Keeping our children safe

Parents worry.  I think we can all agree on that one.

Among all the concerns that parents deal with, safety is up toward the top.

Sweet Girl has always been overly cautious, but in the last year or so, she’s started physically recoiling from most men as she and I cross paths with them when we’re out in public.  Sometimes she’ll grab hold of my hand tightly, sometimes she’ll switch to the other side of me, and sometimes she won’t go anywhere near that person.  It hasn’t caused her to decide not to go somewhere, so I hadn’t been concerned, besides the thought that she could be offending these people if they notice her aversion.

It is that vulnerability and evidence of fear that worries me after reading Gavin De Becker’s Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane). I learned that seeming vulnerable or “quiet, withdrawn, compliant, easy to manipulate” are traits that predators watch for.

However, that initial reaction can be a good thing. “There are people they recoil from, and that reaction is something to cherish and to nurture, not something to force them to ignore.” So I will not be telling SG not to be afraid, but neither do I want her walking around in a constant state of fear.  I want her to follow her intuition.

The risks to children can seem overwhelming.  That’s why, after completing De Becker’s Gift of Fear last month, I wanted to read his book about what risks children face and how parents can help kids learn warning signs and safety skills.  In Gift of Fear, De Becker’s main point was that we should not deny or discount our intuition.  “It’s not always be the loudest voice, but it is the wisest.”

So what should we be aware of regarding children’s safety?

“Of all the serious harms that could come to your child, sexual abuse is the one that most needs your attention and your intuition. And, unfortunately, the odds are getting worse, not better.  One in three girls and one in six boys will have sexual contact with an adult. Sometimes it’s a neighbor and sometimes it’s a day-care worker, but a family member is still most likely to be the sexual abuser.”

De Becker writes that often parents see their kids as partners in their safety, but…

“Until a child is old enough to understand what predatory strategies look like, old enough and confident enough to resist them, assertive enough to seek help, powerful enough to enforce the word No—until all that happens, a child is too young to be his own protector, too young to merit any of your reliance, too young to be part of the defense system, period.” (At the end of this post, I have added De Becker’s list of things children should know before they are ever alone in public.)

“Child victimization is a big issue and one that should be on all parents’ minds.  There are many things we can do to help ensure the safety of children through increased awareness, education, advocacy and action.  We need to teach kids how to recognize, interrupt and report inappropriate behaviors and situations.”

“Who are the offenders in these crimes? Nearly 100 percent are heterosexual men. All of them have a process by which they gain access to and control of a child. In response, parents need to make careful choices about the people in your child’s life and teach your child about touch, the body, boundaries, communication, assertiveness, and sovereignty over the body.”

How can I teach my child about risk without causing too much fear?

Constant depiction of a dangerous world leads children (and adults) to believe they are not competent to meet the challenges of life, and that belief can permeate the entire experience of life.

True fear is involuntary.  It’s there to get our attention if something in our environment signals us that we are in danger.  However, “unwarranted fear or worry will always be based upon something in your imagination or your memory. Worry is the fear we manufacture; it is a choice… When someone feels fear constantly, there is no signal left for when it’s really needed, which actually making them less safe.”

Being afraid of others is actually the fear that we are unprepared to protect ourselves. Obviously, we cannot change or eliminate all the dangerous people in the world; what we can change is our ability to deal with them.”

Reading this book was seriously freaking me out.  I was jumpy, not sleeping well, and couldn’t stop obsessing about it.  I tried to quickly finish the rest of the book and wanted to convey to SG some basic points, which I did.  She even had some ideas and points to bring up as well.  We discussed:

  • Wherever you are, you can call home at any time.
  • No adult should ever touch (specific parts) or ask you to touch them, watch them, etc.
  • No matter what you want to tell me, I can handle it and I will believe you.
  • You are the most important person to me and you matter.
  • When you feel uncomfortable about someone, trust yourself and get away.
  • When you are ready to learn ways to protect yourself, we will learn together.

I feel better that we’ve had this discussion and that it’s something on her radar.  I hope just being aware of some dangers but also learning to trust her inner voice might help her.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Thanks for reading!

Related resources:

Child Lures website with free downloads, parent resources, as well as materials for schools and religious organizations with the goal of helping to prevent crimes against children and youth through education and awareness.  (I ordered the Parent Guide.)

