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Spidey Sense

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Safe
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

One day during the summer, I took the kids to a playground in a part of town I hadn’t been to before. The venue had been suggested for a meetup with some other friends, but it was clear before I left the house that nobody else was likely to make it. Never mind, I thought, we’ll check out somewhere new. It’ll be an adventure, I said.

The route was straightforward and we were there in about fifteen minutes. There was plenty of space to park, a lovely new-looking pirate-ship shaped playground structure, clean bathrooms, and a river view. There were some other children at the playground and everyone had a good time for a while, until we got hungry.

We took our lunches over to the picnic tables. I noticed some people sitting at the tables were older men, smoking, not seeming to have anything to do with the children at the playground. Not to put too fine a point on it, they looked somewhat homeless. We sat at a further away table without making any avoidance too obvious – it was reasonable to want a clean table in the shade. My kids and I had a little discussion about smoking. Apparently they lead a sheltered existence, because they don’t see it very often so they always feel the need to comment, and then I have to agree that smoking is bad for you but that it’s often hard to stop once you’re in the habit, in case those people are listening and taking umbrage.

A group of summer-camp kids and their supervisors came along and started unpacking lunches at the tables beside us. This was obviously a perfectly safe area. But I was starting to feel a little uneasy, nevertheless.

A little further along the waterfront I could see another playground – one of those red and yellow plastic ones you can see for a long way. It looked cheerful and I suggested we check it out rather than going back to the pirate ship, since our friends were clearly not coming and the other children playing there seemed to have gone home. My son wanted to walk the fairly short distance, but I insisted on going back to get the car and driving down to the parking lot beside the other playground. I said it was because we had to put our lunch things back in the car anyway, but the truth, which I was still only half admitting to myself, was that I wanted to know I had a quick exit strategy, just in case the other playground turned out to be not so child-friendly.

I drove the scant quarter mile along the road, with the seven-year-old laying the blame for global warming squarely at my feet all the while. As we turned into the second parking lot, I took in a few details. The building beside the playground seemed to be derelict, but a young man was standing on the steps. Loitering, you might almost say. There was a truck with a worker loading or unloading something park-related and official around the side. As we approached the playground, I registered the following:

  1. The swings and slides were in some disrepair.
  2. There were no children to be seen.
  3. The only other cars in the parking lot were two parked beside each other with open doors and one person in each, conversing, or exchanging illegal substances for money, or something. 

Now, I’m not the most noticing of people, and I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but something about fact number three there just screamed “drug deal” to me. I swung all the way around the parking lot and smoothly back out again and announced that we were going home, actually. The four-year-old in the back (who had fed all her lunch to the geese) exploded with misery, and the seven-year-old wasn’t far behind. Being driven slowly past an enticing new playground and then whisked away was high on their list of atrocities, but I just didn’t feel comfortable and no amount of wailing was going to induce me to stay.

As we drove away and the indignant cries died down, as I – incidentally – missed the on-ramp I needed and started to get lost in an unfamiliar part of town that I was noticing looked more and more sketchy, I took the opportunity to explain to my kids the importance of listening to your Spidey Sense.

My invoking the webbed wonder made them stop and pay attention. Your Spidey Sense, I told them, lets you know when things aren’t right. Listen to it. If you feel uncomfortable in a place, or with a person, even if it’s a grown up who’s supposed to be in charge of you, that’s your Spidey Sense telling you to leave. Even if you can’t see anything wrong, if you know there’s no logical reason to feel that way, just go.

So I explained the things that had made me uncomfortable in that place – the possibly homeless men, the derelict building, the absence of other children at the unmaintained playground – and I told them that I felt it wasn’t a safe place for us to be, and that was why we’d left. (I didn’t mention the drug deal. It might have been a perfectly innocent job interview. Or something.) They listened, they took it in, and they stopped calling me the worst mother ever for leaving a set of swings unswung in.

