Monday, August 27, 2012

Darkness Monsters!

Darkmiss Monsters (or Darkness, I've heard it both ways) have become a big problem around here recently. They lurk around at night and can cause all kinds of scary fearness. Luckily, my son and I came up with a solution:

~~~Gum-Gum Spray~~~

This purified water spritz (1 oz.), 
powered with a blend of rosewater and essential oils of frankincense & bergamot and other fragrances, will repel Darkness Monsters, Darkness Ghosts, and Darkness Snakes.

Spray it anywhere you need protection. Spray 5 spritzes on everything that is very important to you. When you use this spritz, darkness monster/ghost/snake attacks will have no effect on you and their heads will shrink for over 8 seconds.

It is:
-20% effective on a scout
-20 hundred billion % effective on a leader
-50 thousand 28 hundred % effective on the boss

WARNING: Do NOT spray directly on monsters--it will make them unusually powerful and scary.

Because we are so relieved to find a way to stop the Darkness Monsters, we want to make sure that it is available to all children.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

To Help, Or Not to Help

I read a news story recently about a teenage boy who was at school and started having trouble breathing. He had an inhaler at school, the prescription label was in his name, he went to the school nurse's office because he couldn't breathe, but the nurse would not administer the medication because there was a consent form that was missing a parent signature. The boy lost consciousness because the nurse chose to follow the rules and not administer medication without the signed consent form. I understand that she was probably afraid of losing her job, afraid of having trouble finding another job after being fired for not following protocol, afraid of prosecution, etc.; the boy was afraid for his life. I have been watching to see what happens and I'm saddened to see that the school is standing behind her decision to follow policy rather than act to help a student. And this is certainly not the first time I have heard of people being afraid to intervene to help someone because of the potential negative consequences.

This story reminded me of one of our favorite picture books, “Library Lion” by Michelle Knudsen.

Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. No running allowed. And you must be quiet. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library. And, as it turns out, this lion seems very well suited to library visiting. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. He makes a comfy backrest for the children at story hour. And he never roars in the library, at least not anymore. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how.

When Miss Merriweather falls and gets hurt and no one can hear her call for help except the lion, he has to decide quickly what to do. The lion runs (which is against the rules) to get help and tries to indicate to the other librarian what has happened. But the librarian refuses to pay attention to the lion, so the lion does the one thing he knows will get attention—he roars (which is also against the rules) loudly enough that he cannot be ignored. He knows that he is breaking the rules and is willing to accept the consequences, not being allowed back in the library, for the sake of helping someone. Of course the lion was forgiven for breaking the rules under these circumstances and was allowed to continue visiting the library. The moral of the story being that we have rules to help us all but sometimes there is a good reason to break the rules.

It also makes me think, yet again, about our brief but eventful preschool experience. While he was there, my son was really bothered by another boy in his class who would often push and hit other children. I understand that this other boy had some social/emotional/sensory issues and was doing his best to cope with the environment. My son wanted to stop him from hurting people. He would step into the middle of the conflicts and tell this boy to stop, and sometimes use his body to block him. He was reprimanded for this and told that it was “not his job” to intervene, that he “is not the boss”, and that the proper action is to alert a teacher. It makes sense to tell a teacher when something like this happens, but in the meantime someone could be injured. And once the teachers have been alerted (repeatedly) that this keeps happening, there was no further course of action laid out for the students. What are students supposed to do when it keeps happening and the teachers are not taking measures to prevent it, are not stepping in immediately to stop it, and are saying that his attempts to help others are a behavior problem?

On the Penn State campus, just telling the right person wasn't enough to stop atrocities—when the proper authorities don't do what they should, there needs to be further action taken. I don't mean vigilante action. I mean continuing to speak up and speak out and seek out assistance from higher or different authorities. Roar like a Library Lion! I don't want my son to learn that it is “not his job” to help people. He respectfully and non-violently stood up for people who needed help—it's everyone's job to do this. We are teaching children so early on (starting in preschool at least) not to help people when they have the opportunity. When people are taught their whole lives to just stand by and hope the person in charge will do the right thing, it is not surprising really that a school nurse could just not help a student having an asthma attack because of policy, or that people could report a heinous crime on a college campus and then do nothing further to stop it, or that there is rampant bullying in schools.

