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October 30, 2012

Lately, the kids’ questions seem to be outpacing my ability to deliver satisfactory answers. In the past week we’ve covered electoral college votes, climate change, credit cards, and The Democratic Party. The kids are like very small, emboldened journalists who’ve learned the art of interrogation; everything is fair game. When I walked out of the bathroom at our favorite Mexican restaurant last week, Rose shouted across the room, “pee or poop, Mama?”

Col’s weekend activities for Rammy. Left column: swim, listen to radio, look at globe, ride horses. Right column: library, camp, and my favorite, come home.

Also, Col and Rose want to know, definitively, “is it good (the Dems, credit cards, etc…) or is it…bad?” As if you could toss it all in a centrifuge of ethics and watch the heavier “good” particles sink to the bottom.

And it’s not that I don’t have opinions. You could map the brain regions responsible for outrage and pride by conducting an MRI on my brain while I read the daily letters to the editor (especially during this political season). I can get a little  quite self righteous about the righteousness of the right candidates, whom I so rightly identify with.

But, I am noticing that there is skill in considering opposing viewpoints, holding them in balance for even a moment to see what catches in the sieve and what honestly falls away; to see if I can unclench the fists that lock up like Pavlov’s boxer when certain issues enter the ring; and to see the humans behind the ideas.

In our swing state of Colorado, our neighbors on either side are voting for the party we’re not. (I know, I’m so discreet because you guys can’t actually tell who I’m voting for). And we love our neighbors, even the one who sprays his lawn with chemicals, while ten feet away our organic garden blooms with food and weeds and life.

For most of my life I didn’t know anyone who hunted or even owned a gun, and it was as easy to misjudge this population as it is to click “thumbs down” on a Pandora song and move right along. And yet, last weekend there I was, butchering the buck deer that Dan shot with his rifle, feeling immensely grateful for the many gifts this animal and experience brought my family.
Kids with knives: certifiably helpful! Also, you like our spotless butchering area?
When Rose confided in me that one of her classmates doesn’t eat very healthy because she has a lot of cookies, juice and packaging in her lunch, the boomerang of my own judgement slammed me like a cautionary tale about the way I share information with my children.
I am trying to be more careful about saying, “this is what our family believes, other people may believe differently,” and when the junior journalists are clamoring for the definitive word on is it good?, the answer is sometimes, maybe.
A story about maybe:
This is “Farmer’s Luck,” from Zen Shorts (given to us by Dan’s mom, Nana Judy, who is the best book-selector). You may know it. It goes like this:

Farmer’s Luck

When a farmer’s son’s horse ran away, all the villagers exclaimed “oh, what terrible luck.” The farmer simply smiled and said, “maybe.” When the horse returned with two wild horses, the villagers all cried, “what great fortune!” The farmer again smiled and said, “maybe.” Next, one of the wild horses threw the son, who broke his leg and wasn’t able to help his father in the fields. “What awful luck!” The villagers proclaimed. Again, the father simply said, “maybe.” Finally, the army recruits came to draft young male villagers for a war. The farmer’s son was spared because of his broken leg. “How lucky!” the villagers exclaimed, while the farmer smiled and said, “maybe.”

The best cure for political-overload: a Stone Soup party, in which everyone is fed from the collaborative offerings of the community. Soup cooked inside a squash via hot stones. Read about last year’s Stone Soup party here.

Adding dried oyster mushrooms to the broth.

Boys in buckskin (and not necessarily a Halloween costume).

Kids slapping together dough for fire-cooked pita bread.

Cody Kokopelli, who played beautiful flute and mentioned that this presidential election seems like the best way to divide the country. “What if the candidates took all the money pledged to their campaigns and collaborated to focus on solutions.”

ps: curious about how all this works in your house…
31 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeanne permalink
    October 30, 2012 10:35 am

    Wouldn’t that be great, spending all that wasted money on solutions rather than rhetoric! My husband and I believe that there should be only three months worth of campaigning, that every candidate should get a set amount of money from the government to spend on campaigning, and let the best person win!

    • November 1, 2012 1:10 am

      Amen! Isn’t that what they do (or used to) in Australia? And if you didn’t vote you got fined $100.

  2. abozza permalink
    October 30, 2012 10:37 am

    Lots of “Well, this is what we believe in our house,” over here, too. Also, my husband and children are Catholic and I am, most definitively, not. So, you’ll also hear, “Yes, that’s what your church teaches, but there are other ideas out there, as well.” It’s a fine line we walk with children. We want them to grow into their own ideas and opinions, yet, they really, really want to know what we WANT them to believe.

