Posts Tagged ‘children’

I woke up Thursday morning

And pulled myself from bed.

Struggling with issues at work

Left me exhausted even after sleep.

I got in my gas-guzzling truck

And drove the 20 miles to work.

On the radio

They spoke of hungry children in South Africa.

Who go to school on Thursday because they get fed

But don’t on Friday because they don’t.

My heart cried

But I didn’t.

Because I don’t.

I worked all morning


For some.

I got back in my gas guzzling truck

And went to pick up our dog.

From its haircut.

It wasn’t done.

I walked the pet store.

Cat food for cats with sensitive skin.

Cat food for obese cats.

Cat food for skinny cats.

No food for kids in South Africa.

No food for kids who are orphans in South Africa

With AIDS.

Just cat food.

I picked up the dog.

She doesn’t like me

But she was glad to see me.

Her haircut cost more than mine do.

I put her in my gas guzzling truck

And drove 20 miles home.

Inside my heart cried.

But I didn’t.

Because I don’t.


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Strangers are poisoning our children. They aren’t doing it in the dark of night, or by giving candy away at the bus stop. These strangers aren’t loners, they don’t wear old clothes, have greasy hair or drive rusty old cars. No, these strangers rub elbows with presidents and senators, wear three piece suits and sit in corner offices. They receive million dollar bonuses and stock options, they send their children to Ivy League Schools, and they decide what goes into your child’s body.

Ever since I can remember, the warning “Don’t take candy or gifts from strangers!” has been part of the national lexicon. I learned it when I was little, I repeat it to my children. Of course, the purpose of the saying is to protect our children from harm. But what happens when the gifts aren’t coming from strangers? When they come with corporate logos and are passed on by unsuspecting intermediaries, teachers, volunteers, and marketers.

Twice in the last six months my daughters have received giveaways, both times plastic bottles. The bottles are made of a plastic suspected of leaching bisphenol A into their contents. You can tell this type of plastic by looking for the #7 inside the recycle symbol on the bottom of the bottle.

What, you may ask, is bisphenol A and why should we be worried about it? For those of you uninterested in following links, let me say that bisphenol A is what is known as an endocrine disruptor, a widely distributed but little understood artificial chemical. Recent news articles report studies have shown the chemical to affect the reproductive systems of mice, along with obesity and cancer. For those of you who want to learn more, please follow the links below.

To be fair, I’ll let you read the chemical and plastic industry’s side of the story.  Keep in mind these people have decided what risk is acceptable for YOUR children. Are you OK with that?

As quickly as the news article comes out questioning the safety of the product, this site has a response denouncing the study. Note how they always reference meeting the governments minimum standards. Consider who is running our government. That’s right, the industry that is being regulated likely wrote the regulation. Make you feel better? Tossed out your bottle yet?

This is not a unique event. We’ve heard it all before. Lead, asbestos, tobacco all used the same tactics. As such, I think it fair to share a couple other links with you, from an industry who in the past made some of the same claims. You’ll see the wording is very similar, and they were successful for years and years (and profits and profits) by using these same stall tactics.

For your pleasure, the lead industry:

  • www.environmentaldefense.org (It is a dry read, but the lead industry was tremendously successful in putting off legislation long after it was first shown to damage childhood development. How many children suffered because of their greed? How many Einsteins have we lost do the cognitive abilities lost? We’ll never know.)
  • www.cincinnatichildrens.org (Great story on lead advertising.)

Second, the tobacco industry. Most of us have lived through this episode of corporate immorality, but here is a link to remind us of how bad it was:

And I’m letting asbestos off of the hook, for now.

So, decide for yourself. Are you comfortable letting a stranger profit from putting your child at risk? Should they, or do they, have that right?

A teacher gave this bottle to Jolie. Jolie immediately flipped it over, disappointed to see the 7 on a bottle she had received as a reward for physical fitness. Physical fitness? “Get healthy,exercise , you’ll need those healthy habits to overcome the ill health caused by this bottle!”