Two children on a tyre swing at a playground
Not the playground in question

I haven’t read The Gift of Fear, but I know that listening to your Spidey Sense, or however the author may term it, is a vital message of the book. And, though I’ve been lucky enough never to have found myself in a situation I couldn’t get out of, the older I get, the more credit I give to my gut feelings. It’s never too early to teach your children to trust their instincts. It might just keep them safe.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon September 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Stranger Danger — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her approach to the topic of “strangers” and why she prefers to avoid that word, instead opting to help her 4-year-old understand what sorts of contact with adults is appropriate and whom to seek help from should she ever need it.
  • We are the FDA — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger makes the case that when it comes to food and drugs, parents are necessarily both their kids’ best proponent of healthy eating and defense against unsafe products.
  • You Can’t Baby Proof Mother Nature — Nicole Lauren at Mama Mermaid shares how she tackles the challenges of safety when teaching her toddler about the outdoors.
  • Bike Safety With Kids — Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs shares her tips for safe cycling with children in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • Watersustainablemum explains how she has used her love of canoeing to enable her children to be confident around water
  • Safety without baby proofing — Hannabert at Hannahandhorn talks about teaching safety rather than babyproofing.
  • Coming of Age: The Safety Net of Secure AttatchmentGentle Mama Moon reflects on her own experiences of entering young adulthood and in particular the risks that many young women/girls take as turbulent hormones coincide with insecurities and for some, loneliness — a deep longing for connection.
  • Mistakes You Might Be Makings With Car Seats — Car seats are complex, and Brittany at The Pistachio Project shares ways we might be using them improperly.
  • Could your child strangle on your window blinds? — One U.S. child a month strangles to death on a window blind cord — and it’s not always the obvious cords that are the danger. Lauren at Hobo Mama sends a strong message to get rid of corded blinds, and take steps to keep your children safe.
  • Tips to Help Parents Quit Smoking (and Stay Quit) — Creating a safe, smoke-free home not only gives children a healthier childhood, it also helps them make healthier choices later in life, too. Dionna at Code Name: Mama (an ex-smoker herself) offers tips to parents struggling to quit smoking, and she’ll be happy to be a source of support for anyone who needs it.
  • Gradually Expanding Range — Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook explains how she is increasing the area in which her child can walk alone, a little bit at a time.
  • Safety Sense and Self Confidence — Do you hover? Are you overprotective? Erica at ChildOrganics discusses trusting your child’s safety sense and how this helps your child develop self-confidence.
  • Staying Safe With Food Allergies and Intolerances — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is sharing how she taught her son about staying safe when it came to his food allergies.
  • Don’t Touch That Baby!Crunchy Con Mom offers her 3 best tips for preventing unwanted touching of your baby.
  • Playground Wrangling: Handling Two Toddlers Heading in Opposite Directions — Megan at the Boho Mama shares her experience with keeping two busy toddlers safe on the playground (AKA, the Zone of Death) while also keeping her sanity.
  • Letting Go of “No” and Taking Chances — Mommy at Playing for Peace tries to accept the bumps, bruises and tears that come from letting her active and curious one-year-old explore the world and take chances.
  • Preventing Choking in Babies and Toddlers with Older Siblings — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now gives tips on preventing choking in babies and toddlers along with Montessori-inspired tips for preventing choking in babies and toddlers who have older siblings working with small objects.
  • Keeping Our Children Safe: A Community and National Priority — September has many days and weeks dedicated to issues of safety; however, none stir the emotions as does Patriot Day which honors those slain the terrorist attacks. Along with honoring the victims, safety officals want parents to be ready in the event of another disaster whether caused by terrorists or nature. Here are their top tips from Mary at Mary-andering Creatively.
  • A Complete Family: Merging Pets and Offspring — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the ground rules that she laid out for herself, her big brown dog, and later her baby to ensure a happy, safe, and complete family.
  • Be Brave — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about helping her kids learn to be brave so that they can stay safe, even when she’s not around.
  • Catchy PhrasingMomma Jorje just shares one quick tip for helping kids learn about safety. She assures there are examples provided.
  • Know Your Kid — Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassfras refutes the idea that children are unpredictable.
  • Surprising car seat myths — Choosing a car seat is a big, important decision with lots of variables. But there are some ways to simplify it and make sure you have made the safest choice for your family. Megan at Mama Seeds shares how, plus some surprising myths that changed her approach to car seats completely!
  • I Never Tell My Kids To Be Careful — Kim is Raising Babes, Naturally, by staying present and avoiding the phrase “be careful!”

My little gastronomes

Welcome to the June 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting in Theory vs. in Reality
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants are sharing how their ideas and methods of parenting have changed.

“I’ll never cook a separate meal for my children,” I said, back in those innocent days when my firstborn was growing apace, nourished by nothing more than his mama’s milk, as I thought scornfully of other families I’d seen doing just that. “Why should they need different food? Children’s menus are an abomination. He’s going to be a little gastronome.”

I love food. I have a (fairly) healthy and varied diet. I enjoy vegetables, with broccoli right up there at the top of my list, and kale a new entrant not far behind. I enjoy cooking and baking, sweet and savoury. I like to make Indian food, Italian, Tex-Mex. I have eaten Korean and Ethiopian, Mongolian and French. I own a tagine, and I’ve used it too.

