiculous, but also oddly empowering to be out on a track with strangers cheering you on, and you cheering on strangers, all of you doing a thing together in a spirit of friendly, collaborative competition. Each pushing the others to do their individual best. Each giving a word of encouragement when we saw another runner struggling to keep going… It reminded me of why I used to run, and of why I quit when the competition started to be less collaborative and started getting serious.

Yesterday I remembered that everything is better when we work together and support each other to get everyone across the finish line.

Yesterday I learned that a tutu and polka dot socks can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE. My sister used to have an alter-ego, Tutu Girl. It was her super-hero persona. She would dress up in a tutu (she had many) and dash about town being kind to people, picking up trash, dancing in the street to make people laugh and generally being ridiculous. It was wonderful! For a while she had a photographer friend taking pictures to put into a book. I suddenly, desperately, hope that she still has them because I learned yesterday that the world needs Tutu Girl.

tutu girl

Tutu Girl all grown up is The Shit.

Attitude matters – and going in wearing silly socks and a tutu helped me remember this was about having fun and being silly and supportive and that it was Not To Be Taken Seriously. I think if I’d had to take it seriously, I would have hated it. I think if my daughter was running with someone who was taking it seriously, she would have been one of the kids crying and saying, “I can’t, I don’t want to, this sucks, can we PLEASE STOP.” Instead of, “Let’s try to make it a little farther before we stop. A little farther yet. Let’s keep running, we can do this, we’re so close, we’re really going to do this!”

If we were competing against others, instead of just doing our personal best – I don’t think we would have liked it. The tutu reminded us that we were there for ourselves, to have fun, and to help others have fun. It was not That Kind of Competition where only one person got to win – the goal was for everyone to win for themselves.

And this knowledge reminded me of the writer’s block I’ve been suffering from, and that I see many of my writer pals, and other artist pals suffering from lately, and I realized that the problem is – we’ve stopped writing and telling stories because it’s fun and we’ve started doing it to Get Published, or to Win a Book Contract or even To Get Readers/Fans…

We’ve gone from wearing tutus and being in fun runs to being fucking runners who take this shit seriously and compete against others. The friends of mine who aren’t struggling with artistic block are the ones who are making art because IT MAKES THEM HAPPY AND IS FUN.

And I think that’s the secret. To everything.

It has to make you happy, it has to be fun. (And I realize for some people being a fucking runner who takes this shit seriously IS FUN – good on ya. I’m not actually bashing you, I just still don’t quite get it. Yet. I think it’s coming though. I did obsessively refresh the race results yesterday even though I suspected we finished somewhere near 2,000th place.) And for some people, writing for a contract IS FUN, or trying to outsell some other writer, or whatever – for some people competition is fun and it’s what drives them and gets them out of bed to Do The Thing – and that is totally okay.

For myself, I think the fun has to come first.

I’m writing again because… I took a step back. I’m not worrying about getting published or winning an agent or selling my stories. I’m not worried about getting someone else’s approval or validation. I’m just having fun discovering the story, writing it down, meeting the characters, putting the pieces together. I’m having fun blogging and putting ideas together and connecting the dots I see in the world and sharing those connections.

Of course, I hope that this story will find readers, because art is meant to be shared – but I’m not worrying about how or when that will happen. I’m just waking up, putting on my metaphorical tutu and my silly socks and doing a thing that makes me smile.

I want to train for the Spartan Sprint not because I think I’ll win, or even want to win, but because I want to see how my tutu and my smile will hold up on a 5 mile mud track filled with barbed wire and fire.

I want to train with my kid, because I loved seeing her face light up as she pushed through another barrier and kept going, and the way she glowed when we sprinted across that finish line together and she got her medal. And because, honestly, without her… I would have quit. I would have walked. Hell, without her, I wouldn’t have even started.

And of course, I want to do it because after reading the latest Dresden novel, I just like having an excuse to yell PARKOUR! at random and not always appropriate moments, and training for a Spartan Race seems like it will be FULL of opportunities to yell PARKOUR!

And that’s it, that’s what I learned yesterday – find the fun, follow the fun, and when it stops being fun – turn and try something else.

Or, put on a tutu. Sometimes they can make all the difference in the world.

Also, it really, really helps to have a partner in crime.

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Filed under Things that work

A Matter of Heart

“Death is what happens when your dream ends.”

Who are you? What makes you, you? What is your “one thing,”  the thing that defines you and sets you apart from everyone else? What’s the aspect of you that you absolutely could not live without? What is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning (I mean, besides hungry children, pets or spouses…) What drives you, motivates you, challenges you and makes you want to push yourself to be better?

What’s the one thing that makes you happy, that sustains you and holds you and keeps you afloat when everything else is falling apart?

Now – what would you do if that one thing was taken away?

amy fellner dominy matter of heart

Would you die for a chance to live your dream?

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy dives deep into ideas of identity and the things we think define us and make us who we are. It challenges us to look inside ourselves for our One Thing, and then look even deeper to see what’s driving that, and then look deeper still…

Abby is a swimmer. Not in the sense that she likes to swim in the summer and splash around in the pool with her friends – she is a swimmer on her way to Olympic gold. She wakes, eats, breathes, sleeps and lives swimming. It’s who she is as much as what she does. Swimming is her one thing, her only thing. It defines her, drives her, pushes her – it owns her.

“I’m fearless in the pool. I’m strong. It’s the only place that I am.”

