As readers of this blog know, we adopted a 3-year-old Yellow Lab-Golden Retriever mix named Albie, and last Monday, after the longest, slowest weekend ever recorded in our house, Albie arrived after a tiring journey from Louisiana.
Now, there are two things you need to know straight away. First, I am not, repeat not, going to be one of those obnoxious pet owners convinced that everyone with an Internet connection is interested in seeing pictures of my dog or reading about every cute thing he does or listening to me brag about what a great dog he is. Second, this is by far the greatest, cutest, smartest dog in the world and I have the pictures to prove it. (I had one of Albie doing the New York Times crossword puzzle, but accidentally deleted it.)
To be honest, the term “rescue dog” was completely unfamiliar to me just two weeks ago. When my wife Judy began talking about adopting a “rescue” I thought she meant one of those dogs that locates wayward Swiss skiers in the Alps, or finds earthquake victims in the rubble. I had no idea that we were the ones doing the rescuing.
You never really know what you’re in for when a new dog arrives and we had fallen for Albie based on a twenty-second video posted on the Labs4Rescue website. For all we knew those were the happiest, most adorable, heart warming twenty seconds of his life. Off camera he could have been the reincarnation of Cujo.
Well, I’m happy to report the video did not lie. He was cuddly and affectionate from the ‘git go (when you pet him he always rests his paw, or both of them, on your arms), and is as gentle and sweet as you can possibly imagine.
Albie was a stray so we find ourselves speculating about the life he led before March when he was found in central Louisiana. Was he let go? Hard to imagine anyone parting with a dog this affectionate. But many dogs in the south are abandoned when they don’t prove to be good hunting dogs, and Albie surely seems to lack the temperament or the instinct for the hunt. We even had a little trouble getting him to chase a tennis ball. Getting in the car and going up and down stairs seem unfamiliar to him. Did he live in a one-story house? Or any house at all? Had he never been in a car? We’ll likely never know anything about the first three years of his life, but our goal is to make the next ten or twelve happy ones.
Being a dog owner for all of 24 hours I have a sense already about what it is that binds people to their dogs and why people get such nachus (that’s Yiddish for satisfaction, pleasure, and contentment) from them. In our first long walk together, around the lake at Wellesley College, Albie got plenty of compliments and admiration from passers-by. We thanked them as if his adorability and sunny disposition somehow reflected on us, which, of course, it doesn’t. And when you get all that uncomplicated affection from your pup its easy to feel virtuous and flatter yourself, as if the dog has reserved all that love just for you because you are so darned wonderful. But the truth is Albie could have been plunked down in any one of a million homes and he’d have been just as trusting and just as sweet. So, we feel very lucky indeed that he fell in with us.
Still, at the risk of sounding self-serving, he’s really lucky to be with us, too. He could just as easily have landed with the Kardashians.
I woke up early this morning and saw that Grace was hanging off the edge of the double bed next to me. Madeleine Bao Yi had carved out a cushy 75 percent for herself and had slowly pushed her sister out of the way. Laurent was already up and about in the next room so I whispered an invitation to Grace to come on over. She did and we both fell back to sleep.
Around 6 a.m. I woke up and felt unusually cramped and unable to move, but thought it was just my imagination. Moments later, Grace woke up and whispered “Bao Yi’s in here too, and she’s crushing my legs.”
It was a tight squeeze, but it was the best dog pile I’ve been a part of in quite some time.
As prospective adoptive parents, you read a lot about bonding. For this second adoption – at the start of our near five-year wait period – we were required to view video seminars on attachment and bonding issues. We even had to take an online exam to prove that we had complied with the requirement and learned something. Still, nothing can prepare you for the variables that you are presented in the adoption mix.
Laurent is the most closely bonded to Bao Yi, and Grace, as big sister, has also come a long way. As for me, I still have a tentative relationship with our new daughter. I’ve tried not to crowd her but rather, give her a chance to know me in increments. It can be hard to watch from the sidelines while the other three Belsies yuk it up with balloon games, smart phone videos or giving Daddy a “Betty Lou” (making tiny ponytails all over Laurent’s head) but I know my time will come.
Our plan was to take a group tour of the city this morning with a visit to a famous statue in Guangzhou and a stop at a park where citizens meet to enjoy tai chi exercises on a grand scale. The weather did not cooperate, so we scuttled that cultural mission and moved on to the shopping portion of the schedule.
Simon took us by van to the commercial district of the city, specifically to a six-story, 400-store mall devoted almost exclusively to the sale of pearls and jade.
We visited a recommended pearl store and sat as spectators while the other families power shopped. It was amazing to see so many strings of pearls lying around in bags. The young clerks were very happy to show us various grades of pearls for comparison’s sake and when a selection was finally made, they sprung into action, re-stringing and knot-tying with extreme speed and dexterity.
The next stop was a jade store where Laurent sprang for matching disk necklaces for his three girls. We were all thrilled with the shopping experience, Bao Yi even more so as the shopkeeper gave her a package of complimentary cookies when the yuan were forked over.
This afternoon, Laurent took Grace and Bao Yi to a nearby garden park for a ride on a pedal boat while I stayed behind with one member of each of the other families to sign off on the final adoption paperwork prior to our appointment at the US Consulate. When Simon called for the second document on the final checklist, I looked and looked in our accordion file and could find no trace of it.
My heart was in my throat for the next 45 minutes while he helped the others complete their files and I predicted uncertain doom for the Belsie family.
Here it was, the 11th hour and approximately 45 minutes and we didn’t have a particular notarized affidavit with us – and after the compulsive double-checking of paperwork in the days leading up to our departure. What was supposed to be a simple tying up of loose ends suddenly felt like an emotional audit. My mind raced with scenarios of our departure being delayed for days, or one of us having to stay in the country with Bao Yi for weeks while it all got sorted out. Or worse, having to pay exorbitant fees to “make it right.”
As it turns out, the consulate has an in-house branch of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, so we do have a solution.
I’ll be able to sleep tonight after all.
We are making progress as a family: Grace has introduced “appropriate coughing manners,” Laurent soldiers on with the knife and fork tutorials, and I quietly supply a variety of luncheon meats.
There was a time when turning 16 automatically meant a trip to the DMV to become a newly minted driver, at least if car culture movies like "American Graffiti," and even many of our own teen memories, are to be believed.
But a new study from Oregon State Public Interest Research Group reveals that today’s teens are not so quick to gun their engines and join the ranks of drivers, and that cruising the main drag in a steel-skinned living-room-on-wheels isn’t the rite of passage to adulthood and freedom it once was.
In 2010, a mere 28 percent of 16 year olds had driver’s licenses, compared with 44 percent in 1980, according to another study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. While this doesn’t take into account new laws regarding ages of drivers, older teens are driving at lower rates, too. From 1980 to 2010, 17-year-old licensed drivers dropped from 66 percent to 45 percent; 18-year-olds from 75 percent to 61 percent; and 19-year-olds from 80 percent to 70 percent.
Why is this? According to University of Michigan’s Michael Sivak, the economic downturn has made it more difficult for young people to own a vehicle and cover its costs, from gas to insurance to the actual car. In addition, he notes, an increasing number of young people are moving to cities that have regular public transportation. And then there are those who are driving less or not at all out of concern for the environment. He also points to internet access and the popularity of social networks and texting, which means that kids can interact with each other from their own homes and from places that they don’t need a car to access.
With all the appropriate messages out there warning teens against texting and driving, think of it this way: Given the choice, many teens would rather text than drive.
In addition, there’s a desire among younger people, for the first time in decades, to live in walkable cities with good public transportation and biking. (There is a desire among older people for this, too.) In these cities, they often rely on car-sharing programs like Zipcar in a sincere effort to drive less while also not having to worry about storage and maintenance.
My daughter and her peer group seem to mirror this national trend. Anna, who is 16, is in no hurry to get a driver’s license. Some of her friends got them at or around 16 (the minimum age for licensing in California). Many others waited. A couple admit to having been nervous. Still others are just taking their time. For various reasons, they don’t perceive a strong need to drive.
“Fewer parents are working 9-5 than they used to,” Anna said, “so they’re more available when needed. Kids get accustomed to getting rides from their parents and other drivers.”
That was Harry Miller’s story. The Sebastopol, Calif., teen got his driver’s license the day after his 18th birthday. “I started online driver’s ed the day after my 16th birthday,” he said. “I took a long time to finish. I was a little afraid of being behind the wheel and driving around.”
Once he got his permit, he started driving with his parents. Although driving became easier, he didn’t particularly enjoy it. The original permit expired before he passed the driving test, and a new permit was issued. The day after his 18th birthday, Harry passed the behind-the-wheel driver’s test and got his license.
