Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is it ever bad to be polite?

This is the kind of question that keeps my daughter up at nights. She is a deep thinker and wants to know the correct course of action for every conceivable situation. My answer, I think, was a bit more ferocious than she expected. Yes, sometimes it is dangerous to try to be polite. If you need to say no, do it, and do it as strongly as you need to for the person to listen. If you ever need to defend yourself, do it.  It is OK if you have to hurt someone to get away.

Ariana is amazingly empathetic and sensitive. She could easily take on the burdens of every person she meets. So, as much as I appreciate her tender heart, I want her to know that she does not have to take responsibility for other people's happiness. Most especially, she can control her own body and no one else has that right.

The statistics are that one in three girls will have inappropriate sexual contact with an adult before the age of 18. One in three. I believe that our society fuels that by the consistent messages sent to children, particularly girls, about being nice, obeying adults, not causing a fuss, and that it is OK for adults to do what they want to a child's body.

It would be easier to think that we only have to watch out for stranger danger, but the reality is that it is almost always a friend or family member, or someone that children are told to respect. It requires access to the child, and time together.

There are some things that we should do to protect our children:

* Respect their right to say no, even when it embarrasses us. Like when they don't want to kiss relatives who act hurt and offended. Each time we ingrain into their minds that they need to violate their own bodily boundaries to please someone else, we are eroding their ability to say no. When Ariana was about two, an adult friend of ours started to tickle her. She immediately and forcefully asserted, "Stop. This is my body and I say no. Stop or I'll tell." I was delighted that she knew how to assert her own boundaries.

* Let them know that we will believe them and take them seriously. I believe that the pattern we form here is important, not the topic. If your child gets into it with another child on a playdate, and we side with the guest out of a misplaced notion of courtesy, it leaves an impression on our child. If we have a habit of brushing off their feelings to placate someone else, they may well decide that it isn't worth telling us, anyway.

* Teach them that no one else should touch them or look (or take pictures) in areas that are covered by a swimsuit. Furthermore, they shouldn't touch other people there, either. This seems like common sense, but too often we add qualifiers about doctors or other family members, etc. Make sure that a child knows, first and foremost, that NOBODY should ever touch him/her in a way that feels uncomfortable. When I was eight, I questioned why my doctor pulled down my panties and touched me. He said that it would help my asthma. I didn't exactly believe it, but he was a doctor, so it was supposed to be OK. 

* If you get a bad feeling, trust it. Don't wait for facts to back it up--it is too late then.

* Teach your children the correct names for body parts.

* Read Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker. Rather than causing you to be afraid, it will help you and your child to feel empowered.

* Teach your children that it is OK to upset someone if they need to in order to protect themselves. It sounds obvious, but our children are still figuring out social interactions and when to give in to others and when and how to stand up for themselves. Think consciously about how hard it is for even adult women to say no when they fear offending someone. My mother was molested as a young child by a friend of her brothers. She didn't talk about it until about five decades later. She remembers that he had a broken arm, and since he was already hurt she felt sorry for him, and she didn't tell, even though she hated what he was doing, because it was so shameful for anyone to touch her there.

* If your children ever do tell you, worry first about protecting them, next about protecting other children, last about protecting any adults.  My parents did nothing when they found out that I was molested.  They didn't want to hurt his career if there could have been any possible innocent explanation of what he did.  Some parents are afraid of additional trauma if there is legal action and children have to testify, etc.  It can be paralyzing, even as an adult, especially when the abuser is well respected.  Here's the thing: inaction on your part will tell your children that their abuse doesn't matter as much as your comfort.  It will allow the abuser to continue to abuse many, many, many other children.  And then, as adults, your children will have to deal not only with your betrayal, but also with the crushing grief of wondering how many other kids were hurt like they were.

Obviously, this is an incomplete list, and I would again plead for you to read Protecting the Gift if you haven't yet done so. While I've tied this to sexual abuse, the truth is, this is a much broader issue. Our culture still stigmatizes women who stand up for themselves. We have to be the ones to change that. Of course we want our children to be courteous and socially adept. We want them to be respectful to others. That is good, but often we are not modeling the ability to enforce healthy boundaries. Our children are vulnerable, and they need to know that it is more important to protect themselves than to be polite.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

This week in review

Our week started off with a bang, literally, last Sunday. Ariana was sitting in her class at church and the puppet theater--the size of a closet--toppled over and landed on her head. Thank God, she seemed fine aside from a little soreness.

Monday was nice and uneventful.

Tuesday started well. We met Carlos for lunch and then went to the park. We hadn't been there too long, though, when I got blind spots and then everything turned into a kaleidoscope. Yep, another migraine. I was so glad that Carlos was there. I couldn't drive home, so we left his car and he drove us to the house. The nausea and head ache hit, and since I was pretty useless at taking care of the kids at that point, Carlos took us all to his mom's house while he taught his evening classes. Aside from a brief episode where the kidlets took off in pursuit of an ice-cream truck, it was good. I felt able to drive home from picking up the car.

In an effort to distract me, Elena decided to show her stuff and walk across the room unassisted! She turns 10 months tomorrow, and I expected at least a few more weeks before she took off, but she had other ideas. We actually practiced walking with the other two--letting them walk between us or holding on to our hands. We hadn't gotten to that stage with her, but apparently, she didn't need it. She still crawls most of the time, but every day since she'll walk several feet as the spirit moves her.

Wednesday I felt OK for about an hour after getting up, then another one hit. I am so glad that we have family nearby. By the time my mom arrived, I was curled up on the floor wondering if vomiting would make me feel better or worse, and figuring that I probably wouldn't have an option, anyway. Ay, ay, ay. How do those of you who have them regularly cope? I would really rather avoid meds, especially since I'm breastfeeding, but if they get much more frequent, I'd look into just about anything to get relief.

Thursday it was just a headache, and Friday was just a mild headache. Whew! Friday the kidlets had fun with M and G, some dear friends of ours. Ariana especially is getting to the age where she enjoys time with friends, so I love seeing her having fun with other kids.

