TeachThemHowToThink

Hi! I'm JJ (aka Mama JJ). I'm a secular parent, an atheist and a feminist. I'm fiercely pro-choice and about as far left as you can get on the Liberal to Conservative scale. If you hang out with me you'll get thoughts on all of these subjects and occasionally excerpts from conversations with my 9-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. I tag all of the conversations with "heard today" (links up above) and all the parenting stuff gets tagged with "Secular Parenting." My URL comes from the phrase "Teach children how to think, not what to think" which is my parenting philosophy in a nutshell. If you have a question, my inbox is always open and anon is usually on. Welcome!
Posts tagged "heard today"

My daughter and I just finished reading Rainbow Fish and the Sea Monsters’ Cave.  This book receives high marks from me; partly because of the excellent use of the possessive apostrophe in the title, and partly because I enjoy a good thriller.  It’s a story of sacrifice and of friendship and of facing your fears all set in “the most dangerous place in the entire ocean.”

(Okay, okay - it’s about two fish swimming through a scary cave to find some red algae for a sick friend.)

I expected my daughter to be thrilled by the bravery of the fish, amused by their little adventure, or even intrigued by the psychological affects of fear upon perception.  She was not.  She was annoyed by the false advertising.

"Where’s the sea monster?"

[SPOILER!]  ”There wasn’t a monster at all!  Isn’t that funny?  It was just rocks and seaweed.  They thought it was a monster because they were scared, but it was all their imagination.”

"But I wanted there to be a sea monster."

"Why?"

"Because the book says ‘The Sea Monsters’ Cave’ but there’s no sea monster.  There should be a sea monster.  A scary one.  This wasn’t scary at all."

"You want to read a scary book?"

"Yeah, like [Brother]’s.  The one with the white hand that chases the little girl and the other mother with sewed up eyes."

"You want me to read you Coraline?"

"No, ‘cause that’s not really scary.  Button eyes aren’t scary.  Walking hands aren’t scary.  I want to read a book about sea monsters."

So, dear tumblr…. do you know any scary books about sea monsters that would be appropriate for a 4-year old who thinks Coraline just isn’t all that frightening?

I just tried typing out a conversation I had with my son yesterday, but it got way too long.  So instead, I’m going to summarize it:

Part 1: My son met another non-believer on the bus yesterday.  Much excitement ensues. 

Part 2:  I remind my son of the events of last year and to be cautious when having discussions about god in public bc people in this area take their beliefs very seriously.

Part 3:  We discuss people changing their opinions of you if you believe differently from them and how it’s good to try to avoid that as long as possible.  We also discuss good people doing not so good things because of their beliefs.

Part 4:  My daughter chimes in with “But they THINK they’re doing good things.  That’s the problem.”

Part 5:  My son and I look at each other in astonishment and my son says “I can’t believe my four year old sister just said that.  I can’t believe she’s that smart.”

Part 6:  My daughter grins at him with every tooth showing and says “Of course I’m smart!  I’m a sister!”

Part 7:  Laughter and hugs all around.

So good news from the bus friend and good conversation with the kids, but I’m still feeling ultra-wary about my son having any religion discussions around school friends and teachers this early in the year.  And I hate that I feel that way.  And I hate that I feel I must teach my kids to feel that way.

Has anyone else out there dealt with something similar?

My husband:  Good morning, kiddies.

My 4-year-old daughter:  We’re not kitties!  We’re humans!

My husband:  You are right, I’m sorry.  Good morning, humans!

My 9-year-old son: You could call us apes, too!  We’re apes.

My daughter:  We’re apes, but not gorillas.  We’re all…what’s that word again?  Primeets?

My husband:  Primates.  

My son:  Yeah!  You could say, “Good morning, primates!”

My daughter:  But not kitties.  We are definitely not kitties.

My 9-year-old son:  Do you think I could sleep in [my sister’s] room tonight?

Me:  Did the Doctor Who episode we just watched freak you out?

Him:  NO.

Me:  …….

Him:  Well…. maybe a little.

Me:  So you want your four-year-old sister to protect you?

My daughter:  I will protect you, [brother]!  Don’t worry.  Monsters aren’t real.  *squeezes him around the legs in a protective hug because she only comes up to his hip*

My son:  Mom?  Can we have pizza for supper tonight?

Me:  I don’t know…

My daughter:  Pleeeeeeeeeease?  We can have peas with it!  

Me:  We just had pizza few nights ago though.

