A Bloody Good Topic (aka: A Conversation Stopper We Should All Be Talking About)

I guess I should bloody well dive into this topic.

Well…not literally. Because that’d be gross.

Today, I’m thinking about something that’s sometimes thick and oozy, like a milkshake, and sometimes drippy and wet, like a melted ice cream cone. It flows through all of us. And um…vampires love it. Oh, and it’s pretty much always red.

I guess I’m not making these clues very mysterious, am I? Maybe because the moment I started to write about it, my head began to feel all lightweight and spinney. Oof. I think I’ll just put my head down for a moment. That’s better.

That’s what I get for writing about blood.

But seriously, why is blood such a taboo topic? I mean, blood is so cool! Well, technically, it’s warm, but you get my meaning. Blood = life. It carries oxygen and nutrients and hormones and proteins to every part of our bodies. It fights off nasty infections. It’s one of the most important things about our bodies.

And yet, just mention the word, and half the people in a room will squirm with discomfort. Some will grow lightheaded, like me. A couple might even vomit, which is much ickier than blood, if you ask me. Mention how you sliced your arm open on the sharp edge of a barbecue grill and bled like a sacrificial lamb, and everyone in the room will make the same wince-face.

Blood is a conversation-stopper.

Unfortunately, in some cultures, blood is more than just a conversation-stopper. It’s downright verboten. Especially when it’s the blood that comes out of women’s bodies every month. Like lots of American women around my age, I learned all about menstruation from good ol’ Margaret and friends (Thanks, Judy Blume!). Also, from the drop-dead-embarrassing filmstrips they made us watch in school, and the little booklets the nurses handed out to every 10-12 year-old girl, filled with pre-teens who were for some reason super-excited about the idea of “becoming a woman.” Those of us with big sisters knew perfectly well that there was NOTHING exciting about getting monthly visits from Aunt Flo and wearing the equivalent of a diaper to keep from bleeding all over the place. Periods suck. If there was a special pill we could take to make them disappear, believe me, we’d all buy it.

But believe it or not, millions of young girls — you read that number right — millions of young girls around the globe are not taught anything about menstruation. They are not taught the difference between pantyliners for light days and the ultra-super-duper pads with wings for the heavy days. They are not taught how to insert a tampon without dying from pain (some of us still struggle with that part decades later). They are not shown any cutesy period commercials or handed any cutesy informational pamphlets. Basically, these girls are sentenced to a week of shame and humiliation every month, barred from schools and temples, and sometimes from their own homes. Millions of girls are told that their periods make them spiritually unclean. They must remain isolated from the rest of their families and communities and use whatever rags, grass, twigs, or paper they can find until Aunt Flo decides to pack it up and head home.

Now that’s an idea that should make us all squirm in discomfort.

We can all agree that periods suck. But they suck because they are inconvenient and a little messy. Because we might have to skip out on a morning swim, or sex, or wearing those cute white jeans for a few days. Not because society will shun us and treat us like filth because our bodies — our normal, healthy, female bodies, are doing something nature intends for them to do.

Today, I just read about Duchess Meghan Markle (yes, the wife on Prince Harry) and how she has been an outspoken supporter of the Myna Mahila Foundation, an Indian charity whose goal it is to provide the women of India with access to sanitary supplies and education about hygiene, and to end the long-held stigmas surrounding menstruation throughout the country. The more I read about how this charity and others like it are helping to change perceptions and the lives of so many girls and women, the more my eyes were opened. You might say my heart bled a little for the work they’re doing.

Oh, stop squirming. A little blood never killed anyone. Okay, fine, maybe it has. But mostly, blood is pretty good stuff. And no one should feel ashamed to talk about it. Period.

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Overload (aka: A Little Brain Fried)

Dear Readers,

MMM Fried-Brain HomerOh how I would love to write for you a brilliant poem filled with astonishing metaphors and dazzling word-pictures. And how I wish I could post a few brilliant new Italian or Chinese or Indian curry recipes complete with spectacular photos for your Pinterest collection. Or offer you a wealth of advice on weight loss or parenting or doing fun activities with kids.