Ariana's reading skills have also really taken off this week, and it has been so much fun to see her excitement and enthusiasm. I haven't worked with her nearly as much as I could (should?) have, but it seems that it is starting to really click now, and I love seeing her confidence and abilities blossom.

Today my class ended. Hooray! Summer vacation is here! Well, after turning in grades, etc. It is so interesting to me how different students cope with things. I've mentioned before how every finals week seems to bring some tragedy (real, not merely imagined) to some of my students. One was hospitalized with meningitis (viral), and then this week her mother died. I would have easily given her any accommodations I could. She didn't even ask for any, and finished very successfully.

Another student missed the equivalent of a month of class, and I thought he dropped. This week he sent an email asking to make up the exam he missed, but I didn't get it right away because it was sent to the department and didn't include any information (such as my name, the class he was in, etc). Now, I give handouts with the syllabus, my name and email, make up policies, and so on, as well as posting all the info online. Once the email was forwarded to me and I contacted him, he requested to make up the exam the week after the final. Uh huh. In real life, I snorted. In email, I politely restated the policies from the syllabus. He didn't respond. He did, however, come to class today and explained that he had missed because his wife kicked him out and divorced him because he texted his ex-sister-in-law three or four times. Whatever the case, I figure he has more to deal with than Spanish exams right now.

One very exciting piece of news is that I might get to teach an extra class this summer on our Puerto Rico trip. If so, not only would it pay for Ariana's dental work, but also cover the full cost of a 5 day Disney trip for our family!!! (I think it deserves the superfluous exclamation points). Nothing official yet, but the chances are very good.

Joelito, in order to get his moment of fame, has spent the week searching out toxic substances that I thought he didn't have access to. Today he managed to find a bottle of nail polish in my purse and paint his lips and teeth. It was blue, his favorite color.

I've got a lot to be thankful for from this week, including the fact that it is over. :D

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Some questions from a mom-to-be today reminded me again how much I enjoy our family bed. It is kind of funny, because I believed at first that mom and dad should have their own room, and while it was fine for newborns to share it (the room, never the bed!) in the early days, it wasn't a habit you wanted to start. Then Ariana was born.

She slept in a bassinet next to us, and I soon learned that if I wanted to sleep, the easiest way was to respond as soon as possible to her cries, before they even turned into cries, if possible. That way we both went peacefully back to sleep once she finished nursing. Once or twice I gave into the pressure to "let her fuss" a minute. Ha! Within seconds, she went from whimper to full-blown scream. I'd pick her up as soon as she started to really cry, and even so, it took her awhile to calm down. Then, because of the gulped air, she didn't nurse right, had to be burped more. We were both wide awake and grumpy.

Of course, like all new moms I know, I got the endless questions from everyone, even total strangers, if she was sleeping through the night, and advice to let her cry it out. It is funny, though. I'm in my thirties, and I don't sleep through the night every night. Sometimes I need to use the bathroom, sometimes I get hot or cold or thirsty. Sometimes I have a bad dream. Sometimes my mind just keeps going and won't turn off. And even at this age, I prefer to sleep with the people I love most.

As far as crying it out, that didn't make sense to me, either. I was told that as long as she was fed and had a dry diaper, it was perfectly fine to let her cry, because I had met her needs. Ummmm, so, emotional needs aren't real? I tried to imagine a friend calling me, crying, and me saying, "Listen, you ate just awhile ago, your clothes are clean. Don't bother me until morning." I wouldn't treat an adult friend that way, someone who was capable of communicating clearly and meeting her own physical needs. How could I justify doing it to a helpless infant who relied on me for everything? We actually learned later that Ariana had reflux. She wasn't spitting up, but she was still in pain from the acid. She just couldn't tell us.

As a Christian, I believe God's promise to never leave us or forsake us. The Bible is full of verses describing how God answers us when we cry out to Him. In Proverbs we are specifically warned against closing our ears to the cries of others. We are instructed to comfort others with the same comfort that we have received. It seemed clear to me that Jesus would comfort a baby.

But wait! They must learn to self-soothe, right? And they'll get used to it and never learn to sleep on their own, right? Balderdash. First of all, the American obsession with self-sufficiency in infants is both recent and often unhealthy. If you are really going to follow that, don't change diapers when they are dirty, either. The babe just needs to learn to hold it longer! You'll get her used to having a dry diaper! Let her sit in it, and eventually she'll stop fussing and learn to clean herself. (Of course, you could practice EC, but that is totally different).

The truth is, the baby probably will stop crying. Eventually, they learn that we won't respond to their cries. Is that really what we want to teach them? That we only care about them when it is convenient? Does God want us to be independent from Him, and not bother Him? When needs are met, babies grow, physically, emotionally, and in every other way. The baby won't always need to nurse at night (although if you were going to nearly triple your weight in a year and grow several feet taller, you might snack at night, too!). As for sleep associations, we look at it as teaching our children that bedtime is a cozy, peaceful time of rest, not a frightening or lonely time.

What happens when a baby is left to cry it out? Among other thing, their brains are flooded with cortisol, which can cause permanent damage (see the links at the end). Their heart rate and blood pressure show the stress they are under. Have you ever cried yourself to sleep, even as an adult? Your stomach aches and is knotted up, your throat hurts, your head throbs... If it is that miserable for you, how must it be for a baby that developmentally can't even understand concepts like object permanence and the idea that you will ever return?

Thankfully, we got enough solid information to counter all the advice to let our babies cry it out. Still, sleep deprivation is a serious thing, too. For us, the solution was just to bring Ariana into bed with us. It was Carlos' idea (yes, he is an amazing dad!). We did when she outgrew her bassinet, and the difference was remarkable. We slept so much better! Joel and Elena slept with us from the very beginning.

From a breastfeeding standpoint, it was great. It insured a strong milk supply (the hormones that govern milk production respond more at night). I would wake up seconds before she did, she'd latch on, and we'd both be back to sleep in moments.

