Archive for February, 2007

19th Feb 2007

Car Fights and the Childless

My sister and her girls lived with us when her husband got shipped off
to the sandbox. My girl was 3, hers were 2 and 5. The younger two
went to preschool, and the 5yo was in K; all were in car seats, across
the back of my sister’s Malibu.

My little one used to piss off her little one by putting her finger on
the 2yos seat. The 2yo would haul off and bite mine, and then there
was ensuring crying and finger-pointing, all while my sister was
trying to drive in a busy city. Since the 5yo had carpool, putting
her in the middle wasn’t an option, since she needed to be able to get
in and out herself.

So I wrote the name and directions to the restaurant supply house,
handed my sister a 20, and sent her to buy a full-sheet baking pan,
which we then jammed between the seats of the two little ones,
effectively blocking all touching and biting.

Here’s the funny part. When I tell this story, I can immediately find
out exactly where in life people are.

Childless people say things like, “Why don’t you just make the
children behave? Why didn’t you just teach them to stop?”

People whose children are past that age, say things like,
“Damn–that’s a good idea, and I wish I’d thought of it X years ago.”

And people who are in the middle of it ask me for the directions.


–Jen (noting that if you live in a sunny place, you’ll need to make a
pillowcase for the cookie sheet, so you’re not blinded when you go
around the corner)

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19th Feb 2007

To Parent or Not . . .

“You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a
car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let
any butt-reaming asshole be a father.”

. . . who’s to say who’s a good parent or not?

Right now, the system is stacked in favour of middle-American values
and mores, and a lot of poor families are penalized by the system
(esp. CPS) for being poor.

A case in point . . . this one dates back to when I was in college.
My roommate and I lived upstairs from a couple with two kids who were,
like much of the county, very poor. He was generally high on pot (and
we actually kept our bathroom door closed and the window open a lot of
the time, otherwise, because of some weird ventilation in the creaky
old building, we’d get a contact high while brushing our teeth–which
you’d think was a good thing for poor college students, but neither of
us tolerated it well). They both drank quite a bit. But there was
never any doubt in our minds that they loved the little guys. (Even
though they did almost kill us all one night when they were out of
fuel oil and decided to run a propane heater in the livingroom. But
that’s a case of ignorance, not malice).

This is not a way I would choose to raise my kids, and not an
environment that I think it particularly healthy–but I think the
alternative (foster care) is often (if not nearly always) worse. I
believe we have a biological imperative toward our offspring that,
even though we’ve done a pretty good job of severing and undermining
those ties at a societal level, is still deep within.

There’s plenty of things I wouldn’t choose for the environment to
raise my children in: guns, tobacco, drugs, rotting floorboards,
pesticides, junk food, lead-leaden lunch boxes, air pollution,
violence, public schools, television, euphemistically “sassy” clothing
for girls (think Barbie lingerie), war, crime, fundamentalists of all
stripes, idiot drivers, mildew, acrylic yarn, industry meat, and
packaged chemical mixes labeled “food.”

But I can’t control all of these factors, and we’re likely to
encounter and interact with most of them, and a whole host of them are
things that are seen as benign and part of many people’s lives.
(Heck, giant multi-coloured dustbunnies wafting through the house, and
running around in the woods [where we have bears, and moose, and
coyotes, and porcupines and probably a cougar] is part of our lives .
. . and a lot of people probably don’t think those are all that

So I figure that there’s a lot of variety in the world, and where we
see a need, we (ourselves, not a phone call to some faceless agency)
ought to work toward filling it.

I had a conversation once with my neighbor from across the street. It
was a small, rural town with a population under 2000 and an
unemployment rate over 20%. The first interaction I had with this guy
was the night I moved in, and we were tearing out the (25 yo) carpet,
and he came over to ask if he could have it. (Sure–then I don’t have
to take it to the dump, right?). Anyway, a few years later, I was
painting the porch, when he came over to chat. And Mike said that his
son was newly engaged, but he was a little worried about the girl’s
family. Mike and his wife had raised three of their own kids, and
taken in several teenagers along the way who’d been kicked out of
their homes . . . and he mentioned that they’d never made over 10K in
a year (we were having this conversation in 1999). And what he was
concerned about was that this girl’s parents were white collar
professionals–a doctor and a lawyer, I think. And he said, “I told
my son, “I don’t care if you marry the biggest whore in town, if you
love her and she loves you” . . . but, Jen, I can’t see our families
sitting down together for a holiday meal, you know what I mean?”

So here we have the tables turned, but the same basic premise: what’s normal in one house is not necessarily in another.

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19th Feb 2007

To School or Unschool

I agree that there are bad home situations that can be made far worse
by the family deciding to homeschool (or to say they’re
homeschooling). But I’m not convinced that school is the answer
anymore than I’d argue that sending the children to prison would be
the answer.

I’m of two minds on this:
First, I’m pretty sure that school is a contributing factor to the
breakdown of families. It was created to be, and quite evinced in our
society. Every parent who says to me, “I could never homeschool my
kidlet(s); I couldn’t spend that much time with *h**”, I’m convinced
is saying–without even knowing it–“I don’t like the person my child
is turning into spending their days institutionalized.” But it’s not
just the children who suffer the effects of early
institutionalization–the parents, too, went to school . . . it’s an
avalanche of generation after generation of early institutionalization.

(I don’t, by the way, put that idea forth in casual
conversation–although it is a universally acknowledged truth that
children pick up bad habits in school, no parent wants to acknowledge
that in the conscious world–because then they couldn’t send their
children to school anymore. At one point, I was still green enough to
say these things aloud in mixed company).

If you compare the maladies of orphanage-raised children to those of
school children, you’ll find a number of chilling similarities, albeit
the school children are of course generally milder cases. (With some
notable exceptions–the boys from Columbine come immediately to mind).

Second, I think school-as-refuge-from-bad-family-situation is like
duct-tape-as-permanent-water-leak-fix. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

Teachers aren’t trained or paid to be counselors, the
teacher-to-student (and worse, counselor-to-student) ratios are too
high to provide decent services–and the schools seem to manage to
meddle in all the wrong cases.

In sum, I agree with you that homeschooling is not likely to solve the
problems of a family already in crisis, but I don’t think that
school–even as a “breather”–is going to help it particularly, either.


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