Vent here safely

If you're feeling sad/angry/resentful/overlooked, post it here. If you're here, post something to support someone else. No Misery Poker–everyone's pain is real. If you need to post anonymously, put in a fake URL (we tend to like for these occasions).

All the good things and the bad things that will be

I just got in the mail a notification that my son's school is going to be having sex ed classes for the fifth graders. And information on how to opt him out of taking this sex ed.

I feel so sorry for the parents who choose to opt out, and for their children.

My kids have known the mechanics of sex for years, from when they each first asked about how a baby gets into a woman's stomach. We started with the very basics, answering the questions they had, and as they asked more questions I gave more answers and some context. I have found some of these conversations to be hilarious and some to be just interesting, but I feel so glad that my kids know that I will always answer them truthfully when they ask me how something works.

I understand that some of us are afraid to talk about sex with our kids. But sex is part of how the physical world works, so they need to know about it. If you start early enough, it's all just the mechanics anyway, nothing at all to feel weird about, like you're explaining how a steam engine works.

Being afraid to talk to your kids about sex is like being afraid to talk to your kids about math: you might feel a little weird about it, but you do it anyway because you know they need to know. And if you feel like you don't know what to say, you find some books to help you start the conversation.

I understand that some people might not agree with everything a school sex ed program is teaching, but opting their kids out steals a huge opportunity from the parent to open up a conversation about what they think. And to have their kids know what the general culture thinks about sex, and explain how they agree or disagree with a little bit or some or all of that. Their kids will eventually hear everything they'd hear in a sex ed class, but if parents don't take the opportunity to talk about it with their kids, they lose the chance.

I'm guessing my fifth grader will know most of what this class is going to teach him already, but I'm glad he's taking it because it gives us another chance to talk about it. And who knows what I haven't realized I didn't cover that the class will talk about? Super opportunity for honesty, communication, and trust with my son.

Talking about the mechanics of sex, and later when they're older about the ethics and emotions of sex, is also part of teaching your kids how great and useful and healthy their bodies are. And what they're worth (both your kids and their bodies).

So. If the idea of talking about sex with your child is making you feel anxious, or like you want to dodge the conversation, think about why. How did you learn about sex? How do you feel about that? (I did not have the best first few conversations about sex, and I wish they'd been different.) Do you wish a caring adult had been more open or neutral or guiding or something else? Then, look at the opportunity you have to give your own child an easier learning path about what they need to know about sex. You can give them what you didn't get, or what you wish you'd gotten, because you are just that awesome. Take a few deep breaths first. And don't worry about saying "the right thing," because this isn't a one-shot conversation. They'll keep asking questions and you will keep telling them what they need to know, for years. (Unlike the steam engine conversation, which probably will only happen a couple of times.)

Hugs all around. How much talking about the mechanics have you done already with your kids? Was it as tough or as easy as you thought it would be?

Toddler waking early for an odd reason

Bayley writes:

"My son will turn 2 in two weeks. He’s recently (since we
weaned at 21 months) started sleeping all night in his crib, which is,
obviously, fantastic. However, over the past month he’s woken up early nearly
every single day with a big problem: he has to poop. Between 5:00 and 5:30 AM,
he wakes up in his crib and yells for me to get him. I take him to the bathroom
and he poops, and then he’s awake for the day. The problem—besides the obvious
I’m-being-awakened-at-the-asscrack-of-dawn-for-poop—is that he needs more sleep
than he’s getting. He goes to bed at 8PM. He naps about 2 hours in the
afternoon. That doesn’t add up to enough sleep for him. I know this because,
before this pooping problem started, he would sleep from 8PM to 6:30 or 7AM.

How can I shift his poop schedule? I have tried moving
dinner-time later with no success. I also cut out fruit after midday, again
with no success. We need some suggestions. I’m pregnant again, and waking up in
the dark day after day is starting to wear on me."

Gah! Things no one ever tells you could happen, for real.

You've already done the first couple of things I'd have suggested. I'm wondering if you could give him either prune juice or a warm beverage (like fruit "tea" like Red Zinger) later in the morning to see if that could get his bowels on a later schedule.

I do think this is eventually going to shift to a later schedule anyway even if you do nothing, but in the meantime you're too tired and he's too tired, too.

Has anyone been through ill-timed pooping with a toddler? Did you do anything that shifted the schedule?


Let’s talk about immunity

I've gotten some questions about the knife fight I referred to in the letter. I wrote about it briefly when it happened here. It was on the L train in Manhattan while I was taking my then-4-year-old to preschool. I didn't realize it was a knife fight until it was in progress two feet from us, so I grabbed my son, shouted "Tiene cuchillo!" at the other mom with a kid on the train, and she and I got our kids off the train. It was short but terrifying.

