Monthly Archives: August 2008

Stranger Danger: How and When Do You Teach This to Your Kids?

A couple weeks ago, Andrew received an email from a female work associate of his.  In the message, a terribly frightening situation was detailed in which the woman’s daughter was approached by a stranger while the chid was playing on the “ride on” cars in the front of a Wallmart.  The man apparnetly tried to get the little girl to go out to his car with him to “see his puppy.”  Luckily, the little girl’s nanny was close by, intervened, and the girl remained safe.

After reading about this–an occurrence in a mid-sized Montana town much like where we live– I took the opportunity to talk with my kids about what they should do if a stranger approaches them and tries to entice one of our kids to go somewhere with him or her.  At the time, my kids were repeating the correct answers like little parrots.

Then, today happened.

I had all three children with me when I went to a little off the beaten path flower nursery where I knew one could get a heck of a deal on late season perennials.  The woman who runs the place got out a few toys for my kids to play with–along with what I assumed was her ~ 8 or 9-year-old grandson.  As I completed choosing my flowers and paying for them–I noticed Landon, our 3 1/2-year-old son, was missing.  I thought he was just around the corner from where I was completing my transaction and, quite frankly, wasn’t terribly worried as there was no one else around that I knew of.

But as I prepared to load my flowers into the car, I still didn’t see him.  I looked and called his name over and over–but still no Landon.

The woman from the nursery (ok, it’s really a couple of green houses beside a large garage/shop off to the side of a gravel road along the Gallatin River) said to me, “oh, they’re probably just off looking at the train in the train room.”  Train room?  What train room?

As I turned around to collect my other two, kids and go look for Landon, the woman also disappeared.  Suddenly I was standing in a dirt parking lot with two of my three kids, nearby a river and a lot of thick trees…and I had no idea where to look.

“Mommy, I think the lady went that way,”  Ellie offered, pointing to a non-discript pathway to the left of the garage/shop.  I followed her suggestion, calling Landon’s name, becoming more frightened and confused.  Suddenly a little wood cabin/house came into view through the trees, and a man was walking out the front door.  He half smiled at me, and said, “they’re in there.  You can go ahead on in if you like.”  Finally, I heard Landon’s voice coming from inside the cabin.

Now, I was about to walk into some strangers’ home with my other two kids, trying to collect (and ensure the safety of) the third.

The home was one of those places with piles of…stuff…everywhere–with only a narrow path through the stacks of papers and clothes and toys and…I don’t even know what all.  I followed the sound of Landon’s voice to a back bedroom, and there he was:  playing with an electric train with a boy probably three times his own age, and the woman from the flower nursery.

And you want to know what was worse beyond my fear of the whole situation?  My concern for social politeness!  I was embarrassed to be walking through the home of these people I didn’t even know.  I was too embarrassed to show the fear I felt inside–not wanting to offend them by assuming they could potentially be the child molesters or kidnappers that they…potentially could be.  I let Landon play for another minute, and then made an excuse that we had to get going for Gabe’s nap.  We politely said good bye and thank you, and returned to (the safety of) our car.  I let politeness overrun my motherly instinct!

In all likelihood, the boy and what I think were his grandparents probably were just a few really nice, hospitable people that recognized a little boy who’d enjoy playing with a train set.  But what if they weren’t?  What if, in those three or four or five minutes that I couldn’t locate my son, the man that came out of the house had crammed my baby boy into the trunk of a car and driven off?  What if?

This all resonates deeply with me because, when I was maybe a little older than Landon is now, my sister and I were approached by a strange man while we were playing on a playground–with our dad playing tennis on a nearby tennis court.  The guy asked me if I wanted to follow him into some bushes where he would give me some candy.  I started to follow.  My sister grabbed my hand and ran.

