Now, we hear, parents of younger kids can start to get worried, too. (Or excited, if you fall in the “social networking is good for children” camp. Which we respect, also.)
The Wall Street Journal reported today that Facebook may do away with its (poorly enforced) age restrictions, allowing users to be less than 13 years old.
With parental consent, of course.
According to sources at the social networking site, the Journal reported, Facebook is exploring technology that would connect younger children’s profiles to their parents’ accounts, allowing mom and dad to control Junior’s applications and to approve (or reject) his “friends.”
It would also let Junior buy games and other services and link those charges back to his parent’s account.
Clearly the social good in mind there.
Anyhow, a lot of people who study social media say this expanded access is a smart move. A 2011 Consumer Reports study found that 7.5 million people younger than 13 already use Facebook, and often with parental knowledge. It would be far easier to apply proper privacy settings if Facebook knew its users’ true ages.
And for better or worse, many technology-watchers say, people today communicate over Facebook. That’s true for adults, teens, and, increasingly, younger children. Rather than bury one's head in the sand, they say, it's better to embrace the reality and encourage safe online communication.
But there are others who worry that Facebook is simply trying to expand its marketing audience and that this will open yet another avenue of unregulated electronic advertising to kids.
"With the growing concerns and pressure around Facebook's business model, the company appears to be doing whatever it takes to identify new revenue streams and short-term corporate profits to impress spooked shareholders," said the CEO of advocacy group Common Sense Media, James Steyer, in a statement.
"But here's the most important issue: There is absolutely no proof of any meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13. Indeed, there are very legitimate concerns about privacy as well as the impact on the social, emotional and cognitive development of children. What Facebook is proposing is similar to the strategies used by Big Tobacco in appealing to young people – try to hook kids early, build your brand, and you have a customer for life.
"What's next? Facebook for toddlers?"
I can see it now.
Status update: Mom tried to get me to nap. LOL!!!
I wonder whether my one-year-old would friend me.
This in from the American Academy of Pediatrics: Although the vast majority (85 percent) of new moms say they intend to breastfeed their babies for at least three months, two thirds of them (or half of all moms) fail to meet their goals. A full 15 percent of these breastfeeding-intentioned moms stop nursing before they even leave the hospital.
The stats are part of an article in today’s “Pediatrics,” the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and are based on monthly questionnaires completed by thousands of moms between 2005 and 2007 as part of a joint Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration study.
While there are a number of trends that one can sift out of the data – mothers who were married were more likely to achieve their exclusive breastfeeding intentions while moms who were obese or smoked were less likely to do so – some of the biggest indicators of breastfeeding success were connected to what happened at the hospital.
New moms who began breastfeeding within an hour of giving birth and those whose babies were not given supplemental feedings or pacifiers were a lot more likely to achieve their breastfeeding goals.
Which takes us back to what breastfeeding proponents see as a really big problem in the United States: a hospital and commercial system that is set up to hinder, rather than help, nursing.
Despite a lot of hype about women breastfeeding (hello, Time Magazine), the US lags well behind other developed countries (and a lot of undeveloped ones, too) when it comes to nursing. It ranks last on a recent Save the Children “breastfeeding policy scorecard,” with only 35 percent of moms exclusively breastfeeding at three months.
And although there’s a lot of talk in the medical world about the benefits of breastfeeding – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends six months of exclusive nursing – there’s also a lot of contradictory behavior.
That Save the Children report on global motherhood, for instance, found that only 2 percent of American hospitals are “baby friendly.” The “Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative” was launched in 1991 by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and designates a hospital as “baby friendly” if it does not accept free or low-cost breast milk substitute and has implemented a number of breastfeeding support measures, such as having lactation consultants on staff and encouraging moms to nurse their babies soon after giving birth.
In a lot of ways, these seem that they’d be pretty basic steps. According to the all the information about breastfeeding out there, it’s clear that nursing soon after birth – preferably with the help of someone who knows how the whole thing works (not as obvious as you might think, I tell you) – is hugely important to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship. So is avoiding formula.
But that’s not the way it often works in maternity wards. According to the advocacy group Public Citizen, nearly two-thirds of US hospitals still give out free formula samples to new moms. That goes along with stories that I’ve heard from friends (totally scientific, I assure you) who have come home from giving birth in a hospital with “goodie bags” packed with formula and bottles. I remember seeing formula pamphlets in a doctor’s office that compared the nutritional component of “milk” unfavorably with the advertised products. (The advertisement noted in tiny print on the back that it was talking about cow’s milk, not breast milk.)
