Danger Little Stranger


Last week I presented a lightly “humorous” take on the products that babies and toddlers absolutely need (spoiler: not really many of them).  This week it’s serious. If quoting Iggy Pop lyrics doesn’t raise alarms for you, I don’t know what to do. So I’ll just tell you.

I wanted to follow up with a survey of products for infants and small children that are not only unnecessary, but downright dangerous.

Before we get into it, I just want to admit that researching this topic online was both disturbing and highly entertaining. If you would like to know about some of the specific products considered too ludicrously deadly to exist, help yourself. I won’t be mentioning them.

Having made a tally of the toys and accessories for babies that have drawn the most ire from pediatricians and safety experts, I give you the following:

Things in cribs. Really, there shouldn’t be anything in there with them. No pillows, nor blankets, nor Grandma’s handmade quilt. No plush toys, no soft bumper pads. All of these things can asphyxiate or strangle.

Also, any vintage cribs. The slats are too far apart. As someone who once watched a toddler (not my own) get his head stuck in a dollhouse, you can imagine the concern with this.

Magnets. Because they stick together. If they can be swallowed…again, use your imagination.

Anything with small parts or pieces that can be removed or broken. This is where the minimum age labels come in handy. Look, we all love Legos, even after we step on them with bare feet. But if anyone in the house is still inclined to stick things in their mouth (aka the toddler research lab), please save them for later.

Walkers. These things a.) don’t help babies develop walking muscles sooner; in fact, they’ve been found to do the opposite, and b.) have a tendency to go down stairs and/or trap children under or against other dangerous things (hot stoves, wolves). Canada banned them 14 years ago, and we know Canada is smart. And good looking.

Bumbo seats. I have a personal vendetta against these multiply-recalled baby tippers. Putting a belt on it isn’t going to make it any safer if they fall off a table or simply tumble over backward, pinning babies underneath.

Really, if you feel the urge to just pick up a baby and carry it around, sniffing its head, that’s probably the way to go. Trust your instincts.



What Do Babies Need?

I.  What is the most crucial accessory for an infant less than one year?

a.) a swing.

b.) a jumper.

c.) Baby Einstein.

d.) Baby Hawking.

e.) none of the above.


II. Which of the following are absolutely essential for stimulating physical and motor development?

a.) gym and play mat.

b.) gym and play mat that plays music.

c.) gym and play mat that plays music and transmits pattern recognition scores directly to baby’s projected future school district office.

d.) one of them I made up. The first one? I don’t remember.


III. What is the best and most reliable way to handle a toddler who says “no?”

a.) no.

b.) No!

c.) Noo no no no no NO.



IV. How often is too often to hold an infant without spoiling it?

a.) 10 minutes for every hour until 8 months.

b.) After lunch.

c.) Seasonally.

d.) You see where I’m going with this post, don’t you?


V. It is amazing that we survived for so long as a species without:

a.) The teether-rattler combo.

b.) This blog.

c.) Baby wipes.

d.) Actually, it’s baby wipes.

e.) I’m not joking.


The Intake

Here’s something that I didn’t expect to come up. I took my eldest daughter (age 12) to establish care with her new pediatrician. Though she had one when she was younger, she doesn’t really remember; lately when she needed a doctor we have taken her to urgent care. So this was new territory. She liked the idea of having a doctor who knew her and would know her needs over time, and I emphasized that if she didn’t feel comfortable with this one we could find another.

All was well until we started filling out the intake paperwork. I had my own to complete, so I was distracted when she asked me something about taking prescription drugs. I reminded her that the only prescription she had was her asthma inhaler.

Turns out, that wasn’t what she was asking. She was puzzling over a list of questions about drug use: as in, has she ever used prescription drugs that were prescribed to someone else? Once I pointed it out, she asked what to do about the answer she had already marked (“sometimes”) now that she had changed it to “never.” She seemed agitated, and I assumed it was because she didn’t like the look of a crossed-out response on what was evidently some sort of test.

I turned back to my own paperwork until I heard her say to herself, “Bath salts? I’ve done that a few times.” I intervened, maybe a little abruptly. “Just put ‘never.’ I’ll explain later.”

The appointment went well, I thought. I don’t think anyone, much less a 12 year-old girl, wants to be present for a discussion of her body mass index. But the doctor was very nice and respectful and my daughter decided to keep her.

We went about our day, joining the rest of the family for lunch, a hike, and a trip to the library. It wasn’t until we got home that I learned she couldn’t stop thinking about that drugs questionnaire. For one thing, she was dismayed that her hastily changed response about prescription drugs would be seen as suspicious, and worse, would be part of permanent medical record.

