Category Archives: Hard Things To Talk About

Don’t let it happen to you: 7 tips to help prevent your child accidentally being left in the car.

It happened again. Another baby was left in a car and later died.

This is so sad. But this guy doesn’t need any judgment. His baby is dead. She’ll never be alive again. He needs compassion. Already, I’ve seen nasty things posted about this. Even the article says he ‘forgot’ to drop his daughter off at daycare – the quotes being theirs.

Help from a toy: Keep a stuffed animal in your child's car seat when they're not in the car. Move it to the front when they're strapped in.

Help from a toy: Keep a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat when they’re not in the car. Move it to the front when they’re strapped in.

But, as I read the article, I saw was looking for something. And I found it, at the end of the article:

“The father told police that he does not typically drop the baby off at daycare.

On Thursday, he told officers, he was not operating in his normal routine.”

Almost always, there’s a change in routine. We do so much on auto-pilot. We don’t want to think so, but it could happen to most people. But there are are a few ways to help remind yourself that there’s a baby in the backseat:

  • If possible, put the baby seat or booster seat behind the passenger’s seat. You have a better chance of seeing the carrier there.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat when it is empty. When the child is in the back seat, the stuffed animal comes up front.
  • If you have a diaper bag or backpack for your child, put it in the front passenger’s seat, where you’re more likely to see it.
  • Speaking of the back seat, if you have anything that you will need at your destination – even if it’s just your wallet – stick it in the backseat. When you go to get it, you’ll see the child.
  • Make it a habit – even when the child is not with you – to check the back seat. It only takes a quick glance, but the habit will save you. Again, the number one reason children get left in the car is that there was a change in routine. If your routine includes looking back there,
  • If there’s often a change in routine (for example: one day dad drops the child off at daycare, the next day mom does), ask the daycare to call you anytime your child is more than fifteen minutes late to drop-off.
  • If none of those appeal to you, a simple solution is to keep a set of sticky notes and a pen in the car. If the baby’s in the back seat, write yourself a note and stick it on the steering wheel, over the horn.

I’d also encourage everyone to read an article called Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime? I will warn you: it was a difficult article to get through. But it entirely changed how I look at these tragedies.

Most people think it can’t happen to them. Or that it only happens to bad parents. Or forgetful ones. Statistics tell us that’s not true. It happens to people from all walks of life.

When these stories appear in the news, don’t use them as an opportunity to judge. Use them as an opportunity to remind yourself to be vigilant.

photo credit: MRBECK via photopin cc

Burying his Mama’s ashes on Mt. Rainier.

When Kai’s mother died and was cremated, he was so sad that she was cremated instead of buried. For several weeks, he’d periodically use his play tools to pretend to build a coffin for her “so she doesn’t have to be burned up”. Later, he would go on to talk about how he wanted “Mama to return to the earth.”

Her ashes were divided up and, through a series of odd and frustrating circumstances, it took several months before Kai got his portion of her ashes. Nobody was quite sure what to do with them, so for a few months, they sat until the time came when he could decide what to do with them.

Yesterday, it was time.

We were going up to Mount Rainier. The ashes came with us.

When we found the right spot, Kai put a picture of him and his Mama in a little hole. (The picture was printed on regular paper so it would be more biodegradable.) On the back of the picture was written “Mama and Kai”.

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

Then, he helped his dad pour the ashes in. He was surprised at how white they were.

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

Kai put a tiny red flower on top, because her favorite color was red. His dad refilled the hole for him.

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

He topped it with a special rock he’d brought from home. On the rock, we wrote “Mama”.

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

Kai sat looking at it a few minutes…

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

…before deciding it needed a flower.

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

Then, after looking at it, he decided, “The rock needs to point to the mountain.” He spent a long time adjusting things.

Burying his Mama's ashes

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

Finally, after much thinking, he was satisfied.

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

We asked if he wanted to say anything. He said no. We gave him a few minutes alone.

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

Then he rejoined us for the hike back out. “Maybe in the future, people will find this. And they’ll know.”

I cannot think of a better eulogy.

Burying his Mama's Ashes on Mt. Rainier

One person’s experience is not necessarily another’s.

When Kai got up this morning, I was about two minutes into this video, “The danger of a single story”, so I started it over.

The video is about how only having a single story (even multiple versions of that single story), can cause problems and misunderstandings.