The formula onslaught is even worse outside of the hospital, with Enfamil samples showing up on your doorstep after you buy a carseat, and formula coupons printing out at the drug store every time you buy a nursing-related item.
A lot of people in the new mom world talk about the need for breastfeeding mothers to “have support.” And sure. A supportive partner, a flexible employer – these are important for nursing success. But a lot of women might simply not have these.
Which brings me to another statistic in the Save the Children report, taken from a University of Michigan study.
We know that a lot of moms who plan to breastfeed don’t meet their goals. But among low income moms the situation is even worse. Almost none of them – only 2 percent – nurse according to plan.
Those are the moms who are least likely to have “support” at home, and more likely to be influenced by the policies at a hospital.
And for this, say breastfeeding proponents, there is no excuse.
Graduation season is here. Soon millions of students will be leaving for college or other pursuits. But I wonder how some of them will be affected by the speeches and awards at their commencement ceremonies?
I, along with other relatives and friends, have listened to hours of speeches and watched dozens of the 4.0s come up to the stage for award after award. As I've watched the faces of those not called, I've wondered what it must be like to be a solid "C" student, or one who struggled to hold on to a "B." Did those "average" students feel that, after all the hoopla for the award winners, their fate of mediocrity was sealed?
As I sat through one of the longer events, I started composing an address for those "other" kids:
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, congratulations to the valedictorian and the 4.0s. I wish them well, but this is for the rest of you.
You're not off to Stanford or Harvard. Maybe you're going to community college or state college, or your second or third choice. Or maybe you're going to try something different. Good for you! You are all about to do great things. Ahead of you are opportunities for success that you haven't even imagined yet. Maybe success by worldly standards; maybe success by your own standards.
I have one piece of wisdom to share. Much more of our future than we sometimes realize is a matter of chance, and a lot is what we make of those chances.
You might, for example, get a part-time job with a landscaper, find that you love it, and go on to create beautiful environments that bring joy and pleasure to others. Your college roommate's dad might own a business that gives you a summer job, and you might end up running the company. Or you may find the only class that meets a requirement one semester is "Geography of Water" — and you get hooked and eventually design clean-water systems for developing countries.
One of my favorite sayings is, "God laughs, when man makes plans." I don't mean don't plan. But some of those perfectly planned 4.0 lives may take unexpected turns and so will yours. Be ready to make the best of them. The doodles that always got you in trouble may be the groundwork for a cartoon series, the design for a new building, or might enhance the lessons for your future students.
One of those 4.0s might find a medical cure for cancer. But you might find a cure for loneliness. One day you might comb an old woman's hair into a neat little bun, push her wheelchair to a spot next to her favorite rosebush, and listen as she tells you about her garden.
Whoever you were on Commencement Day, whatever others expected of you – well, that's done. Now you get to reinvent yourself. If you were always the super-neat one, you get to loosen up. If you were the class clown, you get to try being serious.
Treat every class as if it's important. You never can tell. Even if you don't become an astronomer, that astronomy class that filled a requirement may turn out to be valuable. You'll acquire study skills that will help you in the next class. Or some star-filled night you may lie on the grass with your children and teach them about the wonders of this universe.
Have faith in yourself. Most wonderful, successful people never went to the stage for an award. Many were a lot like you. They kept their minds and hearts open, found a niche, and made the most of it.
So can you. Congratulations.
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. Susan DeMersseman blogs at Raising kids, gardens and awareness.
Every year, just after Mother’s Day (and I totally base it on just how much of a fuss was made for me) I start thinking about what to do for my husband for Father’s Day. I’ll be honest and say that I usually come up with some great ideas for gifts but my efforts are always thwarted by him.
Two years ago, I had planned to buy him a nice package at a local barber shop that promises an “exclusive gentleman’s barbering experience.” A straight razor shave, with facial treatment, beard trim (he has a goatee) and a “precision hair cut.” Sounds nice, right? Instead, a few weeks before he said, “I was thinking about getting a thingamabobber (can’t remember what it was now) for my motorcycle…it could be my Father’s Day gift!”