I didn't worry about SIDS, knowing that research shows that my proximity helps protect my babies. I never came close to rolling on any of them. Just like you know where the edge of the bed is and don't roll off, I was always aware of where my babies were. There are basic precautions to bed-sharing that I would recommend, listed in the links, but when they are followed, I think it is much safer than having a baby in another room or crib. When one of them vomited in the night, I was so glad that I was near enough to be aware.

Ariana on her own chose to sleep in a bed of her own in our room before Elena was born. I expect that before long, she'll choose her own room, too. Although, honestly, if she doesn't, I won't mind. Some of the best times of our day are as we go to sleep. She opens up and shares things that we might not hear otherwise. Joelito makes us laugh and giggle together. It is one of our most connected times.

What about connecting with Carlos, you ask? Well, for me, not getting enough sleep sucks any romantic feelings away pretty quickly, so this actually helps in that department. Also, finding a variety of times and places just adds to the interest. We have learned to delight in spontaneity!

I know that different things work for different families. Some might get more rest in separate beds or even separate rooms, and I am in favor of everyone getting more rest. For us, that means sharing sleep and snuggles. :)

Here are some great links:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Etiquette lessons

Overheard as Ariana (5), Joel (3) and Elena (9 months) were playing:

Ariana: Elena, please don't grab my blocks. Could you ask permission? Say, "May I please use that block?" It is much more polite that way.

Elena: Aaaaah.

Ariana (more firmly): Elena, you just took my pink flower block. Please listen to me. You need to ask for permission before you take something. Just ask me and Joel if you want something of ours. I will share with you. (pause) But I don't think Joel would. Joel, would you share with Elena if she asks politely?"

Joel (matter-of-factly): No, I won't. It has corn for me. (Joel cites his corn allergy whenever he finds anything unpleasant from which he would prefer to be exempted).

Ariana (sorrowfully): Yes, that is what I thought. But I will share. Now, Baby, say "please".

Me: Sweetheart, Elena doesn't know how to say that yet. She is still little and is just learning to talk.

Ariana (patiently): OK, then, Elena say "puh--llll-eeee-z" (enunciating very slowly and clearly). And you should also apologize for knocking over Joel's tower. He feels angry when you knock it down.

I found this pretty funny, especially since we have never made a big deal about the kids saying please. We do try to model it, and both of our verbal children use "please" and "thank you". I didn't expect them to be actively teaching it to each other, but Ariana is quite comfortable in the role of big sister.

Friday, April 17, 2009

My favorite commercial

This is amazing. I had hospital births, but have many friends who have had homebirths, and I am open to the idea for future births (not so sure that Carlos is). Regardless of your stance, this commercial is beautiful.

For those who don't speak Spanish, it is a commercial for a bed/mattress company, with the slogan that your bed is the most important place in your world. It features the couple talking about how their son was born at home, and how important it was to them for their daughter to be born there, in the same bed. The mother speaks of the miracle of bringing a new life into the world, and how special to be able to give birth in your own place, the way you wish.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wonderful, wise words from a mom of 7

Stephanie posted this as a reply on a message board that I joined, and I was so impressed that I asked for permission to share it here.

I didn't do Ezzo, but I was a punitive mom for 10 years with 5 kids and it was a hard transition for me to gentle methods.  I know exactly what you mean about things going crazy once you stop spanking. It definitely takes some time to transition into new patterns... it took us several months before I started seeing real results, mostly because *I* needed to have that much time to change the way I thought and responded to my kids.  I didn't really read books, I just came to forums like this and read what other moms were talking about and asking questions like "what do you do about them running into the street?  What about when they keep touching the stove? What about getting them to go to bed?".  Getting specific answers to my questions helped me ease into it better than trying to absorb general information from a book.  Since then I've read Playful Parenting and Parent Effectiveness Training, and I found them helpful.  Personally, I don't like "Love & Logic", it just seems passive-aggressive, depending on how you apply it.

The good news is, it's been 10 years since I learned about gentle discipline, and I am a completely different mom than I was 10 years ago.  I'm nowhere near perfect, and it was a long, gradual process to re-program the way I thought about discipline, but I am very happy with the change.  Don't expect instant results, because you probably won't get them... but with patience and prayer, you CAN turn your family around.

When I first found out about GBD [Grace Based Discipline], I had a lot of emotions to work through.  I realized that a lot of my anger at my kids was actually based in more complicated emotions I had about other things.  I was angry at my parents for the way they treated me growing up, and I was angry at myself for imitating them.  I was horrified at myself when I finally admitted to myself that what I had done to my kids all those years was wrong. cry or very sad I had to get through letting go of those hurts before I could move on and accept healing for myself and my kids.  I started questioning all of the things I had been taught about "christian parenting", and I did word studies in the Bible on things like "obedience" and "discipline".  I was shocked at what WASN'T in there... none of the harshness or retribution I expected, instead, obedience was almost always linked to *love*, especially in the New Testament.   "If you love me, you will obey me"... not "if you don't obey me, you will suffer".  It was obedience based on relationship, not fear of punishment, which was a totally foreign concept to me. I guess in my mind I thought it was "if you obey me, then I can love you". I had to really look at how I viewed my relationship with God... is that the way I thought he saw me? If I was obedient, he would love me and be nice to me, but if I wasn't, he would make bad things happen to me? I couldn't find that idea anywhere in scripture. Instead I found him saying "if you focus on loving me, you will WANT to be obedient".  The focus was always on my relationship with him, my obedience was supposed to be a natural product of my love for him.