“I had been getting rides (to school) with my dad, and there were always enough people driving places, that I didn’t really need a license,” Harry said. “The only reason I got one was to help my mom and dad drive my younger brothers places.” Harry added: “The day I got my license, I drove home by myself. The minute I was by myself, I realized how stupid I had been for not getting my license sooner. I loved it. Driving alone is the coolest thing.”
Diane Worley’s daughter, Ivy, of Mill Valley, Calif., got her license the day before her 17th birthday.
“It was a combination of not being ready and being too busy to schedule the driving test,” Diane said. “I got my license the day I turned 16, couldn’t wait for the independence of driving. My only serious car accident ever was in my first three months of driving. Ivy has not had an accident yet. I think that speaks for itself.”
In Los Angeles (where I learned to drive), many parents cite the “congested streets” and “crazy drivers” as the reasons that their kids and teen acquaintances are delaying getting their licenses, often past college.
And then there is Trevor Perelson, 18, of Mill Valley, Calif. who simply relishes the journey more by bike than he would if traveling by car. And it’s not as if he doesn’t travel long distances. He just completed a 14-day, 450-mile round-trip bike ride, in addition to using bike transportation daily.
“Driving a car is not even half as much fun as riding a bike,” he said.
“Half of my friends got their licenses at 16,” Trevor said, although most of his college-age friends don’t drive. “If they do, they regret it. To have a car means you’re forced to work or have your parents pay for the car and gas. Not everyone has that luxury.”
Trevor, who has a job building chicken coops, said, “I don’t think it’s worth it to have to work to drive a destructive machine that’s less fun than biking. It doesn’t make sense. I can be anywhere I need to be on my bike in an hour or by bus in 40 minutes.”
“The time spent working just to obtain and drive a car would be wasted. I’d rather live, learn and travel.” Trevor added, “There’s a communal aspect to bike riding. If I see someone I know, and I’m on a bike, I can stop and say hi. You can’t do that in a car. I like to feel the land versus just going over it — feel the steep hills and the humid climate, see the people and hear the noises.”
Anna also recently get her permit. She decided she wants to know how to drive, even if she doesn’t do it often. And, she’s right — it’s a good life skill to have in one’s arsenal. We’re also in the school of many parents who think that, while it’s great that our kid gets around on bike, foot or by carpooling, learning to drive now, with her parents and in her home town, before she goes off to college in a year, will actually make her a safer and more confident driver, when she does inevitably drive (although, frankly, waiting a little was fine, too).
Whatever the laws in your state and the new driver’s age, driving practice and safe habits are paramount.
“I think I saw one of those specials... you know those movies of the week. And it was like – and I just always wanted to bring a child home,” she said.
When Walters pressed, asking Queen Latifah if she was really serious about adoption, the actress said yes, and that she was “actually kind of working on that.”
“I’m totally serious,” she said. And then, because it’s Queen Latifah: “so if you got a kid that you don’t... just give me a year – let me set up camp and then send me the kid.”
(She’s got a lot on her plate – she’s set to star in a television movie version of Steel Magnolias next year.)
But she said again that she was really serious about adopting.
She would be in good company.
The celebrity world is filled with star-studded adoptions. There’s the Jolie-Pitt clan, of course, with kids hailing from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam. Katherine Heigl and husband Josh Kelley adopted a daughter from South Korea. And Madonna, who fought to adopt daughter Mercy James from Malawi.
But as the Monitor has reported, adoption is far more than a celebrity trend – it’s an American phenomenon. In 2010, there were 52,891 domestic adoptions reported through public agencies in the US, and 11,058 international adoptions, according to the State Department. In 2002, the National Survey of Family Growth estimated that 18.5 million American women ages 18-44 had considered adoption.
As Modern Parenthood editor Clara Germani wrote recently, in her introduction to the heartwarming – and, we’ve discovered, controversial – series about a Monitor editor and his family’s journey to China to adopt their second daughter, most of these adoptions go right.
Adoption, then, is a beautiful American story – one of parental love, of families morphing into new and enduring shapes, of bonding that goes beyond DNA and bureaucratic regulations.
“I’m here to tell you it’s the antidote to the adoption angst that media and popular psychology seem to focus on, such as infertility grief, bureaucratic tangles, and the uncertainties of timing,” Germani wrote.