  3. Barb permalink
    October 30, 2012 10:40 am

    they are developing their moral compasses, and it will be amazing to see what they have to say in 10 years or so on some of these matters! I find it important often to make a clear distinction between descriptive and judgmental. The statement that the food is not very nutritious, or not as good for her classmate as what Rose eats is true. That doesn’t mean that her classmate’s family are bad people, any more than most people who don’t vote “like us” are bad people. Misguided, uninformed, seriously misled and hoodwinked, from my perspective…perhaps. How do we separate the description from the judgment in both our thinking and our use of language? It’s hard!

    And of course there are very clear cases of right and wrong. Good luck Mama!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      October 30, 2012 1:58 pm

      Barb, this is a good point. Descriptive vs judgmental. Because when kids hear that a food is unhealthy, it may follow in their minds that a person is “bad” or “dumb” or “wrong” for choosing it.

  4. October 30, 2012 10:45 am

    Echo watched one of the presidential debates and, without any coaching whatsoever, pieced together from the discussion that one candidate meant to go to war if he became president. She cried and cried and cried, several different times, and I found myself defending/explaining a position/person I NEVER thought I’d have cause to defend.

    In our house, (like Rose’s perspective on the other kid’s lunch), our girls look critically at other people’s parenting, since that’s something their parents have strong feelings about. Xi will come home from a playdate and declare that she had fun but “didn’t like the parenting”. Eeek. Makes me want to phrase things more carefully (and I do) because hearing our girls make black/white judgements based on my less-than-wholistic view of other folks parenting choices doesn’t feel good at all.

  5. October 30, 2012 10:50 am

    Funny, I had JUST posted on Facebook an appeal that we see the candidates as human and not the second coming and the axis of evil. I’m kind of at my breaking point with all of the mud slinging from people I know and love. You said it so much better. Thank you for this!

  6. October 30, 2012 11:10 am

    I loved to read all these comments and of course your post Rachel. Very insightful and sweet. The world will go on for sure. :o)

  7. October 30, 2012 11:47 am

    oy, yes! we talk about choices and having enough information to make a good choice for yourself…and i do a lot of “well, what do you think about that?” and looking at things from the other side (always a good exercise for me!). there is a slippery line there though – we don’t drink soda because there is nothing in it that is good for your body (x, y, z) – followed by “why does beloved aunt so-and-so drink soda if she knows it’s so bad for her body?” eesh. gives us a chance to talk about not judging someone else’s choices and how grown-ups sometimes choose to do things that are not that good for them, but it doesn’t make them a bad person,etc…

    but i have to share my favorite recent line of questioning around here – and it happened in the car, cause that’s where all the important conversations seem to happen here – and it went like this: “so….i come home from the store with my bag of sperm…and then what?”
    yeeeeeah. (and i constantly marvel at how wide my kids’ range of choices is in this time!!!! holy wah.)

  8. Susan permalink
    October 30, 2012 11:59 am

    “this is what our family believes, other people may believe differently,” I love this.

  9. October 30, 2012 12:43 pm

    Swing-stater over here too. What’s really riling me up about all the rhetoric right now is that we seem to have abandoned a sense of “This is what I believe; others may believe differently” in favor of “This is what I believe; if you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong (stupid, immoral, etc.).” I’m finding it awfully hard to yell Tolerance and Love Thy Neighbor loudly enough to be heard over the din.

  10. ike permalink
    October 30, 2012 1:38 pm

    Very thoughtful column. Since we have been spending more time in a purple state it has affected my tendency to quickly judge others based on minimal information. Getting to know others who do not necessarily share my political opinion has been a positive experience. I hope to learn more and be more open to ideas that I do not initially connect to.
    On the other hand, there are some issues that are not conducive to judgments; for example, is the Earth warming over the last 60 yrs.


  11. Jennifer permalink
    October 30, 2012 2:08 pm

    Here’s what I love about you and your blog: you are never smug or self-congratulatory. Even though you clearly live an amazing life, your posts (like this one, for example) never have a sub-text of “I’m better than most people because . . . .” Your honesty and humility is so refreshing. THANK YOU!