Barbara Coloroso wrote a great book called “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander”. She relates bullying that happens among children to much larger scale atrocities like genocides and explains how bullying (and genocide) cannot happen without the complicity of the bystanders: there are no innocent bystanders. Her Bully Handout illustrates the roles of various participants in bullying, and is followed by some good tips for parents. Her Three Characters Handout explains the roles more in depth and highlights the one role that can stop the cycle of violence: the Defender/Resister/Witness. If just one person or small group of people, speaks out against the bully, protects and defends the bullied, and speaks up for the targets of the bully, others will follow the lead and begin to resist as well. (The Girl Scouts use an anti-bullying training called Power Up that focuses on teaching bystanders what they can do, and they have a great slogan: Doing nothing? Not an option.) Coloroso cites evidence that this effect has been demonstrated within genocidal regimes. It has also been demonstrated in the Asch Conformity Studies and the Milgram Obedience Studies that people often go along with a group or an authority figure, even when they know it is wrong, until someone else speaks up; but once someone else speaks up, others are more likely to do so as well. There is no inherent difference between the people who speak up and those who don't. It is just a matter of which choice each person makes in the moment, to help or not to help. But we can prepare ourselves for these moments so that we can make better choices when the time comes. 

My son and I spend a lot of time playing heroes and villains. In our fantasy lives, we have fought all kinds of people doing harm to others and we have saved the world, a lot. Fortunately, in real life we almost certainly will never be in a position to actually save the world in the epic fashion of our dramatic play, or from a genocidal regime. But our play is good practice for standing up to people who are hurting others and helping people who are being bullied or oppressed. It gives us a chance to tap into that part of ourselves that is (or at least wants to be) an epic hero and to get comfortable in that role, making the choices a hero would make and taking the actions a hero would take. And I like to think that the smaller acts in our real lives, like stepping in and saying, “Hey, don't push him!” again and again, even when the people in charge tell you not to do it, are the kind of things that create a positive difference in the communities that make up our world.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why We Play With Weapons

We spend a lot of our time around here playing heroes and villains. It seems like from the moment my son wakes up to the moment he falls asleep (and probably continuing into his dreams), he is fighting a battle between good and evil. Usually he is good. Sometimes he plays evil. Whichever side he chooses, he fights fiercely and imaginatively for his goal.

I know a lot of people these days are really uncomfortable with play weapons and play violence. It is certainly understandable if you turn on the news for 2 minutes and see how many young people are committing violent crimes. Our children can see so much violence—real violence in the news and in documentaries, graphic imaginary violence in TV, movies, books, and games—and it can be disturbing to see them act out the things that they see. We can limit how much of this our children see, but it seeps into their from all kinds of unexpected places. It is easy for the line to blur between play violence that serves the purpose of processing challenging new ideas and emotions, and violent play that is practice for enacting real violence and can really hurt other children. The PBS series on Understanding and Raising Boys does a pretty good job of explaining the difference.

I've noticed some things that tend to happen when gun/weapon/fighting play is forbidden. For example, when my son was in preschool, all weapon and fighting play was off limits. But because it's not off limits in our home, he felt free to share with me the games he was learning at preschool. Pointing hands and fingers like guns was not allowed, so the kids came up with other ways to symbolize a gun, like crossing their fingers and holding a hand up. I think with toy weapons, and so many other things in life, a simple formula applies:

natural interest + forbidden mystery = obsession

On the days that I was the classroom helper at preschool, I saw the play that was happening. And it was quickly evident that the kind of secretive play they were engaging in while no one was looking happens very differently from the play that goes on at our house. By allowing play fighting, and getting involved in it, there are a lot of social skills that my son has learned that can transfer to other interactions throughout his life.

Things like:
  • gaining consent to play fight before you start slicing and shooting other people
  • reaching some agreement about the ground rules (i.e. no pointing/squirting guns at faces, swords only hit swords not bodies)
  • making sure that the play isn't interfering with the peace and/or play of others around you
  • learning to set limits with other people
  • learning to hear and respect other people's limits
  • continually adjusting the play and rules as needed
  • deciding to fight against each other or together, and renegotiating as circumstances change
There is a lot of negotiation, self-regulation, advocacy and self-advocacy, reading of social cues, self-expression, listening... really rich social interaction that can happen when you get involved and offer a little guidance with weapon play and play fighting.