Last year, since I didn’t get to treat him to the “exclusive gentleman’s barbering experience” the year before, I had again planned to get him the gift card/package…sure enough, he had his own idea. “I was wondering if I could get some ice climbing tools as my Father’s Day gift this year.” Fine.
This year, I was walking around the grilling section of Lowe's and saw smokers. Knowing he has always wanted one, I planned to pick one out and surprise him for Father’s Day. I made a mental note and went about my day. I kid you not, later that week, “Hey, I was thinking about picking up a smoker…it can be for Father’s Day!” At least I was on the right track?
Every year before Christmas, my birthday and Mother’s Day, he asks me, “What do you want for (insert holiday here)?” If I have an idea, he usually just tells me to go ahead and buy it/order it. The bottom line is that he wants me to get something I really want, that I wouldn’t normally buy for myself. I feel the same way – so maybe I should try his approach instead?
How do you shop for Father’s Day? Do you let them pick out their own gifts or do you try to surprise them?
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. Lauren Parker-Gill blogs at Spill the Beans.
Our beloved nanny who worked for us for five years – Joan – recently called to say she’s on the job market again. She’s been working for the family after ours for the past decade, and they’re helping out in her job search, of course, but could we help, too?
With pleasure! I put a notice on a local parenting website: “Our extremely kind, smart, warm, funny, organized nanny seeks new full-time job.” I got a call from a woman who had been tasked by her pregnant daughter-in-law to help out in the nanny search.
Great! I told her how I’d met Joan when I was home on maternity leave and hanging out at the same playground where she took the kids she was babysitting at the time. We became friendly, and I dearly wished she could be my kids’ nanny – that’s how much I liked her. Then, lo and behold, the family she was working for moved away, just as I was getting ready to go back to work. Such serendipity! Joan came to work for us, and I got to be a happy, non-stressed mom going back to my job, because I felt my kids were in such capable hands.
The lady on the phone was listening to all this but finally interrupted: “So you say she hasn’t worked for you for 10 years?”
“Well, then she hasn’t worked with a baby in that long?”
No, I explained. The “new” family she went to work for eventually had three kids. The youngest is 4 or 5, so she worked with a baby about three or four years ago.
“I’m sorry,” said the caller. “This isn’t going to work. My daughter-in-law wants me to find someone with recent baby experience.”
“Well, four years is kind of recent, isn’t it?” I swallowed and tried not to let my voice go shrill. “I guess I should have mentioned that Joan didn’t only help raise my kids, she’s raised four of her own. The youngest is in college now. So it’s not as if babies are something new to–”
The woman apologized again: “I see what you’re saying. Believe me, I understand. But my daughter-in-law made me promise to find someone who is up on the latest baby information. You know, so much has changed in just the past few years. She wants a person who’s up-to-date on all the new things. This is such a crucial time for the baby’s development.”
If there’s a spanking new version of the Diaper Genie or the car seat (and I’ll bet there is), I’m sure Joan could master it. But is there really a “new” way to raise a baby? Has human evolution taken a sharp turn in the past 36 months? Do nannies and parents really have to be up on the latest studies, products, programs, manias and mantras to do their job “right"? Does that mean anyone who raised her kids before 2012 did it wrong?
The grandma couldn’t hold out anymore. “I completely agree! But there’s no way I can tell her this. I promised I’d look for someone with recent baby experience, and I have to shut my mouth.”
That I understood. It is hard for anyone (especially a mother-in-law) to tell a new parent anything that isn’t in the latest book or magazine. And it is hard for a parenting magazine not to endorse all the new products and programs that grace (and pay for) its pages. And it’s hard for the media not to flog some new, surprising study as the most important stop-whatever-you-were-doing-before thing to do for your kids.
But the latest, greatest thing to do for your kids is also the oldest and boldest: Trust yourself; trust your kid. Babies do not need everything to be perfect. And besides, whatever is “perfect” today may be denounced tomorrow. (Remember when we were supposed to use trans fat-filled margarine instead of butter?)
Thank goodness that our kids are far more resilient – and brilliant – than pop culture tells us they are. Believe it or not, they don’t even need a black-white-and-red heartbeat-playing mobile above the non-drop-side crib.
