Sunday, August 28, 2011

When gender binary is just easier and what can we do about it?

Marley is nearly four.  And like most of my other kids when they were around that age she has a fascination with sorting things.  She takes the shapes out of her pattern block set and piles them up: circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, ovals.  She take food out of her play kitchen and lines it up along the floor: produce, cartons, meat products.  She also has a fascination with taking about body parts: how we poop, can we cut our hair.  Bringing the two together we end up having a lot of discussion about the genitals of various folks.  Marley has a vagina like mom and [naming her brothers and various friends] have a penis.  Like any good three year old this must be followed by "why?". It is in these moments that I long for the days 14 yrs ago when my oldest was this age and I just didn't think about such things because then, the answer was easy. "Why? It is because boys have a penis and girls have a vagina". That's it, end of story.

By Debs (ò‿ó)♪ on Flickr

But we know that isn't it.  First we have to consider the fact that regardless of the fact that they are often conflated gender (boy, girl) and sex (male, female) are NOT THE SAME THING. Gender is a social construct, sex is a biological one - and there isn't just two of either one. I'm not going to go into listing and discussing the various labels that are currently being used because frankly I don't know enough about it, but I do know enough to know that I could easily end up giving out-of-date or offensive information so it's best to just not go there.  For the purposes of my life with my children I am most concerned with marginalizing those with assorted gender variant experiences.

It is difficult though, because brains at this age aren't designed to handle nuance. They feel most comfortable with "the sky is blue" not "the sky is sometimes blue, sometimes purple, sometimes green, and sometimes black. Really it depends on the air quality and diffusion of light through the atmosphere.  I think it might have something to do with the weather patterns too." Most kids stopped listening five words in and are happily skipping off with their answer to the next thing.  And for the simple answer to the simple question of "why?" I've satisfied Marley and myself with "Well some people have a penis and some people have a vagina. And there are a few people who have something a bit different." It is almost short enough to hold her attention and it satisfies my need for honesty.  It also hints at the "more" out there which I think is essential when giving simple answers to ultimately complex questions - because if they don't know there is a "more" then when they are ready for it, they won't know to go looking.  For me, leaving gendering concepts out all-together is easiest at this point.  Later we can talk about how a person's genitals relate to their social experience.

Is this something that you consider when having these discussion with your children?  If you do (or are wondering about it now) how do you incorporate all of our wonderful diversity?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why the vaccine "debate" will never be settled

In the August 2011 edition of The Costco Connection there appeared an article promoting various vaccines for adults.  You can read the entire article here.

I just emailed the following letter to the editor:

If medical and public health vaccine advocates want to know why they do not hold any credibility with those of us who question the current vaccine protocol they need to look no further than the quote credited to Dr. Raymond A. Strikas in the August 2011 edition of the Costco Connection.  In the article Dr. Strikas is quoted as say "If you've lost your [immunization] records and are unsure about whether you were vaccinated as a child, there is no harm in getting revaccinated as an adult,".  This is patently false.  Every time a person is vaccinated they are exposed to the possibility of adverse reactions to that vaccine.  Looking at the package inserts of some of the most common vaccines these potential adverse reaction include encephalitis and encephalopathy, chronic joint symptoms, or aseptic meningitis - all of which are listed as reported adverse reactions by the manufacturers for various measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox vaccines. While all of these events are quite rare, it is cheap and easy to run a titer to see if a person is already immune to the disease for which the vaccine is suggested.  Why take the risk of any adverse reaction, even a minor one, if it can be clinically determined that a person is immune?

If Dr. Strikas or others would like to discuss the relative risks versus benefits (personal and public) of various vaccinations that is a conversation worthy of consideration.  But I would ask that neither he nor The Costco Connection insult my intelligence by arguing that vaccines are risk-free.

I would love to hear your thoughts.....

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Create This

Welcome to the August Carnival of Natural Parenting: Creating With Kids

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how they make messes and masterpieces with children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I don't consider myself a creative person.  Not artistically anyway.  I could blame that on a couple of middle school teacher experiences, but more than that it probably has to do with a perfectionistic leaning that seems to flair up when it comes to things of "permanence" - such as painting or tie dying. I've tried not to pass this on to the kids with some  success.  So far no one has jumped both feet into the visual arts, but they are quite willing to engage in a variety of projects for their own enjoyment and benefit - including such things as duck tape clothing (and other items), other types of clothing decoration and creation, drawing, painting, cardboard construction, "cooking dangerously" and others that aren't coming to mind at the moment. Many of these things they pursue at home and for those that are beyond the scope of my experience or willingness to indulge the mess I find other places and opportunities.  This is the mom that I am and I'm [mostly] okay with that.

When I saw this months carnival topic I strongly considered not submitting anything.  I don't have a great tutorial to offer nor any ideas for creative stimulation that belong in Family Fun. But as I pondered the question of how we create as a family I began to feel like there was a bit of something that I could share.

In our family we create with ideas.  I am fairly introspective (everyone who knows me can make sarcastic gasps now) and tend toward big picture thinking.  I like to synthesize ideas, concepts, opportunities.  This is what we do together.  We think, we ponder, sometimes we put these into action either ourselves or by stimulating others to act.  If a child approaches me with some thought about the universe or the things in it that they've run across we look at it, discuss it, explore complementary and contrasting ideas.  It is critically important to me that my children see ideas as questionable and facts as manipulable.  Not that I'm a complete relativist - but only that it is as important (if not more important) to know the question that was asked and by who in relation to the answer that was given than the answer itself.

So how does this look in our family? Mostly lots of talking with each other and among friends who have different points of view and different life experiences.  "What if" questions make regular appearances.  Just as an artist might ask and trial "what if I painted this blue?" or "what if I draped the fabric this way?" we might ask "what if this person was still alive?" or "what if scientists had looked at this part of the question instead?"  There is also a lot of "why" even past the age of three. "Why do you believe this particular "truth" of this one?" or "Why do you interpret and then act on these words or actions in the way that you do?" or even "Why were these assumptions made prior to even engaging in exploration?"

It isn't the way we normally think of creativity and there is nothing to hang on the wall to show off to the grandparents, but I believe that many of the mental exercises are the same. A willingness to try new things, experiment, and possibly fail.  However these experiences are achieved I think that they contribute to a vital and fulfilling life and I hope it is something that my children keep with them through adulthood.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants: