Friday, February 27, 2015

One Year Later or Is February Out To Get Me?

Last year I planned an amazing party for Owen’s third birthday party.  He was neck deep in love with anything having to do with firemen and even though I have always struggled with theme parties, it was easy to get excited about this one.  I ordered fireman themed plates and bowls, candles, hats, favors, and even practiced making natural dye red icing for the fire truck shaped cake I was determined to construct.  To be fair, the icing never really looked red; it looked, and sadly tasted like magenta dirt, which made sense since it was made out of beet root powder and strawberry juice.  I booked a day at the YMCA which provided a room and an hour of indoor play complete with bouncy castle and sent out invitations.  I have never been so prepared for a party outside of my wedding.  And then Friday, February 28th, six days before his birthday, I went in to check on him during a nap and found him unconscious, having vomited, and apparently still having a seizure.  In that moment, I thought that I had lost him.  We went by ambulance to the hospital where he did not regain consciousness until the next morning.

                We stayed in the hospital for six days, and in fact thought we would spend his birthday in the hospital, in isolation.  The nurses promised to make it special and I tried hard to believe them. At some point during his hospitalization, I snuck down to the children’s playroom that we could not go into because Owen was in isolation and called the YMCA to cancel his party and then sobbed. Somehow, in a small miracle we were released on his birthday, perhaps the best birthday gift possible.   I don’t think I have ever bought a birthday cake for anyone in my life.  I love making homemade cakes, have been making cakes for family and friends since I was seven and aside from the one year I put in a tablespoon of baking soda and baking powder instead of a teaspoon of each in a cake for my grandfather, I have been fairly successful.  But last year, physically and emotionally exhausted, I could not make Owen a cake.   My husband took Owen to the local gourmet grocery store and bought him one, a big expensive chocolate cake, twice as large as we needed because when Owen asked for it in the store, my husband could not say no, could not think of anything other than the fact in that moment, we were so thankful to have him home and alive, he would have bought him every cake in the store if he could have. The lady behind them in line rolled her eyes, muttering something about entitled children.  My husband did not say anything, just paid for the cake and brought it home and we put the special fire fighter candles on it and sang to him around the dining room table. 

                This year we are one week out from Owen’s birthday. Owen is still madly in love with firefighters but I couldn’t bring myself to make it his theme.  As is, we don’t even have a theme but I will make a cake, possibly two.  The party feels important somehow, that because we did not get to have one last year, this will somehow serve as a milestone, something solid to say, “Here we are a year later, still on medication but seizure free. Here we are approaching normal, a different type of normal, but normal.”  But as the anniversary of his seizure approaches, I find myself getting more and more anxious, sliding back into the behavior of the weeks and months immediately following his hospitalization where I could not let him nap without checking on him constantly, laying my hand on his chest to make sure he was breathing, pressing my lips constantly to his forehead to check for fever, running my fingers across his limbs like a seismologist searching for subtle tremors.  And my fear is not contained to Owen, is has somehow transferred onto Nora, my younger daughter.  She has a bad cold, a cough that settled deep into her chest and at night I can hear her choke, then pause, and each pause feels to me like death and I stay awake trying to decide if I should go back in and check on her.  What if the end of February is a doomed time for me, as if the days themselves were still hungry for tragedy, unsatisfied?

Roughly eight years ago, I was driving up I-95 from NYC.  It was roughly 6:30 in the morning, just slipping into daylight and the roads were empty aside from a few trucks and other cars.  Then in front of me, a tire rolled off a truck.  I watched it fall, watched it bump and fly across lanes in front of me, hurtling towards my car.  The car in front of me swerved and I swerved too.  I managed to stop before I hit the car in front of me but the car behind me hit me.  I was shaken and scared but fine, as were the other drivers.  I eventually continued on to work, training some teachers at a high school.  But on the way home, I narrowly avoided two other accidents.  It felt like the accident I had escaped was chasing me, wanting to sink its still hungry fangs into my neck. And this feeling followed me for days as cars seemed continually drawn towards me as if I was magnetic north. As I move towards the end of February, I feel a nasty presence in the same way, like I’m waiting for tragedy to come.  I am not sure where this comes from but I try to be kind to myself and not tell myself to get over it, to feel that I am not entitled to this amount of grief, that that is reserved for someone with real tragedy. 