The grandma apologized again, and we said our goodbyes. Off she went to find the “perfect” nanny. And even though that means Joan is back on the market, it also means she dodged a bully. Er, bullet.
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. Lenore Skenazy blogs at Free-Range Kids.
It's a lingering reminder of countless family tutorial sessions. At times when the combined assignments seemed particularly massive, an inner voice would call to me and say, "Don't you think we should be getting paid for this? Maybe it’s time for homework helpers to organize and take our grievances to Washington!" That notion always faded away by the next morning, which is fortunate because I would have been a terrible lobbyist.
Our homework load reached its peak during the first decade of the new millennium, and I know my feelings were shared by many other families because the subject popped into the mainstream media a few times.
I still have a copy of Newsweek from January 2001 with a headline proclaiming, “The Parent Trap: Is Juggling Your Kids’ Sports, Music, Homework, Etc. Burning You Out?” My household did not experience burnout but we definitely burned a lot of midnight oil.
From fifth grade all the way through 12th, I estimate both parental units spent several hundred hours each school year providing academic assistance to our student. My wife devoted considerable time to helping with Spanish, and I focused mostly on algebra. Having scored 670 on the math SAT back in the olden days, my confidence level started out high and quickly declined. Whatever mathematical talent I possessed as a teenager had mostly vanished.
But all of us pressed on, and I like to believe that if we ever visit Spain, my wife can order our meals in restaurants and I will interpret the bill if it’s presented in scientific notation.
At one point during my battle with math I came to a dead end. It may have involved synthetic division of polynomials but I can’t recall precisely. Determined to regain some of my algebraic skills in order to provide reliable guidance, I went to the teacher and she let me attend her next after-school review session. When I signed in at the office and asked the secretary if other parents had ever come in for similar reasons she said, “You’re the first one I know about.”
Is there any way to measure how much homework kids are doing?
Perhaps some educational foundation can establish a national repository where all completed assignments from every school in the country could be archived and the total mass compared year by year. The logistics would be tricky, and the building itself would need to be about 500 times larger than the Pentagon. One fact I can state with certainty is that parental caustic comments about homework have been part of American culture for at least 60 years.
I know this because recently I was leafing through a book that belonged to my parents and a clipping from the Los Angeles Times fell out. It’s a one-panel cartoon called "The Neighbors," by George Clark and shows a dad sitting at a table helping his son, who is writing in a notebook. Papers are lying on the floor. Mom is in a nearby chair, and the dad looks annoyed as he speaks in her direction. The caption says, “I wonder how I was spending my time when they were teaching this stuff to the rest of my class.”
The coping technique that worked best for me is fairly simple:
A) Try not to get angry (most of the time, anyway).
B) Don’t take it personally when you come up with an incorrect answer.
C) Accept the fact that in the Classroom Of Real Life Parenting, helping your kids with homework will probably always be included in the curriculum.
Q. My daughter turns five next month. I would describe her as an intense, spirited child. We attend a playtime twice a month with kids from birth to five years old. When we are around toddlers, my daughter often responds to them with pushing or hitting. Typically when another child has taken something from her. I wouldn't describe her as aggressive - just that she doesn't know how else to handle it. When we've talked about it, she says they don't respond to her words -- like if another child takes a toy she has and she asks for it back.
Recently the playtime facilitator approached me and said a couple of other parents were concerned about their children's safety around my child. If pushing or hitting occurs, the facilitator wants me to say, "That is not acceptable. We need to leave." The facilitator also recommended time-outs, which I don't like because they escalate her emotions and don't give my daughter a chance to try another approach.
Here is what I have been doing...
I have been trying to get her to say what happened or why she is upset, acknowledge if her behavior was inappropriate, brainstorm what she could have done differently, and help her figure out how to help the other child. For instance, "Pushing is not acceptable. What else could you have done to get your chair back when that boy sat in it?" She will eventually solve it. She can be intensely emotional with outbursts that include yelling, stomping or hitting herself. So I have been trying to help her learn to identify her feelings and how to calm down. My goal is to get her to calm down enough to figure out how to handle it differently whether that takes 20 seconds or 20 minutes. I do this by getting her to talk about what happened, take deep breaths or offer her a hug. I feel like this is working - she rarely hits herself anymore, the over-the-top outbursts are fewer and she calms down quicker.