How and when do you, as parents, talk to your kids about this stuff?  And to what extent?  Even before the conversation I had with them, prompted by my husband’s business colleague’s email, I’ve talked with my older two a little bit about never going somewhere with a stranger, etc.  But today, those few conversations proved to be unfruitful thus far.  So how far DO I TAKE IT?  I hate the thought of raising children in fear of every single solitary unfamiliar person they meet.  But, I hate worse the thought of one of my three children becoming the next Elizabeth Smart…or worse.

So, what’s a parent to do?

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Filed under From One Mother to Another, Kids, Living

Teaching Gender Roles

We are an equal opportunity household…I think.  In lieu of this fact, Andrew and I have been very careful to neither encourage nor discourage the playing with of certain toys for certain children, based on gender.  Our daughter is just as likely to place race cars and soccer as our son is to dust his cheeks with my make-up brushes and dress up like a princess.  And vice versa (visa versa?).

Like this morning, for example.

Admittedly, under the influence of his older sister, middle child Landon was dead-set on wearing Ellie’s three-year-old red satin and black velvet Christmas dress plus some pink clog-type shoes, while we were out in town running errands.  I have to admit–I did try a little to suggest he put on some shorts and a t-shirt.  But he was determined.  And so the smarter parent inside of me, the one that knows the harder you push your child away from something, the faster he will run toward it, said (in not so many words) ‘what the hell.’  And off we went–Ellie and Landon dressed for their “Princess Ball” and Gabe dressed as…well, just Gabe.

The guy at the mailbox store thought it was funny.

The guy we were in line behind at the grocery store was confused.

The lady at the dry cleaners…I couldn’t tell if she was amused, or concerned.
“Oh, my!  Look at the beautiful princesses!”  (She looks once.  She looks again.)  “Are they all girls?”
Without so much as a break in stride, I answered, “no, actually only one of them is a girl.  The the other two are boys.  He (referring to Gabe) is just a pretty boy, and he (nodding toward Landon) is playing princesses with his older sister.”

The lady smiled politely, and just kept looking.  And looking.  I have to admit–the electric blue basketball jersey Landon had on over the top of the dress did make the whole thing a bit confusing.

Then, the lady came in close and kind of whispered to me, “does his father mind?

I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head ‘no.’

And anyway, what’s there to mind?  Not that I have a crystal ball or anything, but I very much doubt that, because my son where’s a fancy dress around once in a while…my three-year-old son…that he will automatically end up gay because of it.  And you know what?  So what if he did?  I sure as hell wouldn’t love him any less.

I do not think you can dictate a person’s eventual sexual preference by controlling (or not controlling) the kind of toys they play with, the activities they engage in or the clothes they wear at an early age.  I’m sure there are plenty of gay men out there who played with GI Joes as a child, and plenty of Lesbians who only played with dolls and other typically “girly” things.

Now, mind you, here in Montana…you may be slightly less likely to see little boys being allowed to wear dresses and fancy shoes around than in some other locales around the country.  But, I don’t mind being the one to buck the system a little.

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The Art of Dialog

For a writer, nailing dialog can be an uphill battle.  When you’re writing fiction, in particular; responsible for the entire creation of your characters…down to their habits and quirks and, yes, the way they speak…constructing believable and consistent dialog can be really tough.

I’m not exactly talking about punctuation and grammar…let’s assume a writer has those things down pat.  What I’m referring to is finding a way to create conversation between characters that flows like real life conversation–including the pauses, dialectical nuances and sometimes even using slang that convinces your reader(s) that: 1) you know what you’re doing as a writer, and 2) your characters are believable enough that your reader doesn’t have that nasty little voice in her head saying, “no one would ever say something like that.  That’s ridiculous!”

Most importantly, dialog–if done poorly–can kill a book in a matter of minutes.  Who wants to read a story that’s full of 1950s dialog style:

“Hello, Mary,” said Jane.

“Hello, Jane,” said Mary.

“That’s a darling blouse you have on,” said Jane.

“Why, thank you, Jane.  It’s so lovely of you to notice,” said Mary.