We hope you’ll check out Gretchen Belsie’s dispatches. She and husband Laurent, the Monitor’s business editor, are back in China with their first adopted daughter, Grace. They have been waiting five years to adopt their second daughter, Madeleine, who is now 7. Already the series has led to smiles, tears and an intense debate among our readers.
Meanwhile, we’ll just have to wait for Queen Latifah’s next move.
Today was a banner day of highs and lows, taking us from a tuberculosis shot in the morning to more gastronomic escapism this evening at Paddy Field’s Irish Pub.
At 9:30 a.m. Simon took us to the city medical clinic. By the time we arrived at the second floor waiting area, the place was filled up with other American families who have been staying at the Garden Hotel. New friendships formed as we waited for our turns.
In the first exam room, Madeleine Bao Yi chatted with the nurse attendant and was unperturbed by the ear and throat exam. For those babies who did not like that first round, assistants offered small squeak toys (shaped like bok choy) as a diversionary tactic.
During the second check, the children were given a mandatory tuberculosis shot. Once Bao Yi figured out what lay ahead, she stiffened out and grabbed hold of the doorjamb with a true death grip. It took Laurent and Simon pulling like Trojans to unclasp that hold. All the while, she was howling and crying what I like to refer to as “squirt gun tears.” Then, she locked Laurent in a rear headlock like there was no tomorrow. Simon was there the whole time, trying to talk to her in Chinese and explain that the shot would be over in two seconds. She finally agreed to go through with it, but it was quite an ordeal. We have to return to the clinic in 48 hours to have the injection area checked. For the next two days, no swimming pool.
After the high times at the clinic, we took a short bus ride over to a part of the city called New Town. The skyscrapers were modern and architecturally varied, and the place felt like a section of Manhattan. We saw buildings that had been erected for the 2010 Asian Olympics and are now used for general commercial and athletic purposes. Simon also pointed out something called the Children’s Palace. Though it sounds like an amusement park, in reality it is a very special and expensive weekend school for the children of the well to do. Classes are offered in piano, art, dance, and Chinese brush calligraphy.
The amazing thing to consider is this: only 15 years ago, this entire section of the city was active farmland on the outskirts of the metro area. These urban corridors existed only in the minds of zealous planners.
As we wandered around the vast plaza near New Town, we kept hearing explosive sounds like gunshots. I was concerned, as were the other mothers, until Simon explained that it was the sound of fireworks over the Pearl River in celebration of the three-day Dragon Boat Festival. We hurried over to the railings overlooking the river and saw a number of these dragon boats go by. Imagine something like a Hawaiian outrigger canoe (with an elaborately carved dragon head in front) holding up to 40 men frantically paddling. Aboard the boat is a drummer who pounds rhythmically on a large drum to keep the pace for the oarsmen. Several team flags fluttered in the breeze. As they passed by, the helmsman tossed firecrackers into the air, and they snapped and sizzled.
It has been interesting watching Grace settle in to big sisterhood and try to understand why, in these early days of limited communication, Bao Yi may seem to get her way more than is fair. We keep telling her that Bao Yi doesn’t understand about “yours” and “mine,” so if she touches your pencil case, it is not a power play. She is probably just interested in seeing new things.
She is also a stickler for explanations for everything from manners to why we can’t go in the swimming pool for the next 48 hours. With Grace, it’s play scrupulously by the rules or get out of the game. We think she’d make a fine warden in a women’s prison.
Tomorrow will be another day for family bonding and finalizing paperwork.
The news coverage of youth sexting here in the United States generally places it in a legal context – the life-changing harm that can result from a child’s exposure to enforcement of child pornography law. That is certainly of deep concern, especially until these laws that were designed to protect minors from sexual exploitation are revised to catch up with user-generated and distributed media.
But – to reduce harm more fully – it’s high time to consider sexting from young people's perspectives and actual experiences, and also in a psychosocial context that factors in social pressures, gender issues, and sexual health.
“Sexting reveals and relates to a wider [global] sexist, sexualised [consumer] culture” that young people are navigating in their own social contexts now,” writes the lead author of a new qualitative study of sexting among youth. This is so important for parents and educators to hear:
“We need gender sensitive support that does not treat sexting as the fault of girls, and also we cannot simply demonize boys. Many existing resources are based on sexual stereotypes and worst case scenarios, are moralising and implicitly place the burden of blame on girls for sending a photo, thereby reproducing the problematic message that girls are to protect their innocent virginal body from the predatory over-sexed male. This in itself is a form of victimization [of both boys and girls], which can be harmful.”