Image credit: Reading Mommy
When I started asking God to show me how to parent, it didn't happen the way I expected.  Instead of getting "Holy Spirit parenting tips" on how to make my kids behave, I started getting convicted for my OWN behavior.  When I started to get angry at them for something they were doing, I would be reminded of a situation where *I* was doing the exact same thing my child was doing, only in an adult context.  I felt God encouraging me to treat my child the way I would want God to treat me in the same situation (funny how it's easy to cry "grace, grace" for ourselves, and "eye for an eye" for our kids).  I was reminded of the scripture says "first take the beam out of your own eye, then you can remove the splinter from your brother's (child's?) eye" and the one about the man who was forgiven a huge debt he could never repay, and he went out and found someone who owed him a small amount and threw him in prison.  It was very humbling to me.  If I could not behave better than my child, how could I be so arrogant as to stand in judgement over him and be less merciful than I would want God to be to me?  God showed me all of the times I made excuses for myself for my bad behavior, for being crabby or impatient or selfish, or just plain rebellious towards him.  It was so easy to rationalize my own behavior, but my children, who were immature and still learning were expected to jump to it, never have a bad day, never make mistakes?   "I know God is telling me to spend more time with my son, but I'm really busy right now... I'll do it another time".  So much for "first time obedience".

I had to deal with all of these ideas over a long period of time... letting the Holy Spirit break down my preconceptions little by little.  It was very painful at first, it smarted to recognize that I had been wrong, and even mean and cruel to my kids at times.  It was hard to learn not to be so selfish (I want them to do what I want, when I want it, without arguing or talking back.... because that makes MY life a lot more convenient than having to deal with them).  I realized that *I* was the one who had a lot of growing up and maturing to do before I would be qualified to teach my children how to do it properly.   If I wanted them to be respectful, then I needed to start treating them the way I wanted them to behave towards me. (FTO [first time obedience] can be extremely disrespectful, especially when you are enforcing it!  How I thought that would get me respect is a mystery to me!).   If I wanted them to handle frustration calmly and reasonably, then I had to demonstrate self-restraint and not fly off the handle and yell at them when they ticked me off.   The idea is not just to *tell* them how to act, but to *show* them what it looks like.  After all, how can we expect them to do something we can't?

One thing you can try is to ask God to help you learn to practice the fruits of the spirit towards your kids.
suffers long; (am I being patient, or do I expect instant results from my kids?)
is kind; (is what I am doing to my child kind?)
does not envy; (who am I comparing my child to? "Why can't I have "good" kids like other parents?")
does not parade itself ; (who am I trying to impress with my child's behavior?)
does not get 'puffed up' ; (am I trying to make my child behave a certain way because it makes me a "good parent"?)
does not behave rudely ; (would my attitude/behavior towards my child be considered rude if they did the same to me?)
is not easily provoked; (am I taking my child's behavior personally?)
does not think evilly, nor rejoice in sin; (does it make me feel better to punish my child because I am getting even with them?)
rejoices in the truth; (what positive things are true about my child, or am I only focusing on their temporary behavior?)
bears all things;
believes all things;
hopes all things;
endures all things.
Love never fails.

Take your cue from the Holy Spirit... one who is called along side to help.  Instead of MAKING your kids do what you want, work on finding ways to HELP your kids do what you need them to do.   Don't see yourself as standing over them, but be someone who comes in alongside them and helps them do what they need to do.  More kindly coach/mentor and less crabby old school teacher.

These are just a few things that I worked on when I was first getting started with "gentle discipline".  I know there is a lot there, but it can at least give you some things to think about.  There is no real "method" to GBD, no "when your child does X, you do Y".  It is more of a change of thinking and attitude that can allow you to find gentle solutions to these issues.  Every situation should be handled according to the specific needs of those involved.  You have to really lean on God to find the answers, and that can be scary.  You don't get instant results a lot of the time, so you are left to wonder, "am I doing this right?  Is this actually working?  What if this doesn't work?"  It really requires you to trust in God.  This is what makes Ezzo's books so attractive and why GBD can seem so hard... because he gives you a specific plan to follow, and GBD doesn't.  With Ezzo's books, you don't need to ask God, you just look up the answer in the book.  I think God gives us children to perfect us, they make us aware of our own weaknesses so we can work on them.  Ezzo seems to believe that it is our job to perfect our children, with the assumption that we are already perfect.

Looking back, I realize that I was a very immature, very selfish and very mean-spirited mom.  I didn't mean to be, I wanted to be a good mom... I just didn't know any other way to do it.  I have come a long way in 10 years.   I have a 3yo now and I can see huge differences in my attitudes towards her compared to when my older kids were this age.  I used to be so frustrated with my kids all the time, but I rarely ever get angry at my 3yo, even though she gets into everything just like her older siblings did. (now dealing with teenagers... well, that's still a work in progress! LOL)  God has changed me from the inside out.  You really can change if you let God renew your mind.  Don't let yourself get discouraged, it WILL get better. hug

Stephanie, Mom to seven sensational kids!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter pics

We didn't actually get a family pic, but we will one of these days. Ariana and Elena wore matching outfits that Ariana picked out on our shopping spree the other day. :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

A place to lay His head

Last night I was thinking about the joys of our family bed. I listened to Ariana recite all of Psalm 23 several times in the softest of whispers as she fell asleep. Joel woke up and asked to nurse, which is pretty unusual for him. After he finished he smiled up at me and asked to sleep next to me. As he fell back to sleep, he snuggled his head against my shoulder and hugged me tight. Elena still wakes about three times a night to nurse, so I shuffled around a bit, at one point jerking upright as my head rested on a large plastic dinosaur (I believe it was Fin Fang Foom) that Joel had brought to bed instead of my nice, soft pillow. I could hear Carlos' quiet breathing, and smiled at how cozy it is for us all to be together.

When we were dating, Carlos and I loved reading the Bible to each other. Once, when reading through John, Carlos commented on the verse in chapter 13 that mentioned John laying his head on Jesus during the Last Supper. He said that he had always thought that when the Bible talked about the Son of Man not having a place to lay his head, that it went beyond property and houses, but also to Jesus' longing for relationship with us, a place where He could be known by heart.

I remember the first time Carlos ever put his head on my shoulder. We were reading some of those same chapters. It took my breath away. I wanted so much just to turn my head and kiss him, but was afraid that might startle him into moving away. So I fought to keep my voice steady as I finished the chapter, inside singing at the closeness that went beyond words. A deep part inside of me had found home.

