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Teaching Consent

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With two boys and one girl growing up in this culture, I think about teaching my kids good lifestyle practices. I think about it a lot. I was reading this article (which is hilarious and you should read when you are done here) about a very simple metaphor to explain consent.

But here’s the thing. I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain consent to adults. Sadly, we still do, and part of the problem is that we don’t do a good job of explaining consent to kids. We don’t and we should. Consent and its surrounding concepts should be part of the language/concept soup that we raise our kids in. Also, it’s a parenting super-tool. Allow me to elaborate.

We (adults) do a lot of things that push kids’ consent realities. It’s often unavoidable. We hold our toddlers down while they flatly deny consent so that we can baby wipe their filthy little butts. Those things are necessary and part of the job. But other things – like tickle games until kids melt down and we all feel bad…those are something we (adults) get to do because we are bigger and stronger. And tickling, wrestling, and chasing are all super fun when everyone is consenting. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here — I still want to tickle my kids breathless and enjoy them saying “No! Stop Mommy Monster!” while I chase them. But I don’t want to abuse my size and strength and ability if it gets out of control. Then there is the forced affection issue. It’s been written about a lot in many places, so I’ll just sum up: it’s not okay to force a kid to show or receive physical affection. Not to grandparents, aunts, uncles, people who buy Girl Scout cookies… Not to anyone. Ever.

Teach Consent

*Use the Word consent* with your kids. Get it in the language. Make it a familiar word and concept. Explain it a million times. This is a parenting super-tool. Instead of saying “Brother-Bug, don’t snatch that toy! Play nice!” Instead I can ask “Brother-Bug, did you have Sister’s consent to take that toy? Sister-Bug, did you have Brother’s consent to hit him in the face?” Nope? Well, then it wasn’t a good choice. Let’s change it. Let’s do it differently. There’s not a lot of blame or finger pointing here. In sibling spats it’s often both people who are ignoring consent. Go back and do it over again. Kid climbing all over you after a long day? Adults have consent too! “Hey, I need you to get my consent before I am your jungle gym.”

*Make it the rule in your house* and help other kids understand it. This means you get to explain consent a lot more, often in front of your kids. And again, it makes dispute resolution easier. Once everyone knows what consent means, then they can go back and do over.

*Expand the phrase to Enthusiastic Consent* when appropriate. We need to know the difference between consent and enthusiastic consent. The difference between my daughter kind of shrugging her shoulders and mumbling yes to her someday-date versus a big smile and leaning in for a kiss with yes! on her lips is vast, and I know which one I want her to feel good using. (Yes, it is hard to think about my child in these types of scenarios, but they are coming along someday and I can’t get my kids ready for them if I don’t think about them. They aren’t going to be little and adorable forever.) In the here and now, with little kids, we use Enthusiastic Consent particularly in the area of weapon and fighting games. You may not, under any circumstances, use a weapon with/on/at a person in this house/yard without their Enthusiastic Consent. Again, this leads to me doing a fair amount of explaining to other kids.

*Explain when you violate their consent* and use consent language. I’ll stick with the toddler and poopy butt scenario from earlier because that’s where the Toddler-Bug and I find ourselves these days. “I know you don’t want me to wipe your butt and you are doing everything you can to show and tell me that I don’t have your consent. I’d love for you to put your poop in the potty and then I wouldn’t have to wipe your butt like this. But until we get there, my job is to keep you healthy and part of that is cleaning the poop off you. You can say yes and consent to this and I’d love that. Or you can poop in the potty. But my job means I have to ignore your consent for this moment, even if you don’t like what I am doing.” Yes, I have this little discussion with my toddler on the daily right now. Do this with car seats, bedtime, diapers, and whatever else you can. Stop and respect their space and consent if possible – at least for a minute. Give them the opportunity to decide to consent to something they can’t control anyway.

*Stand up for your kids’ right to consent* with everyone. I was stunned and a little outraged  at Brother-Bug’s last check-up. He was doing great, everything was lovely. And then the doctor went to manually examine my son’s genitals without telling him what she was doing!! Brother-Bug did exactly right. He jumped and hit the doctor’s hands away and said something like “What the heck!?” I explained to the doctor that my kids had been taught that no one should touch their genitals without their permission once they were able to keep them clean on their own time. Ever. Anyone. And she should ask. The doctor looked chagrined and talked to Brother-Bug about what she was going to do and why. It’s one of those places where we don’t think to look for consent, but we must.