My son:  That was like… a WEEK ago.

My daughter:  A week is SEVEN DAYS.

Me:  Well…..only if you sing the song.

My son:  Again?  Seriously?

Me:  You want pizza again, I want the song again.

My son (to my daughter):  Come on.  Let’s do it.

Together (to the tune of Everything is Awesome):  Mommy is so awesome!  Mommy is so cool and she’s part of our team.  Mommy is so awesome!  And we’re living the dream.

Me:  Best. Song. Ever.

My daughter:  This is my jam!

One of the hardest things for me as a parent is knowing what to do with other people’s kids.

Example: My daughter and I are swinging at the playground and three little boys come dashing over. One is going into kindergarten this year (I know this bc he announced to one of the others who his teacher will be) and the other two appear to be 3rd or 4th graders - around the same age as my son.

One of the first things out of the mouth of one was, “She’s such a stupid bitch.”

Right. Okay. Well, not what I’d like for my daughter to overhear at the park, but it’s also their right to express themselves and who knows what situation or action prompted the comment.

A few minutes later, the two older ones start taunting the younger about being too slow, getting a really mean teacher and not being able to climb well. Nasty behavior that I definitely would have corrected in my own kids, but the younger one didn’t seem upset at all so, again, I chose ignore it.

This goes on for about 15 minutes. They do and say questionable things, I keep my eye on them but don’t intercede.

Then, one of the older ones sudden tackles the younger. The little one laughs briefly, then lets out a cry and says, “Stop!”

The kid doesn’t stop.

"Stop!" the little one shouts again, "you’re hurting me!"

He doesn’t stop. I swoop.

I march right in front of them and in my very pissed off Mom Voice (keep it low, keep it quiet, keep it bordering on murderous) I say, “If someone says stop, you STOP. Immediately. Hurting someone is NEVER okay. Got it?”

The kid dropped his grip on the little one and backed up quickly. “Okay. I’m sorry.”

"Don’t do it again." I kept eye contact with the kid while I returned to my daughter and a few minutes later the kids left the playground.

Did I handle it well?? I truly have no idea. Did they call me a stupid bitch the minute they were out of earshot? Likely. But I hope they’ll remember what that “stupid bitch” at the park said the next time someone tells them, “Stop!”

You stop. Immediately. ~JJ

So you know that tumblr post about makeup that says something like “and at that moment I realized men do not understand what makeup looks like” and then the comment under it says something like “guys don’t even know the difference between mascara and eyeliner”

I can’t find it right now, but I know it crossed my dash at least 5 or 6 times.

ANYWAY.  I almost never wear any makeup, but I put some on today for fun and asked my husband, “do you like my eyeliner?”

He stared at my face for a few seconds then said, “I’m sorry, but what’s eyeliner?”

"Liner.  For your eye.  The black line right above my mascara."

He stared again.  ”…. mascara?  Are you wearing any?  Isn’t that the stuff that goes up here?”  He pointed vaguely up by his eyebrow.  

Holy shit.  Tumblr was right!

"You seriously don’t know?"

"Should I?"

"I guess not… but it makes me angry that you don’t and I do.  That I was socialized to think I need it and you weren’t."

"Well you obviously don’t need any eye mascara or whatever, but if you like it, I like it.”  He kissed my forehead.  ”You’re beautiful.  Eye gunk or not.”

"Very smooth."  

Whenever my 4-year-old daughter sees a picture of me when I was younger, she always asks, “Was I still an egg inside you then?”

"Yes, you and your brother were both eggs."

"And there were lots of other eggs too, right?"

"Thousands."

"But you picked me?"

"Women usually release one egg a month and the month you were ready to be released, your daddy and I decided ‘Yup, we are ready to be parents again! Let’s try for that one!’ I didn’t know you were going to be so great, though. We picked a very good egg."

"The best egg?"

"You know, I think so! You and your brother were the best eggs."

*Daughter nods knowingly.*

*I turn to look at the window and discover my daughter is standing a few feet away, staring intently at me.*

Me: Hi! What are you doing? Why are you staring at me?

Her: Because.

Me: Because why?

Her: Because I like your nose.

Me: Oh! I like your nose, too.

Her: I know. You told me.

Me: Mutual nose admiration? We like each other’s noses?

Her: We like each other’s faces!

"Oh, Mama! Look!" My 4-year-old daughter rushed over to the corner of the garden nursery and pointed up at shelves lined with little stone statues.