Adults need to understand that “sexting” is a term young people created or generally relate to and isn’t any single behavior. “We uncovered a great diversity of experiences, which contradicts any easy assumptions about sexting as a singular phenomenon,” the study’s authors write in the report. They talked with 35 young people in single-sex focus groups of two to five (some in British schools’ Year 8, representing 12-to-13-year-olds, and some in Year 10, representing 14-to-15-year-olds) in two inner-city schools with socioeconomically and culturally diverse student bodies. After the focus groups, the authors interviewed 22 of the young people individually.
Though the researchers caution against making generalizations from their findings, they do offer eight key findings, and I’d add two more important insights from the executive summary. The insights are:
- High-pressure social context: Few teens choose not to participate in “the sexual banter, gossip, discussion,” flirting and dating of teen sociality, “but to take part is to be under pressure – to look right, perform, compete, judge and be judged."
- Individual and collective: Sexting’s effects aren’t limited to the people involved but “permeate and influence the entire teen network in multiple ways.”
Here’s a condensed version of the eight insights the authors gleaned:
- The biggest “threat” from sexting to teens is “sexual pressure from peers,” not strangers or “predators,” and what can happen with peers as a result.
- There is no clear line between sexting and bullying. “Sexting” refers to “a range of activities which may be motivated by sexual pleasure but are often coercive, linked to harassment, bullying and even violence.”
- Girls are the most "adversely affected" and sexting is “shaped by the gender dynamics of the group.” The authors found “evidence of an age-old double standard by which sexually active boys are to be admired and … sexually active girls are denigrated and despised as ’sluts.'”
- “Technology amplifies the problem:" We’re all pretty familiar with the nearly instant mass distribution that’s possible with digital technology. Hard not to agree that this, if it happens, can amplify emotional harm, but it is certainly not in itself the problem.
- It’s the tip of an iceberg: Sexting is just part of a range of (in some cases long-standing) sexual pressures teens feel “oppressed” by, the authors report.
- Resilience and coping skills: The researchers said they were struck that the 14- and 15-year-olds appeared as “mature in their resilience and ability to cope” as they were “sexually aware and experienced.” But the 11- and 12-year-olds “were more worried, confused and, in some cases, upset by the sexual and sexting pressures they face, and their very youth meant that parents, teachers and others did not support them sufficiently.
- “Sexting practices are culturally specific” both in terms of young people’s personal and local environment and in terms of the broader media culture.
- Exposure is good and bad: The authors report that it’s very clear that young people need more support and education, and we all need more research. They say that, while digital media may be contributing to increased “gendered sexual pressures on youth,” they also expose those pressures, make them “available for discussion and so potentially open to resolution.”
I’ve long suggested the No. 1 digital safety tip is to talk with one’s kids. This is the research version of that, and it’s just as greatly needed for calibrating our parenting and risk-prevention education. So we can follow the author’s advice and not impose even these findings on our own children, but they add nuance to the public discussion and can inform good parent-child communication too.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.
This is the most gratifying study I’ve seen in a while: Researchers have determined that babies who grow up with dogs and cats (but especially dogs) tend to be healthier than their non-pet owning compatriots.
The study, which was published earlier this week in the journal “Pediatrics,” followed 397 children in eastern or middle Finland through the first year of life, and asked parents to fill out weekly diaries both about the babies’ contacts with furry friends and their health. The parents also filled out a questionnaire when the kids were one year old.
The verdict: dogs are awesome. Cats are pretty cool, too. (OK, that’s not really the scientific conclusion, but you get the point.)
More specifically, the researchers found that children with dogs inside the house were the least likely group to report various sorts of illness or use of antibiotic drugs, and the group that spent the greatest percentage of time in the “healthy” category.
Contact with indoor cats were also helpful, but the dog-owning babies were the ones who seemed to reap the most health benefits.
The scientists don’t know exactly why the animals seem to be so beneficial. But – and I love this – they theorize that the general funk related to dogs (again, not the scientific wording, but dog owners out there know what I mean) is actually pretty helpful.
That’s right – the fur, the drool, the gunk, even the dirt on muddy paws, is a veritable Apple-A-Day, the experts say.