My question is -- by not punishing her for the pushing or hitting or by giving her attention through it all, am I inadvertently reinforcing the behavior?
A. No, you are not reinforcing the behavior. Punishing her in any way WOULD be reinforcing the behavior. I think you are doing well and be sure you are validating how she feels. Instead of going right to the inappropriate behavior or asking her why she is upset, first name her feelings and let her know she is normal for having them. Try something like, "That must feel very unfair to you. You left your chair expecting to go back to it, and there was someone else in it." This is a comforting statement. So you connect. Connection to the feelings is the most important step and the foundation of any behavior correction. Perhaps in this case, just acknowledge how unfair it must feel (this way she comes to you with her feelings, instead of acting them out on whoever) before asking her what else she could do.
When she goes up to another child and hits or shoves, pick her up, take her to another room or outside, and very neutrally go through the same process. After her feelings are acknowledged, you can add, "I know you know it's not okay to hit. What else do you think you could do?" Then ask her if she's ready to go back in or leave. She gets the message that hitting is not the way but that she is not bad for wanting what she wants. When you sense that her intensity is building, I think it would be more helpful to her to say, "We need to go now." Then do all your work with her when you are home and she is calm. Nothing effective can be accomplished in the middle of a meltdown. Some of her intense reactions might be compounded by her embarrassment that she can't get it together in front of all the other children.
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. Bonnie Harris blogs at Connective Parenting.
There’s been a lot of griping in the news these days about the slow-to-grow-up generation of 20-somethings who return home after being out in the world and sit, accumulating crumbs, in their parents’ living rooms.
In fact, the "boomerang generation" is moving back home at the highest rate since the 1950s – currently 21.6 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 according to a recent Pew Research report. Three-in-ten parents reported having a child who has moved home for economic reasons.
But I want to celebrate another kind of boomerang kid. This is one who is actually more of a hitchhiking kid than a returning child, since the home she’d normally return to is rented out to tenants, and her parents – my husband and I – have decamped to Beijing where we are having an adventure.
Joanna, 24, decided that it was all the more reason for her to have an adventure as well, so she quit her job (gulp), backpacked around Thailand and Cambodia with a friend (another gulp), volunteered at a home for street kids in Chang Mai, Thailand (gulp, gulp, gulp), and landed in Beijing, where we were surprised, mostly delighted, and maybe even a little taken aback to realize that we’d have a roommate.
Luckily, we had rented a three-bedroom apartment, so Joanna actually has her own little nest in one corner of the place, and we can use a third bedroom for a study plus guestroom.
The three of us have gone hiking on the Great Wall, had hysterical experiences in Chinese restaurants (bacteria dry pot, anyone?), made Thanksgiving dinner, Chinese new year cookies, and ravioli in the kitchen, and explored this vast city as a family. Just about every Wednesday, Joanna and I go out for manicures and chatter. The other day we found a dirt-cheap place where we got perfect manicures for 30 RMB (less than $5), talked about life, and watched Chinese shoppers watch the laowai (foreign) women get their nails done.
It’s true that there’s a certain adjustment that comes for a couple that had gotten used to the idea of the empty nest. For instance, there are times when Joanna will decide to have friends over and inadvertently make us feel a little bit like interlopers in our own place. Our other child, coincidentally, lives in Guangzhou in the south of China where he teaches conversational English to college students. There’s something nice about being in the same country but also giving him a couple hundred miles of breathing room. And having both kids boomerang at the same time would certainly feel a lot more crowded.
Joanna has decided to extend her China adventure for another year, but threatens to get her own place. I’m already steeling myself for that departure. The day I dropped her off for college I was sad but I knew she’d be home for Thanksgiving and then Christmas and spring break and the summer. For now, though, we revel in the inside jokes – did her father just order in Chinese fish that was too good for us? – and celebrate the spirit of the here and now.
It’s been a week for family travel news. Right after Sen. Charles Schumer went to bat for flying families, urging airlines to allow parents and kids to sit together without paying extra for window and aisle seats, this news tidbit comes in from the West Coast:
This past weekend, apparently, a 3-year-old boy was kicked off an Alaska Airlines flight for refusing to wear his seatbelt. Here’s the scene, as described to local press by the child’s dad, Mark Yanchak.
(Parents of toddlers, you will feel sympathy here. Promise. And then you will resolve to never leave the house with your kid.)