Jesus is God, of course. Yet, I believe that He had some of the same emotions that we do. So often, Jesus was misunderstood, even by those closest to Him. His family didn't get it, His disciples didn't get it, and the people around Him didn't get it. This morning as I read through the rest of John again, I tried to imagine the pain, exhaustion and frustration He must have felt. Praying in the garden, when He needed the disciples the most, they dozed.

Did He feel that pulverizing loneliness that crushes your heart to dry powder as you realize that the people you love don't have any idea what is going on inside you? I think His prayers speaking of His unity with the Father may have been partly to remind Himself of Reality instead of what He was feeling.

He spoke over and over of His love for us, and how that would transform us. He called us friends, and pointed out how friends understood what was going on in each others' lives. He spoke passionately about us abiding in Him, and He in us; about unity and being One. Obedience, holiness and fruitfulness are the result of the relationship, not the goal in and of themselves. The goal is simply knowing Him, listening to His heartbeat.

I think that all He ever wanted was us. Intimacy with us. For us to love and know each other by heart. The Passion of the Christ is about His passion for us, His willingness to pay the ultimate price to get sin out of the way so that we can have that kind of relationship. He longs for you, to share every moment with you, both here and in Heaven. He understands you, and He wants you. Is your heart a place where He can lay His head?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Failed allergy test

I am bummed. We took Ariana in today for skin testing for olives and green beans, and she failed both. We didn't have the follow-up with her allergist yet, and the nurse doesn't give diagnoses, but I could see the reaction myself enough to know that she should continue to avoid them.

I really couldn't care less if she never eats another green bean, and she won't shed any tears, either. I hate olives, myself, but I was really hoping that she could have olive oil. Soybean oil and corn oil are so processed that they rarely cause allergic reactions, even in people who can't have soy or corn. Olive oil can be that way, but extra virgin or virgin olive oils can still cause reactions. Actually, the last time that she had veggies in EVOO, she broke out in hives.

We've successfully avoided them for two years now, but from what I've heard, Puerto Rico uses lots of EVOO in cooking, and almost anything that is fried or that has sofrito can have it. Since we'll be eating in restaurants there for a couple of weeks this summer, it is going to be a little nerve wracking to avoid it. Sigh.

My sweetie was so cooperative with the testing today, even though she hates itching. She was obviously uncomfortable, but she refrained from scratching and didn't complain much at all. Of course, she still has to avoid eggs, and Joelito is avoiding corn. On the bright side, however, we can have dairy and wheat again, after eliminating both for a year and a half, so I should focus on that. I'm indulging in some whining here, anyway, though.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Patriotism and Piety

As usual, I'll post a disclaimer. I know that this post will likely be offensive to some readers, although that is not my purpose in posting it. I actually waited awhile after all the election stuff so that emotions would not be quite as high (or at least, so I hope).

During election season my inbox was regularly flooded with emails that connected American pride, especially military pride, with Godliness. Furthermore, we (USAns) are the Good Guys, and people from other countries are the Bad Guys. I've seen the sentiment too many times now to dismiss it as a fluke, but it still puzzles me. Maybe because I was not born here, or because so many of my friends are from other countries, I don't see U.S. citizenship as any indication of one's relationship with God.

Don't get me wrong--I think that the U.S. is a great country, and I am happy to live here (although, in all honesty, I think I could be just as happy living in other countries, too). I appreciate all that the members of the U.S. military have sacrificed (although I have also wished that our leaders wouldn't sacrifice any of our servicemen and women unnecessarily).

It just seems to me that somehow, Christianity has become synonymous with nationalism, at least in the minds of some people, and that disturbs me. The Bible actually seems to be quite strongly against nationalism. Over and over we are told that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek in Christ. We are aliens and strangers here. Our citizenship is in Heaven.

Historically, nations arise, enjoy power, then decline. I've had many believers suggest to me that any tragedy that occurs in the U.S., or any waning of our power, economically or militarily, must mean that we are in the Great Tribulation and the End is Nigh. My eschatological views are different, anyway, but I am not convinced that the U.S. is the most important point in the universe, or that God cares more about lives in this country than in China or the Sudan or anywhere else.

What if all of the believers here began to see themselves as citizens of Heaven? If our status on Earth was simply that of Temporary Resident, and the peoples of other nations our brothers and sisters in Christ, would we do anything differently? Would it change our views on consumerism? Would we feel as entitled as we do now to the resources we use? Could it affect our views on immigration policies or how foreigners are treated? Perhaps even our view of military involvement?

As always, if the shoe doesn't fit, don't cram it onto your foot. But I think the questions are still worth asking.

Brotherly devotion

I've mentioned before how indescribably grateful I am for the closeness that Ariana and Joel have. I would love to market 5 Easy Steps for Successful Siblings, but since I really can't claim credit for it, I'll have to invent the easy steps first.

This morning, Joel woke up early, and Ariana, who had been awake a lot in the night, slept late. For an hour or so Joel played with me and Elena, but couldn't conceal the fact that our play did not quite meet the standards to which he is accustomed. I could see him getting more and more bored, and more and more distraught. Finally, he turned to me and sobbed, "Mami, I miser'ble wifout Ariana!" Awwwww.

She awoke shortly thereafter, and his delight has been evident ever since. I know that he is glad that we will be homeschooling next year, so that he can still be with his beloved sister.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Super Shopping Spree

Much to my husband's delight, I really don't enjoy clothes shopping that much. Elena can wear Ariana's hand-me-downs for the most part, although since Ariana is a January baby and Elena was born in June, sometimes it doesn't match up just right. Regardless, I still have to shop for Ariana and Joel each season. I was watching for sales, and got a 30% off everything coupon, so I decided to take advantage of it this afternoon.

Oh, what fun! By myself, it would have been just OK, but Ariana asked to come, too. She wanted to wear a summer dress, but it was about 40 degrees outside, so she suggested that she wear the dress with a jacket, and agreed to wear matching pants underneath it. However, she hates to wear pants (and I used to tantrum if I were forced to wear a dress--it makes me chuckle), so she pleaded to be able to remove the pants once we got in the store, with the provision that she carry them and not lose them, and put them on again before going back outside the store. Truly, her negotiating skills are remarkable for a five year old. She can almost always come up with something that satisfies everyone. She could be a fantastic lawyer someday...