This makes me feel so much better.
Because, well, as soon as one enters our house one finds that it is home to not only a whirlwind of a toddler, but to some four-legged friends. One of whom is a Labrador retriever – aka the king of the canine shedders. A Black Lab, I will add, who cannot understand why, with the addition of Husband and Baby M to his life, the rules against couch surfing have become a bit stricter.
(The dog has simply learned that he should wait until we leave the room to get comfy on the white couch. Husband, who is not a dog person, although has many other wonderful qualities, does not appreciate this.)
I’ll admit, the general fur-coated status of my home has, in the past, had me feeling a bit inadequate. Even, at times, embarrassed.
But now I can have pride and the general animal kingdom environment. I can even feel a bit superior.
After all, good mommies encourage dog funk. The experts say so.
My 4-year-old flailed on the floor of the pet store, screaming that he wanted a toy. I ignored his wailing and bought shells for his new pet, Squirty.
At some point, Squirty, a hermit crab, will outgrow his shells and decide it’s time to move into a new one. My son could care less about Squirty at this moment. Somewhere in the store, he had spotted a superhero toy. I’m not sure what it was. I suspect it was actually a dog toy.
“We are here to buy something for Squirty, not you today. I can’t buy you a toy every time we set foot into a store,” I said, knowing my explanation might not get through during the height of my son’s angst.
Still, maybe the message would sink in later. Simon continued wailing as I scooped him up, carried him to the car, and buckled him into his car seat. “I want a superhero toy,” he said, tears streaming from his eyes. His face was bright red.
I had grand ideas when we stopped at the pet store on our way home from a weekend in Vermont. This would part of learning how to be a pet owner, a lesson about being responsible for something other than himself. OK, his pet is the ultimate in low maintenance. Squirty lives in a two-inch long shell and lives on miniscule amounts of water and this food we bought called Hermit Crab Food Pellets. Squirty does not require walking or grooming. In fact, he prefers if we leave him alone. But since he is not living near his food supply, Squirty needs us to survive.
We had 90 minutes left of the car trip. Simon spent most of the next 30 minutes fussing that he still wanted a toy. Lately, anywhere we have gone, Simon has expected me to buy him something. Too often, in recent weeks, I have relented. On a trip to the Museum of Science in Boston, he ran into the gift store and pointed at a large ladybug he wanted – for $6. I led him to a section with smaller, cheaper toys. He chose a $1.99 ladybug. At a children’s musical, he got a $10 flashlight toy. At the Fourth of July fireworks, I bought him a light-up star wand. I flushed red a few days later when a friend raised her eyebrows at seeing Simon with the toy. She had seen me buy him the first one the previous week.
My husband started to hem and haw about the expectations I was setting. I was becoming chagrined at my lack of willpower. Since Simon was 2, my husband and I have tried to downplay materialism and play up the importance of helping others, even while knowing that the concept of charity is hard for a young child.
For Hanukkah a few years ago, we bought him his first tzedakah box to collect coins for charity. I also got him a book about a young boy who regularly collected change to help others. This past Hanukkah, we counted the money Simon collected and went to a grocery store and bought canned goods. As a family, we delivered two bags of food to a local pantry. Since then, I have nudged Simon to add money to his tzedakah box. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t because he prefers to put it in his own piggy bank.
At the pet store, I set the expectations clearly before we walked in, telling him we were there to buy necessities for Squirty.
In the car, as we left the pet store, Simon was persistent. He stopped fussing and tried the polite approach. “Please, can I have a super hero toy? Please, please, Mom,” he said.
I thought of a compromise. “Well, maybe we can count up the money in your piggy bank and see if you have enough for a toy,” I said.
This morning, after breakfast, Simon surprised me by raising the subject again. “Can we count up my money and go to a toy store today?” he asked.
Today is one of the three days he goes to his day-care. “We can count it, but we’ll have to go after school,” I said.
I taught him to sort his money into piles of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. He tired after sorting half of it. We counted what he had sorted.
“$8.55,” I said. “That’s more than enough to get something. Should we give some of the rest to people who cannot afford to buy toys or food?”
He nodded and went downstairs and got his tzedakah box. Sitting on his bed again, he put several handfuls of change in it.
“Mom, where does money come from?” he asked.
“Well, it doesn’t grow on trees. Where do you think it comes from?”
“The bank,” he said.
“Not exactly. People have to work to get money. That’s why Mommy and Daddy work. That’s how we can buy you food and toys,” I said.
“Mom, if we didn’t have any money would other people use their money to give us food?” he asked.
“I think so,” I said.
“Mom, when can we go to buy more food for people who don’t have it?” he asked.
“Soon,” I said. “First, we have to count up the money in your tzedakah box, then go to the store to buy the food for them.”
He returned the tzedakah box downstairs and put his piggy bank on his dresser. Then, he stood on his stool and peered at Squirty, who huddled in a corner of the aquarium.
“I want him to move into one of his new shells,” Simon said.
“He will,” I said, “when he is ready.”
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Linda Wertheimer blogs at Jewish Muse.
Summer, which had been lurking in the intense humidity and the hazy skies, pounced with a vengeance today, bringing out yet another surprise from its meteorological bag of tricks – the monsoon backlash.
The day started well enough – Simon came to the hotel and whisked us off to the Guangzhou Zoo. He took us for a short ride on the city’s subway. On the descent into the cavernous station, we saw advertisements for pricey men’s cologne and haute couture.
Once on the car, we grabbed the overhead straps. Madeleine Bao Yi, too short to reach up, rejected the parental handholding alternative, spotted a tiny space on a nearby bench and made a beeline for it. She wedged herself in next to a young couple and chatted with the woman. We’re not sure if this is tomboy boldness or plain old practicality, but it is what we have come to understand – in five days – as Bao Yi’s way.
We entered the zoo at the south gate and immediately ran the gauntlet of souvenir vendors. Men selling skinny balloons twisted into animal shapes targeted us and approached with verve. Given that Bao Yi loves her balloons, we knew we were in for rough seas ahead.
The 2-yuan toy (approximately 35 cents) was the match that ultimately lit the fuse of a minor meltdown. We eluded the balloon men, only to be snared seconds later by an older woman who placed a cheap bubble gun in Bao Yi’s hands. I grabbed it and gave it back, saying, “No thank you.”
Bao Yi’s expression plummeted from shocked disappointment to outrage. On came the waterworks. We knew this was our first opportunity to set some limits with our new daughter.
Things had begun to taper off in the boo-hoo department when we found our next Waterloo – a small amusement park within the zoo called Happy World. Bao Yi saw the small train ride that went through a giant molded polymer alligator and wanted that above all else. We had just begun our zoo walk so Laurent decided that there would be other novelties to come and shook his head “no.”
This time, we got wailing – and plenty of it. Add to that the unsolicited parenting tips from a vexed older sister, and the trip to the zoo was suddenly a downer.
Then the rains came.
Within 30 seconds, the steady rain had escalated to a driving downpour. The locals moved quickly for cover, and we followed suit. Our safe harbor from the lashing rain was a small cement-block building with open lattice sides, and for the next 90 minutes or so, we shared it with 75 other people.
A stick-thin young man leaned against the wall to eat a snack kiosk carton of steamed noodles with chopsticks. A young mother rocked back and forth while her toddler drowsed in a body sling. Lightning streaked across the sky. Children moved about, snacking on wafer cookies. An older woman with very few teeth chattered to her husband, who stared blankly at the rain. A grandmother jostled a smiling infant who was wearing the newborn uniform of choice in China: the onesie with the open bottom. Thunder boomed overhead. And somewhere in the throng, a child honked incessantly on a cheap plastic trumpet his parents had bought him.
Bao Yi’s mood brightened unexpectedly as the rains came down. She amused herself for quite some time by dancing on the patio with her umbrella, evoking the best of Gene Kelly. After a while, she found that getting wet was also a lot of fun. By the time the storm had passed, she was damp and laughing again.
The zoo was a losing battle, so we wended our way to the exit. We zoomed past the elephant area, and I did get a glimpse of the fur of a lioness, but that was about it.
Near the hotel, we went to lunch at a typical Chinese fast-food noodle shop and watched the rain from our booth. Bao Yi whimpered that she did not like sitting in a wet skirt. Laurent tried to flap the fabric and give the impression that he was air drying it, but she wasn’t buying that.
I’ve got to hand it to Laurent. In many ways, he is the more motherly of us in the first days and weeks of bonding. It was the same way when we first got Grace. I guess he is more fearless, and willing to take language risks that I wouldn’t take.