Until one day… Just before the qualifying meet that she is sure will see her swim into Olympic history, she learns that she can never race again, her heart cannot survive another sprint down the lap lane. Diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, she feels like her heart has betrayed her.

“The Abby I was meant to be is dead. And in her place? Who’s left?”

We watch Abby as she cycles through the 5 stages of grief.

Denial – Clearly she has been misdiagnosed, “It only happened the one time because I let myself get dehydrated.” All she needs is a little rest. She’ll be fine. A second opinion will clear everything up. Her heart is fine.

“I’m Abby Lipman. I’m special… I’ve got talent and drive and heart. I don’t know how to be broken.”

Anger – This is bullshit. It has to be. Nothing is going to take away her dream. And… What about her boyfriend, they were a perfect match, the fittest, blessed by Darwin Himself… “How can we belong to anyone else? No one is fast enough to keep up.” But now that Abby isn’t fast enough to keep up either, will Connor leave her behind? Is she really going to lose EVERYTHING because of her stupid, traitor heart?
“My heart has screwed up everything else. It’s not going to screw this up too.”

Bargaining – It’s okay. She’ll quit taking the medicine that keeps her heart beating steady and strong – but not nearly fast enough to win a race, and she’ll go back to training. All she has to do is win this one race, just this one and she’ll be able to prove to everyone that she’s not really sick.

“I’m not big on praying, but God and I talk sometimes. It never made sense that I should ask God for something that I could work to get on my own. Even now, I’m not asking him for favors so much as explaining how it’s going to be.

Depression – As Abby waits to get the all important second opinion, her depression and anxiety grow. She can’t swim, not fast, not like she wants to, until the doctors clear her. She knows they will, but in the meantime…

“I lay a hand over my heart. It’s beating quiet and regular and slow. Beta-blockers. They’re saving me and killing me at the same time.”

She used to wake up in order to swim, eat so she could swim, keep her grades up so she could swim, lived the straight and narrow so she could swim, went to bed early so she could swim. Everything she did, she did so she could swim. And now… What’s the point of any of it?

“It’s not that I’m losing hope. It’s that I’m losing myself.”

Acceptance – Abby finally comes to terms with her condition, but not in the way you might think. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I’ll just leave this little tease, “I’m not going to lie to myself. Yes, it’s a risk. Life is full of risk.”

A Matter of Heart explores a lot of topics – not just the idea of identity and what makes us special – and what we do, how we continue if that thing is threatened or taken from us – how do we redefine ourselves when we lose our very core, our center?

It also examines romance and love and relationships, from dating to friends to family and how far we’ll go to get and keep love. How twisted we all sometimes get in trying to live up to other people’s expectations of us, and how deeply we internalize those expectations, making them our own. It explores the topics of first love and fate and destiny and how big it all feels the first time we really, truly fall for someone – and what happens when you go to lean on that love and discover it’s not strong enough to hold you up in your moment of need.

This book also explores second chances and new beginnings. “Why can’t dreams be like people? Why can’t you get a second chance at those, too?” and the ways our dreams carry us through our toughest times and push us to keep going, to survive, even after we think we’ve lost everything that makes life worth living, even after we’ve lost the dream itself.

Just a friendly warning – I finished reading this book while sitting in a public place, bawling my eyes out, desperately searching for a tissue. No one offered me one, they all just scooted a little further away from me on the bench. It’s okay though, I eventually found one in my bag.

This book took me through such a roller coaster of feelings. I really felt connected to Abby. I remember those struggles with identity, and while I never had mine so directly challenged, I think it’s something we can all identify with. We’ve all had our dreams tested, some of us are still being challenged to rise above the obstacles we think are standing in the way of our happiness, our One Thing.

Abby shows us that while death might be what happens when our dreams end, rebirth is waiting if we can only be brave enough to dream again.

A Matter of Heart is available now at all your favorite book sellers. I highly recommend getting your copy now!

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Kids, Things that work

Where are all the periods?

I have two amazing books that I desperately want to review now that I’m done writing my 12 Days of Candy series over on my kitchen blog, but first, I need to talk about periods.

Not the punctuation – but the sometimes messy, often awkward, all too often hidden thing that most women experience every month and entirely too few of us really talk about.

Disclaimer – this is a TMI post. It’s been building for a while because I was worried about writing it, worried about squicking people out and losing readers – but fuck it. Periods happen to 50% of the population and as such I think we need to talk about them. Most important – I think writers need to be writing about them, so while there will be some personal shit in here, this is mostly a post about middle grade and young adult books and a certain something that seems to be missing from an awful lot of them.

menstrual flower

I’ll just leave this here…

It’s on my mind for a couple of reasons – the first is that my oldest is in middle school and many of her friends have started going through puberty and many of them have begun getting their periods – so… the horror stories and drama is starting to trickle in. Girls with cramps so bad they have to go home, girls whose periods show up unexpectedly and bleed through their clothing, sending them home embarrassed and in tears only to have to return the next day to taunting and teasing… Girls being called sluts when people find out they’ve started getting their periods as if having a period is any indication at all about what you are or are not doing sexually…

The second reason periods have been on my mind is because mine has been acting up lately (told you this was a TMI post.)

My period used to be like clockwork – I knew exactly when it was showing up, exactly how heavy it would be on each day it was here and exactly when it would end – by exactly I mean to the second.

Then I had kids and it shifted around a bit – as did EVERYTHING in my body – but I adjusted and got reacquainted with “Aunt Flo” and we fell back into a regular and predictable rhythm. And then… Lately, she’s just been mucking things up. It’s like I’m back in middle school, never quite sure if today’s the day she’s going to arrive, if she’s going to be heavy or light, if I have one hour per tampon or four…

Last month The Bitch (That’s what I call my period when it fucks something up for me, Aunt Flo is just an annoying interruption, and my period is what I’d like it to be…) showed up three hours early and trashed my favorite pair of sheets. I haven’t lost sheets to Aunt Flo in decades.

Today I took the dog for a walk to the post office. The line lasted longer than my tampon/pad combination so by the time I walked back home… Well, it was messy. And once again I felt like I was in middle school. I was embarrassed – I mean, I should know better by now.

As I walked home, knowing I would need a shower and a change of clothes, I kept thinking about all the young adult and middle grade literature I’ve been reading lately. I thought about all the epic female led dystopia that is all the rage in book stores and on the big screen and all the awesome female protagonists that are cropping up across genres and I realized what’s been bugging me about them all – There are NO periods.

None.

Katniss does not go on the rag. She does not bleed in the ring or have to worry about grabbing the napsack with pads and tampons when the games start. All she needs is a bow and some arrows. She doesn’t have to get Haymitch to ask sponsors for emergency period supplies or midol. She isn’t incapacitated by cramps, no one can track her because she’s dripping menstrual blood through the arena… (If you think that’s unlikely talk to someone with a heavy period sometime.)

No one in the Lunar Chronicles seems to have a period either. Cress, the Rapunzel character has been trapped in a satellite for decades, there’s no mention of her captor needing to, or forgetting to bring menstrual supplies. As Cinder and Scarlet fly around Earth they are never slowed or stopped or inconvenienced by the sudden appearance of their period. They never have to steal tampons off a shelve during a supply run.

In Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, Saba travels across her globe, multiple times. She is captured, detained, forced to cage fight, escapes, travels some more… And never once has to stop to deal with her period. Never has to fashion a cloth pad, or gather moss, or slow down for a day or… (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the series) I remember when she had sex with the wrong guy in book 2, my first thought was, “Great, now she’s going to get pregnant…” But she didn’t, and it sort of makes sense, because if she wasn’t menstruating, then she couldn’t get pregnant. But why wasn’t she menstruating?

No one menstruates in The Uglies either. You’re an Ugly, then a Pretty, then a Wrinkly. And people there ARE having children, so… Someone is menstruating, but it sure isn’t the teens. The Smokies (rebels living in the woods) don’t have to fashion menstrual pads from moss or scraps of cloth or anything like that. There’s no Red Tent situation going on where they all take a few days off together and just bleed and talk and hang out… Because there are no periods.

Annabeth in the Percy Jackson books doesn’t have a period.

I don’t think Hermione ever got a period. (However, I admit, I never finished the series. Please don’t kill me. Just tell me in the comments if I’m wrong about Hermione’s lack of menstruation.)

In fact, there’s basically only one book that I can think of off the top of my head that talks about menstruation and periods – and that’s Judy Blume’s Are you there God, it’s me Margaret? Which is known by most kids as, “The Period Book” because it’s the only one. (Well, aside from Stephen King’s Carrie, but I hope no one is giving that to their pre-pubescent kids as a puberty primer!)

And here’s the thing – I think this matters. I think that this is a serious issue, because I’m watching my daughters and their friends grow up and I’m seeing how much weirdness and shame and misinformation is flying around out there about periods and… It’s not that hard to combat.

Just fucking writing it into the story, because most girls and most women will get their period at some point in their lives and they will have to deal with things like cramps and bleeding through their clothes and having it show up early and being unprepared, and having it show up late and wondering what that means (It’s not always pregnancy! First, you have to have had sex for that to be a possibility, and then there about a million other reasons periods are late.) Most women and girls will have to deal with weird low energy days where it feels like sitting around menstruating is all they can manage, anything more than that just feels overwhelming… Most women will have to deal with things like changes in breast size and tenderness. And yes, many of us have to deal with moodiness and hormone induced emotional fluctuations.

These are real things that most girls and women have to deal with and it would be GREAT if more books could help us be comfortable with it, talk about, and know how to problem solve when it happens to us.

AND I would LOVE for guys to read books where women have to deal with this stuff, it might help the average uninformed guy be a little more comfortable, a little more compassionate and a little more understanding when it comes to periods. We might not be moody because of PMS, we might be moody because we know we are bleeding through and we need you to stop talking to us so we can go to the bathroom and try to salvage the situation, but we don’t know how to tell you that because society has told us we’re not allowed to say, “Shut up, I’m bleeding and I need to go deal with that.”

I would love to read a book where a girl bleeds through and can’t call home and has to stay in school and cope – how does she manage it? Does she borrow spare clothes from a friend or the office, does she tie her jacket around her waist for the rest of the day, does she hide in a supply closet and pray no one finds her, does the teacher she always hated come to her rescue and earn an ounce of respect in the process? What does the next day look like? How does she deal with the ignorant and thoughtlessly hurtful teasing from her peers? What does that gauntlet feel like, and how do you survive it at a time in your life when everything feels like a matter of life and death?