But that wasn’t all. She was upset that the abuse of these myriad drugs was prominent enough to merit a questionnaire to begin with. She said she didn’t know there were “so many bad things in the world.”

I was taken aback. Of course she didn’t know about those things. Where would she learn about them? At least, without attending public school? More importantly, what should she know? And when?

I went on the internet to look for answers. This was not my first mistake; nor would it be my last. A google search for “How to talk to kids about drugs” brought up a slew of articles about how to keep your kids from using drugs; how to tell if they (or their friends) were using drugs; how to stop them if they were.

Nothing about how to teach kids about drug use in our society for those who otherwise would not know about it (or at least, given that there is hardly a family untouched by it somehow, would not recognize it when they saw it).

How come? I need to dig deeper. I’ll share what I find next week. And please, if you have some answers, please share with us.


Give and Take

Among the nearly 2 billion humans* who observe Lent, there is an imperative, or at least an ideal, to which to aspire: to give as much as possible during this time. The idea is that all those fewer hamburgers and milkshakes (or whatever else you may be giving up) should free up extra funds for those less fortunate.

That’s always a good idea, and it’s certainly needed in these difficult financial times. There are over 20,000 charitable organizations registered in the state of Oregon, and all of them can use our help. There’s nothing wrong with a tax deduction, either.

But what if I were to suggest that it’s at least as important to use these services for your own family, if you have a need? Is there any point to accept help at the same time we’re offering it? Don’t these actions cancel one another out?

Consider that all of those organizations, whatever their size or focus, depend on the reporting of numbers for their continued operation and expansion. We know the need is out there, as 45 million Americans are still living below the poverty line (the measurement of which has itself been criticized as failing to present the extent of American poverty). But in many of these organizations, the resources are not finding themselves in the hands of families that need them. This is particularly true of food, much of which is wasted as it expires or otherwise fails to reach its intended recipients.

The way it works, in the economics of nonprofit, is that the more people they serve, the more they are able to serve. After all, they are built to serve, and they succeed when the families who need help know about their services and partake of them.

So, if you are a family, like mine, that sometimes finds it challenging to make ends meet, there are two imperatives to follow: give what you can, and accept what you need.


*Current estimate is 1.29 billion Catholics and 250 million Eastern Orthodox. This is not to mention between 14 and 18 million in Judaism ,  1.8 billion in Islam,  or 1.15 billion in Hinduism, all of which place a special emphasis on charitable giving.


Some Class


What’s that old joke that isn’t as funny as we think it is? About how kids don’t come with a manual? (Also, why are there always a couple of extra grommets? Was it just me?)

A corollary to that joke is a serious question: if there were classes on how to be a parent, would you take them?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re already a parent and you don’t need no outside learnin’. Life is the best teacher. Your child is the best teacher. You are the expert on your kids.

All of those things are true. And that’s exactly why you should consider taking a class.

In a plug of epic shamelessness, I would like to recommend the Nurturing Parenting classes offered at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Starting this week, they are offering three separate classes.

On Wednesday:

  • is the general Nurturing Parenting class. It is for moms, dads, grandparents, and caretakers of all stripes (even with stripes!).

Thursdays feature two classes:

  • Nurturing Fathers, for dads and male caretakers only and co-facilitated by yours truly, and the
  • Nurturing Parenting class for parents in Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery.

All three classes are FREE, and offer childcare, dinner and bus and transportation assistance.

All three classes focus on doing the work on ourselves that help us to help our kids–nurturing ourselves and each other so that we can nurture them.

To enroll in a class, simply call Family Tree at 541-967-6580.

Hope to see you there!



As much as I write about ways to guide and structure the lives of our kids (as much as that is advisable or possible), I am always surprised by the ways in which our kids can influence the course of our own lives.

On the most basic level, the fact of becoming a parent will (ideally, I believe) stop your life in its tracks as it takes on new passengers. No doubt (also, ideally), you have done your best to prepare yourself for what is to come.

But as you might remember, no amount of preparation really made you ready. Right? No reading, no financial reinforcement (getting a job, say), no supplies, no advice (especially no advice) is sufficient for the journey. Learn all you want about an expedition to Mars, you haven’t done it ’til you’ve done it. And even then, having one kid (or two, or five) is no indication of what the next one will bring.

As the years go by, the compass continues to spin. Kids’ needs change and the ground keeps shifting. Keeping up with the routines, figuring out what they need at each stage, can be exhausting.

What can a parent do?

Sometimes, the only thing to do is let go.