My children, I thought loftily, will not suffer as I did at the hands of their grandmother. My mother, a wonderful woman, was not a natural cook. She likes to say that some are born cooks, some achieve cookery, and some – like her – have cookery thrust upon them. She fed me and my father admirably for many years, with wholesome home-cooked food that was often not burned. But my parents come of meat-and-two-veg stock, where one veg is always a potato. “Meat” includes fish (on Fridays), but vegetarian meals are unheard of, unless you’re actually one of those odd people, a vegetarian. “What did the good Lord put animals on the earth for if not for us to eat?” she’ll ask you. I stopped getting into that argument a long time ago.

When I have children, I thought, I’ll cook nice food.

And now I do cook nice food. My husband can vouch for it. He’s a wonderful and appreciative audience. Our kids, however, not so much.

Baby feeding himself peas (maybe)
I don’t think a single pea went in, then or since.

I conveniently forgot that before my foodie-esque incarnation, I was a pretty fussy eater, and it had little or nothing to do with my mother’s cooking: I was just made that way. I still remember the first time I tasted a pea (and swallowed it whole so it would go quicker). I remember putting sugar on raw tomatoes in salads to make them more palatable. I remember picking the chunks of beef out of the sauce of the stew, carefully scraping off any vestige of onion or whatever else might have been there. I remember the day I finally tasted a burger, and I’m pretty sure I was in double digits by then.

My husband too, it turns out, was a picky eater. As number five of five, he probably didn’t encounter much pushback from his parents, who I’m sure had stopped noticing by then. If you didn’t eat it, one of your siblings picked up the slack pretty quickly.

So of course, genetically as well as karmically, we were quite likely to produce a couple of picky eaters between us.

I started out as well as I could with my children. I ate lots of vegetables in my pregnancies. (And a fair number of toasted waffles and chocolate milkshakes too.) I breastfed my kids exclusively for the first six months, and continued well (very well) into “extended” territory. I introduced fruits and vegetables early. I provided them with a variety of attractive options. I read Ellyn Satter.

If my second child had been my first, I would probably describe her as a picky eater. As it is, I’m delighted that she eats a broad range of things: pizza, pasta (one brand only), scrambled eggs (sometimes), cheese (-sticks), baked beans, sausages, chicken (but never in nugget form), apples, strawberries, broccoli, even. (Yay broccoli!) That’s about it, mind you. Nothing with a sauce, nothing mixed together, nothing differently made, at the moment. She’s four. I think that’s how they are.

Small girl with slice of pizza
Healthy meal. That’s not even chocolate milk.

Her big brother, though, is far worse, and subsists on a diet of peanut-butter sandwiches, breakfast cereal, milk, and crackers. He’s a self-proclaimed vegetarian, except that he won’t eat a vegetable. In the past few months we’ve had some steps forward with tiny bites of raw carrot, some apple, a few grapes: these are a big deal for my seven-year-old. (Yes, he’s seven. This has been going on a long time. Even as a baby, when they eat everything, he was resistant to tasting things.)

My son is healthy and growing. He’s rarely sick, and he’s right at the 50th percentile on the growth charts, where he’s been since he was about 9 months old. The doctor encourages him to eat some fruits and vegetables, but beyond that she’s not particularly worried about him.

I have, of course, spent many fruitless (hah) hours obsessing over his diet, coming up with plans and sticker charts, blogging, enquiring, self-flagellating, wheedling, putting my foot down, and generally worrying about all of this – but in the end, I had to accept that eating, like sleeping and pooping, is just one of those things you can’t make someone else do. I cook a nice dinner for the grownups every night, our daughter might eat some of it or something else reasonably decent, and the boy has another peanut butter sandwich.

The good food is in the house. He sees it, he smells it, (he gags and removes himself to the other room), he knows what it’s called. He sometimes even helps cook it. He has no interest in eating it, most of the time, though now and then he announces that he wants to taste, say, lettuce, and I give him a bit and he nibbles it and recoils in horror.

I have taken all my assumptions about how to get children to eat healthy food and tossed them overboard. My son is a smart kid, he loves school, he’s growing and healthy and fast and strong. He eats what he eats, and it sustains him. He’s a pain to take on vacation or out for a meal, but such is life. I have faith that he’ll get around to eating more variety some day, and we’ll let him get there and welcome him with open arms and a full plate when he does.

Just don’t tell my mother he’s a vegetarian. She won’t understand.