"I see them. Which is your favorite?"

"Do you like the baby angel statues?" the woman standing near us asked. "Look at this one with a little harp!"

My daughter examined it closely. “Yeah, I like those weeping angel statues.”

"Weeping? That’s a big word for such a little girl! But I don’t see a weeping statue…where is it?" the lady glanced around, confused.

"Weeping angels come to life and kill you when you’re not looking," my daughter sweetly informed her, "I like those kind."

//Heads up for another long ramble/rant.  Sorry.  I’m in one of my moods.

A few weekends ago my son and his cousin (we’ll call her T.) decided to have a sleepover.  On the drive to our house, we passed a semi in a ditch surrounded by numerous police cars and a tow truck.  The conversation turned toward distracted driving and drunk driving and I gave my bi-monthly speech:

"We have no idea what caused that accident, but don’t forget it only takes a second to lose control of a vehicle.  Never ever EVER text or play with your phone while driving.  Got it?"

"Yeah, yeah.  I got it," my son said.

"And never ever EVER drive a car after you’ve had alcohol and never ever EVER get into a car with someone that has been drinking."

"I know, Mom."

"EVER.  NEVER EVER."

My son has heard this speech at least fifty times since we’ve been discussing it since he was about a year old, but apparently it was entirely new information to his cousin.  She had tons of questions - what “distracted driving” meant, how much alcohol gets you drunk, what being drunk means, how does alcohol affect your brain, how do you know when someone is drunk, etc., etc., etc.

I answered all her questions as thoroughly as I could while my son looked on and occasionally jumped in with information he knew from previous conversations we’ve had about the subject.

"And if I ever drink and don’t have a ride home, I’m always supposed to call you, right, Mom?"

"Right.  If you don’t have a safe way to get home, Always Always ALWAYS call me.  Even if it’s 2:00 in the morning.  Do not EVER drive home after you’ve been drinking and do not EVER let a friend drive home if he or she has been drinking.  Call me.  I will come get you."

My son sat back in his seat, nodding, while T. leaned forward.  ”Do you think that’s what I’m supposed to do, too?”

"I’ll call your mom when we get back to the house to be sure (I don’t want to call her while we’re driving - that would be distracted driving), but I’m almost certain she will agree.  You should definitely talk to her about it though, okay?"

(Side note - her mom agreed and was thrilled we had talked about this “difficult” topic together since she hadn’t covered it yet.)

So, this was a super long preface to get to what I actually wanted to write about: Priorities in Parenting.

After I had this conversation with the kiddos, I got to thinking about what I deem Important Information.  We have three large plaques in our house above the fireplace that say Be Bold, Be Brave and Be Kind (there’s a picture here, if you want to see them).  These are the values I want to impress on my kids.  Be Bold - be determined, resilient, adventurous.  Be Brave - be confident, think outside the box, challenge authority.  Be Kind - to yourself, emotionally and physically, and to others.  Pretty straightforward stuff.

Since these are my goals, I try to make sure my actions and words and lessons and the experiences I create for my kids reflect these goals.  Kids are little sponges - they soak up every single thing you say and do.  Teach them something when they are tiny, add reminders and more information when they get older, and they’ll remember it (usually).

You know who knows this better than anyone else?  Religious leaders.

Infant baptism, weekly church services, Sunday School, Wednesday youth groups, Praise and Play preschools, Vacation Bible School, church camps, Children’s Sermon, Bible studies, confirmation.  These things can start when a child is only a few days old.  

Religious parents want to pass on their beliefs to their kids and they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure it happens, even at the expense of all the other information their children could (and should!) be learning.  THIS is what I can’t stop thinking about.  Everything I could have known as a child, but didn’t because my brain was filled with Bible verses.  Everything other children should be learning but aren’t, because they are sitting in a Sunday school singing Jesus Loves Me.  (Have I mentioned I hate that song?  Because I hate that song.)

I keep thinking, WHAT AN INCREDIBLE WASTE OF TIME.

Can kids learn Bible verses AND learn not to drink and drive?  Well yeah, of course.  But it’s fascinating and oh so incredibly frustrating to know that millions of children are being forced by their parents to attend Sunday School each week because… their soul… or something… but many (most?) of these well-meaning parents are neglecting to talk to their kids about LIFE.

Part of my Never Ever Ever Drink And Drive speech is the promise that my son can rely on me.  If he ever makes the decision to drink at a party (and I know he will), I want my voice stuck in his head repeating over and over:  ”Never ever ever.  Never ever ever.  Don’t Drive.  Call Mom.”