Jolie told the teacher the bottle was bad. The response, “I’ve drank out of these bottles for years, there isn’t any problem.” More irony, the petroleum giant Conoco-Phillips’ name is plastered across the side of the bottle. Imagine that, a business that profits from the plastic industry distributing a plastic suspected of having health risks.

At a UAF hockey game last Friday night Wells-Fargo got into the act. They were giving away toxic bottles too. We got four. Jolie again expressed her disappointment. Our friend noted she had gotten one last year, and wasn’t sick yet. I didn’t say anything. The trouble with an endocrine disruptor is the damage may not be felt for years or generations. It is a risk I’d rather not take, even if I’m not around to see it.

So what do we do with the bottles? Throw them away? In this world, there is no away. We all drink the same water, breathe the same air, and eat the same food. Amounts of bisphenol A are likely present in all of us. They form part of a chemical cocktail consisting of all the toxins each of us have ingested over our lifetime. Has there been any testing on the cocktail effect? If one chemical is OK by itself, how is it with all the others? Does the plastic and chemical industry care? Probably not, since any negative effect will be due to multiple sources, any liability will be tough to prove.

I have two daughters. Each of them carries the eggs of any potential children they will ever have. Anything they are exposed to, their children, my grandchildren, are exposed to. They are both beautiful children, and I would do anything in my power to ensure they have long, healthy, and happy lives. Yet, I can’t protect them from everything. This time, I wasn’t even given the opportunity.

Why, when there are other viable options, do we put our children and future at risk? Why?

I find it hard to speak about this topic. The arrogance of industry, to think they get to decide what goes into my daughter’s bodies, overwhelms me.

I taught my daughters not to accept candy or gifts from strangers.

Was it enough?

Apparently not.

What can one do in the face of such evil?

The same thing I would do if a stranger entered our house and threatened my family.

Get mad as hell.

And fight back.

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I woke up and got moving early (for me) this morning. I got on the computer, checked the headlines, answered an e-mail or two, deleted all the spam, and got Jane (wife) and Jolie (8-year old) up to go to work and school, respectively. Normally it works the other way around, I get them out the door then get on the computer for a few minutes. OK, it may be longer than a few minutes. It used to be I never worried about checking the news. But ever since 9-11, when I walked into the doors at work to be met by my boss with the news that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Towers, followed a few weeks later by a similar meeting where I learned a client and friend had died in a plane crash, that now it is rare occasion that I step out the doors without checking the headlines.

So today I was up early, which not only gave me time to read the news but also to fix a hot breakfast. Jolie had been asking for an egg-muffin, a fried egg and cheese on a English muffin, so I decided to make her one this morning. As a bonus, Jane also got one. I was going to wait until later when 4-year old Ali got up, then I would make her and I each one.

All of this would have been well and good, but as of last night we had decided the girls needed to share a bedroom so that we could make the 2nd bedroom more of a playroom. So Jolie, in what I’m sure was her quietest, most considerate, sisterly way went into the shared room to get dressed. And emerged, with Ali fully awake. So much for letting the little sister sleep, who also happens to be fighting off a cold.

I set to work making Ali’s and my egg muffins. Note, I asked if she wanted one before making it for her. Not because I needed to know, but because I wanted to use her answer against her when she refused to eat it.

Janie and Jolie got out the door, so Ali and I set down to eat.

“Its too hot Daddy.”
“No it’s not, it has been cooling while I cooked mine.”
“No, the bottom is too hot.”
“OK, while just turn it over and wait for a minute.”

I proceeded to eat mine, which came off of the stove after hers.

“Ali, eat your muffin. It isn’t too hot, see I’m eating mine.”
“Its too hotttt!!!”
“No it isn’t, mine was done after yours and it isn’t too hot.”

Repeat the above three lines at least twice more.

Following that, I resorted to feeding it to her. She always feeds herself, except when I’m present. For some reason, I have to feed her. And I acquiesce. Maybe because I’m a wimp. Maybe because I spoil my kids. Maybe because we may not ever have another child and feeding her is as close as I’ll ever get to feeding one of my babies again. So, when she graduates high school, and college, and again at her wedding, and you see me feeding her at each of the celebratory dinners, please take pity and don’t embarrass her, or me, especially me, by asking why.

So, I picked up the muffin and moved in for the kill. Finally, after some coaxing, she took a bite.

“It’s too cold.”

Pause here to avoid any irrational but entirely justified acts of parental desperation.

Breathe deeply.

And again.

Alright, I’m back.

There are a few more instances of contrarianism gone awry in our household. I’ll begin with Ali, then end with Jolie. Note there are no stories here about Janie or I being contrary. Neither of us are. The trait skipped our generation entirely, landing squarely in the personalities of Jolie and Ali. It is entirely the grandparents fault, though no doubt they won’t admit it. They are contrarians after all.

Like the egg muffin, Ali has taken to disliking certain foods, at random times, and with no regard to what she ate and liked days or even hours before. Her dislikes also have no regard to flavor, texture, or appearance. It all has to do with a 4-year old’s attempt to establish her right of refusal. I’m alright with that, the girl needs to establish her own likes and dislikes. However, it makes it increasingly difficult to prepare meals for the whole family.

One of her latest victims is the hapless bean. Not green beans, but baked beans or kidney beans. We eat a lot of chili in our house, with kidney beans, so it makes it hard to feed her from the same pot. So, in a fit of exasperation, I applied my slightly skewed but effective sense of creativity and a dash of dishonesty to get around the impasse. Diplomacy, I think is what the politicians call it. Anyways, the negotiation went like this.

Ali, “I don’t like beans.” Add some cheese and crackers to that whine and we could have a party.
Dad (me), “They aren’t beans, they are frijoles.”
“They look like beans.”
“That’s right, they look like beans. But they are frijoles.”

She then proceeded to pick up her spoon and feed herself the whole bowl, and like it. Actually, I fed her the whole bowl, but she did like it.

Next up, mushrooms.

“I don’t like that pizza, it has mushrooms.”
“They aren’t mushrooms, they are toadstools.”
“They look like mushrooms.”
“They do, but they are toadstools.”

Once again, she picked up her pizza and gobbled it down. Or maybe I cut it up and fed her. The point is, she ate the mushrooms toadstools.

Now Ali goes around telling people, “I don’t like beans, and I don’t like mushrooms, but I like frajoles, and toadstools.” In her mind, I’m convinced, she knows that frijoles and mushrooms are just beans and mushrooms, but because we changed the terminology she won enough concessions to go ahead and eat them. Which, I think, is what diplomacy is all about, skewing the truth until everyone looks like a winner. Even the contrarians.

A final story, which happened yesterday, about Jolie. The stories above may give the impression that Ali is our contrarian princess, but in reality I think she would have to get up pretty early to outdo Jolie. We have to deal with each of them differently, Ali has to emerge with the appearance of winning, ie, diplomacy. Jolie will listen to reason. Eventually, if Jolie and I talk long enough I can convince her that being contrary isn’t always the right or healthy choice.

Do what I say, not what I do. I mean what your grandparents say, but don’t do. Or something like that.

Even with all that reasoning, Jolie’s nature still comes out. At church yesterday, our friend Jeff was leading a story for children, which we do early in the service. For the story, the children are invited to the front of the sanctuary. The topic of the day was choices, and how they affect others and the world around us. In order to convey this to the children, Jeff was having them gather on one side of the podium or the other based upon their answer to a question. One question was, “Would you rather win a race alone or finish it together with a friend?” Some kids went left, others right.

After a series of questions, Jeff asked “Would you rather have a piece of cake every night for a week, or have it all gone at a big party?” The kids parted. Jolie moved dead center and remained. Jeff queried her as to which way she was going to go.

“Neither, I don’t like cake.”

I can’t think of a better response for a crowd of Unitarian-Universalists, who know more than thing or two about being contrary.

Except me.

And Jane of course.

Though I wonder about her sometimes.

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who tarded?

Ali, our 4-year old, has a way of piping up at the right time with the right comment.

Tonight, I made the bad call of commenting about a photograph in the newspaper, with both children present.  The photo was in the engagements section, and showed a young, blissful couple peeking out from opposite sides of a tree, big smiles on their faces, youthful exuberance glowing (or is that ignorance).  Before I could choke it down, out it came, “That’s retarded.”  (No such photos of me exist, nor do any people who might suggest they once did, if they know what is good for them.)

Anyways, the words slipped out, it shouldn’t have been said, and I’m sorry.

Jolie immediately corrected my slip, commenting how kids at school use that word, and it isn’t very nice, and of course she doesn’t use it, followed up with a quick “What does it mean?”

Before I could say “look at that picture, thats what it means” Ali piped up; “Who tarded?”


“Who tarded.”

I did, and I’ll be eternally grateful.  But sorry, of course.

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Jolie, our eight year old, has been pondering death as of late.

As a result, she has had trouble going to sleep. And if she does go asleep, she has trouble staying that way for the duration of the night.

This isn’t Jolie’s first time dealing with the concept of death. It is, in fact, a cycle, one that she has been through a several times before. I’ve not seen a pattern until this time, when it seems obvious that the arrival and departure of grandparents sets off the concern.

Each time the grandparents leave, I think there is a bit of fear in each of us that we don’t know when or under what conditions we’ll see each other again. (See the blog grandparent detox for a full reprise of our latest Alaskan grandparent visit experience.)

I empathize with Jolie on the topic of death, and the related subjects of infinite space and time, and an infinite God (or not). I’ll go one step further, it strikes terror in my soul, down to the depth of my existence, and still can keep me awake nights, when I let it. There was a time, however, when I had no power over those thoughts.

Those thoughts would roll over my mind like a thunderstorm does the prairie, dark, foreboding, and ominous; turning every thought, breath, and heartbeat inward, away from any avenue of escape. The terror would sink through my being, turning my stomach in a great, roiling knot, chewing itself like a demon does a soul. I would lie awake hours after my brothers had nodded off, worrying, trying to know the unknowable, wishing desperately for the peaceful bliss of sleep.

Needless to say, I sympathize with Jolie a great deal. To that extent I let her roll out a sleeping bag next to our bed so that she can be near us during these nights when her mind becomes so expansive, when she senses our mortality, and knows what it means to be human.

Last year when her Mimmy and Poppy left from their visit, and she dealt with such a cycle of mental expansion and the associated fear, I struggled with ideas of what to do to comfort her. Or more accurately, what to teach her in order that she could comfort herself. I turned towards my own experiences, and how I got through them.

One of my earliest memories is of one of those nights. At the time, we lived in the town of Thermopolis, Wyoming. I know we still lived in town (versus the farm outside of town), which makes me 4 or 5 at the time. My brothers and I shared a bedroom, my older brother Gary on the top bunk above me and my younger brother Robin on a bed across the room. Late one night, a couple hours past our bed time, I recall getting up, terror gripping my mind, and tiptoeing out of our room, down the hardwood floors to the living room where my parents sat up reading. I don’t’ remember exactly what I asked, something like, “After God, what is there? How can God go on forever?”

After being gently reprimanded for getting out of bed, Mom and Dad sent me back down the hall with the suggestion to pray. And I did. As any good little Catholic boy would do I said the Lord’s Prayer. Once, twice, three times. And again. Ok, how about a few Hail Mary’s. Back to the Lords Prayer, always my favorite prayer, and it still is.

Our Father who art in heaven.

Hallowed be thy name.

(Heaven, what’s after heaven?)

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

(Does it have sky? Space? Where does it end? Where does it begin?)

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,

(But what about heaven, where is it? In this universe?)

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

(I don’t feel so good.)



Repeat again.

And again, ad infinitum.

Darn it, there is that infinity concept again.