  12. Daniel SageTree permalink
    October 30, 2012 6:23 pm

    love the pics, I’ve been pining for days gone by that I hear some older individuals speak of when you never said anything negative about the commander and chief. I think many of us want less negativity in the campaign. We see both sides being negative but that doesn’t mean we have to be. As for the kids, it’s neat to see them respond on their own to things, for instance, Seneca listening to Michelle Obama speak and spontaneously clapping at different things. Some, it seemed she has learned from her mom but others seemed to come from her forming her own opinions. I can be very impassioned about some things but most of the time I try to point out that our way is only one among billions.

  13. October 30, 2012 7:41 pm

    I always figured in the centrifuge of ethics the good stuff would float to the top. Just like hopefully your presidential candidate will. :)

  14. October 30, 2012 8:57 pm

    I love that big squash! It’s very handsome.

    So, as far as kids and our indoctrinating them with our opinions, I think my kids have figured out that other families live/believe differently about things. I don’t think you’re doing your kids harm by talking about what you believe in. Their whole life is about observing others and and comparing it all to their family. I agree with Rose that kids that eat lots of cookies aren’t always a good choice. It’s interesting to see my daughter forming her own opinions about things. She’s 14 after all. She keeps me in check for sure. Once we were stopped at a light and I looked over at the guy next to me with his cigarette hanging from his lips and I said, “He thinks he’s pretty cool.” Amelia shot back, “It doesn’t mean he’s a bad person because he smokes!” Although I don’t think I was implying he was a bad person but I was certainly judging him. My daughter caught me on that one.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      October 31, 2012 3:20 pm

      Ha! Love what your daughter said. We teach them well and then they teach us! We’ve had similar exchanges about parents not wearing bike helmets when they ride with their children, which I think is a careless and weird example to set (your brains are only precious when you’re a child?).

  15. October 31, 2012 10:55 am

    The stone soup party looks wonderful – great memory builder for your kids. I do remember the luck story, read it many a time in years gone by. I too had relentless interrogators – they sort of gave it up when they hit their teen years, but only sort of.

    When they were small, like yours, it was a barrage of questions, most often in the car. I tended to use playground metaphors a lot, to explain things like Afghanistan and politics. There’s nothing like explaining politics to a kid to make you the adult realize how childish politics is. I found myself reducing most issues to greed for power and/or money.

    Now, we have these incredibly wide ranging dinner conversations, which apparently are not what their peers do, many of whom don’t actually sit down for dinner with their families most nights anyway. A typical dinner conversation the other night inlcuded the pro/cons of trick or treating, the pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast, the benefits (or not) of knowing something of world politics, and the current fascination with superheroes (we watched the new Avengers movie, borrowed from the library, right after dinner).

    I do find it hard to answer the questions or debate the topics objectively sometimes, but I think there’s two sides to that :). First, it’s a good skill for people to have, to be able to see how the other half see things. Second, it’s OK to have an informed opinion. And to stand by it. This is what I believe, this is why. And then to respect that other people see it differently and are still great people. And of course, being teens, the comeback is – so are you saying Hitler was a nice guy? So if you’re finding 7 and 5 fun, wait for it – 14 and 17 is funner.

  16. Danielle G permalink
    October 31, 2012 11:48 am

    Frankly, grateful my kids are too young to care anything about it (they are 2 and 4). I can only imagine what it will all be like for years from now! We don’t have tv, but my parents who are our neighbors, have it on 24-7 and I feel like I have an election season induced perma-migraine.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      October 31, 2012 3:08 pm

      Last election my kids were almost 2 and almost 4, and the whole thing passed them by like a whoosh of wind. It’s both exciting and tiresome to have such participating members in the family political discussions.

  17. Chi-An permalink
    October 31, 2012 1:11 pm

    Oooohhh, the questions. I try to explain things as fairly as I can and as completely as needed for each child- but since I have two junior scientists the completeness is often very complete. Which is how I came to be explaining the evolution to a 5 year old while driving across the Bay Bridge during rush hour.

    I try hard to present multiple points of view- but for the most part, I find our kids tend to agree with us. As they get older I imagine this will change!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      October 31, 2012 3:11 pm

      They agree with you because you’re right. :) Also, inclusion and civil rights probably make a certain amount of natural sense to children.

  18. October 31, 2012 9:12 pm

    My neighbors are all voting for the other guy, too. But I’m the mom whose kids have lots of packaging in their lunch. So … maybe.