And don’t force your child to kiss, hug, talk to, high five, or interact with anyone just because they *should*. That’s just…swear words. Kids will learn how to use good manners because we show them good manners. They will learn to hug people they want to hug when they see us hug people we want to hug.


*Give your kids a safe word*. Nope. I’m not joking. Remember the tickle games I mentioned early on? They are super fun and everyone feels good in our house because we have a safe word. It’s a funny one. One that won’t be said in the craziness of the moment like No or Stop. Ours is FishPepper. If someone in a game says FishPepper, all game play stops. Sometimes just for a moment while everyone catches their breath. Sometimes for good. We are careful about using our safe word; the big kids know that it is a powerful word and they must use it only ever For Real or it will lose it’s power. Just in the last week or so, Toddler-Bug started using it of his own free will when Papa-Bug was tickling him! It was a proud moment. Our two-year old knows how to use consent concepts!

I’m going to digress for a moment. I assumed that we just know that No Means No. And we teach that too. But sometimes we are playing games and No is confusingly fun. Sometimes it’s hard to hear. No should always mean no with kids and their games. But if we get carried away (kids or adults) it’s really good to have a fallback safe word. You can play harder. I promise.

This means more explaining. To kids friends: “Oh! Sister-Bug just said FishPepper. In our house that means she needs everything to stop for a minute until she feels safe.” To their care-people: “Thanks for watching our kids…their safe word is FishPepper…just in case you are playing. That means they need to stop until they feel safe.” To parents of other kids: “My kids taught your kid the concept of a safe word…{how we use safe words with kids}…so if you hear your child using the idea of a safe word, you know where she got it.”

I always try to do the explaining in front of kids. I want them to hear me explain and support consent over and over and over and over.

If we all did this, as parents and people who love the kids we are around, eventually…someday…we would have to explain consent to adults a lot less. And maybe our kids could do it lovingly for us!!

So go out in the world and give your kids a safe word.


DIY Flag Ornaments

I love the way our ornament collection grows, full of memory. The wobbly salt dough ornaments from various childhoods, the bugs we painted with glitter one year (Brother-Bug has a millipede ornament), first ornaments of the kids, the angel ornament that adorned the top my our first mutual tree some 11 years ago – so small a tree (table top rosemary) that this angel ornament was almost too big. My childhood ornaments, Papa-Bug's childhood ornaments. It's precious.

This year I ended up with extra glass globes – empty and waiting. They came in a six pack and I only needed two. So I started looking around online. I found this lovely silhouette idea…

Nativity Silhouette Ornaments

But I wanted something to save This Year.

As you know, we are studying global cultures (and really enjoying it). So flags, I thought. Something fun and special just for us. Something to remind us of this year of travel from home and study of things abroad.

I found flag pictures online, tweaked them in Photoshop a bit, and printed them on vellum. Then following the tutorial I stuck them to acetate and put them in the globes. Of course we added glitter. We almost always add glitter, especially at Christmastime. Glitter and/or sprinkles.

These look really good from all angles, and especially lovely in front of the tree lights. Because of the fragile ornaments, I did most of the actual work. But the kids picked their own flags and were right there in the way while we made these. All four ornaments took only about 20 minutes total.


Sister-Bug chose Brazil. We studied Brazil in September and October and she loves all things Brazillian right now.

Brother-Bug chose Thailand. He wanted Japan, but the Japanese flag would have looked kind of like just a red dot…so he went for Thailand. We haven't had a Thai unit yet, but my mom and her sweetie have travelled in Thailand a lot, so we love it for that.

I picked Hungary for Toddler-Bug. He was asleep (because I wouldn't do a glass ornament project with an active and wakeful toddler). Papa-Bug has roots in Hungary and it seemed like fun. It was really hard to choose – so many good flags out there.

Finally, for Papa-Bug and me, I went with South Africa. Because Nelson Mandela. And wanting the best global representation I could get in four flags.

So that's our ornament of the year. They are glowing and beautiful on the tree. Another memory preserved to cherish.

And now I must be off. Brother-Bug is performing in our local Nutcracker tonight. I have to get my Little Angel (for that is what he is onstage) fed and rested and ready to go. It's going to be a big night.