But there it is.  Here we are, one day away from the day that changed my life as a mother but also didn’t.  I am thankful for that and even more thankful that this month is almost over and in one week we will be having a wonderful, if theme-less party. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Once There Was A Little Girl Name Nora - Or How Nora Came To Find Her Family

Once there was a little girl named Nora, or she wasn't really named Nora yet, she was just a little soul floating around the universe waiting to find her family.  Or that's not really accurate either. Nora had already found her family they just didn't know it yet.  Nora had spotted this family way way back when her brother Owen was inside Mommy's belly but since the space was occupied, she had to be patient, and she was pretty good at that.   So she waited and waited and waited until Owen finally left his mommy's belly which seemed to take a very long time.

While he was being born, Nora whispered into the doctors's ear that she she should make sure to do a good job because she really needed that space.  And luckily the doctor did.  Afterwards, the doctor even laughed and told her mom and dad that she would see them back there in a little over a year when they were ready to have their second baby.  A year was a long time to wait even for a very patient little soul but it seemed like anything sooner than that would be too risky so Nora started thinking about things she could do to pass the time. But then her parents, she was already calling them that because she knew they were supposed to be her parents, laughed and said something dumb like, "You won't see us back here, we're too old and poor to have more children!"  Nora thought that was ridiculous because in her journeys around the world, she had seen people a lot poorer than her parents who had more than two kids and seemed to do okay. It was true that they were a little on the older side but that was one of the things she liked about them, it made them more interesting, like art or a good bottle of wine.  "We will see,"the doctor said, "I bet you will be back.  I know these things."  "That's right!" Nora shouted, "I know these things too!"  but since she was just a little soul shouting into the universe she couldn't be positive that anyone heard her.

The next year or so, she kept close to her family when she wasn't busy flying about the world exploring.  Her favorite thing to do was to watch other babies being born, she loved seeing that little moment when babies burst out of their mommy's bellies and took their first breath of air.  Most people in the real world couldn't see it but babies come out encased in a shimmery gold light that explodes into a sunburst of magic dust which settles and burrows into their parents.  This way they will always be connected to each other no matter where they are.  It is one of the most beautiful things in the world.   Her second favorite thing was to watch dolphin's swim.  If her parents didn't come to their senses and decide to have her, her back up plan was to be a dolphin for a lifetime until she got over the disappointment. She didn't think she would need this but it made her feel better to have an option.

Then one day, when she stopped by her parents house she heard them talking about having another baby.  Her mom, boy she liked the sound of that, was really really ready but her dad was still a little worried.  He said he was too old to go through having a newborn again, with all the sleepless nights.  "This one will sleep, " her mom said .  "Can you promise me this one will be a sleeper?"  he asked.  "Yes," mom said, "she will be a sleeper. I promise."  So Nora wrote in her little invisible sketchpad ' be a sleeper'  though she wasn't exactly sure what that meant.  "Wait,"  dad said suddenly, "how do you know it will be a girl?"  Mommy just smiled.
Nora thought things were looking promising because she got the feeling that once her mom made up her mind to do something that she usually got it done and she knew there was more love in her daddy's heart than even he knew.  She stopped spending quite as much time with the dolphins because when you spend too much time with creatures when you're still a little floating soul, you can end up attaching to those beings, despite the best master plans  Instead, she watched her family,.  She especially loved watching her brother Owen who had a remarkably big heart and made people smile wherever he went. He seemed to know everyone in the neighborhood and she thought he would do a job showing her around.  Now all she had to do was wait.

Her mommy didn't like waiting either and one day her mommy get very sad.  "I can feel her waiting," her mommy sad to her daddy  "She wants to come so bad.  I feel her, I want her so much."  This made Nora happy and sad.  Despite being a very calm and patient little floating soul, she sometimes worried that things wouldn't work out because life doesn't always go according to plan but she decided to just have faith.  Because once two souls feel each other so strongly, magical things can happen.

And then one day, everything fell into place, as things that are meant to fall into place, fall into place.  She felt her little floating soul being tugged by a shimmering golden thread, nestling her deep within her mommy and daddy's hearts.  And there she began to transform from a matter-less soul into a solid and beautiful baby girl.   Though people claimed that babies grow in people's bellies, she knew that this was not the case.  She knew souls find root only by burrowing into other souls, weaving together their strands until they are thick and strong as tree trunks.  And in her case, she had planted that seed long ago, and it was a beautiful and marvelous thing to see it bloom into something so miraculous and alive.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

If You Can't Beat Them Let Them Join You - Or How Owen First Learned To Massage Kale

The other night I was trying to cook dinner while Owen was trying to make me not cook dinner. This is kind of how our conversation went.

Owen: (tugging at my leg)  Mama, mama, mama, mama

MeOwen, mama, needs to cook dinner.

Owen: (tugging at my leg more insistently)  Mama, mama, mama, mama!

Me:  Please Owen, just a few minutes.  Do you want to play with this?  (I try to hand Owen a variety of items from Cheerios to measuring cups, to a puppet.)

Owen: (tugging at leg)  Mama, mama, mama, mama, MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA!!!!

I become increasingly frustrated as he yells at a higher and higher pitch and tries harder and harder to pull me away from what I'm doing.  This is not the first time this woman vs. toddler dinner battle has gone down. It is also why I usually cook dinner during his naps but sometimes I just have more important things to do, like lay in bed and play on-line Scrabble and watch Ted Talk videos which reinforce the fact that I have done very little with my life.  So, often I end up cooking while Owen is awake. At least this time I am making a raw kale salad so there is no hot oil, or flames or anything that poses great danger to Owen. It's really just a manner of my needing to get this done. But Owen is cook-blocking me like Putin at a Pussy Riot concert and I can feel my blood-pressure rising. I can also feel my "bad mom" growing more and more powerful and realize that something needs to give.  I do not like "bad mom" but recognize she is the less pleasant part of me. Bad mom is the one who forgets that we are dealing with a barely sentient human being and who believes that an 17 month old should in fact understand logic and delayed gratification.  Bad mom is adamant that Owen should fully appreciate that we are making this wonderful massaged kale salad for him (hahaha) and thus respond to our gentle entreaties to "give me a moment"  by saying, "Sure mom, I would love nothing more than to ease your stress and go entertain myself while you make something that I do not even consider a food."  And when this does not occur, bad mom wants to yell, she wants to kick a cat, she wants to go to a yoga class where they serve wine and definitely do not have any children there.

And just as bad mom is about to have her evil way, good mom has a revelation.

I was looking at this situation as if Owen and I had competing and incompatible desires and the only way to get around it was for one of us to give up. And even though I am a red-headed Scorpio who has often been described as "the most stubborn person I have ever met,"  I know I am in fact, no match for Owen.  But while Owen and I do very much have different desires they are not by any means exclusive.  So this is my revelation, "If you can't beat them, let them join you."

What Owen wanted was me.  (Can you blame him?)  And what I wanted was to get dinner done so the solution was simple, let Owen help me.  So I took the pot of kale and put it on the floor and after washing Owen's hands, (okay I might have forgotten that step but at least we weren't having company over) let him massage the kale.  And he loved it.  He was laughing and mixing.  I got creative and added additional ingredients just so he could mix them in with a spoon. He got so excited he decided to try it, though after he put a handful of leaves in his mouth he did shake his head and say, "No.  No, no, no,"  and throw it back in the bowl.  But since I was currently good mom, I understood raw kale is a hard sell.

And after we finished the kale, he helped out with the sliced potatoes that good mom was baking into "chips" because good mom doesn't fry.  He gleefully shook on  pepper, garlic and paprika, mixed them up with some olive oil (this time we did wash our hands) and then lay them out on the baking dish.  Aside from getting a little heavy handed with the garlic powder he did a great job.  But the point is he loved it.  And not only did I get dinner done but I got it done while creating a wonderful memory with my little guy.  And he seemed so proud when the food was done.  He was particularly thrilled with the oven baked potatoes which he ate by the handful and he even tried the kale again.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Beets Right Off The Bush - Or How My CSA Has Helped Owen Love Vegetables