I write about all of this because yes, once again, I have been inspired by one of my children!  (And also, having just completed the first draft of a new novel–a book written in the first person, and narrated by a seventeen-year-old boy–I am entrenched in trying to get dialog “just right.”)

The other morning Ellie, now 5 1/2, was preparing for a play date with her best friend, Claire.  The play date–a princess tea party, of course–was set for 2:30 in the afternoon.  Ellie was getting herself all ready for the big event at 8:30 in the morning.

Having selected the “perfect” princess dress to wear, set the little kids’ table with plastic plates, paper cups, and an array of plastic food from her little kitchen set (don’t get me started on the whole plastic thing.  Believe me–every time I get rid of a bunch of plastic toys, another batch comes our way via well-meaning friends and family for birthdays, holidays, etc.) she discovered an old telephone receiver that has since become a play phone–and got Claire on the line.

“Hello, Claire?” (long pause)
“This is Ellie.”  (long pause)
“Yes, me too!” (long pause)
“Oh you are?  You’re going to wear your Sleeping Beauty dress?”  (pause) “And your Sleeping Beauty shoes, too?” (longer pause)  “Me too!  I’m going to wear MY Sleeping Beauty outfit!  We’ll be twins!”  (long pause)
“Uh, huh.” (pause)
“Ok.” (pause)
“What did you say, Claire?  I couldn’t hear you, Landon is being too loud…Landon!  Be quiet, I’m on the phone with Claire!!!”
So…you get the picture.  (by the way, I’m sorry for all the italics, here.  My computer is slowly dieing and things like this are beginning to happen, like not being able to turn off the damned italics!)
But as I listened to my daughter conduct her pretend–but very well pretended–telephone conversation with her best friend, it occurred to me:  Had I not known the telephone was for play, I would have totally and completely believed she was having a real-live conversation with someone other than herself!  She nailed the dialog PERFECTLY.  (Of course, once I got over being totally and thoroughly impressed with my daughter’s obvious skill and talent…I had a minor panic attack; realizing what I was really witnessing was a prelude to the teenage years when the telephone will surely be stuck to her ear on a fairly permanent basis.  Good God, I am not ready for that!)

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Filed under Kids, Writing and Publishing

Tyrany, and Presidential Campaigning, According to a Five-Year-Old: The Stuff Writer’s Inspiration is Made Of

This past week, we started giving our five-year-old an allowance.  It may seem a bit early for this, but we’re really doing it to start teaching her about saving money, and especially advancing her understanding of how money works, as she’s started asking questions about the value of a dollar, vs. a quarter, etc.

So, in exchange for three simple jobs a day (make her bed, set the table for dinner, clean up the toys in her room at the end of the day), she earns $5/week.  And of that $5, she will deposit half of it in the savings account we will set up at the bank today.  (We tried to set it up yesterday, but disappointingly discovered the bank closes at 4:00pm.  Who in the hell closes business at four pm on a week day?  Is this what “banker’s hours” means?  Ridiculous!)

So, instead of actually getting to deposit her first half-allowance installment into her savings account, we just picked up some moula via the cash machine, and drove back home.  I gave Ellie her first five dollar bill, which sparked a rambling conversation:

“Mommy, who’s this a picture of?”

“That’s Abraham Lincoln.  He was president of our country a long, long time ago.”
From Landon, the three-year-old:  “Did he die, Mommy?”  (he is in the fascinated-with-death stage; typical of kids his age, right now)
“Yes, Honey. ”
“Why did he die?”
“Well, Landon.  Someone actually shot him with a gun.  That’s why Mommy tells you guns aren’t safe.”  (I know, I know…it’s the people that use the guns that are sometimes unsafe.  Believe, here in Montana, that message is broad cast near and far)

“Oh…that’s sad, Mommy.  I wish he didn’t die.”