Happy Tree Trimming.









Thanksgiving & Black Friday

Ahhhhh…the time of year when the demon bear of consumerism is more than a little apparent. As I write this, Sister-Bug is working on one of her many lists to Santa Claus.

I shared this picture on my personal Facebook Page.

It generated a lot of comments; people seem to be incensed by the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving. Naturally. Some people have to work on Thanksgiving – we need emergency rooms and fire fighters and police/ambulance folks keeping us safe. But do we really need department stores or grocery stores open? Not so much.

Do we really need to scarf our pie so that we can be in line at the Mall-Wart at 5:58 PM to get the newest, shiniest, tackiest piece of thing? Do we? Really? I don’t think so. And I won’t be. I will be at home, surrounded by family, friends, and dirty dishes. My kids will be gorging themselves sick on desserts and chasing their aunts and uncles around the house. There is just about a month in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which means I can have plenty of shopping time and catch some sales without curtailing our Feast of Gratitude OR forcing people to work on a day that is deemed special for family.

You can go to this Facebook Page and add your Pledge! Don’t shop on Thanksgiving. And spread the word.

But what about the spectre of Black Friday? Last year I reminisced about my memories from childhood. It was a nice time, a special day. There is a big push every year for Buy Nothing Day; I support that. Buying Nothing is a great idea. But what if you are just pushing off your shopping? What about a positive alternative? If you are committed to the idea of Buy Nothing Day, it will catch on better if you have something positive to fill that space. Something else to do.

  • Host or participate in a Make Day – get together with friends and make presents, cards, treats…play holiday music, eat leftovers, socialize and enjoy. You will end up with presents at the end of the day and you won’t have to mace anyone or get run over by a shopping card stampede in the process.
  • Go shopping! But avoid the big box stores and national chains. Shop at your local craft fairs and small retailers. Keep your money local. Buy a coffee drink at a local coffee shop. Talk to the crafters and retailers you encounter. Build local connections.
  • Gather with friends at a local coffee shop or bar and start filling out your holiday cards together. Keep your money local, get a holiday job started (possibly finished depending on how long you hang out).
  • Have a game day! Have other families over, spice some cider. Get out Clue, Monopoly, and Fluxx. Laugh. Connect. I know we all did that yesterday, but if you can envision leaving the house to fight the mall crowds, you can probably find the energy to go to a small family gathering.
  • Trade Dates. If Aunts and Uncles and Cousins are around, parents can take turns watching the pack of kids while their parents have a date. The parents return and trade off. Kids play, adults converse, everyone wins. And parents get a little personal/downtime as this most-wonderful-time-of-the-year kicks off.

What can you add to this list? What do you do on Black Friday? And will you pledge not to shop on Thanksgiving?

Not Your Activists

I’m reading a lot about Lori Done, the author of the wonderful blog Raising My Rainbow. The book just came out and I’ve got to order it. She has a gender-creative child. Our guys would probably be good friends.

So I’ve been thinking about kids and gender and allies and activism. And here’s what I have to say.

My kids aren’t your activists. They aren’t my subversives.

You can't box this kid in. You could try...

You can’t box this kid in. You could try…

This started to concern me at the beginning of summer, when I posted a picture of my son doing something seen conventionally as girly, then shortly after there was a picture of my daughter helping her dad build a fence. A couple of activist friends commented that they love how subversive my kids are.

This rattled me a little and I’ve been thinking about it and journalling about it, trying to identify my negative reaction to those comments.

Our family is rooted in a culture of activism and social justice consciousness. I would call myself an ally for many people, especially children (a largely voiceless population…they need all the allies they can get). Our kids are growing up hearing issues of integrity, social justice, and the like, discussed at the table. They go to rallies and protests. They might very well grow up to be activists and subversives.

And I do have an agenda. A deeply subversive agenda for them.

I want them to grow up as whole as possible. I want them to choose their labels and positions in this world, and I’d really prefer if people kept their labels off my kids.

I’m a realistic person though and I know that’s not going to happen. So instead of that, lets read this excellent essay by Jerry Mahoney.

Why I Won’t Tell My Daughter That She Can Do Anything Boys Can Do

“…here’s my problem with constantly telling little girls they’re as good as boys: until my daughter heard that message, she didn’t have any reason not to believe it.”