As an adult, I’ve come to grips with the idea that death, infinity, and the endlessness of time and space are concepts that the human mind cannot comprehend. Those items are reserved for the divine or enlightened, of which I am neither. Not that I don’t try, but I’ve reached a somewhat unsettled truce that there are things I cannot reach my brain around. (Like people eating, and liking, Thanksgiving stuffing.)

So when Jolie began to have these fears, terrors if you will, you would think I might teach her to pray. I know, some will say an 8-year old should already know how to pray. Others might say, “I know Thane, and I can’t imagine him teaching his children to pray” -not in the traditional sense anyways.

First, regarding Jolie not knowing how to pray, I could, and probably will, write many more blog entries on the subject. This entry is about something else, so in brevity I will say the following:

  1. I believe there are many paths to heaven, to salvation, to nirvana, or enlightenment; all of them equally acceptable.
  2. God gave us, humankind, free will. I would dishonor that gift if I didn’t ensure my children received it as well; thus, I do not dictate their faith to them nor will I.

I only ask two things from my children regarding their selection of faith, should they choose to select one at all:

  1. They allow other people to do the same (select their own faith).
  2. They retain their free will, and don’t subjugate it to organized religion. (God is one thing, organized religion quite another.)

All of this, relating back to the subject at hand, leaves me in a delicate position in teaching Jolie how to pray, or find solace in the darkness of night.

Last year, rather than turning to prayer, I directed Jolie towards poetry. We went and purchased several anthologies of poetry written for or appropriate to children. We read several together, and I encouraged her to memorize her favorite poems so that she could recite them in the night when she would wake and feel the infinite weight of the heavens falling down upon her.

I think it worked until this year when the cycle began anew.

However, looking back at last year and my own experiences when I was young, I think I missed an important part of my own experience. In repeating a prayer, in my case the Lord’s Prayer, over and over again, it ceased to be a prayer and became a mantra. I was no longer consciously thinking of God, or the characters in the prayer, it was no longer a conscious activity. Somewhere in all those repetitions it had become a repetitive chant, mantra, prayer; and became an avenue to meditate, relaxing thought and for a young me, much desired sleep.

This epiphany came to me this past week, either while listening to my friend Jeff’s sermon on Liturgy at Sunday’s UUFF service, or shortly thereafter spurred in part by his thoughts and words. (I think Jeff will be proud of me for using both the words sermon and service with regards to a UU program. UU’s, at least our Fairbanks group, are notorious for keeping religious terms/references out of our “liturgy”. Ha, did it again.)

Something I admire in Jeff is how he incorporates mantras, prayer, and song into his everyday life; as detailed both in last week’s sermon and in his blog. One of my favorites was his use of the song from Johnny Appleseed, a favorite from my own childhood, for mealtime grace. While they transmuted the song a bit, from night to night, it provided a framework and ritual for being thankful.

Our other friends, John and Jana, and their daughter, recite what I recall as a Buddhist prayer before every meal.

I’m envious of these personal traditions, their holiness, their communal nature, and their comfort.

But if I walked around the house singing, say the Johnny Appleseed song mentioned above (it has been know to happen), my children follow me around in bewildered silence, safely keeping out of grasp lest I be going quite suddenly and completely insane (also known to happen). It could be my distinct, penetrating singing style. Or perhaps it is the word lord, repeated frequently in the song. Usually when they hear the word lord or god it is associated with me mistaking my thumb for an eight-penny nail, stubbing a toe, or maybe stepped in a gift from our (fill in your own expletive here) terrier Lucy. (I can’t help saying the Lord’s name in vain; I think it is my Eastern European Catholic ancestry emerging.)

So, we haven’t figured out how to do these in my house, yet. We don’t have any rituals, prayers, or mantras for comfort or to show gratitude for the things we have, yet. But we will.

And now, more then ever, I see how much we need them.

To comfort Jolie in the dark hours. And Ali as she grows older, should she have those same anxieties.

To share our thankfulness each day.

For our health, our free will, our friends, and our loved ones.

If you have a prayer, a mantra, a chant, or saying you or yours uses in your daily life and would like to share it with us; please do so. Thanks.