Ellen Snortland’s Beauty Bites Beast – Parents must first un-teach the cultural lesson that girls are not able to defend themselves.  “It’s not a how-to book,” she writes, “but a ‘How Come?’ book.  Snortland says that self-defense training for girls should be as automatic as teaching them to swim, and the best place to get that training is from IMPACT or KIDPOWER.

(If you’re raising boys, maybe this one would be helpful: Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood by William Pollack.)

IMPACT for Kids Age-appropriate personal safety education classes work to strengthen children’s emotional and psychological integrity and focus on developing smart safety habits when dealing with strangers and people they know.

Kidpower International

The National Center for Victims of Crime has specific recommendations on what to talk to kids about.

Finally, as promised, De Becker’s test of what children would ideally know before they are ever alone in public.

1. How to honor their feelings—if someone makes them uncomfortable, that’s an important signal; 2. You (the parents) are strong enough to hear about any experience they’ve had, no matter how unpleasant; 3. It’s okay to rebuff and defy adults; 4. It’s okay to be assertive; 5. How to ask for assistance or help; 6. How to choose who to ask; 7. How to describe their peril; 8. It’s okay to strike, even to injure, someone if they believe they are in danger, and that you’ll support any action they take as a result of feeling uncomfortable or afraid; 9. It’s okay to make noise, to scream, to yell, to run; 10. If someone ever tries to force them to go somewhere, what they scream should include, “This is not my father” (because onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent); 11. If someone says “Don’t yell,” the thing to do is yell (and the corollary: If someone says “Don’t tell,” the thing to do is tell); 12. To fully resist ever going anywhere out of public view with someone they don’t know, and particularly to resist going anywhere with someone who tries to persuade them.

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Garage project #3: last steps and finished product

Catch up on Post #1 (demo) and #2 (foundation and framing)

By December, we were happy to see progress.  Some days were busy, others nobody arrived to work.  There was a general lack of communication we found very frustrating.  One day in January, the electricians showed up and sent me on a rush trip to the hardware store to buy a fan, sconces, garage lights, bathroom vanity light, and an emergency light for behind the garage.  I couldn’t believe it! Some advance notice?

Mid-January, we had painted walls, windows, and flooring.

A topic of much discussion was these posts.  Mr. B and I had seen some posts that were wrapped by wood to resemble actual trees, and we tried very hard to make that happen.  We ended up with hardy planks. The garage door and wood accents were to be stained dark brown, but they ended up mainly red.  I had to get them to do it over.

Our agreement included new concrete for the upper driveway where the electric work happened.  However, the entire driveway needed help, so after pondering pavers, we decided plain concrete was expensive enough.  We said go for it…

We reconfigured the front walk as well to include a curve.

And finally in March, things were done and we fit TWO cars into the new garage!!! That remains a huge triumph 4 months later.  Every time I park in there, I think how nice it is.

And then the floor paint started peeling.

We waited many months… the issue ended up being that the floor should have been primed first because it’s smooth new concrete.  This guy scraped up the entire floor and did it right.

I ordered some cabinets from Home Depot and sent my handyman to help me bring them home.

Besides installing the cabinets, he made this ceiling storage for our hurricane boards.  I was happy to get them out of our sun porch! (You can see this is the peeling floor paint.)

Here’s the finished product:

It’s painted to match the main house.

This is the door to go upstairs.

We shortened our screened in porch by one segment in order to make it easier to go out the double doors and directly across to the office.  We also could go from the garage into these doors if it were raining.

Here’s the side area by the pool.

Where Mr. B makes his magic.  We just got the shades last week.

The rest of the space.  The couch is from Crate & Barrel and opens into a Queen bed.

Exiting and heading back home.

We love how the overhang on the side of the house is shortened.

Thanks for following along!

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Summertime reading: June

I’m not entirely sure where the time went… Yes, it’s summertime and there’s no school, but we have been very busy.  It’s not as if we’re sitting around reading!

Let’s see.  SG is doing various summer reading programs, so we have been to 2 libraries quite a bit lately.  She’s also participating in some local day camps (so far she’s done one at her school and one 2-week theater class).  She persuaded me to let her have some weeks without camp, which have been better than I thought they’d be.  We’ve had slightly too much togetherness for me, but it’s all made great memories and we’ve done some new things around town.  I suppose we’ve mostly been busy with family and friends, which is a good thing.