I don’t need a whole book about it, we have Judy Blume. But I think periods need to feature a little more in books and movies with biologically female protagonists. Whether they’re in space, (Seriously, where did Ripley hide her tampons – and no, you can’t store them all up there at once, it doesn’t work that way.) or a dystopian future, or right here, right now, today… Most women and girls have to manage their periods every single month – shouldn’t that be something that most female characters have to manage at least once a book? Shouldn’t that be something more male characters are made aware of from time to time, after all most men know someone who menstruates…

What about the best guy friend who has to buy tampons for his female friend? Can we have that scene? What about the guy who thinks his girlfriend is super aroused only to discover her period has started, what does that look like, for both of them? What about the male sidekick who knows they are in a hurry, the clock is ticking, the fate of the world is resting on her shoulders – and he has to help her cope with debilitating cramps?

This shit happens in real life. Why isn’t it happening in books?

It’s interesting, the book I just finished reading, Every Day by David Levithan should have covered this, it covered SO MUCH else about the human experience, but not this super basic, absolutely common thing that 50% of the bodies his protagonist inhabited would have experienced… A should have had to deal with a period. At least one. The odds damn near insist on it. And yet… All too predictably… No one menstruated in that book either.

When I included a scene in my YA novel where my protagonist makes a point of stocking up on tampons before ditching her mom’s credit card and going into hiding 99% of my beta readers told me those tampons better mean something. It wasn’t enough to have her simply be aware that she’d be getting her period and want to be prepared. It wasn’t enough to simply remind the reader that this is a thing that most women have to deal with. No, it had to mean something.

And yet… I can think of half a dozen MG and YA books that talk about morning wood, spontaneous (and often inconvenient and ill-timed) erections that cause embarrassment for a male protagonist – not because it means anything, but because that is a thing that happens to many adolescent males. Sometimes it is put in for humor, or character growth, occasionally it adds to the conflict and plot development, here’s one more thing this poor kid has to deal with – but it’s there, it’s talked about. It is present. And therefore, so are the coping mechanisms, the survival guides, the tips and tricks to getting through it.

Girls need that too.

They need a guide to tell them how to talk to their peers about periods, to explain what it does and does not mean (It does mean they are developing physically, it does not mean they are sexually available or sexually active.) The same with breast growth – it is an independent bodily function that has no bearing on who the person growing the breasts is, what they are interested in, how smart they are, how capable they are, or whether or not they’d like anyone to try to get in their pants.

The state of sexual health education in this country is abysmal. So, writer friends – we need to help. We need to include little moments of reality in even our most fantastical works. We need to remember that periods and nocturnal emissions and breasts and morning wood and hormone induced emotions are things that are happening to kids as young as 9 and they continue through high school and college and into adulthood.

We need to include these little inconveniences and embarrassments and challenges into our characters – what do they do with them, how does it change them, how do they learn and grow from these experiences?

My family makes fun of me for always being overprepared. But I can trace that character trait straight back to a day very much like this one. A day that ended in a bit of a mess and an emergency shower and a ruined pair of pants. That was the last day I ever left the house without tampons and a pad.(Even if, 23 years later I couldn’t get to a bathroom to use them in time… Sigh.)

A HUGE amount of my inner strength and resilience and ability to take on most challenges stems from the shit I survived while menstruating in middle school. Kids are fucking ruthless. Uninformed & misinformed kids are a thousand times worse.

A few good books sure would have helped.

So, dear readers who made it to the end of this messy post – please – drop the names of any novels you can think of that deal with periods and menstruation in any way in the comments. I’d love to start making a list.

And dear writers who are still reading, please see if you can include a little more of the nitty gritty reality of growing up in your MG and YA novels. The kids these days could use all the help we can give them.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Age Inappropriate

I got in an argument on twitter a couple of nights ago. Shocking, I know.

It was about a topic that I’ve been trying to address for a while now, and that night it boiled over. My brain stayed awake all night working on this post while the rest of me tried to sleep.

It’s once again about semantics, about words and phrases not meaning what people want them to mean.

In this case, age appropriate sex education.

There are two parts to this that people seem to need to get their heads around.

First – too many people hear “sex education” and interpret that as, “teaching kids how to have sex.” Which is super weird to me, because – no. That’s not what it’s about. AT ALL.

In fact, these days it’s mostly only telling kids to “Just say no!” which is completely unhelpful and often harmful.

Kids need, and deserve more than that. Kids have the right to know about their bodies and how they work. They have a right to know about relationships, about intimacy – and all the forms that can take. And they have a right to that information BEFORE it is too late for them to use it, not AFTER the adults in their lives are comfortable sharing it.

And that is the second part that people need get get their heads around. “Age Appropriate” is not what most adults think it is.

This is how the twitter “discussion” started. A very angry man was yelling at an abortion provider that teens shouldn’t be having sex and therefore shouldn’t need abortions. A supporter responded, “So you support universal sex education?”

He screamed back, “Of course, but what’s the point of teaching younger and younger children this? Wait until they’re old enough.”

My response infuriated him. “8 year old girls are getting their periods & being pressured into sex. They need to be educated BEFORE, not after.”

He interpreted my statement to mean that I thought 8 year olds should be having sex and we should teach them how.

Seriously? That’s what you read?