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I presented this at our church a summer or two ago, as part of a presentation on wisdom. Several congregation members got up and spoke, each giving their own views on wisdom. This was my take, and hasn’t changed much to this date, a little over two years later.

First off, I’d like to begin by saying I’m not presenting this material today due to any abundance of wisdom on my part. In fact, I missed my opportunity to exhibit a real piece of wisdom when I agreed to speak this morning. Now the opportunity for a peaceful Sunday morning has been exchanged for a stomach full of butterflies.

When today’s topic first came up and Janie asked if I would introduce the topic and then follow up with my own thoughts on wisdom, I thought, “OK, this will be easy. Pull a few definitions of wisdom up, read them, introduction done.”

So I went to the contemporary source of knowledge and wisdom, the internet, and typed “wisdom” into Google. 187,000,000 links came up. Perhaps I needed to schedule a little more time for research.

Alright, time for a refined search. So I tried Wikipedia- where the internet itself goes for knowledge and wisdom. Once again, multiple definitions, each which could be considered wise in its own right.

Ultimately, I found that definitions of wisdom are very much like religion, where you can choose your own flavor. Or perhaps try them all, mix them, match them. In keeping with our UU principles, it appears wisdom flows from many sources and can be found in the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

With that, everything from this point can be considered my own view of wisdom. As I researched definitions it became clear to me there is no way for me to present an overview of wisdom without making it my own, as the very act of choosing what merited presentation would violate my objectiveness.

Wisdom, I would argue, comes in many shapes and sizes. Can a 5 year old be wise? Can an 80 year old be anything but? I believe I’ve witnessed wisdom in my 3 and 7 year olds. I’ve looked for it in my dad’s mother, and been sadly disappointed in never seeing any, due to my blindness or her lack of wisdom I’ll leave for others to determine.

Wisdom is of fluid construct, constantly changing to the influx of experience and conditions of circumstance. As I wrote this on Saturday I’ve defined wisdom as “the ability to make to take the correct course of action relative to the time, place, and persons involved.” What may be a wise decision for me, today, may not be tomorrow. Likewise, it may not ever be for you. By the time I read my definition of wisdom to you this Sunday I may no longer find it valid.

I hope to pursue wisdom, in all its many forms, for the remainder of my life. For now, the immediate wisdom I seek is about making decisions and choosing the correct course of action. At 34, I now stand at a crossroads in my life, where many paths appear before me. Some are worn, guaranteeing comfortable travel for the foreseeable future. Others are less traveled, with more immediate uncertainty. And there is always the option to ignore the paths, and pursue my own route cross country.

Which route I choose will ultimately have an impact on my happiness and well being, as well as that of the girls (including Janie in the girls). I spend my days and nights seeking the wisdom to make the right choice, to define success on my terms but in a manner that will continue to provide for my family. I’m devouring books, entering conversations with people I know and respect, all in an effort not to find an answer but to gain the wisdom to create one.

I think of the wisest person I have known, my grandmother on my mother’s side, Aline. Our youngest daughter, Ali, is her namesake. A woman with a typical grandmotherly appearance, long white hair tightly wrapped in a bun, spectacles, and a flowered dress she was, in my memory, the epitome of a wise, old grandmother. Yet, as I turn to her in my mind I can remember no wise proverbs or flashing insights coming from her. No quotes to hang on the wall, no profound acts of guidance.

However, she was at peace. Without prescribing to any specific religious doctrine, she knew wrong from right and moved through life above the petty worries many of us struggle with. She and my grandfather lived on the brink of poverty, yet I can never remember a concern or complaint regarding their position. I find wisdom in those memories, and it helps turn the difficult decisions ahead into positive choices waiting to be made.

It is ironic that wisdom, in the form of wise people or wise actions, is not judged so until placed against a backdrop of history. Whatever choices I make, they won’t be judged as wisdom or folly for years to come. Yet today we have the opportunity to glean some glimpses of wisdom, as expressed by members of our congregation. Listen well; wisdom is rarely so easily gained as when offered freely by someone who gained it the hard way.

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