She says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

I’ve always loved the following passage from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”:

None of them has ever seen a Jew before. I am aware that everything I do now for the next hour represents “Jew”. I walk in eating an apple: all Jews now will eat apples. I tell them I have never lived in a small town: now no Jew has ever lived in the country.

We talk about the importance of taking in many different stories from many different areas.

We talk about racism.

We even talk about how, when I used to do phone work, people, upon hearing I was in Seattle, would often say, “Oh… is it raining?” (Usually? No.)

This is an important thing for kids to learn – adults, too, since a good number of them leave their childhood not understanding it: One person’s experience is not necessarily another’s.

Six months later.

Time works in weird ways.

Six months ago today, Kai’s mother died. It feels like FOREVER ago and, yet, it feels like no time at all.

I thought I’d have a lot to say today. And I do. But maybe too much to properly get on paper.

Mainly, I guess, what I want to say is that Kai is okay. Our family is okay. Some days are a few steps forward, some are a few steps back. But isn’t this how it is in most families? I think the overall trend is forward, which is good.

He is doing well.

He is loved.

He is happy.

Six months later, he’s still here.

And so are we.

And then they say, “What could you have done differently?”

We drove past a pretty bad car accident today. Kai asked, “Why are the police there? There were no police in our crash. Do they send you to the hospital or the jail?”

So we talked about what police might be doing there, what might happen, etc. Kai said, “So… if somebody had been drinking alcohol maybe the police would send them to jail?”

I said I wasn’t certain, but maybe. It would depend on the circumstances. “A lot of times, the police are there to find out what happened, in case it was needed in the future.”

“You mean, like if the person was arrested and had to go to jail? Maybe if they were using their phone or they had too much alcohol?”

“Well, partly, yes.”

I could see him puzzling this through. “Do they say ‘Why did you do this?’”

“I’m sure they do.”

“I bet they say, ‘Were you drinking too much? Were you looking at your phone? Were you looking in the back seat? Were you just not paying very good attention?’”

“Well, I’m not sure. That’d probably be a little leading.”

“Hmm. Well, I bet they do, Mommy.”

A few minutes later, we arrived home. As we were climbing out of the car, he said, “And then, after you tell them what you did wrong, I bet they ask you not to do it again. And then they say, ‘What could you have done differently?’ I’m sure they do, because it’s important to think about what you can do differently in the future. So you know. That’s how people learn. And if they don’t want to learn, THEN maybe the police send them to jail, until they can figure out how to be nice.”

If only it were that simple.

My focus word for 2014: Savor.

Savor.

2013 was hard. It was really hard. And even before that, I’ve struggled for longer than I care to think about, with many, many things. When you struggle for a long time, it sometimes makes it hard to see the good things. And there are a lot of good things in my life, too.  This is true now probably more than any other time in my life.

So while I was thinking of a word to focus on for 2014, my first thought was “gratitude”. But then I thought, “I don’t want to just be thankful for things in my life. I want to make sure to enjoy them.”

Then I thought of some other things… how I’ve often “hurried” through things, sometimes wonderful things. How even with my loved ones, I’m often hurrying to the next thing, not really stopping to enjoy the person. I’m always looking to the future, “When this happens, I will be happier.”

In early December, I decided I did not want the rushed, stressful holiday season that we had experienced for the past few years. I wanted to slow down, enjoy it. So I did… mostly. (Old habits die hard. And sometimes, stress happens.) It felt better. It felt… right. Enjoyable, even. And because I wasn’t rushing, wasn’t trying to be perfect, I could savor the season.

I want to enjoy life, enjoy my family, be grateful for them, for all the good things I have in my life. This also means that I need to be willing to make some changes, let go of some activities, people who aren’t good for me, stop doing things I don’t enjoy… or find a way to enjoy them.

So when I as I considered what my word for 2014 would be, savor seemed appropriate.

As if to confirm my decision, Kai and I had an awful, absolutely awful experience at the store. Again. One of the biggest points of contention was that he kept dragging his hands over everything – and some of the endcaps had some fairly expensive beverages in glass containers. Several other things that happened, but that was particularly upsetting – if those broke, it would be a lot of money and he could be hurt. I left frustrated and upset. I appealed to my friends for advice. I worried he’d never learn not to do that. And I got lots of good advice, from many people. But one thing really stuck out.