Once we arrived at the store, she was too excited to think about her pants. First, she went to the baby girls section and began to scour the racks for clothes for Elena. Ariana prefers things with plenty of sparkle, and I must admit her overall fashion sense is far better than mine. I was impressed with the things she found. We would up getting two adorable outfits for Elena. They are both really cute dresses with matching leggings. I think pantyhose are of the devil, so it is hard for me to want to put an innocent baby into tights. At the same time, carseat straps can chafe their legs, and it can be too cold without them, so I love leggings.

We found a nice dress outfit for Joel with a guayabera-inspired shirt and matching dress shorts. Since for the last couple of weeks he has only wanted to wear Spiderman shirts, we also found two Spiderman outfits that I knew he'd love.

Finally, it was time for Ariana to look for her own clothes. She chose two nightgowns (she absolutely refuses to sleep in pajamas, or even a T-shirt). Next, we found an entire row of ultra-yummy shoes. Ariana and Joel both adore shoes, and there were dozens of cute ones to choose from. She looked at me imploringly. "Do I have to choose quickly?"

Finally, we got to the dresses. Ariana found a green one that she especially liked (because green is her favorite color). It also matched her favorites out of the shoes (pink and green with lots of beaded fringe). Then, to my surprise, we found the matching outfits to the two dress sets she had picked out for Elena. She was actually excited about wearing the same outfit as her little sister.

She then had the time of her life trying everything on, modeling it with the shoes, and using the dressing room mirrors to evaluate each outfit from multiple angles. She was having so much fun that I enjoyed the shopping, too. We did pretty well at the checkout, too. Full price for everything we got would have been over $300, but after the discounts, it was less than $100.

It just so happens that the store is right next to Starbuzz, so we restored our strength after the strenuous shopping with white chocolate mochas and some egg-free chocolate covered cookies. On the way home, we sang along to our favorite tracks from Marcos Witt's Sobrenatural CD.

I would like to think that ten years from now, we'll still be having the time of our lives together, that she'll want to go shopping with me, that we will giggle while trying things on together, that we'll enjoy talking about everything and nothing over cookies and coffee together, and that we'll both sing our hearts out to our favorite music on the way home. I really hope that our connection is that strong then. I know the odds are against it, in our culture here. Maybe we'll be different, maybe not. I'm glad we have today.

Modesty and other questions. What are your answers?

immodest clothes

Once again, dear readers, I am soliciting your insight and opinions. How do you teach your children about modesty? What are your own thoughts on the subject? Is it important to you? Why or why not? Does intent matter? Culture? Age? Gender? Family vs. public?

I'm still mulling the topic, and so my thoughts are very scattered. As far as personal experience goes, I never recall either parent dressing in a way meant to be sexually provocative. My dad always wore clothes around us, at least underwear, although my mother was comfortable being undressed around us. Since her mother never even explained menstruation to her, I think she made an effort to be open with us about our bodies. Still, growing up, a lot of things didn't make sense to me.

For one thing, it seemed to me that the rules were very one-sided (guys didn't have nearly the restrictions girls did!), and it varied so much from one culture to another that I became pretty skeptical of the idea that any particular region, or any particular time in history, had the perfect standards. It obviously wasn't necessarily about the amount of skin showing, because girls were supposed to wear dresses or skirts (or, culottes!--and I am just guessing at the spelling, since I've never seen the word in print). For climbing trees and most of my other preferred activities, jeans would clearly seem to be more appropriate to me.

I remember once, when I was six, we had a little plastic wading pool in our backyard. I wanted my friend to swim with me, but she wasn't allowed to wear a bathing suit, because they were immodest. Instead, she wore a dress. I was totally bewildered. How could anyone swim in a heavy dress with a full skirt? Why would they? To be sure, the pool was maybe a foot deep and six feet in diameter, if that, so I wasn't going to be swimming laps, either, but still...

As an adult, I dress to please myself and my husband. I generally choose not to wear shorts or short skirts, but it is more for aesthetic reasons than modesty. The idea of anyone looking lustfully on my chubby, white knees is frankly ludicrous. I prefer not to wear clothing that is super-tight for comfort reasons, although, again, clearly defining my rolls and cellulite is not likely to cause my brother to stumble.

In balance to that, my breasts, which were, um, bountiful to begin with, have grown even more since pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is exceedingly difficult to find any shirt that will adequately cover them, especially one that I can nurse in. Furthermore, I don't consider breastfeeding immodest, and will nurse anywhere my baby needs to eat. I can't think off hand of any place where I haven't nursed my kids. I don't use blankets. I was once given a nice Hooter Hider-type cover, but Ariana got hot and the flapping attracted far more attention than simply moving my shirt a little.

In so many places, it is perfectly fine for little girls to go topless, especially if they haven't yet developed breast buds. I find that much healthier than the sexualized view here that has them wearing slogans or styles that are overtly provocative, even if they cover more skin. I was actually relieved and perfectly comfortable when we visited beaches in Spain because no one cared if I was topless. (For the curious out there, I did wear a tank top).

So far, all of my kidlets have shown a distinct preference for nudity. This was great for potty-learning. Around three years of age, we started requiring underwear if guests might be present. At five, I'm still fine with Ariana taking off her shirt. She loves to dress up in different outfits everyday, so we rarely have to guide her there. Joel still prefers shoes to pants. They all still love family baths and haven't shown the least bit of self-consciousness if they see us undressed. I'm sure this will change, and as soon as they or we get uncomfortable, we'll start covering up more.

I want each of my children to have a healthy respect for the specialness of their bodies. I don't want them to rely on their appearance to attract others, but instead to make sure that they are beautiful on the inside. It is, however, a difficult topic to navigate, because so much seems to be based on each family's perspective and comfort level. I like clear rules and regulations (well, unless they inconvenience me, of course). But room for differing views and opinions is good, right? I look forward to hearing yours.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Letter on Christians and Spanking

Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at

Since I am reposting love letters, I decided to break the sequence just a little and insert a more recent letter that Carlos and I wrote. At the end, I've included a little bit about our journey on this.