  19. Melissa permalink
    October 31, 2012 11:19 pm

    Avi told me one of his classmates told him that his kids cliff bar wasn’t healthy and he was super defensive about it. He brought out the box and pointed to the ingredients with me and insisted, “see, it’s good for me!” interesting to be on one side or the other. I do feel like when it comes to kid lunches, I am the mom who is the least healthy, eg, whose kid does not have kale or broccoli in his lunch (but oh, I have tried). For sure we aren’t perfect and I do cringe when I see Avi parroting something we are neurotic about but that’s how it is, isn’t it? They emulate us until they find their own way . . . and we try to offer support, keep them safe, and enjoy the journey. Or at least tolerate it (:

  20. November 1, 2012 7:23 am

    i’d say the most helpful thing to me – and this is pretty specifically circumstantial, fer sure – is having the kiddo parented in two different households with two very different value systems. i get a lot of “my DADDY says xyz is ,” xyz being an issue i care deeply about, (food, health, expressing emotions), sometimes being the utter antithesis of whatever i happen to believe about those things – challenging! but within in the challenge lie two really positive opportunities: a.) i get to practice, daily, (hourly!) saying things like, “different families, different rules!” or “hmm. how interesting. we do things differently, huh?” which feels empowering and not at all vitriolic- i have no concern that i’m putting my kid in a tough place in the middle of his parents, nor do i worry that i am modeling judgement or some skewed sense of moral superiority and b.) i actually get to *rearrange my mind* and how i view “the other” – it’s my kid’s dad, afterall! i don’t really have the choice to write him off as Unequivocally Wrong, or if i do, i certainly don’t have the energy or time to uphold that story. and i think, having such different views of the world, so close to home, in such an inescapable way, has really opened me up to alla the different views coming from people who *aren’t* all up in my life, inescapable, etc. and that makes me a more tolerant person, which – hey – the world needs some tolerance these days, no? although, i would like to add – what a journey towards tolerance this has been, (and i’m so grateful to you for yer encouragement and to natalie (at talkfeeleez) for her guidance during the really hard spots) – thanks for writing about the tough stuff –

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      November 1, 2012 10:10 am

      Your boy is so lucky. I picture children who get to consider two different views from people they love and respect as constantly growing new neural pathways, expanding their capacities for compassion and openness. Thanks for sharing this story. xo

  21. November 2, 2012 10:08 am

    Well, I guess I can say that I have completely failed at being “fair and balanced” after last week my oldest got up in the morning and said he had a dream in which Mitt Romney was about four feet tall and he (my son) stomped on his (Romney’s) foot and called him a “bum.” Then again, I guess I knew I’d failed way back when he (my son) was about three years old and attributed every piece of litter to George Bush. But hey, I always tell my kids they can grow up to be anything but murderers or Republicans. I think I’ve left it sufficiently open-ended for them to make up their minds about everything else.

  22. November 2, 2012 6:50 pm

    oh yeah. i am so reluctant to put anything into the boxes labeled good and bad. we talk a lot about that lately, too. we recently watched return of the jedi and talked about how we can’t really say darth vader is all good or all bad. it’s a hard one though. i am quite self righteous myself and it’s not my favorite trait about myself. in a visit to a child psych concerning quinn’s potential asperger’s, i was told i had best keep everything very black and white for him, because aspies don’t appreciate the gray areas. and that was the most convincing argument i’ve heard yet for quinn not having asperger’s – i think he sees a lot of the gray, and always has.

  23. November 4, 2012 12:26 am

    I do a *lot* of the “here’s what some people think and here’s what Mamma thinks.” I don’t want my daughter to automatically believe everything I do, but I do want her to know what I believe because those beliefs are often the only answers I have to offer. (Sometimes I wish those answers weren’t qualified with a “well, what Mamma believes is…” but it would feel like a lie, I guess, if I presented my beliefs as absolute truths.)

  24. mwieser permalink
    November 5, 2012 1:35 pm

    My girl and I do not choose a lot of plastic packaging, so she’s been known to stand before a refrigerator case at the store and holler, “Mama! This is ALL wrapped in PLASTIC!” and we have to talk about why not everyone is able or willing to choose not to litter the ocean with chokables for the fish and the birds. It’s a tough talk – I have no particular desire for her sense of urgency in these matters to wane. But I want this matched by love for all creatures, even two legged ones that make different choices than our own. I know she follows my lead. Yikes! She is asking about the election contest between Obama and O’Romney, and it has not occurred to her that she doesn’t have a vote, and I have not had the heart to tell her about the currently constitutional electoral discrimination against our most vulnerable and potentially most impassioned and discerning people, the young. And today, vis a vis curiousity and research questions, we had to look up flying fish, for whether they are in oceans (yes) and what it looks like when they fly (cool).


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