It took me a while to realize that when my oldest daughter kept asking to volunteer–at my work, at church events, in response to other family’s request for help–it wasn’t a whim, but a trait.  And since she’s 12 and can’t drive, she needs someone to go with her. And that is me.

Eventually I saw the pattern. Volunteering makes her happy. As someone who can barely cross the room without the expectation of a reward, I only came around to this gradually. It took me even longer to realize that volunteering is good for me as well. In fact, I’d say it’s still in process. My daughter’s easy selflessness reminds me of how self-absorbed I am.

And that I can change. Still! Who knew?


How to Fix Absolutely Anything

Q: Is this another one of those posts that promises easy answers but turns out to be much more complicated?

A: No!

Q: Really? You’re not selling some kind of nutritional supplement or protein powder or something?

A: No! This is real.

Q: Okay, go. But keep in mind that I’m going to make up my mind within the first 50 words.

A: We’re at 65 and you’re still here, so.

Q: (Sigh) Fine, go ahead.

A: Thank you. So, I was going through notes for a presentation I’m giving on managing behavior. And while there are no easy fixes, there is a short sequence of things you can do in response to almost any behavior. Do you want to know more?

Q: Are you sure you want to keep going with this Q and A format?

A: I think it’s kind of peppy.

Q: Are you going to get to the point? Or start talking about comic books again?

A: You’re right, let’s just drop the Qs and As.

Q: Fine.

A: Fine.

Q: Okay then.

A: Sheesh. Maybe I’ll go with bullet points.

Q: That’s a better idea.

A: Goodbye!

  • First thing to do is make sure that everyone is safe. Does a child need to move away from other people? Does the child need your help to move? Be sure to let them know. “I’m going to help you move your body.”


  • Now, you can get down to the nitty gritty. A child is upset, and now that they’ve had time to calm and are ready to communicate with words, you can support the child’s feelings. Make your best guess about what they’re feeling and name it: “You’re crying. You’re sad about that.” Don’t worry, if you’re wrong they’ll tell you, and either way you’ve moved the ball forward. Also, keep in mind that you’re validating the feeling, not the behavior. But right now is about the feelings.


  • The child is feeling safe and supported. The parent is listening. Now you can move on to correct the behavior. Set a limit: “It’s not okay to throw toys at your brother.” Then, present a consequence: “If you choose to throw toys again, they will be put away.” You might need to remind the child about this, especially if they’re younger or their needs are just generally higher. Hold to that limit, though. I you need to follow through, remind the child that the behavior is now a choice. “You chose to be done with your toys. You can play with them again tomorrow.”


Q: Wait! What if you’re back to square one now, square one being crying, hitting, or tantrum?

A: Then, that’s where we are: back to keeping everyone safe. Validate the feelings, hold the limits. The child is loved and listened to but may not get that particular thing they want.


  • These things work in the moment, but we can avoid repeating this sequence later by making expectations clear beforehand. Remind the children of the rules for playing safely before they play. There are other ways to change the situation before things even happen: will the child be tired or hungry? Overstimulated and needing a change of pace? Some fresh air? As the adult, you are in charge of the environment, and planning for possibilities can make it easier for everyone.


Q: That was actually useful. Took a while to get there, though.

A: I’d like to point out that long line of Qs.



Home is Where

“A house that has been experienced is not an inert box. Inhabited space transcends geometrical space.”

So wrote philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his 1957 book The Poetics of Space. I was thinking of the book today as I was driving back from an errand in Salem today, a day on which I am normally home. For those of us fortunate enough to have a steady place to live, a house or apartment enclosed by walls and a roof, our accumulated possessions (not to mention the patina of sloughed-off skin and hair; sorry if you were eating) constitutes an animal claim on the space as home. In America there is a legal structure in place that grants ownership (or, through rent or lease, temporary stewardship).

Do these things make a home? If Bachelard is right, there is an extra dimension to a home that cannot be mapped or transcribed. Neither do I think it can be found in a legal contract. The dimension of time–the fourth, or whatever it is now–can deepen the relationship. Spaces that have passed from one generation to the next, for example. Or the place(s) in which we spent our childhoods. But time itself is no guarantee of transcendence. What if you didn’t want to be there? Also, there is no guarantee, period: according to the Pew Research Center, “Nearly 1 in 100 people worldwide are now displaced from their homes.” In the Middle East, it’s now 1 in 20.

Our family has been living in the same house–6 people plus one cat in what is only technically a three bedroom–for five years. We did not intend to stay here for this long, after having made three moves in the five years previous.