As dad struggled to get the seatbelt latched, mom, who was sitting in first class with the couple’s other son and her mother (nice arrangement, I say), came back into coach with a pacifier and some water. The two parents were eventually able to get the boy calmed down.
But by that time the plane was already rolling back to the gate, Yanchak said. And soon an airline representative asked Yanchak and his son to get off the plane. Alaska Airlines later offered to rebook the family on another flight, but the Yanchaks declined.
“I’m not sure how the kids will feel about flying next time,” Yanchack said.
What a start to the vacation.
This story terrifies me. As do various others like it. (Check out our piece from March about another crew calling the police on an unruly 3- and 8-year-old.)
My Baby M, since she was 2 months old, has been on more flights than I can count, including a 19-hour jaunt from Baltimore to Nairobi, via London. And she is usually awesome, the celebrity of the plane, waving and blowing kisses to all. (And there’s nothing like a baby to keep other Southwest patrons from sitting in your row, I must add.)
But she is also getting older. And more opinionated. And squirmy. She is turning into a toddler. And one of these days – I just know it – she’s going to lose it. I’ll have forgotten snacks or sippy cups or the five bazillion toys I bring to keep her entertained. I’ll tell her she’s not allowed to kick the seat in front of her, or that she really just can’t crawl down the aisle.
And I’m telling you, she’s going to freak out.
Because, well, she’s a toddler. And testing limits is a toddler's job. That’s the beautiful – if also frustrating and often publicly embarrassing – push and pull over independence, the sign that a baby is growing into her own little person.
Now, should other passengers or the flight crew have to put up with that? Probably no. But a little patience and sympathy would be nice. I mean, we don’t kick the snoring guy off the plane, even though that might be appreciated.
Luckily, it seems that the airlines themselves have come up with a solution.
Since Delta, American, et al (the notable exception, of course, being Southwest) will probably charge extra this summer for window and aisle seats, essentially penalizing parents for sitting together, it seems there is an incentive for just dropping your 3-year-old in another row.
Works for me.
I’m sure the folks in seats 21 A and C won’t mind.
I have a very personal – albeit indirect – relationship with Taylor.
Before backing the unspeakable acts of murder, rape, and mutilation in neighboring Sierra Leone, he invaded his home country of Liberia in December 1989, in an attempt to unseat the then-dictator, Samuel Doe. That was five days before my wedding to a US diplomat, Dennis Jett, who was the deputy-ambassador at our embassy in Monrovia. We went ahead with the ceremony anyway; Monrovia was a long way from the fighting upcountry and the invasion seemed a minor thing.
That illusion was dispelled in the following months. Taylor and another rebel hacked their way through the country in what became a civil war of remarkable brutality. Never, even as a journalist working in other parts of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, had I witnessed such wanton atrocities.
After a while, the original aim of the conflict – the ousting of the president, the defense of the government, the primacy of the tribe – ceased to matter; only the killing counted. As a result, the State Department ordered me out of the country in June 1990, just as Taylor was about to march into Monrovia.
I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Dennis and our friends to likely disaster. Many of the other diplomats were hiding Liberians who were of tribes that were being hunted down by either government troops or Taylor’s rebels. (Shades of Nazi Germany.) So before departing, I told the stewards and gardeners and guards who worked at our residence to move into the first floor with their families. Although we didn’t have Marines protecting the place, I hoped the fact that it was an official US residence would dissuade soldiers from breaking in and spiriting people off to executions on the beaches around town.
A few years later, I received a letter from Mohammed, one of the stewards. He was illiterate and must have gotten a professional letter writer to pen the missive. In it, he thanked me for saving him and his family, and the families of the other employees; at one point, he said, there were upwards of 40 people, many of them children, living in our house. (Dennis had moved to the safety of the embassy compound almost immediately after my departure.)
That letter had enormous significance for me when I first received it; now, as a parent, I find it almost too poignant. I cannot begin to – nor do I want to – imagine the terror and sense of impotence in protecting their children that Liberians must have felt during the fighting. To say nothing of the unspeakable suffering that Taylor’s acolytes in Sierra Leone would later visit on children there, senselessly amputating their hands or feet to sow fear and submission among the populace.
Charles Taylor’s sentence today won’t erase any of that, but it does provide justice for the tens of thousands of his victims.