It seems to be a common agreement among most people in America that kids don't like vegetables.  Unless you are the PR people for Hidden Valley Ranch, then the tenet is that kids don't like vegetables unless they are covered in sugar,cream,salt sauce, um I mean Ranch salad dressing. People are wrong. (This applies to both the general public and the folks at Hidden Valley.)  Kids just don't like gross vegetables.  I think this fear of vegetables originated in the days almost all vegetables came in cans.  Or when vegetables came on a truck, hidden in a dark box, picked before their prime, tasting like cardboard painted with minerals and dirt.  And while apparently that's a good description of what some would consider a good wine, it's not a winner with kids.  When kids grew up on farms and access to good, fresh food, I'm pretty sure they didn't snub their noses at tomatoes.  I read every single Little House on The Prairie books and don't remember anywhere where Laura, aka Half-Pint said, "Aw Ma and Pa, no more lettuce please!"  

And now, having a fresh picked vegetable is not just the luxury of those who garden. It's becoming easier and easier for people to have access to good local food.  (Yes, we have a long way to go to making this accessible to people of all incomes but more on that another time and place.) And I do love vegetables, aside from Okra. Okra, I'm sorry, I will never love you, even deep fried, even hidden in a stew, it's just not going to happen.  But loving vegetables and not having having time or money to buy them is kind of like loving to snow ski and living in Morocco.  Shopping for groceries with a toddler kind of feels like you are on an episode of Super Market Sweep.  (Am I dating myself here?)  Especially in NYC when pushing a stroller down the aisles of most supermarkets is kind of like trying to drive a Hummer down the cobblestone streets of Santorini, except without a view and with lots of people giving you dirty looks as if you're, okay, well driving a Hummer down the streets of Santorini.  But with the CSA, you pay once in the beginning of the summer, and if you play your cards right you can actually trick yourself into thinking the vegetables come for free the rest of the time.  Yes, I'm that good.  So every week I get a huge box of vegetables and then race to use them all by the time the next delivery comes around.  But aside from the stress of worrying if Owen will be napping during the too small window of time, I have to pick it up; I have nothing to do but go get what's there.  And as I have another mom friend at the same CSA if one of our kids is sleeping, we pick up the other one's share .  (It takes a village.) 

And so, we have all been eating tons of vegetables, Owen included. Now, to be fair using Owen as an example for food is unfair.  It's kind of like throwing Michael Phelps in a lake and saying, "hey, tall people can swim." Owen is an Olympic level eater in general; he has sucked down pork belly, Soba noodles, lasagna, meatloaf of every different variety, clapped with glee at his first taste of truffle oil and also chicken parmigiana.  He has never met a fruit he has not liked and would probably run away with a loaf of bread if he could. He learned to say "more" and "please"  for the sole purpose of asking for more food. (see pork story and pumpkin pie stories from earlier posts.)  But vegetables have been pretty hit or miss and if he does eat them, it's often because I have disguised them well.  Yes, Virginia there is a spinach cake! But ever since we have been getting our CSA vegetables have become a thrill.  He sucked down a salad made with sugar snap peas, yellow peppers and mint tossed with olive oil and feta.  He eats plain sliced cucumbers like they were Cheerios.  I made pasta with beets, and beet greens, lots of garlic, and a little ricotta and he actually pushed the pasta away to get to the beets.  (Note to anyone feeding their kids beets for the first time.  Please tell your spouse, partner, babysitter etc.  before they change your kid's diaper the next day. You will save yourself and them a little stress. If you do not understand this, you will.)  With our CSA Owen has even taken to eating salad!  Yes, salad, and sorry Hidden Valley, he eats in naked or with a splash of lemon and oil. 

Last night I made a summer squash and tofu casserole that Owen applauded for. Granted for him I pureed it with a little tomato sauce and parmesan cheese so it pretty much tasted like a pizza but still, it was squash and tofu.  And I'm not going to lie; it's nice to be applauded for.  And I held on to that appreciation because later that evening as I began to happily sing him to sleep, he not very nicely told me to stop, by signing, "finish, finish," repeatedly.  To be honest, I usually get through a few rounds before he cuts me off.  But I guess it's important for everyone to acknowledge what you are good at and what needs improvement.  I did also try to explain to him that sometimes expressing yourself artistically is more important than the quality of what comes out and at least I was in tune.  He was uninterested and just asked for milk.  