Be Bold - take the keys away from your drunk friend.

Be Kind - don’t risk your own life or the lives of your friends or the lives of anyone else on the road.  Make sure you all get home safely.

Be Brave - call your mom, despite what your friends might say.

Pretty sure Sunday School never taught me any of that.  ~JJ

My daughter (while watching Doctor Who): Oh no! Is he gonna die?

Me: No. The show is about him, so he almost never dies.

Her: …because that would be a bad ending. He dies. The show’s over. All done.

Me: Exactly.

Her: He could die in real life though.

Me: He could, yes.

Her: People can’t breath underwater.

Me: True. How did you know that?

Her: Ariel in the book.

Me: The Little Mermaid?

Her: Uh huh. Maybe Ariel could save them. (*Points at the sinking submarine on the tv*)

Me: That would be quite the twist.

Her: ‘cause she’s not real either, so that would work.

Me:

Wait, mermaids aren’t real?

Her: MOM. Of course not.

Me: How do you know?

Her: ‘cause no one has ever seen one. They are just pretend. BUT…..

Me: What?

Her: ….maybe….maybe they are like The Silence and you forget you saw them!

Me: Silence of the Mermaids?

Her: Yeah!

Me: And if people put tally marks on their arms to keep track of them, the marks would just wash off in the water.

Her: People don’t swim with markers.

Me: Oh, right. That would be unrealistic.

My husband:  UGH.  That damn deer is out there again.

Me:  Is it eating the trees?

My husband:  I can’t tell.  Probably.  I’m going to shoot it.

Me:  With what?  A Nerf gun?

My husband:  A whistling Nerf gun.

Me:  Try barking at it.

My husband:  WOOF!  WOOF!  WOOF!

*Deer glances up, then continues eating*

My husband:  It didn’t work.

Me:  I didn’t really think it would.  Try quacking like a duck.

My husband:  You’re hilarious.

Me:  Moo like a cow?

My husband:  No.

My daughter:  MOOO!  MOOOOoooooOOOOOO!

*Deer glances up again, then meanders down the hill away from our trees.*

Me:  Huh.  I guess she’s scarier than you.

My husband:  It was obviously a delayed reaction to my terrifying barking.

Me:  Obviously.

//This will be a little bit ramble-y because I’m tired and it’s been a long day - sorry in advance.  :-)

Okay, so I posted an exchange I heard this afternoon between my daughter, her little cousin and her grandma a minute ago (here), but it relates to something else that happened this evening.

I’ve been wanting to watch more of Doctor Who with the kiddos for awhile now and we finally got around to it tonight with episodes 1 and 2 of season 6 (the Silence episodes).  When we finished, I was a little worried that they were too scary (especially for my little one), but they both were apparently unfazed by it because they started acting parts out and begging to watch more.

I know for a fact that I would have been terrified by those episodes when I was a child.  I tried to get more information out of them - “You weren’t scared at all?”

They both agreed that they were a little scared while watching, but now it was over and they weren’t scared anymore.

"Not at all?" I pressed.

"……. no….??"  They both looked a little bewildered by my questions.

Now, I don’t think my kids are particularly brave and they are certainly not exposed to enough scary films or shows to have become immune (they barely watch tv at all, actually), so I have to wonder if their reactions are simply because they have been taught since birth to identify what’s real and what’s fiction.

My son asked, “Are YOU afraid?  ’cause you know they are just pretend, right?”

I explained to him that, no, I wasn’t afraid, but if I had seen that show when I was young I would have been really scared and I probably would have been scared for days.  So I was a little surprised that they weren’t creeped out even a little bit.

"Well, that’s because you believed in that sort of stuff, right?  Angels and demons and stuff?

"I did."

"The Silence are kinda like demons!  They tell you to do things and they get in your head and you don’t really know if you saw them or not."  He started to laugh.  "You believed in The Silence, Mom!"

Holy shit.

 ~JJ

My daughter’s grandma: A spider!

My daughter: I don’t like spiders.

Grandma: I don’t either. I’m a little afraid of them.

My daughter’s 3-year-old cousin: I’m afraid of dinosaurs.

My daughter: You don’t need to be afraid of dinosaurs! They are all dead! They died-ed millions of years ago when a big asteroid crashed into Earth. That’s called “extinction.”

Cousin: Oh. Then I’m not afraid of dinosaurs.