Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Body Parts Candy Platter: Happy Halloween

We have family friends that love halloween. For these families, this holiday is a time when children are free to run around in public, at night, dressed up as someone else. Ok, this part? Yeah, this is fun. About 15 years ago, one such family, who have since become great friends, converted their entire backyard into a giant Candy Land playing board, complete with friends acting out the characters, so that kids could work their way around the yard in search of King Kandy, the Lost King of Candy Land. And this was all before dark, when families could return to their neighborhoods for the trick or treat candy crawl. Serious fun.

We loved the whole run around the neighborhood thing when we were young. But our thoughts about Halloween are complicated. We have never quite recovered from the experience of our own very young children becoming terrified by the images of angry and lecherous ghouls on billboards advertising the halloween “superstores” … these images hovered over our neighborhood for a full month prior to the holiday. We called out, “Cover your eyes!” whenever we drove that section of El Camino. When we remember the way our innocent children were driven to tears by thoughtless businesses whose target audience seemed to be the more calloused mind of a teenager, we feel something close to fury.

Now, if we’re talking about young children becoming exposed to reality, even hard or disturbing realities, we are not ones to shy away. We are the kind of parents who will speak honestly with children about illness and even death. We don’t think they need to be protected from reality.


The question for us, is what exactly is real and true about Halloween? Most people know that Halloween is the evening before All Souls Day in the Christian Church calendar. What used to be called All Hallows Eve became Halloween. All Souls Day is a day to celebrate saints that don’t get a day to themselves, which means every normal person of faith who has died. Traditionally, in the Catholic church, one would pray for the souls of the departed. In the roots of the Halloween tradition the ghosts of the departed, conveniently, knock on the door to remind you to do so: if you give them a prayer, they bless you … withhold the “treat” and they will haunt you. So. Halloween: babies dressed up like pumpkins, 2nd graders in $37.99 Disney costumes, and teenagers in horror-movie masks and hoodies come to your door to demand sugar.


The Body Parts Candy Platter: Happy Holidays

In the 21st Century United States, we have a very uneasy relationship with questions of death and what follows. And since we mostly don’t think about it, and don’t know what to say to our children about it, our solution seems to be to abdicate the whole question to candy and costume companies, who seem to take their cues from horror movies that many adults refuse to watch. These companies do know a thing or two about making money, but since young children have no money of their own, their concerns have less to do with the overall tone of the holiday. Halloween is a season populated by imagery that is closer to a teenagers thrill-ride or an adult’s nightmare than anything we want in the mind of our children.

We guess we have to deal with it: halloween is NOT a season to remember those who have died, nor to pray for the departed if that’s your tradition. It’s probably too much to ask that once a year we consider that death is a part of our story and is perhaps worth giving a little thought to. Halloween, in this culture at this time, has become a season to remember that our culture is hopelessly lost in a state of confused horror when it comes to death. We may dress our little ones up as vegetables or baby animals (as if we needed an excuse to do that), but it won’t really shield them from the strange haunted-house culture around them.

Lily the Leopard Frog, RIP

Lily, July 2013 – October 8, 2014

leopard frog

Lily, beloved leopard frog of Sequoia Parents Nursery School, died quietly in the night last Wednesday. Lily was born at a classroom supply house and delivered to what would be her life-long home by the U.S. Mail. She led a full life, from tadpole to adult frog, delighting and educating students and their parents. Lily was a generous frog, always willing to share what she knew about metamorphosis, and inviting kids to observe her life in (and out of) the water. Lily loved crickets!

Even when lily grew legs and the ability to jump great distances, she chose to stay in her aquarium, showing her devotion to her preschool family. Lily is survived by a tadpole named Wonder Fred, a tarantula named Bob, a stick-bug named Groot, and 50 preschoolers who have learned a bit more about life.

Death is a hard topic for any of us, but especially for young children–it is a great challenge for them to grasp the meaning of the end of a relationship. Often, adults do not help, attempting to neutralize painful news by using inappropriate language: “Lily’s gone away“; “We’ve lost her”; or “Lily has gone to sleep“. All we are doing in such a situation is delaying the pain of realization (and possibly making a child afraid to sleep or wander too far from parents … “what if they lose me too?!”). There is no way to sugar coat the finality of death, and if we don’t do our best to address it clearly in the moment, we will only leave children confused as they struggle to understand what’s happened.

The death of a pet can be hard, but of course it’s nothing compared to the loss of a family member or friend. Our task is not to instill fear about the future, but to talk about death in plain and literal ways, making every effort to answer a child’s current questions simply. We don’t need to say more than we know, or to answer questions that kids aren’t asking, but we should choose language that helps them understand the truth of the situation. “Lily’s body has stopped working and we don’t get to play with her any more.”

One reason we speak about death in euphemisms is that we’re afraid to make our children sad: “Maybe if we use nicer language it won’t hurt so much.” Don’t be fooled. It will hurt a lot more when kids get the message that grief and other big emotions are somehow not allowed. That never makes grief go away, but adds a burden to never show it. Allow these feelings, and name them so that children know the feelings are normal: “We’re so sad that she died.” To do otherwise makes more confusion, because death is sad and hard and we can’t rush children (or adults for that matter) to feel differently about it.

These are the reasons we invite animals into our classrooms. Because even though it is sad when they die, we are in the business of teaching children about life, and not only the happy parts.


This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog

Long Lasting Lessons

Many of the first things we learned about childhood and parenting are lessons that still have meaning for us today, as we parent our near-adult children. Sure, in the beginning we learned things about breastfeeding and diapers and how to juggle energetic and very needy kids (sometimes we really juggled them, right dads? But that’s another story). Some of these skills we may hope never to use again. (Really. No more diapers. Thank you.) But we also learned about what goes into making people out of these little creatures …. We learned about the stages of development and how a strong thread runs through the life of a child, a thread of love that we offer and never impose, a thread of care and assistance that we never force, but is always at the ready.

We learned that children change as they grow, and we are seeing changes today that we learned about 18 years ago, changes that we anticipated and prepared for, and in some ways orchestrated, thanks to the things we learned in our first parent ed classes.

When a young parent attends a mandatory evening of a parent education, and listens to the experts talk, what are they learning? It’s tempting to view such required events as wasted time. “How important is it to become an expert on this stage in my child’s life anyway?”, we might think. “I don’t need anyone to tell me how to parent my kids, and besides I’ve got fifteen more years of education (and meetings) to go! Shouldn’t I be saving up for the teenage years?”

But at these meetings, especially the early ones, we’re not just learning how to parent preschoolers. We are learning how to parent. And many of the lessons are for life. It’s not just because the early childhood experts get to teach you first, but because they understand the foundational aspect of what we offer our kids at this age.

Some of the lessons that last: how to talk to your kids so they will listen; positive discipline; setting limits; developmental milestones; conflict resolution; temperament; screen time; sibling rivalry; healthy parenting partnerships; and, how the brain grows and works.

Susan Stone Belton, parent coach and early childhood development specialist at Parents Place, spoke at one such mandatory parent education meeting last night. As she delivered her list of best practices to the room of preschool parents, she cautioned against thinking that this was all about preschool: “I would give the same talk to parents of 8th graders!”

We can vouch for that, and add that much of what we learned back in the day still means a lot to us as we watch our almost 18-year-old son finish high school and face the future. That is we still see him as a growing person who needs us (in a different way than he did when he was 4, to be sure) and who we love, as much as we can. But the really great thing is that we are also seeing the man that we laid the foundation for 15 years ago, thanks to the people who taught us what they know about how people grow.


This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog