Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Is having kids a "rational" decision

This article says that it is not.

I partially agree with the premise.

Having a child means taking a step into the unknown. It isn't completely uncharted territority, since others have traveled there before and written visitor guides, but you won't truly know what it's like for your until you get there.

I don't think that means that no part of the decision-making process is rational. We make decisions based upon incomplete information all the time, from traveling to a new destination to undergoing a new medical procedure. We can make decisions to commit to a course of action, knowing that there is no guarantee and that there is some assumption of risk.

While you can't always know with 100% certainty how you or someone else will react to parenthood, there are some ways to have a pretty good guess. My husband always doted on his much-younger sister and was an awesome camp counselor and youth group leader. No big surprise that he's a good dad. My sister's husband always worked with kids with special needs, loved the work and was absolutely loved by everyone. No surprise that he's great with his own kids, including my nephew who is on the autism spectrum. My husband's brother was the favorite uncle with my kids. No big surprise that his kids adore him either.

On the other hand, I would agree that there are feelings that I would have had difficulty describing or understanding before I got pregnant. There are also things that I don't really discuss that much with others, because it would just sound too corny or religious or out-of-character for someone snarky like me. So, before I got pregnant for the first time, I knew that I liked kids in general, that my husband would make a good father, and that we were approaching a time in our lives where kids could fit into the picture. That was the rational part. The part that I didn't discuss is that I sometimes wondered while reading all the pregnancy and parenting magazines is this was all worth it, or that I was slightly terrified of the changes that would happen. I told people about the miscarriage, but most weren't aware of the depth of the grief and the fact that I was wondering if I was losing my mind. It was a mental and emotional landscape that I hadn't known existed. I didn't know that it was possible to physically feel grief, to have an actual sensation of empty arms. I do know that our decision to get pregnant again was very different - it wasn't a "sure, I guess we want kids now", but an actual hunger to be parents. It's a bit hard to explain that to people in real life, especially if they've never experienced anything like that, if you don't want to sound like a lunatic.

It's also hard to explain the joy that we felt upon the birth of our first baby. It was just an instant end to the depression and paranoia, and a moment of pure joy. Again, outside of religious circles, you don't use terms like "pure joy" in real life in rational conversations. So, I'd talk about the mundane and funny stuff, like the first time I had the baby pee AND poo AND puke over me all at once. I had the words for that. I didn't have the words to describe that I didn't really mind that much, because she was part of me and a living miracle and I was still floating on this cloud. I'd complain about the fact that she never slept between 1 am and 5 am, but didn't talk about the feeling of emptiness that I had felt before she was born and how, even though I was insanely exhausted, I needed to feel her in my arms.

It's hard to explain the neat feeling of having your baby grow into a person, and getting to know their own little personality quirks. I didn't know that my sensitive oldest child could move me so much, or that I could be so fascinated with my smart and independent middle child's imaginary world, or that I could learn to cheer on my youngest child's interest in all things sports-related. Rabbi Orlowek once described love as meaning, "if it is important to you, it's important to me". I didn't fully appreciate that until having kids.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Medical issues, and the post I had planned to do

Friday started off as a busy day, and I had thought about doing a post about it. It would have been called something like "Fridays and the Jewish Supermom", and detailed how I spent my day buying frozen unbaked challah bread, throwing together a chicken soup in the crockpot, going to court, and then getting the kids early and making a big dinner.

[At some point, I stopped and realized that this post would come across as First World Programs (since having a career, family and food are all things that I'm lucky to have), and that there were a ton of people who were no doubt juggling far more than dinner and a job.]

Anyway, I got back from doing carpool, popped some stuff in the oven, and answered the phone. It was my husband, telling me that he had just collapsed at the gym. Luckily, my father happened to be at my house, so I had him watch the kids while I got my husband and took him to the hospital. They are running a bunch of tests to figure out exactly what happened. This may have just been some fluke cardiac rhythm - or it could be a sign of a potentially more serious issue that could have caused him to suddenly drop dead.

The crazy thing is that he is far better about taking care of his health than I am. I'm the one who hasn't been sleeping properly and who has been eating complete crap and getting no exercise for the past month, and dealing with it through a combination of stress-induced energy and Red Bull. He's the one who is a serious runner and who makes spinach shakes for breakfast.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Drowning prevention

One point that struck me when I first read Freakonomics was the claim that a swimming pool was more likely to kill a child than a gun in the home. It felt counter-intuitive. Then, a close friend lost her toddler as a result of drowning.

This summer, there's been a lot of focus on the tragedies of gun violence, whether in Toronto or Colorado. Those stories are heart-breaking, and I don't have the answers to the problems.

I also noticed, though, that while the violent deaths are shown on the news in an endless loop, I've been seeing much smaller reports of drowning deaths this hot summer.

Many of the victims of the shootings were true heroes, and they should be honored. I'm also hoping, though, that a bit of time can be taken from the coverage of the crimes and debates to bring some attention to drowning prevention. How many parents will be too paranoid to allow their kids to see a movie or fear that the streets are getting too violent, while failing to take basic precautions to prevent something that is statistically more likely to kill their kids?

I thought this report was good, especially the video footage of a near-drowning:

Many people have no idea what a non-swimmer drowning looks and sounds like. They don't realize that what you see and hear is....nothing. There's no screaming or splashing, because they are under water. The only way to effectively supervise a child 5 or under in the water is to get in the water yourself, keep your eyes on your kids at all times, and always be within arms' reach. Period. You can't supervise from a pool chair, or think that there are enough people around that someone would notice a problem, or rely on a floatie ring.

Parents also need to view pools, ponds and other bodies of water in the same way that they would view a loaded gun when it comes to children. There needs to be a sturdy, self-closing gate between the house and the pool. During a backyard event, someone needs to be watching the pool and watching the young kids, because a child can fall in without anyone noticing. Children need constant vigilance around bodies of water, if they are visiting a cottage or camp.

People don't recognize the dangers of boating, especially with weak or non-swimmers. Life jackets need to be worn, since they won't do any good lying on the floor of the boat.

Parents should learn basic lifesaving techniques. If a weak swimmer tries to just jump in and rescue a non-swimmer, it's likely that they will both drown since the instinct of the non-swimmer is to grab onto the rescuer and try to climb up.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Camp video

This sounds awfully familiar....

For those of you without kids at a camp with Bunk1, here's an article with some background:

Now, I have a confession to make: I'm not a stalker parent. When my husband leaves his Facebook account open, I see that we have friends who are. I write to my daughter and I do get concerned about the big stuff - I wonder how she's doing during a heat wave without air conditioning, and got concerned when she mentioned that her bunkmates planned to leave out food in the hopes of attracting a bear. I think that heat stroke and bears are a legitimate concern. I just don't see the point in worrying about that much else. To my mind, camp is about developing independence.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Condo kids

Toronto's Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday apparently doesn't think that downtown condos should be for kids.

Too bad.

Yes, I'm currently a suburban mom of 3, but once upon a time I was a condo-dwelling urban mom. My husband was a medical resident working 80+ hours/week, so living within walking distance of the hospitals was a necessity. For a year, I was also able to work downtown when my oldest child was a baby.

It worked well for our young family. Most of the time, we walked to work and to the daycare, so transportation costs were minimal. There wasn't much space to spare, but we used the building's recreation centre well, doing endless laps around the track with the stroller, and then letting our daughter run around once she learned to walk. Instead of a basement and backyard, we had the YMCA Family Development Centre up the street, which offered plenty of toys and a place to hang out with other moms. Having everything close by allowed us to work without relying on a nanny. It also allowed us to go out and have fun with the baby, without having to constantly get in a car. We'd stroll through the Eaton Centre, jog around Queen's Park, and go for long walks all around downtown Toronto. One of my favorite memories is from the time that we walked to the Taste of Little Italy street festival, where our toddler entertained the crowd when she danced to a South American street band. We had a chance to raise her for 3 years in a wonderful, diverse area. No, she didn't play in the streets - urban condo kids quickly learn that they need to hold hands with an adult the moment they walk out the door.

At that stage of our lives, we wouldn't have been able to afford the time or money to live in the suburbs. A single detached house within the City of Toronto is just not affordable for many families, and living in a quiet residential area means that public transit is less of an option. Living in our old condo allowed us to be able to start our family. Today, we are able to make the suburbs work for us - with 3 kids, it's nice to have a larger home, and we are lucky to have careers that allow us to work close to home. If we didn't have that option, though, the commute would be horrible. Family-friendly condos just make sense.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More problems with Agudath position on reporting abuse

See my previous post here for the basic background.

Well, it looks like the Agudath position is even worse than I previously thought.

The Forward recently published an article, reporting on their interview with Agudath head Rabbi David Zwiebel and director of communications Avi Shafran. In that article, they make several points explicitly clear:

1. Anyone who didn't personally witness the abuse is required to get rabbinic permission before making a report to authorities.

2. There is no registry of rabbis specially trained in this field, precisely because they don't want any such rabbis to be arrested. [According to this logic, a rabbi counselling a parent not to report a child's allegations of abuse to authorities could be fine - the concern is just that having a panel of trained rabbis would attract the attention of secular authorities.]

3. He quotes head Haredi rabbi Elyashiv as commenting on the potential harm of a false allegation - but fails to mention that the same rabbi had explicitly ruled that a Jew with a reasonable suspicion of abuse was permitted to go to secular authorities. It was the Agudath Israel organization - not Rabbi Elyashiv - who imposed the condition that one had to get a rabbi to agree that reasonable suspicion existed.