Likewise, my children don’t know that there is any reason, beyond personal preference, a girl wouldn’t use the power drill with her dad, or a boy wouldn’t be Action Girl in our superhero play. They don’t know that they are doing anything special except for being their fabulous selves.

I'm looking forward to a day when it's not "special" to be a boy in ballet.

I’m looking forward to a day when it’s not “special” to be a boy in ballet.

Once we tell a child that what they are doing is subversive, against the grain, we’ve also told them that somewhere out in the world, what they are doing is seen as wrong. And we’ve put that idea in their head – I’m not conforming – when they didn’t know there was something to conform to! They didn’t do anything but follow their own interest or passion. They can’t be activists because they are too busy playing. It’s not subversive if they are just being wholly themselves.

And maybe that’s the most subversive thing of all.


In someways I think this idea might clash with my recent post about Young Superheroes. If you go back and re-read that essay, I am careful to use the ideas to empower my child’s choices, rather than box him in one way or the other. Or that’s my goal, anyway.

Gender Bender Baby?

Baby-Bug has grown into a favorite sweater. It was a hand-me-down to Brother-Bug seven years ago, Sister-Bug had her turn in it, now the it's baby's turn.


This seemingly innocuous sweater has been known to make people crazy. They can't tell the gender of the baby wearing it. Is it a boy? It is a blue sweater. Is it a girl? It has a heart on it… It's confusing! The public can't tell what gender this person is!

Oh no. What will we do?

Here's an idea. Maybe we should remember that clothes don't define someone's gender, especially someone who is still having a mom or dad pick out their ensembles.

Really. It's just a sweater.

Children & Cultural Appropriation

A friend of Brother-Bug recently had a birthday party. The friend loves Aikido and Asian food; Japanese culture fascinates him. So he chose an Asian theme for his party, dress-up encouraged.

Papa-Bug's concerns about cultural appropriation started to make themselves known. The Mama had tried to explain cultural appropriation to her eight-year old, but he didn't really get it. And something wasn't sitting right for me, but it wasn't the idea of Asian costumes on Caucasian children.

Rainbow Kids

Here's the thing. Kids play. It's their job. It's how they learn. It's how they take information they encounter and make sense of it. It's how they process their feelings, fascinations, and experiences. This play is usually imaginative in nature; involving role play, story creation and/or re-telling, and dress up. This is really important work that they do to understand the world around them. I did it. You probably did it too.

We “enlightened” parents carefully and thoughtfully expose our children to other cultures. We enroll them in Aikido. They learn Spanish. We attend local cultural festivals. We eat different foods and read world folk tales. We want our children to grow up knowing that there are other ideas and ways and faces out there. This is called cultural literacy. It's one reason Brother-Bug has his pen pal in Uganda.

If kids are going to be introduced to other cultures and new cultural information…well, they're going to play with it. They will work that story, experience, or interaction into their games. It might involve dress up. It might involve mimicry actions which we (adults with years of context) might see as “cultural appropriation”.

But never fear. Our kids aren't doing anything wrong or disrespectful. They are doing what kids all over the world have always done. Playing. Making sense of their world and the puzzle pieces in it. This is good. This means they are paying attention to all our efforts to show them other peoples and that they care about understanding those different cultures. If they didn't care, if they weren't interested, they wouldn't play.

What can parents do here though? We want the play to be genuine, but we also don't want to end up with hurt feelings from our friends in other cultures,and we certainly don't want our children to learn that actions which trivialize other cultures are okay. We have to do what we are doing anyway – engage in enthusiastic exploration with our kids.

Out to Chinese food? An excellent time to figure out what is eaten regularly in China. Is the food we eat at our local restaurant similar? When would a Chinese family eat Sweet & Sour Pork? Wanting to dress up in cultural costumes? A time to find out when these costumes are usually worn. Find someone from that culture to learn about the costume and make sure it is worn correctly.

I believe when we try to explain the vast and unwieldy concepts of cultural appropriation to our young children, we run a real risk of teaching them something else. A young child – someone for whom imaginative play is still a daily activity – doesn't have the context to understand what we valiantly try to explain. I fear that children will possibly interpret the attempted explanation as “exploring other cultures is fraught with peril, stressful to your parents, and something you might seriously mess up.” I suspect that Brother-Bug (who hates to do things if he might mess up) might hear that kind of message as “Don't Do It” and send him away from his healthy, playful exploration of different people, scared of messing up learning about people. And that's scary to me.

There is plenty of time in my kids' lives to explain and grapple with what people their color have done to people of other colors. We will keep talking about why we, as grown ups, don't like the Indians in Peter Pan or the many depictions of non-white people in Tin-Tin. I'm not dropping the efforts we make to talk about race and awareness with my kids. These things are real and I want to lay the foundation now for deeper understanding in the future.

But I'm going to fight against the idea that a child dressing up in Chinese pajamas is doing anything other than having fun and trying to see what it might feel like in a Chinese child's clothes. I'm going to see these as Yes! Moments; a chance to explore and learn and bring people different from us into our circle and awareness.

I'm going to fight rascism and cultural appropriation in my family by continuing to encourage my children's knowledge of other peoples. And that might mean going to a Native American friend to ask about the appropriate time to wear a feather in our hair, or asking our Japanese step-grandpa what coming of age traditions we can borrow for a birthday party. Because I believe it is by knowing other people, by seeing their lives and learning their ways, understanding where we are different and where we are the same, that my children can grow up willing to be friends and allies to people of other cultures when needed.


From The Graduates: About Stereotypes & Perceptions

There are a lot of pre-conceived notions, stereotypes, and weird perceptions out there about homeschoolers. I think it's probably pretty safe to say that the four of us, all graduated, adult homeschoolers, have run into most of those notions, stereotypes, and weird perceptions.



The Questions:

When someone you meet finds out you were homeschooled, what is the most common reaction? What is your response? If you could wipe one stereotype about homeschooling and homeschooled people out of the culture, what would it be?


The Herpetologist:

When someone finds out I was homeschooled, the responses tie between,”did you have any friends?” and, “does that mean you're a super genius?”. When it came to friends, I would explain that being homeschooled does not necessarily mean you're kept under lock and key, and socializing was a huge part of my education. As far as my intelligence, that is a much trickier response. Given a standardize test when I was 16, I probably would have appeared to be falling behind in many subjects, while being way out in front on a few. This is only because I had so much freedom to learn what I found interesting, and not what was prescribed to me. Physically, I don't think being homeschooled made me any more of less “intelligent” than I would be today if I had attended public school.

I would wipe out the assumption that your family is deeply religious. A lot of people seem to have it in their minds that parents homeschool because they want to control what their children learn. In truth, a lot of parents homeschool because of how they want their children to learn, the specific subject material isn't the focus.

The Engineer:

“Wow, you are so normal” or “But you have social skills”. I usually respond with something about stereotypes and how that usually applies to sheltered homeschoolers.

The Body Worker:

The most common reaction I have found is : “How did you socialize enough?” My response is usually along the lines of: “Actually, we were raised in an extremely rich social environment. In addition to being involved with a homeschooling group, our family, ballet, theater and our community in general, we got to socialize in a much larger spectrum that typical school children. We were usually spending lots of time with people of all ages and from many walks of life, rather than just being in a classroom with one age group only. In some ways, I think we were truly over-socialized and could have used more alone time.

I think people view homeschooling as something that is isolating/socially stifling and causes people to lack general life skills in terms of social behavior. I would wipe this stereotype and do my best whenever I talk with people regarding homeschooling.


The Mama:

These days people find out I was homeschooled when they ask what led our family to choose homeschooling. Often I see something that might be relief in their faces because I might know what I am doing, and I'm a pretty articulate, socially competent, “normal” individual. My kids aren't going to be left in front of a television and educated by the good people at PBS or ABC…thank goodness! Over the course of my life, people seem to be surprised that I am so “normal”, since clearly homeschoolers are “weird”.

As far as stereotypes…there are as many homeschool styles as their are homeschool families. Not every family uses the public school system in the same way and I don't know why we imagine everyone would homeschool in the same way or for the same reasons. I wish people would shelve their assumptions and take a moment to find out why a family chose homeschooling. The answers are diverse and amazing and educational.


Homeschooling is a fast growing trend, and homeschoolers are becoming more visible, if not more “normal”. Take a moment and peruse this info-graphic… And the next time you run into a homeschooler remember that we are everywhere and everyone.