The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence by Gavin De Becker

While Googling “dangers of kids having YouTube channel” one day, an article recommended this book.  I figured I would read it, and was quickly engrossed in it.  (It has nothing to do with online safety, BTW.)  Many years ago, I felt unwarranted anxiety and fear about violence pretty much all the time.  In the past few months, there has been more than normal activity in our neighborhood and surrounding areas, so this book was timely.

According to Gavin de Becker, everyone can feel safer, act safer, be safer — if they learn how to listen to their own sense of intuition.  Our body and brain have ways of picking up clues and signals before we can logically process them.  His basic premise is that each of us is already an expert at predicting violent behavior.  Many of the signs are there… in this book he teaches us what to pay attention to.

De Becker talks about many dangerous situations people usually face — street crime, domestic abuse, violence in the workplace — and gives examples and advice on the best methods to deal with each of them.  One small example: certain personalities are only encouraged by the attention of things like police involvement and restraining orders.  Highly recommend.

Falling by Jane Green

A likable single woman who never really fit in anywhere travels from England to New York to a small Connecticut waterfront town, where she finds her true self and a new family. Completely predictable, but an enjoyable, quick read nonetheless.

“We make choices about how we want to be seen in the world, but as we grow older don’t we all forget to hold those constructs up, don’t we all start falling into the patterns of our youth? Doesn’t our essence always win out?”

The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

Three sisters called home by their dying mother, lives changing and healing all around.   Because the mother was a working actress when her girls were young, there were many stories about what a selfish and preoccupied mother she was.  It was a great nudge toward being more present in my own life… you can’t get that time with young ones back.

“It doesn’t matter how many years go by, how grown-up we think we are, how much we presume we have changed or evolved, when we are back in our childhood homes, we become exactly who we have always been… we will all just slip back into the roles we have always played, whether we were ever comfortable with them or not.”

Family, forgiveness, self-worth… good themes. Although the book was a bit contrived, I liked the characters. This would be a good beach read.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

We Were the Lucky Ones is the true story of her Polish Jewish family under Nazi occupation. Hunter discovers that her ancestors survived the war that killed over 90 percent of Poland’s Jews.

“The day the Germans marched into Radom, her world was torn to shreds. She’d watched from then on as every basic truth of the life she once knew—her home, her family, her safety—was thrown to the wind. Now, those fragments of her past have begun to drift back down to earth, and for the first time in over half a decade she has allowed herself to believe that, with time and patience, she might just be able to stitch together a semblance of what was. It will never be the same—she’s wise enough to understand that. But they are here, and for the most part, together, which has begun to feel like something of a miracle.”

The individual family story lines during and after the war were very powerful.  It’s well-written, heart-rendering, and amazing all at once.  Highly recommend.

With chapter titles such as “Building an Independent Kid” and “Read to Your Kids For As Long As They’ll Let You,” this book covers it all.  It discusses what Jewish mothers have done over time to raise moral kids who can thrive in a complicated world, which should be helpful to parents of all backgrounds. Ingall offers a consistent framework to build success in others and grounds it in the wisdom literature of Judaism. It’s humorous, relevant, and highly practical.  I strongly recommend this book to any gender and any faith.

“For a people who’ve spent thousands of years seeing themselves as wanderers, what does it mean to have a home? Can we actually chill out? And if we’re actually in a place of ease and comfort where we can have meaningful leadership roles, how do we maintain the energy, creativity, and drive that fueled us for so much of our history as a people in exile? Can Jewish parenting continue to transmit the kind of solid values and flexible thinking that has served Jews well in an ever-changing, uncertain world? Are we doomed to lose the values and attributes that have made us so accomplished and innovative for generations?”

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Pool project #2

Catch up on post #1 if you missed it.

Here we are at the end of October… our backyard was a bit of a war scene.  I was trying to get through the mud every other day to manually water the plants that were left.

November and December was taken up with putting in the travertine around the pool, the concrete deck, and working on the infrastructure of the sewer lines, pumps, etc.

We had this playscape and finally saw that we would not be able to keep it.  First, my sister wanted it and we made arrangements for movers to take it apart, drive it to her house an hour away, and reassemble it.  However, when they came to look at it, they told us that much of the wood around the base was rotted and it wouldn’t be safe to use at all.  We got some good use out of it for 5+ years so that was ok.