Each year we have discussed how we could countenance our next move into a place more central, more spacious, more insulated, less soggy (and almost certainly more expensive). Instead, we have accumulated some of that stuff, including heaters, fans, blankets, shelves and (thank goodness) a dehumidifier, that have made this ostensibly temporary space more livable. It makes sense because, you know, we’re living in it.

Also tied up in all this is the realization that to our children, even the older ones who remember different addresses, this is the place in which they’re growing up. At some point we had to come to the same conclusion, and behave accordingly.

Or as Bachelard writes, “imagination augments the values of reality.” Right.


Urgent Issues of Our Time, Part II

So, as I was saying. The X-Men were always my jam. They appealed to me because, unlike other superheroes with their fantasies of power that came about usually through accidents (gamma rays, cosmic rays, radioactive bug bites), the X-Men (and -Women, and -Girls and -Boys) were who they were. In the comics, a mutation usually became active with the onset of puberty, which is just about the perfect way of talking about what happens to the adolescent body and brain. Think of Rogue, for whom intimate contact could have deadly consequences for the other person. Or Shadowcat, who in her social awkwardness could become a literal wallflower, fading into the wall and out the other side. Or Cyclops, who had to keep his vision (feelings?) covered up or risk causing limitless damage. Like millions of readers, I identified with these young adults who hadn’t asked for their powers, struggled to understand and control them, and in some cases would give anything to get rid of them.

What happens in adolescence that leads to such perilous places? We have long understood the changes that our bodies go through during puberty, with those new combinations of chemicals; those strange and powerful feelings; that hair.  It would be easy to think that you were going through this by yourself, and were suddenly separate from the human race. A mutant!

Recent work in neuroscience has been trying to understand the changes that take place in the teenage brain. NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston, in her extensive reporting on terrorism, wanted to understand the appeal of extremist groups like ISIS to adolescents. What would make a seemingly “normal” kid from a typical suburban background want to leave everything they knew and enter a life of secrecy and violence? Her excellent piece on reformed ISIS recruit Abdullahi Yusuf (seriously, it’s really good) shows how these questions must lead inevitably into teenage brain development. The teenage feeling of invulnerability, the aggrieved sensitivity to injustice, the penchant for risk-taking, the lack of consideration for consequences, can take an adolescent into any number of far-flung places. What’s missing during this time is that still, quiet voice that (tends to) guide us as adults. In the piece, Temple-Raston identifies it as the “part of the brain that neuroscientists liken to an internal compass, called the insula, can be built up during adolescence through critical thinking and self-reflective practices.”

This kind of strengthening practice, provided in Yusuf’s case through a reading list and assigned poetry, is what the X-Men find under the guidance of Professor X at the School for Gifted Youngsters (having a responsible adult mentor is clearly important as well). With these opportunities for reflection and control, those scary changes can become powers.

Now if only the films could get it right.


Urgent Issues of Our Time, Part I

I would like to talk about one of the most urgent issues of our time.

It affects young and old, male and female, 1% and 99.

It’s called Superhero-Movie Fatigue, or S-MF.

It’s a feeling that relates to getting exactly what you wanted when you were a child, as an adult, and just getting more all the time without stopping. For me, this relates absolutely to the Marvel movies. For years, attempts to bring my favorite comics to the screen ranged from “good enough, considering” (X-Men, the first two) to “as good as can be expected, really” (Spider-Man, again the first two) to “no” (Hulk, the first one; Fantastic Four, all). Since Iron Man somehow wandered into the proper pacing and tone, thus launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a sustainable concern, geeks like me finally won. We get movies made to our exacting and deeply embarrassing specifications. And they cost hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s right: the entire economies of nations rendered into grease poured onto the gears of a gigantic nostalgia machine.

Before we continue, I just want to say that now that I have seen the most recent Star Wars films, even knowing that Disney plans to make Star Wars films at the ridiculous pace of one per year for the foreseeable future, I will never get tired of Star Wars. There is no such thing as SW-MF. Not now that I have successfully passed my childhood obsession to my own children.

But we’re here to talk about super heroes. I like all those Avengers. None of them were really my favorites growing up, but it’s, they’re fine. And come on, no one read Guardians of the Galaxy. Don’t even lie.

Now that they’ve figured it out (Disney, I mean, which has figured out, and owns, everything I ever liked as a kid), there’s just nothing to look forward to. Going to see a Marvel movie in the theatre is now pretty much exactly like buying a Marvel comic at 7-11. And much more expensive.

What does all this have to do with parenting?

I meant to get to it, but I ran out of space. To be continued. Hint: it has something to do with the X-Men. And the teenage brain.