Also, if you're a new reader and haven't heard this before: When I lived in NYC we used to be at the playground every day, and at some playgrounds there would occasionally be hostile-seeming men (always men) staring at the kids and getting too close and sometimes taking pictures of the kids. A few times I took pictures of them with my phone, just in case. Last year, one of my friends from the playground was walking with her kids on the street and a man touched her daughter. So she took his picture with her phone. She told me she didn't hesitate, because we'd all talked about it and rehearsed it so many years ago when the kids were little. She took the photo to the police, and it turned out that the guy was a convicted child rapist out on parole. Her photo and evidence and testimony at the trial last week sent him back to jail where he can't rape any other little kids.

I am generally not afraid of the world, and I feel like it's a good and wonderful place, but I've learned to trust my instincts about people who are up to no good, and follow those instincts. Reading the book Protecting the Gift by Gavin De Becker is an excellent place to start assessing danger and trusting your instincts.

But let's talk about immunity. I didn't think the section about immunity in the letter to my kids was anything new, as I always knew I had immunity from my parents if I needed to call and get help. But it seems to have struck a nerve with people, both as something they wish they'd had, and as something they'd had. I got an email from a 21-year-old woman who grew up in New York and always knew she had immunity. She told me she'd gone through a very rebellious phase as a teen, and then told me this story (and let me quote this part of her email):

"But I went through a fairly heavy rebellious phase as a teenager, picked
up a drug habit, and running away from home to get high became a norm
for me. On one of these occaisions I was away from home for a 10 day
stretch, on the 10th night a group of classmates tried to gang-rape me. I
was extremely lucky and was able to run away. But because of the love
my mother had shown me – I knew that night wasn't my fault. I knew I
could go home. And I knew I would be safe."

She knew she could go home. I burst into tears reading that for so many reasons. Thinking about how scared she must ahve been, how worried her mother must have been, how lucky she was, how sad I am that the classmates tried to rape her and no one intervened, all of it.

But the takeaway for me is that she knew she could go home. That's what I want my boys to know, that they can ALWAYS call home and come home, and they can bring anyone who needs to be safe home here where there's always a hug and someone to listen to your story.

Tell me about a time you needed immunity, or got immunity, or gave immunity, please.

Reprinting the Letter to My Sons

As long as you keep my name, the original link, and my Twitter handle attached to it, you can reprint or read the letter to whomever you want, without alteration, as long as you don’t charge anyone to read or access it. You may translate it into other languages if you’d like (someone’s already translated it into Indonesian, with my permission!).
Here’s the attribution info to keep attached:

Magda Pecsenye

Here it is as a PDF, so you can print it:

Download A Letter To My Sons About Stopping Rape.pdf

I’m so glad this has struck such a note with people!

A Letter To My Sons About Stopping Rape

Dear Boys,

Some really horrible things happened to someone who could be
one of your friends, and it was done by some people who could be your friends.
You're 11 and almost-8 now, so the incident that made me write this letter isn't something you've heard about, but this stuff keeps happening, unfortunately. So I need to talk to you about it.

First of all, I know we talk all the time about how special your
bodies are, and how you’re the only one who gets to decide what to do with your
body. I’ve never made you put anything in your mouth that you didn’t want
to, or touch anyone you didn’t want to, or talk to anyone you didn’t want to,
because I wanted you to understand that you and you alone control your
boundaries. We worked on blowing a kiss so you could show that you liked
someone without having to touch them, and high fives if you were ok touching
them but only with your hand. We talked all the time about not letting people
tell you that what you wanted was wrong or that they knew better, and that you
should always always tell your dad or grandma or me if anyone makes you feel

And we talk all the time about making sure that if you’re
touching someone else that they want you to be touching them. That if they say “No”
you have to stop right away (even if it’s just fake-punching your brother) and
that even if they aren’t saying “No” you need to make sure they’re still
enjoying it. You know how sometimes you like to be tickled and sometimes you
don’t? Well, everyone’s like that, so even if they liked it when you did it
yesterday, you should still make sure they really want you to today, whatever
kind of touching it is.

Now I’m going to talk about sex. I know you know “how it
works” because we’ve been talking about it ever since you two were little,
since before you could read, and you know all about sperm and eggs and penises
and vaginas and vulvas and orgasms and condoms and all that. And I know I told
you it feels good and you had a hard time seeing how that could be true but
took my word for it. Well, the thing I didn’t tell you is that it feels
unbelievably amazing when you’re doing it with someone who really wants to be
doing it with you. Like, better than popcorn followed by ice cream, or a Supah
Ninjas marathon, or two snow days in a row. You know how excited I get when I get a
new pair of shoes? It’s like 500 times better than that, when the person you’re
doing it with is so excited to be doing it with you that they start asking you
for it.