Can't win them all. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Old Enough To Ask For It - Or It's Not Meth It's Milk

I actually started writing this post about nursing before that damn Time magazine cover came out but that is certainly not going to stop me from posting this even if it now just seems like a response.

Owen is now fourteen months old.  We are still nursing.  It's getting to the point that a lot of people are starting to ask me when I am going to wean.  Friends, family members and even strangers seem to feel that this is an appropriate question.  And they often ask it in the same tone as one might query, "So, when are you going to finally quit smoking?"  or "Hey, do you think maybe it's not such a good idea to have onion rings and a chocolate milkshake for breakfast?"  But cigarettes and fried food have the potential to kill you, (or at least fried food on a daily basis, nothing is wrong with an occasional french fry smoothie.) But breastfeeding past one has the potential to do what?  Let a stranger get a glimpse of my boob?  Take a little money away from the milk industry after their great comeback with that "Got Milk?" campaign?  I think at one point, years ago, I would have been in the "Breastfeeding should stop when they are old enough to ask for it," but the problem with that is if you teach them how to communicate well they are old enough to ask for it really early.  And also it's arbitrary, one child can "ask for it" at eight months, another at fourteen, and maybe some never can. But if there is one thing Owen has learned, it is how to ask to nurse.

Owen doesn't talk much yet, he as a few words like cat, dog, wa-ber  (water) and Daddy. Once he said "more" to ask for extra pie at Thanksgiving and once he said "Tara" while holding a Buddhist statue of Green Tara  which freaked me a little since I had NEVER said Tara but is another post.  He hasn't said "mom" yet, because he's clearly holding out just to piss me off.   He also has a few signs which include "finished" and "hungry" and "thirsty" but his most used is the sign for" nursing" aka "milks" or "milkies." (Feel free to judge me for pluralizing milk if you want, that's probably the real crime.) So I guess he now officially can "ask for it."  And ask for it he does.

He is an addict.  He wakes up from a nap and after I take him, and everything single thing that is in the crib out of it, both stuffed animals and his blanket, he is off and signing that he wants to nurse.  He wants to nurse before he goes to sleep.  He wants to nurse if he falls down or gets scared or sick.  He wants to nurse when I take off my shirt.  In fact, he claps when I take off my shirt which is somewhat of a validating response.

To be clear, I don't always let him nurse.  I am in the process of trying to encourage him to cut back.   I am also in the process of trying to discourage him from trying to "self-serve" in public where he reaches his hand inside me shirt to scoop out my boob and drink.  Sometimes I feel like I am back dating a young teenage boy, who is a little clumsy but VERY enthusiastic about my breasts.  Except the difference of course, is for one it is all about excitement and for the other it is about comfort and well, food.  So what's the big push?  To give him something processed to drink just so I don't offend someone?  At some point, we'll stop either because he goes to preschool and it's impossible to pack a boob in a lunch box, no matter how fancy that lunch box is, or because I'll get pregnant and I promised my husband he could have my boobs to himself for at least a few months before the next baby comes.  I have not put the boobs off limit but my husband does not like to share.  In fact the first time Owen slept through the night, I begged him to "just take a little off the top"  so I would not have to get up and nurse but for some reason he was completely un-cooperative.

But for now Owen really loves to nurse so we're nursing.  At some point we'll stop.  We might need professional help.  I see a reality TV show in the making.. MILK REHAB.  Then again we will probably be able to do it our own.  Because people, it's not meth, it's milk.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Owen Says - Or A Lesson On Recovering From Disappointment

The other night I sat down to dinner with my husband, his father and his wife, and of course, Owen.  We try to eat dinner with Owen a lot because eating really is a social thing and I want to make family dinners a part of our life. I want to firmly establish a time where we can ask Owen about his day and he will ignore us, ask to be excused before finishing his lima bean casserole, and roll his eyes when I quiz him on world capitols and revolutionary heroes. But eating with Owen usually means we have dinner when most restaurants in NYC are still serving lunch and when most restaurants around the rest of the country offer the Blue Plate Special.  But since we go to bed at an hour most appropriate to elementary school students or farmers in the middle ages it turns out okay.