Dear Pastor,

We are so grateful for all of the ways that you have helped us to connect in a closer way with God. This of course has had a profound influence on our parenting. Yet, in light of a recent sermon, we would like to present to you an alternative Christian view on disciplining children. Christians, of course, are probably the strongest proponents of spanking in the US. It is, so they say, their God given right---it's what the Bible teaches. That is exactly the point of contention and what we hope to humbly disprove. 

Let's take the Old Testament. Some (our more literal-interpreting brothers) would say that it covers a period of about 4000-10,000 years; others (our more moderate and liberal brothers), anywhere between 10,000 to millions and millions of years. Irrespective of which view you hold, it has to be astounding that there is not one example of spanking in the whole Old Testament. This is especially impressive when you consider the large percentage of OT books which are more narrative than didactic. We might also add that there is no example of spanking in the New Testament, even though the time period is significantly shorter (around 100 years) and the majority of the books are didactic and not narrative. Now certainly there are some didactic passages in both Testaments that can be construed as being pro-spanking, however, they can be interpreted in a different light with sound exegesis.

Strange, isn’t it, for a teaching that is so adamantly held by so many believers that it is not illustrated once in either Testament? But, even if no narrative biblical passage illustrates spanking, if it is plainly and consistently taught in didactic passages, then we must accept it as God ordained. In the Old Testament the only passages that can be construed as being pro-spanking are found in only one book: Proverbs. A good hermeneutical principal is to not build doctrine on poetic passages. The wisdom books are full of symbolism and hyperbole and are often a stumbling block to the more literal interpreting readers. The “rod” in these Proverbs passages that so many see as a license to spank is symbolic. This Hebrew word is often translated as shepherd’s “staff/rod” or king’s “scepter”. So, if we were to be more literal, a closer translation would be bat and not twig! But that is not the author’s intent. This “rod” is a symbol of authority and guidance, like a shepherd guiding his sheep or a king governing his people. This is why the Psalmist could joyfully exclaim: “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). We do not wish to pass over this lightly, because these verses are the foundation of the Christian pro-spanking argument. However, to avoid repetition, we ask that you read the following links: and, for a detailed analysis of these passages.

It is somewhat puzzling that the people who insist that spanking is Old Testament mandated claim the passages from a poetic book, yet dismiss clear instructions from a didactic passage in the Torah to stone rebellious children (Deut. 21:18-21). Why the inconsistency? You claim that one passage is obviously morally wrong. We submit that both are morally wrong, especially in light of the culmination of God’s progressive revelation---Jesus Christ, who taught us, among other things, that unless we “become like little children” we can never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:3. See also Mt. 19:14). Implication: children are more in tune with God than adults. Which raises the question: should the unrighteous be punishing the righteous?

While the Old Testament is of great value, we recognize that no longer being under the Law changes how we apply some of the OT Scriptures to our daily lives. So even if spanking is Old Testament taught that doesn’t mean it is New Testament endorsed. Throughout the New Testament the one passage used to support spanking is Hebrews 12:4-6. Going back to the original language there, however, also changes the meaning to the importance of discipline and authority in shaping a child, not physical punishment. God certainly disciplines us but He doesn’t physically hit us when he does. Read the text. Proper exegesis shows that the pro-spanking people simply choose to read into this passage the very point they need to prove.

So, if there are no passages in either Testament that truly encourage spanking, then we must evaluate discipline according to other principles that the Bible teaches clearly. Jesus teaches us that we have two goals: to love God with all that we are, and to treat others the way we would like to be treated. Nowhere does He imply that His words do not apply to how we treat children. In fact, His interactions with children showed a special effort to value them and their feelings. He also tells us that whatever we do to the least of these we are doing to Him. Can you honestly say that you would want someone to hit you? I can't. I can say truthfully that I would want loving correction and instruction if I were doing something wrong, but being hit/spanked/popped/smacked would not be a part of it.

Jesus’ example was that the one in authority had an even greater responsibility to act in love than the one under authority. We are to demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit. Yet how is hitting a child compatible with the peace, patience, kindness and gentleness in which we are called to walk? The Bible is very specific about how we should deal with sin in others: We are taught that in correcting those who disobey to do so gently (Gal. 6:1). Parents are specifically cautioned to not cause their children to lose heart (Eph. 6:4). Having the people you love most in the world deliberately hurt you is pretty disheartening, regardless of any lofty motives they may claim.

The Bible is clear that parents have a responsibility to discipline their children. But discipline and spanking are not the same thing. Discipline is about making disciples, or teaching. It is difficult for children to focus on a life-lesson, though, if they are distracted by the anger, hurt, fear, humiliation and resentment that result from being hit. As career teachers, our professional education classes and our years of experience with students of many ages have convinced us that the research is correct in showing that people learn more effectively through positive reinforcement than from punishment (negative reinforcement). You have seen this in the family of Kevan and Heather ********, whose children are delightful to be around. They do not spank, but instead practice gentle discipline. 

Another important point is that most of us are able to learn best from example--that is why Paul wrote to be imitators of him as beloved children. Kids are expert mimics. Too many children in our nation are learning that the way to respond to an offense is to hurt the offender. “Turning the other cheek” is not supposed to mean baring a child’s bottom. We recognize that in other relationships of authority (employer/employee, police officer/civilian, pastor/church member, husband/wife) that physical punishment is inappropriate, even when correction is needed. Children are even more vulnerable—surely we can find better ways to correct them, as well.