Boy eating sliced apple
Then he sat down and ate an entire apple, just like that.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Know Better, Do Better. Except When I Don’t. — Jennifer from True Confessions of a Real Mommy was able to settle in her parenting choices before her children arrived, but that doesn’t mean she always lives up to them.
  • Judgments Made Before Motherhood — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks back on her views of parents she came in contact with before she became a mother and how much her worldview of parenting has changed!
  • A Bend in The Road — Lyndsay at ourfeministplayschool writes about how her visions of homeschooling her son during the elementary school years have changed drastically in the last year – because HE wants to go to school.
  • I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals — While Dionna at Code Name: Mama loves reading about parenting, she’s not found any one book that counts as an instruction manual. Every child is different, every family is different, every dynamic is different. No single parenting method or style is the be-all end-all. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if parenting were like troubleshooting?
  • The Mistakes I’ve Made — Kate at Here Now Brown Cow laments the choices she made with her first child and explains how ditching her preconceived ideas on parenting is helping her to grow a happy family.
  • I Only Expected to Love… — Kellie at Our Mindful Life went into parenting expecting to not have all the answers. It turns out, she was right!
  • They See Me Wearin’, They Hatin’ — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different contemplates putting her babywearing aspirations into practice, and discussed how she deals with “babywearing haters.”
  • Parenting Human BeingsErika Gebhardt lists her parenting “mistakes,” and the one concept that has revolutionized her parenting.
  • Doing it right: what I knew before I had kids… — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud, guest posting at Natural Parents Network realises that the number one game in town, when it comes to parenting, is judgement about doing it right. But “doing it right” looks different to everybody.
  • A synopsis of our reality as first time parents — Amanda at My Life in a Nut Shell summarizes the struggles she went through to get pregnant, and how her daughter’s high needs paved the way for her and her husband to become natural parents.
  • Theory to Reality? — Jorje compares her original pre-kid ideas (some from her own childhood) to her personal parenting realities on MommaJorje.com.
  • The Princess Paradigm — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen had planned to raise her daughter in a sparkly, princess-free home, but in turn has found herself embracing the glitz.
  • Healthy Eating With Kids: Ideal vs. Real — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs had definite ideas about what healthy eating was going to look like in her family before she had kids. Little did she realize that her kids would have something to say about it.
  • How to deal with unwanted parenting advice — Tat at Mum in Search thought that dealing with unwanted parenting advice would be a breeze. It turned out to be one of her biggest challenges as a new mum.
  • How I trained my 43 month old in 89 days! — Becky at Old New Legacy used to mock sticker charts, until they became her best friend in the process of potty training.
  • My Double Life: Scheduling with Twins — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot was banging her head against the wall trying to keep up with the plan she made during pregnancy, until she let her babies lead the way.
  • Parenting in the land of compromise — As a holistic health geek trying to take care of her health issues naturally, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama regrets that her needs sometimes get in the way of her children’s needs.
  • Practice Makes Good, Not Perfect — Rachael at The Variegated Life comes to see that through practice, she just might already be the parent she wants to be.
  • 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering: How to Free Yourself and Your Family — Sheila Pai at A Living Family shares in theory (blog) and reality (video) how she frees herself from 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering that can damage the connection, peace and love she seeks to nurture in her relationships with family and others.
  • 5 Things I Thought MY Children Would Never Do — Luschka at Diary of a First Child largely laughs at herself and her previous misconceptions about things her children would or wouldn’t do, or be allowed to do.
  • Policing politeness — Lauren at Hobo Mama rethinks a conviction she had about modeling vs. teaching her children about courtesy.
  • The Before and The After: Learning about Parenting — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work reminisces about the perspective she held as a young adult working with children (and parents) . . . before she became a mother.
  • Parenting Beliefs: Becoming the Parent You Want to Be — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how we can make a mindful decision to become the parent we want to be. Decisions we make affect who we will become.
  • The Great Breastfeeding Debacle — In Lisa at The Squishable Baby’s mind, breastfeeding would be easy.
  • What my daughter taught me about being a parentMrs Green asks, “Is it ever ok to lock your child in their bedroom?”
  • Sensory Box Fail! — Megan at The Boho Mama discovers that thoughtful sensory activities can sometimes lead to pasta in your bra and beans up your nose.
  • Montessori and My Children – Theory vs. Reality — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares her experiences with Montessori parenting and describes the results she sees in her now-adult children.
  • I Like The Mother I Am Now More Than The Mother I Intended To Be — Darcel at The Mahogany Way thought she would just give her kids the look and they would immediately fall in line.
  • How I Ended Up Like My Tiger Mom With Peaceful Parenting — Theek at The Laotian Commotion somehow ended up like her Tiger Mom, even though she purposely tried for the complete opposite as a peaceful parent.