Kelly Hogaboom, who is one of the wisest people I know (and you should read her blog if you don’t already), said, “Have a sense of humor, hold you and your child as worthy to be in public, and enjoy time with the kiddo. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Go slow. There’s no need to teach him to know how to respect property today. Today you just need to keep him & everyone safe. Some take a long time & much repetition to learn how to handle things non-destructively. I parent best when I take the long view… I can tell you w/o a doubt, yes they learn. On THEIR schedule! When we are patient & persistent.”

That struck a very deep chord with me.

I realized that I’m still trying to “prove” we’re doing things right, that Kai will be fine with us – I had to do that once for a Guardian ad Litem when final custody was being decided for Kai and, even after that, there was a constant threat from Kai’s bio-mother that she’d put him in school if we weren’t doing things the way she wanted, and, for a while, constant threats of courts and lawyers and whatever, for even the tiniest thing. (Being a step-mother is not for the faint of heart. Being a stay-at-home “custodial” homeschooling step-mother even moreso.) And now… I don’t have to prove myself to her anymore. While I never wished for her death (and we were starting to come to more of an understanding between us), it does take a load off my shoulder that I no longer have a person to whom I constantly have to prove my worth and the worth of what I do. The problem is, though, that sometimes, when we get into a pattern, it is hard to climb OUT of that pattern. It’s been hard for me to just SAVOR life, because you can’t, not everything has to be right and perfect, not when you constantly have to prove yourself and live up to someone else’s constantly changing standards. You have to move quickly, think ten steps ahead, and, above all, be perfect.

It’s time to let go of all that. It’s time to enjoy life, even when it’s not perfect. Even when we’re not perfect. Even when it’s hard. It’s time to look for the moments of joy. To find joy, even when it’s hard. To be grateful, even when times are trying. To slow down. To stop constantly worrying. To not take things for granted. To look around and notice that, hey, my life right now? It’s actually pretty great.

It’s time to savor life.

“The Only Person Who Should Decide About Someone’s Body is That Person.”

This morning started off with Kai being absolutely horrified to hear that people can get in trouble at school for making a mistake. “BUT MISTAKES ARE PART OF LEARNING. And you go to school TO LEARN.” The kind of mistake he was referring to wasn’t “I did something wrong and now I’m being punished for it,” more of the “Whoops. I didn’t realize,” variety.

But, as our discussion went on, his frustration at that reality turned into a large of amount of indignation about a bigger issue: autonomy.

See, we’d been looking at these vintage beach pictures. Picture 103 shows a woman being measured for modesty (sorry, you’ll have to scroll through to it – I don’t think I directly link to that one photo). The caption says, “Circa 1929: An officer from the West Palm Beach police force is seen measuring a woman’s bathing suit to ensure that it conforms with regulations introduced by beach censors.” But Kai, ever vigilant about language, pointed out, “No. They’re measuring HER. Not her bathing suit.”

We started talking about how that used to be common, that girls would have the length of their skirts and dresses (always skirts and dresses because that’s what they were required to wear) measured at school if someone suspected it was too short, and that those girls would get in trouble, sent home, have to change, etc. even if it was an honest mistake. He said, “What if they grew and didn’t realize it was getting short on them? That happens with my pants. Suddenly, they look short on my body. But they’re not getting shorter. I’m getting taller.” Sorry, kiddo. Nobody cared.

We talked about how that’s fairly common – that, in fact, people still try to make decisions about what women should wear, how they should look, the size of their bodies, etc.

He’s absolutely horrified. He doesn’t understand why anyone would care. “They’re not the ones wearing it. Why should they decide? That’s not fair. The only person who should decide about someone’s body is that person.

If a five year old can get it, why can’t everyone else?

I Don’t Know How Else To Say This

Last weekend was one of the weekends that was “not ours” – he was over at his mother’s house and Kai had spent Saturday night at his stepgrandparents’ house.

The call came on Sunday morning. It was Kai’s stepgrandmother.

“Kai is okay. E (Kai’s stepsister) is okay.”

Both Joe and I stared at the phone. I later found out that we’ve both had the same thought: there’s been in an accident. But the kids (Kai and his stepsister) will be okay. So everything will be fine… but something doesn’t sound right.

A second later, the voice says, “I don’t know how else to say this. R (Kai’s mother) is dead.”

And, with that, all of our lives changed.

The last week has been full of challenges. There was no prep for this: Kai’s mother had gastric bypass a year or two before he was born. And what happened was one of the possible complications. Several years later, totally unexpected.