Owen has recently developed a love for trying to eat with a fork or spoon though the chances of food reaching his mouth is just slightly higher than the chance of us being able to afford to pay for preschool in New York city. But last night he was doing a stellar job, even spearing the food himself, which was a new (and if I do say so myself impressive  trick for a 13 month old). I think he was inspired by the fresh lamb sausage.  He was so proud of himself.  He was laughing and cheering himself on (yes I have taught my son to clap for himself which could be viewed as self-aggrandizing but I have found to be a great tool on many occasions in my own life.)  Then suddenly right as he was about to successfully convey a juicy bite of meat to his maw, he jammed the fork right into the roof of his mouth.  Happiness over.  First his lips trembled and then he gave way into full body shaking sobs.  Tears poured from his eyes like he was auditioning for a soap opera and he waved the fork at me as he opened his arms for a hug.

We all know the feeling.  It's not just the pain. It's like when you'd dancing around your living room to your favorite song with so much glee that you start to feel like you are just one class shy of mastering the skills of Baryshnikov (or some hip modern dancer that would make be sound less old.)  Every cell  is alive with accomplishment, you are sure that if Janet Jackson (or someone way more hip) were to peer through your window at that moment she would invite you to star in her next video and then suddenly you stub your toe and with the rush of pain, your dream disappears like smoke.

I know that Owen will inevitably experience disappointment in his life and that I will be powerless to stop it but I am floored by how much it hurts me.  I watch him approach the world with so much sheer joy and watch him sadden when the world does not respond in kind, and he is only one.  The other day we were in a playground where all the kids were older than Owen.  He wobbled up to them and try to play and one after one they would shout," No," and walk away.  I watched his face crumble each time and when the third kid walked away after Owen tried to hug him, he started to cry and then crawled over to me and buried his face in my chest.  I love how sensitive and loving my son is but I worry.   I get that for the other kid, having a strange one year old toddle up to hug you could be perceived as somewhat creepy but I still wish he would have hugged Owen back.

All I can hope is that Owen finds people who love him.  I hope that Owen does not learn to close his heart or hide his emotions.  I hope that he still gives hugs and kisses to his friends and to a metaphorical extent, strangers.  I hope that people return these back to him.  I hope that when the disapointment and heartbreak, and sadness comes, that he will have the strength to deal with them and that I have the strength to interfere only when it makes sense.  So while I wanted to tell that kid to hug Owen back, I know that that is wrong, both for the kid and for Owen.  I also know that Owen will in fact bounce back,probably within minutes, just like he bounced back from the frustration of stabbing himself in the mouth with a fork just after learning to feed himself.

Because shortly after the fork incident, Owen discovered the game, "Owen Says."   I don't know how it started it but for some reason when Owen clapped his hands the four of us around the table mimicked him and clapped ours.  When he stopped clapping, we stopped and Owen broke into hysterical laughter.  He then threw his hands in the air and waved them like he just didn't care (sorry) and we did the same.  He laughed again.  Once he realized that we would do whatever he was doing he was beside himself.  He twisted in his high chair, he wiggled his hands above his head, he touched his nose to his plate and after each thing stopped to see if were following.  When he saw that we were he would laugh and laugh and laugh.  And we laughed and laughed and laughed because it was impossible not to experience his joy.

So, I think this is the lesson for me, sadness will happen.  And I have to let the sadness happen and trust my little boy to feel it and move on.  I can comfort him, be there for him, but also let him find his own power.  Because if a one year old can make a table full of adults do the twist in their chairs, clap their hands, and put their noses to the table, and have it end up making them laugh the hardest they have laughed in months, well, I'm pretty sure he's going to be okay.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why It's Time To Talk to Our Kids About Race No Matter How Young They Are - My Response To Trayvon Martin

In general, my goal for these posts is to chronicle my life with Owen in a funny way, talking honestly about the rough patches of parenting but the murder of Trayvon Martin has made me think more seriously about what it means to raise a son. I have some friends who were recently joking about how the hard part about having sons was that you ended up losing them to a future daughter in law.  I'm pretty sure that I will be an awesome enough mother and mother in-law that this will not be the case but I guess there's always a danger.  I told them I was banking on my son being gay so I just get another son, though I guess their would always be mother to contend with. (Assuming he had one, he could have two dads too. . oops I digress.)