But I won’t.

Because I am a student. And yes, I am also a single mom of 3 kids. With a job. And yeah, a fiction writer, and recreational soccer player, too. All that. But you see, sometimes I get a little over my head with schoolwork; like right now, when my poor brain is so fried from studying that I’m afraid that any moment now, I will begin typing in hexadecimal or Perl or SQL like the computer geek I am becoming.

(It’s true. I now walk the straight and narrow path of true Revenge-of-the-Nerds geekdom.)

I feel like I’m forgetting something important. What was I saying?

Working Student Mom

Oh yes, school. Studying. Academia. And this is not limited to my own classes. Because I also get to put on the Mommy hat and listen very patiently as one child explains all about how Plato’s philosophies contributed to modern democracy. Then, of course, I have to answer another child’s questions.

“Mom, who were Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates?”

“Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Oops. That’s what I was forgetting.

I’m so glad that I’ve taught my kids how to cook. And to ask questions. And to be patient with a mother who sometimes wears too many hats at once and gets a little brain-fried. If only I had taught them how to write my blog posts, too…

How (Not) to Raise a Nazi (aka: The Impact of Parenting Styles)

nazi-soldiers“What was the Holocaust?”

It all started with a simple     question posed by my older teen. I was shocked that he did not already know. Everyone should learn about horrors of history such as the Holocaust, in order that we may learn from the mistakes of others and prevent history from repeating itself. So I spent the next twenty minutes with my teens, engaged in discussion about the Holocaust. Which led to the next question: Why would the Nazi soldiers just kill innocent people?

Answer? They were just following orders. My kids were astonished. How is it possible that a human being would commit such atrocities to an innocent person, simply because someone told them to obey? Where was their personal integrity? Where was their sense of conscience?

Like most great discussions with my kids, their questions led me to introduce them to one of my favorite topics: The Long-Term Effects of Parenting Styles. (Yes, I probably broke some archaic unspoken rule by discussing parenting with the very children whom I parent. But what can I say? I’m a bit of a rebel. Blame it on my authoritarian upbringing).

Professionals usually refer to three common parenting styles, which can be characterized as follows:

AUTHORITARIAN PARENTING

High parental control and restrictiveness. Verbal hostility, fear techniques, punitive discipline strategies (spankings, threats, etc.). Most common among households with low SES and lower education levels of parent. “Obey me because I said so and know what’s best.”

strict parents spanking punishment

Punitive discipline techniques, forced coercion, and fear tactics are earmarks of authoritarian child-rearing.

AUTHORITATIVE PARENTING

High warmth and involvement, clear communication of expectations, reasoning, democratic participation, positive and proactive discipline strategies. Most common among middle class and affluent households and higher education levels of parent.

“You may choose what to do, but understand that your choices have natural consequences.”

Authoritative parents teaching

PERMISSIVE PARENTING

Lax or inconsistent discipline, Overindulgence or indifference, a general ignorance of child misbehavior, “Laissez-faire,” lack of self-confidence about parenting. “Children will eventually find their own way.”

Difficult choice

“Hey mom! You’re the authoritative type of parent,” said my 10yo, grinning. My other kids immediately agreed, to my great pleasure. You see, there are many longitudinal studies done on the impact of the three different parenting types, and an authoritative parenting style is the hands-down winner. The research consistently shows that children raised in authoritarian or permissive families have the worst long-term outcomes – behavior problems, aggression, depression and anxiety, obesity, poor academic performance, lower sense of personal responsibility, and so on.

“So what type of parenting style do you suppose may result in the type of person who would blindly obey the orders of their authority figure without protest or refusal?” I asked my kids, cycling the topic back around the horrors of the Holocaust.