When Christians teach spanking, the majority has several cute euphemisms to describe it and a list of guidelines as to how, when, and with what. There is absolutely no Biblical basis for any of them—they are essentially cultural. Whether you call it spanking, popping, smacking or hitting, they all mean to strike a child in order to produce pain and fear. Why do we feel the need to create so many guidelines: spank only on the bottom or legs, only X number of times, only with your hand/a switch/a paddle/PVC pipe (Michael and Debi Pearl, some of the most popular writers on spanking in Christian circles, advocate plastic plumbing pipe, and we were given a copy of their book by a pediatrician!). Is spanking on the bottom any better than the Waorani practice of slapping their children in the face with stinging nettles? Why, if neither results in permanent injury? If God didn’t impose a limit on the number of times we strike a child, who is to say that 9 times is worse than 2? While not spanking in anger is at least more likely to avoid a total loss of control and avert serious physical injury, watching the person you love and trust more than any other calmly and deliberately choose to hurt you is a chilling experience. 

I would submit that the reason behind the euphemisms and rules that Christians create is that our conscience is condemning us. We are aware on some level that hurting those who are smaller and weaker goes against the nature of Christ, and feel a need to justify and minimize what we are actually doing.

Another issue with spanking is that as the child grows, the spankings must get harder and longer in order to produce the same level of pain and fear. When do they eventually start to cross the line into abuse? Of course, most parents stop spanking once the child begins to approach them in size and maturity. We agree that then it is more appropriate to use the Biblical admonition, “Come now, let us reason together…”. If the child is old enough to reason, spanking is unnecessary. If the child is too young to reason, then the child is too young to effectively understand what the parents are trying to teach, and the spanking is both cruel and pointless.

The false dichotomy that always pops up is that if parents don’t spank, they are not disciplining their children. That suggests that parents are relying on spanking as their main or only form of discipline. Permissive, lazy parenting is neglect. The responsibility given to parents is a great, even fearsome one. By choosing not to spank, we have gained deeper insight into our children’s hearts. It has challenged us to deal with anger and pride, and earnestly seek God’s wisdom, patience and love. Proactive parenting is more “work” than spanking, but already the rewards have been great. 

There are so many alternative ways to discipline that result in harmony and renewed connection between the parent and child. Teaching a child to do right is much more effective than executing judgment for doing wrong. When we as parents obey our directive to treat others as we want to be treated, it causes us to get behind the eyes of the child and deal with the root of the problem rather than just suppressing an outward behavior. It is amazing to see a cycle of irritability and frustration break when the parent chooses to discipline by restoring relationship. Many parents assume a time-out is the default choice if parents don’t spank. However, often what children need is more time WITH the parents to reconnect, reassure and restore. Without turning an already lengthy letter into a book, if you are interested in other approaches, we would be happy to explain how we handle specific situations or direct you to sources that we have found beneficial.

The plan behind redemption is clear: God wants to reconnect with us. All of the history of the Law shows that merely punishing sin doesn't change the heart. What changes the hearts of our children is relationship. Obedience grows out of love and trust rather than a self-centered desire to avoid punishment. If children obey simply out of fear of being spanked, their motivation isn’t righteous, but only self-centered.

As a child of God, my choice for obedience isn't based on a fear of punishment. It isn't a get-out-of-hell-free card for me. It is because I love Him and have learned to trust Him. My children are learning to obey for the same reasons. If my children do wrong and repent, for me to go ahead and hit them seems very inconsistent with the way that God has forgiven my mistakes. I have a responsibility to show the same grace toward my kids that I have received. It is God's kindness that leads us to repentance, not His wrath. 

We have chosen to look at this from a Christian perspective, but we find it interesting that the research is overwhelmingly against spanking. The American Academy of Pediatrics, like many other professional organizations involving children and health, has issued a statement against corporal punishment on the grounds that it is not nearly as effective as positive reinforcement and that it can be harmful physically and emotionally. In fact, there are some indications that spanking is associated with increased delinquent and antisocial behavior, increased risk of child abuse and spousal abuse, increased risk of child and adult aggression, decreased child mental health and decreased adult mental health. Consider this in the light of Jesus’ warning against causing little ones to stumble.

Sometimes it is difficult to discern what the Bible teaches on specific issues. You have often used the illustration of God playing hide and seek in order to encourage us to dig deeper and seek Him with all of our hearts. On the topic of spanking, He has given us glimpses of His heart--the parable of the unmerciful servant (Mt. 18:21-35), I John 4, James 2:13. None of these suggest ignoring or excusing sin, but they all teach us to be humble and loving as we show others, regardless of their age, a better way.

In closing, we chose to write this to you because of our respect for you. We know that you are someone who has the courage to look beyond the easy, superficial answers and the integrity to hold convictions that may not be popular. Believe us, in Christian circles not spanking is tantamount to heresy, but it is a very worthy cause. We humbly suggest that spanking is just another religiously transmitted disease. We love you and your family and are grateful that God has placed us under your spiritual leadership. May God bless you and your family.
Carlos and Dulce

***This is some of the backstory on our gentle discipline journey***

When we first got married, I thought that in order to be a Christian parent you had to spank. I mean, wasn't that what all the Proverbs verses taught? And if the options are an out-of-control brat who terrorizes everyone, or spanking a child, then a loving parent would have to make the choice to spank, right?

Carlos disagreed, and told me that he would never spank our kids. After our eldest was born, there was so much harmony between us that suddenly the idea of hitting her was as incomprehensible as the idea of hitting myself. But what about the Bible? Turns out that those verses are not instruction to hit your kids, anymore than we would seriously suggest that suicide is preferable to portion control (Prov. 23:2). Please look up the posts on, and (search spanking or discipline) to see the original words of the verses!

Once we started the journey into gentle discipline, I originally thought that a non-violent system of rewards and punishments would be the way to go. But the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I felt with that. Reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn crystallized a lot of things for me. Connection Parenting by Pam Leo gave me practical tools.

Our kids have never been punished, but they are deeply sensitive to the needs and feelings or others, remarkably so for their ages. I overhear them talking daily about whether or not to do different things. They don't say, "We shouldn't do that because we will be spanked or go to time-out." They say, "We shouldn't do that because it could hurt someone's feelings." They really are making choices out of a tender heart for others rather than what they can get away with.

Our home is a place for loving touches. I never want my daughters to think that it is OK for the people who love you to hit you. I never want my son to think that it is OK to hit people as long as you love them.