My husband's worry for our son is that he will be so sensitive that the world will be hard on him.  I'm not sure where this fear comes from, perhaps the fact that Owen kisses his stuffed animals on the mouth or blows kisses at people on the television if they are crying, or seems to stop people on the street who look lonely and wave until they smile.  I am not entirely convinced my husband's fear won't disappear entirely when the terrible twos arrives.

I do worry about raising a son in New York City.  From my experience boys can sometimes be the target of other boys just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Yes, girls fight too but it generally seems to be personal.  But in the light of both Trayvon's death among other recent incidents I have thinking about how grateful I feel to not have the added burden of having to worry about the effect the race of my child has on his likelihood of being the victim of a crime.  Yes, I still worry about cars and deadly animals and freak storms.  I will probably worry about SIDS until Owen is out of high school.  I worry about traffic accidents and poisoned Halloween candy even though we mostly walk in the city and have yet to go trick-or-treating and even when people thought old men were poisoning Halloween candy it wasn't really happening.  But in general the only time I worry about the color of Owen's skin is when we are outside and he rips he hat off and I have to worry about his super pale baldie head burning in even the modest March sun.  And while that IS a considerable worry as we come from a long line of skin cancer sufferers, to say that that is my "white woman's burden" is somewhat ridiculous.

What happened with Trayvon Martin is devastating but sadly not an isolated case. While our country has come a long way in regards to race, we still have a long way to go.  As white parents, especially those who identify as being forward thinking, who regularly expose their children to different cultures, who talk about politics and morals, it is easy to think that our kids either do not need to be taught about race or that talking about race does not need to be explicit.  But as books like "Nurture Shock" (Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman; Twelve, Hatchett Book Group, 2009) show, white parents are not talking about race, or at least not in a way that changes attitude or behaviors.  (Read the chapter "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race.") White children still tend towards associating positive traits with people who look like them and negative traits with people who don't. This is a problem.  Sure, eventually this problem will be solved when white people don't exist anymore, and yes this day is coming even if it won't happen in our lifetime.  But that seems like a lazy, irresponsible solution.

The most powerful thing we can do as parents is to make sure that we don't create the George Zimmerman's of the world.  Or even if are to give him the  deepest benefit of doubt and take a step further back, that we don't create the world that gave space for his fear to feel so real.  This is our moral obligation.

I don't purport to be saying anything particularly new or daring.  I don't claim to be above or beyond racism in any way.  I am most decidedly not naive enough or egotistical enough to think that my talking about race will magically make it disappear for my son's generation. But I do think that sometimes as parents, especially white parents who consider themselves 'aware of race' that we do not address it directly enough.  We do not talk about it in a real meaningful way. In general, parents offer vague comments like, 'race doesn't matter' or 'anyone can succeed.' This does little to change children's perceptions. One study in the Journal of Marriage and Family 2007 shows that our of 17,000 families with kindergarten students 45% do not talk about race at all and if you look just at the white families that jumps to 75%  (Bronson & Merryman 2007).

75% is not acceptable.

So while you might not be able to change the mindset of a neighborhood watch person miles away or change the mentality of police who still racially profile, or individuals who do the same, what we can do is teach our children about race.  Use this incident and others to make a difference in some way.   Telling kids that skin color does not make a difference does not make a difference.  We need to be explicit and real.  Kids do respond.  And start talking now. Kids are never too young.

Now to be clear, I don't think I can have a completely meaningful conversation with Owen today.  As advanced as I think he is, he's still mastering words like "water" and "milkies" so I don't know if it makes sense yet, though my mom claims she gave me a very meaningful lecture about the birds and the bees when I was four.  She said she wanted to get it out of the way.  And while I think perhaps her approach was a little off (sorry Mom) I also think that maybe she is on to something.  If we start talking about it freely before kids can really understand, it will not be as hard later because we will be so used to it.

So when the story came on the news again last night, I told Owen what had happened and why I thought it was wrong.  And because I'm still hormonal (yes, I know it has been a year) I explained to him why I was crying and how I hope so much he would be safe always and how I felt so much sadness for Trayvon's mother. I'm not sure he got it but it does not matter.  He will some day.