It didn’t matter how many times I sent him the link explaining that we know unequivocally that educating children about their bodies, including the correct names for all their body parts helps predator proof them and protect them, he could only see that I said 8-year-olds were having sex. He just kept shouting back that that was illegal, ignoring my distinction that it is less about it being illegal for an 8-year-old to have sex, and more that it is illegal to have sex with an 8-year-old. Feel the difference – don’t blame the 8-year-old. They don’t know any better, because WE ARE NOT TEACHING THEM.

Here’s the thing –

Our youth live in a world where they are constantly bombarded with highly sexualized images. They are constantly given messages that women should be sexy and crave male attention, that to be a successful male you have to be “getting some” from a hot girl. Sex is everywhere, all around them.

fast cheap sex sells

Wait, what are they selling!?

Watch the Disney channel sometime, and think about the words of Peggy Orenstein who wrote a book about the Princess to pole dancer trajectory that Disney has created for girls. The idea that for girls sexuality is something they perform, it’s about how they look and how they make other people feel, not how they themselves feel or what they want for themselves. And look at the messages those same shows are giving boys about their role, how it shows that they should be the instigator, the aggressor and how no means maybe and maybe means yes.

Dominate

Sexuality – a public performance, or an intimate experience?

Right now the adults in charge seem to be interpreting “Age Appropriate” as “The age WE are comfortable thinking a child might use this information.”

We need to knock that off and start thinking about age appropriate as, “The age a child is curious about a thing.” “The age BEFORE a child NEEDS to know.” “The age when a child is introduced to a thing by society at large and might need help understanding it.”

I had a deep and wonderful and safe conversation with my 8 year old about sex and rape and consent last year, when she was still seven. I didn’t start the conversation, she did. I just answered her questions, with honesty – and yes… I threw the ball a little high. I discarded the tired advice that you give children only enough information to barely answer their question. Instead, I pushed a little, opened the door a little wider and gave her MORE.

That conversation has helped her feel safer about the images she sees in the world around her, it has helped clarify the boundaries that she can set for herself and the ways that she can do that, it helped make her feel strong and empowered and capable. It gave her the words to set boundaries, not just with a firm “no!” but also with an emphatic “yes!”

(Because one of the problems for girls is that we have told them they are the gatekeepers of sexuality and that their job is to say no. Has anyone else ever considered that perhaps the reason girls “tease” or sometimes start out with no, and slide into maybe, and finally cave into yes – thus fulfilling the damaging and rape enabling stereotype of no means maybe and maybe means yes – is because girls by and large have not been taught that they CAN SAY YES? Because girls who say yes are sluts and whores and BAD GIRLS.)

The other thing this conversation did, is it told my daughter that I was safe, that her home was safe, that she had a person and a place where she could discuss anything without shame or fear, where she could get information BEFORE it was too late to use it.

I’ve had similar conversations with my oldest daughter.

These conversations did not destroy my children’s childhood. I did not ruin them by answering their questions respectfully or by giving them a safe space to ask them. Because this is an argument that is thrown at me ALL THE FREAKING TIME when I advocate for educating children about their bodies, about sex & sexuality.

“Why not just let them be kids?” This was the heart of President Obama’s ignorant comments against selling emergency birth control over the counter to all females of reproductive age.

As if giving a child who is clearly already having sex (or they wouldn’t need Plan B) access to medicine to help them not become a mother ruins childhood! Um – BECOMING A MOTHER RUINS CHILDHOOD.

I want to cyber shout that over and over and over again.

You want to protect childhood – you make damn sure children aren’t becoming parents.

“Let them be kids” is the same argument I hear when I advocate for open, inclusive sex education that discusses homosexuality, trans* people, and the full spectrum of gender expression, and other non-reproductive, heteronormative sexual issues.

As if some kids don’t already have parents who don’t fit that narrow heterosexual box. As if some kids don’t already know that THEY don’t fit in that narrow hetero box. As if those kids don’t also deserve healthy, accurate, truthful information about their bodies, their sexuality, their gender expression.

As if we don’t already have kids being bullied to death because they don’t perform their gender and sexuality the way society at large tells them to.

Refusing to teach kids about their bodies, refusing to teach them about sex, refusing to create safe spaces for them to ask questions and get honest, medically accurate answers because it makes US uncomfortable to think about IS NOT HELPING. Refusing to teach ALL kids about the WHOLE rainbow of human sexuality is NOT HELPING.

You may disagree with 9-year-olds having sex – most of the 9-years-old having sex also disagree with it – but denying them information, medical services and a safe space to talk about what is happening is NOT protecting their childhood. It is simply denying them agency in their own lives. And it is creating more space for predators to work.

You may be scared of homosexuality, or not understand trans* people, or be confused by all the variance that exists outside of a very narrow one man, one woman in wedded bliss sexuality – but denying kids information about it, doesn’t help them. It hurts them. And it allows room for bigotry and hate to spread.

Denying a reality you don’t like won’t make it go away. It just makes it darker and harder for the people living it.

I remember a friend who found out in middle school sex ed that she’d been being abused and raped for 3 years. She didn’t know because she didn’t have the words. She didn’t know because it had started so young. And even afterward, it took her months before she was able to really believe it and to feel safe enough to speak it, to name it, to ask for help.

I could share countless stories of kids with parents less liberal than mine who only realized AFTER they’d been abused, assaulted, raped that that was what had happened, because sex ed came too late for them. Or who didn’t feel like they could call it rape, even after they learned the words, because they hadn’t actually said no, because they didn’t know how to say no safely, they didn’t know how to say no without putting themselves in further harms way. Or they didn’t say no because they didn’t really understand that what was happening to them was sex and that they could say no!