Getting involved in the play has also given me a chance to take some advice from Lawrence Cohen's Playful Parenting, to influence and rewrite common scripts so that they fit with my values. Whenever we are rescuing  a princess, we free her and help her find her weapon, then she helps us rescue the prince and fight the bad guys. When we are at war, we offer opportunities to negotiate a truce or to work together toward a goal. Sometimes we are successful at making peace and sometimes we are not, but either way it's good practice. When we are battling dragons or other creatures, we usually discover that they are attacking because they are protecting their young or their food sources and we are usually able to end those conflicts peacefully. Dealing with conflicts like these is a huge part of life so it makes sense that it would be a huge part of play too.

Plus, I really liked playing these kind of cops and robbers, heroes and villains, superheroes and supervillains, kind of games when I was young, and I still do enjoy some good swashbuckling. Neither I, nor any of the neighborhood kids I played with, have grown up to become violent people. And I'd like to think we are actually good people who stand up for what we believe in, help people when we can, and try to do what is right when we are faced with difficult situations and decisions. And all that practice playing good guys and bad guys—I think it helped.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Gardener!
A Modern Day [Imaginary] Hero [Mom]

Since we are always playing heroes and villains around here—all day every day—and sometimes I want to slip some other stuff into the mix—like gardening—so that I can get something done and still have fun, I came up with a new hero persona this week: The Gardener! I had been avoiding fighting by claiming to be just a peaceful gardener who needed protection from these alien bandits who were destroying our gardens that provide food for our village and the whole world. But the hero was fighting so continuously that he was getting exhausted; he couldn't keep fighting on his own to protect the whole village and he was requesting my help. “You cannot just stand by and hope for protection!” he told me. “I cannot do this alone. You must fight or your village will be destroyed!” And so I became The Gardener! My weapon is a garden shovel powerful enough to shield blasts from the evil bandits and to knock them out with one blow. It's rumored that it is even more powerful than money! (More powerful than money? Where on Earth did that come from?)

First I tried to negotiate a peace with these bandits, but they were not interested in peace or reason. They had one goal only—to destroy. We decided to track down the leader of these alien bandits, because no matter how many we fought off, more ships full of alien bandits would come to attack leaving weed mines all over the place. We tracked them back to a secret laboratory where they were doing terrifying experiments with our own garden plants. They were manipulating the plants so that they still looked, and kind of tasted, like food but were actually poisoned. They were destroying whole villages at a time by selling people poisoned plants and taking their money and then watching them eat the poison. We had to stop them before they poisoned all of our plants this way and there was no food left on our planet. We searched and searched until we found the evil genius mad scientist behind it all. He was hard to find because he often disguised himself as an innocent farmer. But we searched and searched until we found him. He was big and huge from eating all of the food from all of the gardens, and he just wanted more more more for himself. His eyes glowed red with evil. And his name was Insanto.

It was a long and difficult battle; there were many casualties and we destroyed as much of the lab as we could. But we knew it was not enough to keep the evil Insanto and his evil bandits from their evil mission to poison all of the plants in the world. So we made our own diabolical device and snuck it into the laboratory. The device put a label on all of the plants that came out of their laboratory so that everyone would know that those plants were poisoned and no one would buy them. Without people buying their plants, they would not have the money to continue their experiments and the evil Insanto would be defeated once and for all!!!!

So I got pretty swept up in this play (apparently my inner 5-year-old is still thriving) and didn't get a whole lot of gardening done, but we had a lot of fun and I think we accomplished a lot more than pulling weeds. I love all of this good guy/bad guy play for so many reasons. I love that my son gets to practice being aperson who protects the innocent. I love that he influenced me to stand up and fight when the time came, because you can't always rely on others to fight your battles, and that he was willing to continue fighting right there with me. I love that I get to interject my values into the play, like trying to negotiate peace before I am willing to fight and casting an unethical company as a villain. I love that it is active physical play. I love that it is imaginative and we collaboratively created this storyline together, building off of each others' ideas. I love the hope and optimism and sense of efficacy to fight the forces of evil—evil at this age being clear-cut bad guys who only hurt people and do no good. I love that this kind of play and these kind of stories leave the door open to explore the complexities of right and wrong and where they obscure and overlap and are sometimes difficult to distinguish. I love that it brings up fond childhood memories of playing much the same way. And mostly I love that we are having fun together.