4. They make it clear that a rabbi wouldn't just tell a parent to report if their child disclosed abuse, but that the rabbi might conduct some sort of investigation himself. In Shafran's words:

Asked how a rabbi could ascertain whether a child is lying, Shafran said, “There are certain subtle [signs] in a child that show whether the child is fantasizing.” He said these indicators included a child’s tone of voice or specific things he or she says.

Offering the hypothetical example of a parent who came to a rabbi after his child told him she had been abused by a teacher, Zwiebel said the rabbi’s decision on whether the parent can go to law enforcement “depends on whether your child has the habit of fantasizing. It depends on whether your child and the teacher have had run-ins in the past. It may require some level of nuance and investigation [by a rabbi] that go beyond the mere allegation.”

Zwiebel said that concerned ultra-Orthodox parents could consult their own rabbi, who, if not experienced in dealing with abuse cases, could find another rabbi equipped to help. The consulting rabbi could, if necessary, also turn to a mental health professional or a social worker to assess the claims, Zwiebel said.

Read my previous post for a full explanation of just how bad an idea this is. Even in the best case scenario, with everyone having the best intentions, this is a recipe for disaster. You have a rabbi with no training in child protection assessing credibility and possibly conducting their own investigation - in other words, doing exactly what the child protection workers are trained to do. Unlike child protection workers, however, there is no duty to keep accurate, timely records of the investigation, no training, no supervision and no duty to uphold the law. Furthermore, ANY interviewing by rabbis can taint the evidence. Child protection workers need disclosure to be made as quickly as possible, with as little interfere as possible, in order to get the most accurate information. Once again, there is no acknowledgement or understanding that child protective services INVESTIGATES reports of suspected abuse, and doesn't automatically cart anyone off on the basis of a mere report.

In the worst case scenarios, any child who has problems - and it's not unreasonable to expect that a child being abused would have problems - becomes a target as the teacher is immune from being reported.

5. They are instructing mandated reporters to go against the law.

Under New York State Law, social workers and mental health therapists are classified as so-called “mandated reporters,” with an absolute legal obligation to report to law enforcement authorities when they suspect child abuse may have occurred. But Zwiebel has stated that mandated reporters who are members of the Orthodox community are also not exempt from obtaining rabbinic permission first.

Does he realize that he has just ensured that agencies will be forced to interrogate religious Jewish social workers and mental health professionals, to make sure that they aren't following the Agudath Israel dictates?

Does he also realize that he is undermine the legal protections for children? The mandated reporting systems ensures that there are multiple ways that abuse can be detected and reported. Agudath Israel's policy is to remove that, and force reporting to go through gatekeepers from the community.

6. Despite all of the uproar, they are still either completely ignorant of mandatory reporting requirements, or deliberately misrepresenting them.

Zwiebel said the rabbinic imperative to assess claims before reporting them to police was similar to what he characterized as a requirement for teachers and therapists to establish “reasonable suspicion” before reporting a case to law enforcement under New York’s mandatory reporting laws.

But state guidelines issued pursuant to those laws set the bar much lower. A mandated reporter does not even need a child’s claim of abuse to go to the police. “Your suspicion can be as simple as distrusting an explanation for an injury,” one of the guidelines states.

7. They are turning this into a political battle, with some severely misplaced priorities.

Tapping the manila folder containing the rabbinic pronouncements on sex abuse, Zwiebel said the Aguda’s first loyalty is to “the weight of rabbinic authority in the world today.”

Really? You're first loyalty isn't to justice, or to protecting children? Or even to the will of G-d?

No, they've set this up as a political battle between themselves and secular authories. Rabbinic authority shall prevail - even if their alleged rabbinic authority ruled that reporting abuse was permissible and if they themselves were the ones to invent the requirement for rabbinic approval to make a report. There is plenty of concern that a panel of rabbis could be "vulnerable" to arrest, and plenty of concern about false allegations, but precious little concern for vulnerable children.

Slifkin also comments on the absurdity of Zwiebel's positions here

My one ray of hope comes from the Jewish mothers on

Agudath Israel may not feel that they have to answer to secular authorities - but they will need to answer to Jewish mothers, especially as increasing numbers of those mothers are becoming aware of just how twisted this policy is and how vulnerable their children are in any institution under the Agudath Israel umbrella. Perhaps we will see changes when they refuse to support this organization or allow their children to be entrusted to anyone following their policies.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A sample sex-ed curriculum

After reading more and more abstinence-only insanity, I thought I'd go a step beyond my previous post on my approach to sex ed and do a sample curriculum.