The common denominator in the vast majority of child sex abuse is that the children didn’t have the words, the information, the power to get help.

The common denominator is that WE FAILED THEM as a society, because we did not educate and empower them.

And it isn’t just the victims we are failing. I remember a boy in my middle school who really didn’t know that he was walking the halls sexually assaulting girls by grabbing their breasts, who was genuinely shocked when my friend accused him of rape and prosecuted him – because the last girl he’d had sex with that way hadn’t said anything, and anyway my friend had already had sex with another guy, so how could he even have raped her? He didn’t have the words either, he was just doing what the world around him said he could and should do to “be a man.”

While I don’t want to create wiggle room or excuses for people who commit sexual assault or rape – the brutal truth is, they are often victims of social conditioning. Conditioning that tells them that THEIR JOB is to get sexual favors from other people, that tells them their self-worth is counted in the number of notches on their bed post, that tells them that in order to “be a real man” they have to get the girl – at any cost.

Just as many victims of rape are additionally victims of social conditioning which never gave them the tools to be more than passive recipients of sexual attention, that says their self-worth is tied to the number of men who want to “tap that”, that tells them in order to be a “real woman” they have to be pleasing to men – no matter the price.

alcohol date rape drug

Don’t ask, just get her drunk…

This is rape culture.

This is the battle we are fighting. It isn’t about saving kids from sex. It is about educating our youth about this culture. It is about giving them the tools and information they need to make healthy decisions. It is about breaking down the millions of messages they get in the media every day telling them how to perform their sexuality.

sexuality images

Is this the idea of sexuality we want our youth to carry?

So we have a choice – accept those messages and let our children embrace them as Truth, or push back.

And we push back with education. Education that empowers them. Education that helps them question the way the world is presented in movies, on TV and radio, on billboards.

We push back by creating more safe spaces for children to ask questions and get real answers, by empowering more adults to become askable adults.

We do it by ending the wall of silence and shame that surrounds genuine sex and sexuality in our culture and replace it with vast open spaces for real discussions.

We push back by teaching children about their bodies, about bodily autonomy and sexual empowerment, and about the whole rainbow of gender and sexual expression that exists in this world.

We do it by teaching them the truth that sex is supposed to feel good for everyone involved, that the primary reason adults have sex is BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD, and that if it isn’t feeling good – it’s time to call a time-out.

We push back by preparing our children to live in the world we’ve created, rather than trying to protect them from it.

Face it – if telling our children the truth about our world will destroy their childhood, then we’re doing it wrong and we need to change the world we’re creating for them, not put blindfolds over their eyes and then blame them when they stumble.

 

 

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Filed under Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Random questions

My 8-year-old woke up with a list of questions. An actual list, that she wrote down last night while she was reading and before she could fall asleep – she didn’t want to risk forgetting them.

We had so much fun with them this morning, I decided to share them with you – with her permission of course. And some commentary, of course.

She’d love it if you left your answers to any of the ones that tickle your brain in the comments.

And now – Random questions from AJ –

1. Why do dogs howl at the moon?
Pork!

wolf howling

Hoooowl!!

2. How do bunnies communicate?
Pork!

3. Why don’t wolves hibernate?
Pork!

4. Why are wolves scared of each other?
42

5. Why is it “The Man” on the moon and not “The Woman” or “The Person” on the moon?
42

Also, patriarchy? Discuss.

man on the moon

Man? on the moon.

6. Why are Native Americans so naked?
42

My husband’s answer – “Do you know what Europeans brought to America? Small pox and shame.”
I think that sums it up nicely, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

7. Will mermaids really die when they get dry?
Pork!

8. Why do sirens drown people?
42

Here there be monsters! We decided that the real underlying question is – why do people create monsters?

9. Why are unicorns and fairies always girls?
Pork!

Perhaps the real question is – why do we tend to write fairies and unicorns as female? Why don’t we write more of them as male? I mean, surely they’re reproducing somehow… Also, reader bias, after all as Gimli says there are plenty of female dwarves, we just fail to recognize them. (I hear it’s the beards!)

unicorn with fairy escort

Are the three small fairies boys or girls? Does it matter?

10. What are stars?
Pork!

11. In the original version – why couldn’t Ariel (the little mermaid) kill the prince?
42

12. Why is it that (in movies) when a boy sees a girl they fall in love?
Pork!

Yes – please discuss this. What is up with the love at first sight BS in kid’s movies!?!

13. Why are weddings white?
Pork!

14. Is it “true” that each time someone laughs a fairy is born?
42

Clearly! Except perhaps not every time a person laughs. Certainly though fairies must be born from those pure, bright, true laughs of children. You know the ones where just being near it warms you up and tickles you too.

Bonus Question – Why is the answer always either “Pork!” or “42”?

Please, feel free to play along in the comments! With thanks from AJ.

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Filed under Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Wading into the vaccine “debate”

I put debate in quotes up there because lately it’s more of an ugly shouting match with both sides screaming that the other side is evil, stupid, ignorant, deliberately and knowingly hurting children, oh, and evil.

I’m going to open by stating that I am not a doctor. I am not an infectious disease specialist. I have no medical training and the last biology class I took was in high school. I have basic working knowledge of germ theory. I know how vaccines work – the vast majority of them involve putting a weakened, mutated, dead or disabled version of the virus into your blood to create an immune response and “teach” your body how to fight off the real thing without actually infecting you with the disease and making you sick.

I have, however, done a lot of independent research into the issue of vaccines, because I have two kids and I am a pretty conscientious parent. My husband and I read a number of books – both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine – and talked with a number of doctors and other experts before reaching any decisions about vaccines. We continue to talk, research and pay attention because there are still choices to be made.

For us, it was never an “all or nothing” one time only choice. We understood from the beginning that there was wiggle room to say yes to some, no to others and always to change our minds and say yes later, or say no to boosters if there were in fact adverse effects.

Here’s a brief summary of what we learned on our journey:

Most vaccines in themselves are relatively safe. That said, not all vaccines are safe for all people. Some people are born with underlying conditions that make it unsafe for them to get certain vaccines. Some of these conditions are easily identifiable at a well baby exam, some of them aren’t obvious/can’t be known until after a child has had their first shot and has a serious reaction. When that happens, future booster shots are contraindicated and withheld. Of course by then the damage is often done, and trying to get compensated for any harm done to the child is nearly impossible, despite the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which was put in place less to compensate harmed children and more to protect vaccine manufacturers and maintain a reliable and consistent supply of vaccines.

We further learned that for the vaccines with the highest reaction rates, those reaction rates decreased significantly if the vaccines were delayed from the CDC ideal schedule by 6 months to a year depending on the vaccine.

Now, as far as we could tell, both of our kids were born healthy. Both my husband and myself were/are fully vaccinated (minus the new seasonal flu crap and other recent “fad” vaccines.) That said, when our first child was born they wanted to start vaccinating her before she even left the hospital. Before she was even a full day old. That seemed overly ridiculous to both of us.

Everything we had read about infant development told us that she didn’t even have an immune system to activate at that early stage, so at best the shot was being wasted, at worst we were shooting our brand new baby up with aluminum salts, formaldehyde, neomycin and sulfa drugs (which my husband IS allergic to!) which are all present in every shot of every vaccine.

We passed.

We were told that we had just signed the death warrant for our child, that we were evil, stupid and uncaring parents. We were also told that we deserved to watch her die a horrible death and that maybe we would vaccinate our next child, but that in the doctor’s opinion we shouldn’t even be allowed to have another child as we were clearly unfit parents.

All because we didn’t want her to get her first vaccine on the day of her birth.

I have to say – to those of you who want to clobber the anti-vaxxers, saying shit like that will not help win anyone over to your side of the fence. In fact, it will push people further away and make them much more reluctant to come to you for information, support or help should they reconsider.

As for us, we had planned out our child’s vaccine schedule before we gave birth to her. We are not anti-vaxxers, we are middle of the road, considered, thoughtful, informed… partial vaxxers? Is that a word? Because again, in this debate all I ever hear is for or against. But there is room for nuance.

In our research the thing we kept coming back to was that – by and large, for most people – vaccines do work. BUT there is a risk involved. That risk can be significantly lessened by postponing the start of vaccines and by spreading them out over time.

See, aside from wanting to stick the first needle into a baby on their first day out of the womb – at the second appointment, the CDC would like doctors to stick them with 6 NEEDLES containing a whopping 8 vaccines. And this is when your child is only 2 months old.

CDC vaccine schedule

CDC Vaccine Schedule, including some for mom!

During this time in an infant’s development – their immune system is at its weakest! Seriously. Up until then infants immune systems are relying on their mothers – first by using the limited antibodies that passed through the placenta, and then – IF the child is being breastfed, through the antibodies passed through the breastmilk. This is called “passive immunity” because the infant is not creating their own antibodies or immune responses, they are passively receiving them from their mom.

At two to three months, the level of antibodies being passed from the mom via breastmilk decreases dramatically as the infant begins, slowly, to create their own. So, during this two-three month age, an infant’s immune system is at its weakest while it shifts from its mom’s passed on immunity to its own brand new immune system. And this is when the doctors would like to hit them with 8 brand new viruses all at once! Weakened, disabled, mutated viruses – yes – but still – that’s a hell of a load for a brand new system just starting to get online. And if it’s flu season, cold season, whatever season – this brand new immune system is already working to figure out how to deal with those active illnesses.

It’s really not a huge wonder that vaccine reactions are higher with this schedule than if parents wait until their child is 6 months old to being immunization. See, at 6 months old – healthy babies have fully functioning “mature” immune systems. And unhealthy kids, who maybe shouldn’t be getting immunized to begin with – well, it’s more apparent by that age that immunization isn’t a good idea and severe, life changing reactions can also be reduced.

I remember talking to our daughter’s pediatrician the first time they met. I asked her about this research that we had done and the conclusion that we came to. For the record, our doctor was VERY pro-vaccine, but she was also pro-informed consent. She said it was her understanding that the CDC had set the vaccine schedule up the way they had because parents were already bringing their children in for well child exams, so it reduced patient visits and increased the chances of parents fully immunizing their children. If they waited to get started at 6 months, and spread the shots out over more visits, they lost parents. It became more expensive (every office visit costs, remember), parents became more selective about which vaccines they wanted and total vaccine rates dropped.

However, if you started vaccinating the infant at birth and gave them a shot, or 6, at every well baby visit – it kept the parents coming back and made the parents feel like something had been done for their child at the visit.