This is what I want you to wait for. I want you to wait to
have sex until the person you’re with asks you for it. Tells you they need you
now, and that they can’t wait, and they want it. Calls you by your name and
asks for it.

If you’re ever in a situation in which someone is asking
you for it and you don’t want to have sex with that person, don’t do it. And if
you’re ever in a situation in which you want to have sex but the other person
doesn’t ask you for it, don’t do it. It’s only good if you both want it, and can
tell each other you want it, and are sure you both want it. Otherwise someone’s
going to get hurt. And romance is weird enough without hurting other people
when you can stop yourself (and you can always stop yourself–that goes along
with having opposable thumbs).

This letter is almost over but this next part is
super-important: Not everyone you know has been taught all the stuff we’ve talked
about. You are going to know people, and maybe even be friends with people, who
think it’s ok to hurt other people in a lot of ways. One of those ways is sex.
I know you’re going to hear other boys say things about girls, or sometimes about
other boys, that means they don’t care about those girls’ feelings or bodies.
When you do, I need you to step in. All you have to do is say something like, “Dude,
that’s not cool” or something that lets the person saying something nasty know
that it’s not ok. Remember that everyone wants to fit in. If you can take
control of the mood in the room by letting them know nasty talk isn’t ok, they’ll
stop so they don’t look like an idiot.

Remember how we talk all the time about how we’re the people
who help, who fix things when there’s a problem or someone’s in trouble? You
may get the chance to do that someday. Because those boys who say nasty things
about girls may actually do something to those girls. If you are ever anywhere
where boys start hurting a girl, or touching her in any way that she doesn’t
want, you need to step in. If she’s asleep or drunk or passed out or drugged
and can’t say “no,” you need to step in. Remember, it’s not good unless both
people can say they want it. If a girl isn’t saying anything, that doesn’t mean
she wants it. If she isn’t saying specifically that she wants it, then it’s

Here’s how you should step in:

1. If it’s safe for you to say something, say something. In
a loud, commanding voice, tell the guy who’s doing it to stop, and make sure he
knows it’s not ok and he can’t be an asshole (sorry to curse, but by the time
you’re in this situation you’ll be cursing, too). Then help the girl get to
someplace safe, and call her parents. (Even if she thinks she’s going to get in
trouble, call her parents. If they’re mad at her, I can talk to them and take
care of it.)

2. If it’s not safe for you to say something, leave the room
quietly and calmly and call me. I do not care if you’re someplace you’re not
supposed to be, or not the place you told me you were, or in Canada or
someplace that would normally get you in a lot of trouble. You get immunity if
you’re calling for help. My phone is always on, and it does not matter what
time of day or night it is. If I don’t pick up right away, call your dad, and
the same immunity rules apply. Call one of us and give us the address of where
you are and we will come help. Then hang up and call 911. Tell them the address
and that there’s an assault going on. They might want you to stay on the line
with them until the police get there.

3. Even if you don't like the girl, step in. Even if she's been mean to you or snobby, or someone told you she did something you think is gross. No matter what she did, no one should hurt her. If you step in, the next day you can go back to hating her. If you don't step in, well, how are you any different from the loser who's hurting her? You know who you are. Step in.

4. Do not worry that everyone will hate you if you stop the
cool kids from doing something. Stopping someone from hurting another person
makes you a hero. This is what you’re here to do. And if there are people who
don’t like it, screw them. Your dad and I will do anything it takes to make
sure that anyone who doesn’t like your being a hero stays away from you and
keeps their mouths shut.

We have been practicing for this for a long time, for being
the ones who help.  Remember when we were
in the middle of the knife fight on the subway and we got the other mom and kid
out of the way? Remember when we helped my friend move away from her scary
husband? Remember all those times we took pictures of those freaky dudes
staring at the little kids at the playground? We’ve been practicing to step in and
help someone else. You can do it. I have faith in you.




Clip show today:

1. If any of you were as disheartened as I was by the mean-spirited "Dear Mom on the iPhone" post that went around (that I won't link to because it makes me so upset), I hope this really lovely piece "Dear Mom on the iPhone, I Get It" by Fried Okra restores your faith in humanity like it did for me. 

2. I posed a piece on the HuffPo Divorce site yesterday about starting running as a way to show your body that you love it. Don't judge my playlist–I just turned 40.

3. If you are wondering if I'm ever going to shut up about exercising, well, no, I am not. This piece shows why: "Fit at 102" The money shot here: "Many people don’t realize that problems they associate with old age actually are caused by poor fitness, experts say…" I'm not going down without a fight, and this man in the story is an inspiration (he started working out at age 98).

4. By now you've probably heard that Google Reader is being shut down in a few months. Here's a list of alternatives.

5. Remember my friend who took a picture of the guy who touched her daughter and showed it to the police, who then hauled the guy in and he turned out to be a child rapist out on parole? The case went to court, and my friend and her daughter testified, and the jury came back with a guilty verdict, so this miserable slime who raped his own daughters is now going back to prison. I am so proud of my friend and of her daughter. And so thankful for a sensible and good jury.

6. My 7-year-old told me this morning he'd like to change his name to Turbo.

What's new with you?

Resources for girls going through puberty?

Mona writes:

"So . . . . my oldest is 9.  Outwardly showing signs of puberty – breast
buds, underarm hair, some increased facial oil and has had one or two
blemishes.  She is a "tomboy" and has been pretty even-keeled, at least
for the past six years or so.  The wheels have gone off the bus. 
Crying, whining, yelling, you name it.  It's like a classic roller
coaster.  I have talked with her about the changes her body is going
through, told her we all went through it and it does get better, and
also cracked down on the whining/crying/etc.  But really am I doing the
right thing?  What should/can I do?  I am also trying to encourage her
to get plenty of exercise, which is something that makes her happy and
also helps her sleep better at night, but sometimes she still can't
sleep and the exercise isn't possible.  Any thoughts or books or words
of wisdom?  Almost all of the parenting books relate to specific younger
ages or are more general like the Faber books.  I want a roadmap to

Ouch. I remember being a girl on the inside of puberty, and it was horrible. This is making me want to call my mom and thank her for putting up with me then.

I also remember reading the Judy Blume books at that age and feeling like someone understood me. So maybe that whole genre of puberty lit would be helpful for your daughter to read.

For resources for you to help talking about it with her, I don't know. I haven't look for anything for talking to my son and am just taking the conversations as they come, precisely because everything seems to be geared toward younger kids OR is about talking about sex and reproduction and we've been talking about that for eight years now so it's not a hot topic anymore.

Who can help, with resources for talking about puberty–not sex and reproduction–with upper elementary age kids?

Encouraging traits for leadership

First of all, to clarify: I am not criticizing Sheryl Sandberg or her book. I'm choosing not to read the book because I've seen so many interviews with her in the past year that I know what her message is already so reading the book would be redundant. I don't feel like she speaks to me personally, but I know that a lot of women are loving her message and that's great.

I was specifically criticizing that quote, which, out of context, was rocketing around the internet. As someone who verged on "bossy" as a little girl, I'm very thankful that my mother worked with me to turn my fierceness, determination, and strong sense of self into traits that helped me, instead of allowing me to tell others what to do and barrel through situations without regard for others or for how I was being perceived.

I'm also thankful that she didn't allow others to dismiss me by calling me "bossy." And that she didn't encourage me to push others around by calling that "leadership skills."

It is my hope that we can see the excellent traits our kids have and nurture them, while looking at negative behaviors separately. Being determined is a trait. Telling others what to do is a behavior. There is no reason to label someone for their behaviors. For one thing, it makes the labeler small. For another thing, behavior changes so the label won't make any sense.

But there is a reason to work with our kids on behaviors that won't help them. Teaching kids not to push others around is not denying their positive traits, but it is helping them channel those traits into behaviors that increase their power and expand the pie for everyone. We can create strong, forceful, aggressive, kids (girls and boys both) who know how to work with other people, who inspire because their boldness includes others, and who others love to be led by because of their strength.

At the same time, "shy" kids can learn leadership skills, too. The kids who feel pushed and afraid when other kids overwhelm them, who are sensitive and cautious, they can be great leaders, too. If we convince ourselves or others that it's necessary to be bold and forceful to be a leader, we're cutting off possibilities for some of our kids and cheating ourselves out of some strong leaders.

The culture of communication is a whole different topic. I went to a women's college for a lot of reasons, one of which was that I didn't want anyone to think I could be minimized. I don't know what the answer is to creating an entire co-ed culture that gives value to all voices and styles. That's why I'm focusing on teaching my individual kids to be leaders, which involves listening to all voices and being specifically inclusive as a technique for discovery and rigor. (If you create an echo chamber, you immediately lower the bar for whatever you're doing.)

Thoughts? What are you doing to foster your kids' strong traits and teach them leadership skills?