Topic: Sex is for consenting adults

Discuss the meaning of the term "consent".
Have students look up laws in various jurisdictions on sexual assault/rape, including statutory rape/age of consent.
Have student read case law on the topic, including the recent Supreme Court of Canada case
Discuss how one's partner needs to be awake and reasonably sober to give valid consent.
Discuss how consent is an ongoing process, not a one-shot deal, and that it can be revoked at any time.
Have students look up rules of professional discipline for certain professions, and discuss concept of relationships involving imbalance of power or trust which make it impossible to have valid consent. In other words - psychiatrists cannot date patients, ever.

Discuss good touch/bad touch.
Discuss fact that kids can always tell parents, teachers, doctors or another trusted adult if someone is hurting them or doing something to them that makes them uncomfortable. Do NOT keep a secret just because someone tells you that you cannot tell anyone - in fact, that's a sign that you should tell an adult. If they are scared to tell a parent, it is always ok to talk to a teacher, doctor or school counselor instead. Teachers, doctors and counselors are required by law to help you. If one doesn't help, you can tell someone else. If someone says that something bad will happen if you tell, do not believe them, and tell someone right away. You will not get in trouble for being honest. If you are ever worried about something, there is always an adult who is ready and willing to listen to you.

Discuss how hormone surges in adolescence affect mood and behavior
Research how development of frontal cortex of the brain is not complete until early 20s, and how that affects risk-taking

Have students do detailed life-plans, based on having children at 15, 20, 25, and 30. Life-plans should include educational plan, future career options and salaries, childcare arrangements, budgeting, etc.

Topic: Sex needs to be safe

Research various STDs, their modes of transmission, and what we know about how to prevent transmission. Highlight how recommendations may differ from one disease to another. Include ALL methods of transmission. Give practical instruction on how to prevent transmission (condoms, dental dams, etc.), where to obtain items, and things to avoid (such as nonoxynyl-9 or Vaseline).

Provide information on clinics that do testing, and on accuracy of testing.

Role-play discussion to have with potential partner about safe sex and doing testing.

Refer back to Topic 1, and discuss risks associated with lack of sobriety. Also discuss risk of being slipped "date rape" drugs and ways to minimize risk.

Give information on rape crisis centres and shelters for anyone being abused. Mention that violence isn't always man on woman - it can occur the other way, or in same-sex relationships, and it is always too serious to ignore.

Discuss no-risk and lower-risk activities. Also discuss risks that may be present with various forms of sexual activity.

Emphasize that pain is a problem which should not be ignored.

Topic: Babies need parents who are prepared to care for them

Have students job-shadow a family lawyer or child protection worker, or at least interview them about their work.

Research child support laws.

Research how factors such as alcohol or drug use, poor nutrition or use of certain medications in utero are related to various lifelong medical issues. Discuss the importance of proper prenatal care and pre-pregnancy planning.

Research how parenting impacts children.

Research the impact of parental conflict on children. Discuss how relationships between couples may end, but that you and your child will be tied forever to your child's other parent - for better or worse.

Brainstorm desirable qualities to seek in the person who will be the mother/father of your child.

Provide a list of local public health/birth control clinics, with complete contact information and hours.

Do a comprehensive review of all birth control methods, including proper usage, risks and failure rates. Explain how to access each method of birth control.

Do a math exercise on probability, and the effect of using more than one method of birth control on probability.

Read "Taking Charge of Your Fertility".

Role-play discussions about delaying sex, and about using proper birth control.

Discuss full impact of an unplanned pregnancy on life plans (see Topic 1)

Discuss option for women if faced with unwanted pregnancy (services for teen moms, adoption options, foster care kinship placement, laws against pregnancy discrimination, financial supports available, Plan B, abortion options and side effects).

Discuss fact that men have very limited control over what happens with a pregnancy, and what legal obligations and options exist after the birth.

Topic: Your body

Provide some decent books on puberty, anatomy, hygiene and reproduction

Discuss the full spectrum of what is normal

Point out signs of what may not be normal, discuss breast/testicular self-exam

Discuss body image and self-esteem

Topic: Functional and Dysfunctional Relationships

Provide role models for healthy relationships (obviously, something that goes a bit beyond a mere health class)

Read "How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So that Your Kids Will Talk", and work through the examples. Get into pairs or small groups and work on constructive vs. destructive communication. Discuss "I" vs. "You" statements, avoiding words like always or never, avoiding negative labels, expressing feelings and doing active listening.

Group discussion about respect.

Group discussion about love (being committed to someone else and wanting to do what's best for them) vs. lust

Workshop on negative relationship patterns and how to avoid them

Observation of healthy co-parenting relationships, and discussion of expectations for the other parent

Workshop and discussion on abuse and control - physical, verbal, emotional, financial

Guest speaker (police, lawyer, social worker) on identifying potential sources of physical danger (violence, threats, serious uncontrolled mental illness, serious substance abuse), and options for safely dealing with the situation (use and limits of restraining orders, shelters, criminal law, etc.)

Range of sexuality, current legal issues/status and services for the LGBT community