After the call, we immediately jumped in the car and drove down to the hospital. Her room was full of friends and loved ones. They were able to remove the tubes (there weren’t many) before Kai came. The three of us (Kai’s stepfather, Kai’s dad, and I) told him together – his stepsister was there, as well. We told him what had happened (her small intestines folded and became stuck in a hole in her stomach and without blood going through them, they died off and there was nothing the doctors could do). Kai asked a lot of questions for clarification. For a kid of five, they were pretty detailed – like, “Why couldn’t they do a transplant?”

But he wasn’t sure and had to ask, “So… did Mama die?”

I cannot properly describe what it’s like to watch your kid crumple over with grief. We all cried. Kai cried and cried until he couldn’t cry any more and then he hung limply over his dad’s arm for several more minutes. We took him to look at her body – the room was full of her friends and some family. Kai didn’t want to go in but we pulled the curtains aside for him to see the body.

The past week has been a mix of paperwork, family he rarely sees, and interesting ways of working through grief. Tuesday, Kai was in his room, pretending to build a coffin and sing about how he was “Building a coffin for Mama, so she doesn’t have to get burned up,” – he knows she’s being cremated and was angry and devastated because he wanted her buried, wanted a stone marking where she was. But cremation was her request.

On Friday, my parents took Kai and I to Snoqualmie Falls with my nephew. We thought it would be good for him and Joe had gone back to work on Thursday. Kai and I bussed dKai, near an ad with his mother on itown to where my parents were going to pick us up. We ran into an ad with her on it, something she’d done months ago. He wanted a picture, but said he couldn’t smile. I told him that it would hurt for a long time, but eventually, when he looked at pictures of her, he could think of the good times they had together and smile.

Already, last week seems so long ago. The memorial is next weekend.

We went to homeschool park day this last week, where I normally try to send her a few pictures (I tried to send something every day but park days generally got extra). I found myself missing sending her pictures and texting her about what Kai was doing. Kai’s mother and I often didn’t agree, didn’t get along. But we were slowly moving towards some sort of understanding, had (mostly) gotten better at working together – for Kai. Kai recently lost his first tooth. He was here, not there. I was happy to see it and sent her all the pictures and texted her about it as much as I could but one of my first thoughts was, “I wish she didn’t have to miss out on this. I wish none of us did.” And now, there will be so many things she’ll miss.

Hug your loved ones. Tell them you care. You never know when they’ll be gone.

I’m still not sure what else to say or where life will take us from here.

Talk About It. Don’t Skip It.

“I’m not a big fan of skipping passages while reading because you think your kids can’t handle it. If they can’t, don’t read the book.”

I posted this on Twitter this morning. I’d been reading a blog post about someone skipping parts of the Little House books because there were things she didn’t want to have to explain to her kids yet (this issue was violence related). I respect her right to do that – I know of others who have – but it’s not a choice I would make.

Likewise, I’ve read of people skipping/editing it because, let’s be honest here, there are some pretty racist parts. People always think of the parts where the Native Americans are featured, but there are other parts that bother me, too. Most of these are parts that bother me as an adult – I’m quite certain that, as a child, I didn’t understand what they were saying.

Recently, Kai and I listened to the audiobook version of “Little House in the Big Woods”. At one point, Pa is playing his fiddle and he sings a song about a “darkie”. I think I audibly gasped.

I know people who would have edited this part or wanted it edited out. I don’t. I don’t like that it’s there but these books were based on her life and that was “accurate” for the timeframe. They are part of the book and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be removed.

But they should definitely be talked about. These things aren’t exactly easy to talk about, but they SHOULD be talked about. I think it’s important for kids to know that this used to be common and why it’s wrong. I also think it’s worthwhile to talk to kids about the idea that this was not considered “wrong” or “mean” back then (at least not by white society) – but that it still WAS wrong. (And if this is really too uncomfortable to talk about, you could always start with Harry Potter – the terms “pureblood” and “mudblood” are excellent fictitious examples of racism. We’ve watched some of the Harry Potter movies with Kai and he’s listened to some of the audiobooks. When we hit the term “mudblood”, we stopped and had a talk about why that wasn’t nice and that people shouldn’t be discriminated upon based on their race or what family they were born into.)

If you can’t do this – if you can’t talk with your kid about the difficult subject matter in the book you’re reading – I honestly believe you shouldn’t be reading them that book. (With that said, I respect the right of others to choose differently for themselves – and, for the record, the post came from one of the blogs I love and read regularly and I think no less of the person who wrote it.)

I’m curious – do you edit out parts from books you read to your kids? If so, for what reason?