(Like when otherwise intelligent doctors prescribe antibiotics for viral illnesses. The antibiotics won’t help, but the patient wants the doctor to DO SOMETHING. So, they do, even though they know the consequences of that action are ultimately worse for society than the consequences of inaction.)

Thus even if the first batch of vaccines was effectively wasted, the end goal of having fully vaccinated children was achieved. No harm no foul. Except of course for those few kids who had severe reactions. But, you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet and all that.

This rationale for the CDC’s immunization schedule has been repeated to us by several pediatric doctors as we moved across the country with our kids and struggled to find a good doctor in our new home state. (We’re still looking.)

So – the schedule that is in place is not there because it is the most effective, risk free way to treat children, but because it is the most convenient for doctors and the most effective at keeping parents in line. In other words – it’s a political schedule, not a medical one.

My husband and I have believed all along that the immunization debate is, at heart, about mitigating risk. Weighing the risk of the disease – from catching it to living through it or with it – against the risk of the vaccine and living through – or with – any possible adverse reaction.

In doing our research we learned that not all vaccines are created equal. They do not all come with equal risk/benefit ratios. So, we broke them down one by one and created our own vaccine schedule for our children, starting when they were 9 months old. We also agreed they would never, never get more than two shots at a time. And that was assuming that each shot contained only one vaccine. If it was a combo shot – then it was one at a time, spaced at least a month apart. MMR would not happen until our children were two when the risk of severe reaction dropped to negligible levels in healthy kids. There were also a couple of vaccines that we decided to postpone indefinitely, believing that we could get them later if we needed to.

Because of this amended and drawn out schedule, our kids were not quite fully immunized to CDC standards when we packed them up and moved them across the country. We still had a couple of doses of a couple of vaccines to go.

When we landed in our new state, it took us a while to find a doctor who was willing to work with us to complete the schedule on our terms. Unfortunately, when I lost my corporate job, and my corporate insurance, she was no longer available to see us.

I have tried several times to get my kids their last round of shots. But only that last round. Nothing added. No seasonal flu shot. No extra doses of this or that.

Each and every time I have made the appointment (At three different doctor’s offices including one trip to the public health department because they claim they want children vaccinated.) I have been yelled at, shamed, told I was a terrible parent, threatened, told social services should take my children away from me (sometimes this was said in front of my children, who were already freaked out about getting shots and became quite scared that they would be taken from me.) all because I had DELAYED getting them fully vaccinated.

In each case, rather than using the appointment time to actually VACCINATE my children like I was asking them to do, they chose instead to use it to berate, shame and threaten me. And in each case I ended up leaving the office at the end of my hour with my still not fully vaccinated children in tow, angry tears streaming down my face, promising my children we would eventually find a doctor willing to work with us again. We haven’t. I hate even thinking about trying again. I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Now – imagine I was a true anti-vaxxer. Imagine I truly believed that vaccinating my children put them at more risk than not vaccinating them. Imagine then that something changed my mind, that something made me decide to get my kids vaccinated – whether for the full spectrum of childhood threats or for only a few. (Such as my friend who planned to take her child to a developing nation with high rates of a few diseases. She was hoping to get her son vaccinated for just those threats. Note the word hoping. Last I heard she was given the choice between all or nothing.)

Being treated in this way would likely remind me of all the reasons I distrusted the medical profession and big pharma in the first place. It would likely push me right back out of the office. After all, these are people who are already there reluctantly, quite likely looking for an excuse to back out. Why give them one?

If someone who actually WANTS to finish vaccinating their children can be bullied out of the office in tears by people who claim to want to vaccinate said children, imagine what it must be like for someone who is truly on the fence, or who came in for information hoping that the doctor would tip the scales for them one way or the other. Or someone who is rebelling against their community of fellow anti-vaxxers and is already feeling scared and vulnerable. Being shamed, lectured, threatened and yelled at is most likely going to push them back to their supportive, nurturing community, tail between their legs – another horror story to add to the list and validation in their hearts for refusing to see “those doctors.”

When I read tweets or articles yelling at anti-vaxxers, calling them monsters or evil, saying they shouldn’t be allowed to have children – I get really upset, because all of those things have been said about me. All because I did my research and made my own informed decisions about what was best for my children.

I don’t get mad at parents who choose to follow the CDC schedule. I don’t shame them or ridicule them. They are doing what I did – making the best possible choice for their children and their family using the information they had available to them. I do not fault any parent for taking care of their children to the best of their ability.

I don’t get mad at parents who reject all vaccinations either. They too are making the best choice they can for their family with the information they have. If they ask me for information or an opinion, as some have – I tell them what I learned in my research, on my quest. But I don’t try to convince them that my answers are the right answers. They were simply MY answers.

It is my belief that very few parents want to deliberately hurt their children or would knowingly, deliberately put their children at risk. Looking at the debate through that lens, it’s easier to be compassionate for everyone on every side of this issue. We are all looking out for our families first. Then, if we are able, we look out for our wider communities.

Personally, I think if the pro-vaccine folk want to win more people to their side, they should perhaps stop alienating us and calling us monsters and baby killers. Just a thought.

And when one of us does walk in and ask for some vaccines, how about just saying yes? Save the lecture. We’re here, you won. You can gloat when we leave if it makes you feel better, but while we’re there – just give us the damn shot. If it doesn’t kill us, who knows, maybe we’ll come back for more.

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