They got the connection right away. “So basically,” said my oldest teen, “authoritarian parents are raising potential Nazis.”

Perhaps so, I responded. Perhaps it is that authoritarian parents do so without really thinking through the natural consequences of their parenting choices. Without proper education, so many people are like sheep, blindly following the masses, or in the footsteps of their own parents, regardless of whether their behavior is positive or negative. And so, sadly, history repeats itself.

authoriatarian parent Homer

MY CREDS: I hold a B.A. degree in Child Development (which included many hours of research and seminars on parenting). I am a former teacher of young children and current parent to three happy, well-adjusted, thoughtful kids/teens (who apparently still think I’m a great mom, so that’s a plus, too).

FURTHER READING ON THE IMPACTS OF PARENTING STYLES:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thinking-about-kids/201409/authoritative-vs-authoritarian-parenting-style

http://www.scientificjournals.org/journals2007/articles/1031.htm

Understanding the Links Between Socioeconomic Status and Parenting Behavior

The influence of authoritative parenting style on adolescents’ academic achievement

Parenting styles and overweight status in first grade

Impact of Behavioral Inhibition and Parenting Style on Internalizing and Externalizing Problems from Early Childhood through Adolescence

Filling in the Gaps (aka Afterschooling My Kids)

A conversation in the car on the way to school yesterday with my kids, ages 9, 12, and 14.

Me: Don’t you guys know why the Confederate states seceded from the Union?

My kids: They didn’t like it? Because the Union sucked? Who were the Confederate states?

Me (groaning): Do you guys even know what the Confederate states were? Can you name any of them?

My kids: New Hampshire! California! New York! Canada! Something that starts with a V!

Me: Look, they were all in the South. Name some states in the South.

My kids: Alabama? Arizona? New Hampshire?

Civil-War

Naturally, by then I felt like banging my head against the steering wheel. And screaming. Or maybe both. Because  clearly, my kids – especially my older two, should know how to answer such basic questions about American history. But clearly, there are some tremendous gaps in their education.

US History

To truly understand my frustration in moments like these, you must know that I used to be a homeschooling mom. Not for long – I homeschooled my oldest in Kindergarten, and my second oldest in 1st grade. It was so important to me that my children receive a thorough, well-rounded education, and I once felt that homeschooling was the best way to provide that. I gave it up when they were accepted into excellent public schools, but in order to fill in the gaps, I continued to afterschool them for years to come.

Yes, Afterschooling. Ever heard of it? It’s pretty much like Mom homework on top of school homework. Sometimes it means supporting the subjects they are learning in school with extra enrichment at home. Sometimes it means studying something together which is not being taught at school (like the history of the Civil War, or geography, for example). Sometimes afterschooling means quick, ten-minute discussions in the car about social issues or dystopian literature. Sometimes it means a family project, like building something together, or exploring recipes or music from other cultures. And sometimes it is more formal. During school vacations, for example, I require that my kids spend an hour being engaged in something academic in order to earn television or video game privileges. They can do work from a workbook, or study something new on Khan Academy, or practice coding on websites like Scratch or Code.org.

loHomeschoolPC1

I realize that there are many critics out there who may see Afterschooling as excessive or silly, especially since my kids already attend great schools. Perhaps I should just relax and let my kids be kids, without having to spend so much time studying. But I see it differently. I want to raise my kids to be thinkers and lifelong learners, with a curiosity about the world. And, well, call me silly, but I also would like very much for them to know that New Hampshire is not a southern state, and that Canada is a completely different country, you know?

Where in the world

Where in the world is Canada?

And so, instead of banging my head against the steering wheel, I took a deep breath and gave my kids a hurried, ten-minute lesson in American history before dropping them off at school. And probably, after school today, we’ll take a look at a map and see exactly where the southern states are located. And maybe, just maybe, my kids will learn something new and useful – like the name of that mysterious state which begins with a V. (Now banging my head against the keyboard).