At this point, Ellie perks up and rejoins the conversation.  “Maybe the person who shot him wanted to be president.  Maybe that’s why he shot him.”

Hhhhmmm, I’d never heard that theory about John Wilkes Booth himself before…despite controversy about him potentially being a hired gun…but maybe she’s got a point there.

Our conversation went on to include a Poli-Sci 101 discussion of how the presidential election works, and whether or not there’s ever been “a girl president” before.

“No, Ellie there hasn’t.  But we got really close this time around.  There was a woman running for president this time who got really close to the end of the…contest.”

Ellie thinks this one over for a while.
“Could I do that some day?”
“You mean become president?  Of course, Honey.  Of course you could be president some day!”

“But I’d have to learn all sorts of important things to talk about, right Mom?”
“You mean during the presidential campaign?  Yes, you would.”
So Ellie starts planning out what her stump speech would include.
“So, I could talk about drawing, and jump roping, and how to be good…”
“You mean, during your campaign speeches?”
“Uh, huh.”
“Sure, Honey.  You could talk about those things.”
There is a long pause.
“I’d have to learn harder things, wouldn’t I Mom?”
Without wanting to dash her hopes or self esteem, I answer gently, “yes, Honey.  Eventually you would.  But jump roping is good too.”

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Filed under Kids, politics

I Have Seen Beauty…

Before sharing a mantage of photos from our trip to the Glacier Nat’l Park area…let be preface this post by saying: we didn’t find our camera until half way through our trip. Therefore, we missed taking pic’s from our drive up the Road to the Sun, the mountain goats, rams, marmots, ground squirrels, water walls and other amazing views we’d seen earlier in the trip. Nonetheless, I think you’ll enjoy these shots we DID manage to capture…

(click on each photo to see full-sized view)

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Guest Post–The Effects of Other People on Your Writing

I received an interesting message the other day from one of my dedicated readers of this blog. Seeing as I just returned from my own vacation (to the Glacier National Park area…I’ll write more on that later!) with extended family, I found her comments interesting, and wanted to (with her approval) share it with ya’all:

Hey Kimmelin,

So, I’ve just gotten home from a trip to the beach with my husband’s side of the family. I have to admit, right off the bat, my expectations of what I would get out of the trip were probably totally and completely skewed. I brought my computer along with me, hoping to get some writing in during the mornings or evenings when my kids were still sleeping and everyone else was either winding up for…or winding down from the day. But what I didn’t count on was how being around that many people…with that many different personalities and energy levels would affect my writing capabilities! As the week went on, my writing muse went down the drain. There I was, in a beautiful Pacific Ocean beach atmosphere…my kids were happily immersed in days’ worth of playing (and sometimes fighting) with their cousins… occasionally tended to by one of their aunts or uncles or grandparents…I didn’t have to prepare every stinking meal of the day…but my attempts at writing totally and completely sucked! I was so frustrated! I had assumed being on vacation in a lovely setting would be all the impetus I needed to get the new book I’m working on really going…but boy, was I sadly mistaken!

Have you ever experienced this? Not the exact scenario described above, of course. But the fact that the setting and surrounding people can affect your writing so drastically?

Thanks for lending an e-ear.

~ C.D.

Dear C.D.,

Yes, I know exactly what you mean.

Because my writing tends to take place during every nanosecond of spare time I can squeak out of my 24/7 Mommy-on-Call status, I had always thought I could write “anywhere, anytime.” That is, after all, how I have come into my own craft of writing. But I too have had the occasional experience during which the setting, or the surrounding crowd have zapped every creative juice in my body…leaving me dryer than an emptied well in December. My advice? Leave your computer behind next time. Bring a notebook and a couple of really good gel pens along, in case an amazing sentence or paragraph hits…so you don’t lose it…but otherwise, just plan to resume the writing gig when you’re back in your safe place. It’ll save you a lot of writer’s heartache and frustration.

Good luck.

Kimmelin

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