Tomorrow Bao Yi will go through a routine medical check-up before we explore New Town Guangzhou.
You might think that Jean Paul Dhelo would have been the sort of person most angry with Thomas Lubanga, the warlord sentenced today by the International Criminal court to 14 years in prison for using children to fight in a brutal conflict that terrorized the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 2007, not long after Lubango had been sent to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes, Dhelo ran a rehabilitation center for child soldiers for just outside the dusty, grim town of Bunia. He had seen it all: boys as young as nine and 10 who had killed; young girls who had been forced to work as sex slaves for commanders; children of both genders who were shell-shocked, traumatized, and violent.
But when I spoke to Dhelo about Lubango that year, on a reporting trip for the Monitor, he expressed ambivalence.
“We welcomed children from all those groups,” he said. “And in each group there was a leader.”
He said he didn’t understand why Lubanga was the target. And he didn’t really know what good would come of prosecuting him.
Human rights activists today are hailing the International Criminal Court’s sentencing of Lubanga. The move, they say, is a victory for children’s rights, and it sends the message to other military leaders that recruiting children to fight will turn them into international pariahs.
Indeed, this is a message of growing importance. Despite a nearly two decades of increased attention by the UN and advocacy groups, many analysts say that the role of children in conflict – both as fighters and victims – is on the rise. Think Syria. Or the Lord’s Resistance Army.
But upon reading the news about Lubanga today, I couldn’t help but think back on the conversations I had those years ago in Ituri province, where the people were so ambivalent, the needs of children so great, and everything masked behind the proceedings of the international court and the fate of one man. (Who, although it’s a complicated story, was of debatable importance in the grand scheme of the international conflict in eastern Congo.)
According to UNICEF, the children most likely to be forced to be soldiers come from impoverished and marginalized backgrounds. And in eastern Congo, you have more than your fair share of poverty.
When I spoke to women on the the other side of Bunia from the child soldier rehabilitation center – a part of town that was of another ethnicity, and therefore more inclined to dislike Lubanga in a conflict that was divided along ethnic lines – they told stories of the warlord coming into their village and demanding that all children 10 years and older join their army. Those families who resisted were attacked with machetes. But even Charlotte Ayogo, who clearly anti-Lubanga, wondered about the amount attention paid to this one person. While the international community was focused on Lubanga, she said, more children in her neighborhood were dying because they had no access to clean water.
Children living in extreme poverty are our problem. So are children forced to be in wars.
Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela, longtime children’s advocate, and the former first lady of Mozambique (which saw its share of child soldiers during a decades-long conflict), wrote in the preface to the 2004 UN’s Child Solders Global Report that she didn’t know how to answer children who ask her when the world would actually act to protect them.
“.. the haunted eyes of child survivors ask all of us how we can live in a world where children can be brutalized and murdered as part of adult conflicts. I have no answer for these children. No reasonable or convincing explanation for why we have collectively failed to protect them from the atrocities of war. No justification for generations of broken promises.”
She continued: “It is heartening that the Security Council has condemned the use of child soldiers and outlined measures to end the practice. But this is not enough. Governments and armed groups must be held accountable for their actions, yet assisted to take concrete steps to get children out of conflict and back to their families.”
And then, read this part closely:
“This must include efforts by ‘the silent partners’ – those organizations, corporations and governments in Europe, North America and other parts of the world that provide military training and resources that assist waring parties in conflict zones. They must ask themselves how they can fulfill their personal, their human, and their State obligations to the care and protection of children while they continue to sell weapons and provide assistance to those shown to abuse children in their armed conflicts.”
This is us. Because these conflicts that seem very far away are often fueled, at least in part, by our addiction to natural resources. The poverty has more to do with global economics and our own choices than we would like to think. And the world-wide moral responsibility is huge.
The conflict in eastern Congo, for instance, is complicated and contested, involving a tinderbox of poverty, ethnic tensions, and valuable natural resources such as gold and coltan. But the role of international corporations, which have supported different sides in the conflicts to get better access to resources, has been well documented by rights groups. Other organizations have found bullets linked to the US, Russia, and other countries.
The international court’s decision today on Thomas Lubanga may well be celebrated. But more importantly, for parents everywhere, it should be a call to look globally and consider what we can do to fight some of the most crucial, desperate challenges to children across the world.
The answers are not easy, nor simple. But we must take responsibility to grapple with them.