I found someone in our neighborhood who wanted to take it and work on making the necessary repairs, so I gave it to them.  They hired the same movers again to come and take it away.  I was happy to give it to a family who would take care of it and appreciate it.

Of course, when they came it was pouring!

Above, our pumps on a platform looking good.  Below, you can see what the garage workers did in order to paint the brick.  Without asking anyone.  That cost several hundred dollars to repair. Grrr.

In February, SG got to pick out a few extra tiles to place around the pool.  She chose 2 little dolphins, 3 colorful fish by the steps, and a starfish on the pool floor.  The plaster took one day in March.

Here it’s finally empty of all the rainwater, mud, and leaves and ready to be filled with water.  It was fun to watch it fill up… took more than 24 hours!

Side story: our area has had some major flooding issues since we live close to a bayou.  Two years in a row, many people have had to rebuild their homes after significant rainfall.  We wanted to be cautious so we put in this detention pond at the side of the house.  It ended up being a swampy mosquito breeding ground.  The plan was to put in a pump.

When the city flood inspector came by, he told us that idea was going to be ineffective. Instead, he asked us to dig up much of our front yard in order to lower the elevation.  What a mess.

Then SG dropped this basket cover and we had to replace that.

Many spa tweaks later, we turned it on and there was a very loud POP.  This black cover had blown off.

Finally, we got to a point where we could shock and treat the water.  The vacuum was hooked up and things got moving…

Well, it turned out that that vacuum never worked.  We waited a month for another vacuum, which required the pump to be changed out.  Meanwhile we dealt with spa jet issues, and many other problems.  As I write this today, the entire system is off because Pump #2 broke out of the blue and started leaking water.  Parts are on order…

Here you can see the Cool Deck surrounding the pool.  We power washed it to get rid of all those stains.

And this is what it looks like at night! We have only used it once at night so far, but it was pretty cool.  We are also waiting for a Pentair rep to come by and fix the lights.

All problems aside, we have been loving having the pool for about 3 months now.  I exercise in it almost every morning and we all love entertaining friends and family in it.

The final pool post will cover landscaping.  Thanks for reading!

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The house of belonging

I created this canvas after watching the “belonging” section of Brené Brown’s “Kitchen Table Parenting” series.

Brené teaches:

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be a part of something larger than us.  Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it.”

“If we don’t offer our kids a sense of absolutely no question, no requirement belonging, they will look for it elsewhere.”

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.”

So I asked my family what they think of when I say the word “belonging” and got some ideas for the canvas.  I put everyone’s phrases in the artwork.

I’ve tried to fit in probably more than I’ve accepted myself.  Maybe we all do that.  Consciously NOT doing that “fit in” dance is such a relief! If we can accept ourselves, we don’t desperately need anyone else’s approval.

I think of all the terrorist, gang members, drug dealers, and criminals who were only seeking a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves.  If only they had found it from something positive instead.

That unquestioning, unwavering, unconditional love is what home should feel like.

The connection that grows between our family is powerful mainly because we are showing each other our true selves.  When we need to put on an act, it’s less true and therefore less of a connection.

Being seen just as you are, flaws and talents, and being accepted no matter what, feels so good!

That love, I think, is what gives us the ability and permission to go forth into the larger world as our true self.

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Garage project #2: foundation and framing

Another one of our delays was that it kept raining! It needs to be dry for 3 days before the guys would come pour the foundation.  At this point, we were at the end of October, having started demo in August.

Once framing began, it came up quickly.

We also took down an extended overhang that required there to be a supporting beam pretty close to our driveway.

I went to a brickyard outside the city to select these… I knew we’d be painting them so I just wanted something that would be similar to what is on our 1961 house.  These were on clearance.

This was around the end of December.  One thing that bothered me was that they were mixing the mortar on my front lawn.  Did the grass die? Yes.

We had hail damage from a storm a year earlier, so we combined the entire project to replace the whole roof.

View from above.  So cool to be able to see from this perspective.  And such a mess!

What to put as our patio ceiling was a bit of a communication gap with the contractor, but they figured it out finally.

And this kept happening.  Every time it rained, water was getting into our sunroom.  Very annoying! Finally we added 2 gutter downspouts but we’d had to wait until the pool deck was in.  

Did you miss the first garage post? Find it here.

Next time: finishing details and how it looks today.

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