What Are We Teaching Our Kids With Our Reactions to Osama bin Laden’s Death?

I know there’s already been a lot written in response to Osama bin Laden’s death on May 1, but something about it all left me feeling discombobulated since I first read the news (on Twitter). After listening to President Obama’s speech and seeing the celebrations and reactions on Twitter and Facebook that ensued, I felt even more ill at ease and I’m hoping to finally articulate my thoughts.

Justice, not Vengeance

I understand feeling a sense of relief that bin Laden is no longer able to kill innocent people. I understand a need for quiet reflection. I understand feeling a sense of justice. What I don’t understand is crowds of people chanting “USA! USA!” like they are at some kind of sporting event, encouraging your children to wave signs celebrating someone’s death or all of the Tweets and Facebook statuses from people with vengeance coursing through their veins. It disturbed me. What are we teaching our children?

Yes, bin Laden did atrocious things in his life, but by cheering and celebrating his death, are we not stooping to a new low? I admit I did not personally know anyone killed in the 9-11 attacks, so it’s entirely possible that my somber reaction to the news is different than those personally affected. Still, it just doesn’t feel right.

David Sirota of Salon.com has this to say:

This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history — the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.

…our reaction to the news … should be the kind often exhibited by victims’ families at a perpetrator’s lethal injection — a reaction typically marked by both muted relief but also by sadness over the fact that the perpetrators’ innocent victims are gone forever, the fact that the perpetrator’s death cannot change the past, and the fact that our world continues to produce such monstrous perpetrators in the first place.

When we lose the sadness part — when all we do is happily scream “USA! USA! USA!” at news of yet more killing in a now unending back-and-forth war — it’s a sign we may be inadvertently letting the monsters win.

Talking to Kids About Osama bin Laden

What are we teaching our children when we celebrate the death of another human being? Here are a few different thoughts on how to talk to (or not talk to) your children about Osama bin Laden.

  • Annie at PhD in Parenting chose not to talk to her kids about it: Kids and Osama bin Laden
    “Talking to my kids about history is important. Teaching them about diversity and injustices and privilege is important. But purposely opening this particular can of worms and then scaring them by not being able to answer their questions is not something I want to do right now.”
  • Melissa Ford at Stirrup Queens chose to talk to her twins about bin Laden before they heard about it from someone else: Talking to Kids about Osama bin Laden
  • Jenny Lind Schmitt at Psychology Today talked to her kids about it too, hung up an American flag in the house and talked about honoring all of the people that died on 9/11 and since as a result of bin Laden: Osama bin Laden’s Death: What It Means to Kids
  • From Dane Laverty at Times and Seasons: Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden, and the Kids Eat Corn Pops
    “My hope, however, is that it [bin Laden’s death] will serve as a reminder to us that we can be grateful to have the luxury of dealing with the kinds of inconveniences we face here in America, to remind us that early morning seminary and burned cookies are blessings, because they mean that we’re not facing ideological repression and physical starvation.”
  • From Danielle Sullivan at Babble: Kids Cheer In NYC Over Osama Bin Laden’s Death
    “Isn’t celebrating a death the very opposite of what we should do as parents and Americans? I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t feel satisfied or even proud that our country stood up for those who were senselessly killed, but we shouldn’t make it a party, don our kids in hate-filled t-shirts and light fireworks (as they did in my neighborhood).”

As for my kids, I haven’t seen any reason to talk to them about bin Laden at this point. As far as I know, they’ve never heard of him and at ages 4 and 6, I don’t feel like there’s anything they need to know right now. We’ll save that history lesson for when they are older.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

There’s a quote that’s been circulating wildly after bin Laden’s death that was misattributed to Martin Luther King Jr., but is now correctly being credited to Jessica Dovey.

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. — Jessica Dovey

That spoke to me, as it did to so many other people who reposted it on the ‘net causing it to go viral. And it’s so much more eloquent than anything I could come up with myself.

Martin Luther King Jr. has also said several things that really speak to this week’s events. I’ll just share this one.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction….
The chain reaction of evil —
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars —
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strength To Love, 1963

I wish I had some tidy little paragraph to wrap this all up, but I don’t. I only hope and pray that the darkness of our world begins to subside little by little and the love and light shine through. Peace.

Photo credits: Flickr, Josh Pesavento and L.C.Nøttaasen

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The BlogHer ’10 / Nestle sponsorship dilemma

In case you haven’t yet heard/read about what’s going on with the BlogHer ’10 Conference and Nestle (Stouffer’s – one of the many, MANY brands Nestle owns) sponsorship, you might want to check out the posts below:

Due to the news about the Nestle (Stouffer’s) sponsorship – they are one of about 80 companies sponsoring the BlogHer conference this year – I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do about it (whether or not I will attend). I’ve thought a lot about this and gone back and forth on my decision probably 30 times now. Just when I think I’ve made up my mind one way or the other, I read something or talk to someone and I change it. I wish it were a black and white decision, but the more I think about it the more I see there really are several shades of gray here. So for now I’m not saying what I’m doing (because I really just. don’t. know.), but I do want others to be aware of what’s going on so that they may make informed choices on whether or not they want to attend the conference, learn more about Nestle’s unethical business and marketing practices, join the Nestle boycott, read about the infamous #Nestlefamily Twitter-storm of 2009, etc.

Remember, knowledge is power. :)

If you’ve blogged your thoughts about BlogHer and the Nestle sponsorship, please leave a link with the URL in the comments and I will add your post to the list. Thank you!

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The highs & lows of nature and my Earth Day Challenge

Last night the kids, Jody and I enjoyed a show put on by Mother Nature. A rain storm complete with lightning streaking across the sky and rattling thunder was our pre-bedtime entertainment. Thunderstorms are somewhat of a rarity here (or at least it feels like it lately), and I love sitting in the upstairs window seats watching them with the kids. Lightning is nature’s perfect fireworks.


Image credit: Flickr – PeWu

Seeing my kids get excited about the storm – “Oooh, that was a big one!” – made me enjoy the experience all the more. I love it when they appreciate nature, and after being cooped up inside all winter, I’m so glad that spring is here and more nature discovery is on its way.

Earlier this week I read on Mama Milkers Facebook page that her daughter’s class took an impromptu field trip to see the dead gray whale on a beach in West Seattle. What a great opportunity for those children to see a whale up close like that, but also so sad that it died.


Image credit: West Seattle Blog

While the cause of death of the 37-foot near-adult male whale is still unknown, it turns out that he had quite a bit of trash in his stomach, including a pair of sweat pants, a golf ball, 20 plastic bags, small towels, plastic pieces, surgical gloves and duct tape.

How are these two things – the storm and the whale – related? Well, they aren’t directly, but they are both part of nature, part of this planet Earth that we are celebrating today with Earth Day. There’s so much beauty in nature, but there is also so much pollution that is, literally, trashing and killing it. The whale’s death may have had nothing to do with the garbage in his stomach, but many animals’ deaths *are* a direct result of the trash they ingest.

Today on Earth Day, let’s set our differences aside. Regardless of how you feel about climate change, politics or President Obama, perhaps we can all come together to do something positive that makes us feel good about ourselves. We humans have a lot of power. Let’s use it for good.

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – Native American Proverb

I challenge you to give some thought to your daily habits and routines and find one positive change you will make (no matter how small). Do it not to save the Earth – because the Earth is going to be just fine regardless of what we do – but to save ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and all of the animals that have no control over the way humans treat their environment.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated… I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of human kind.” – Gandhi

Will you accept my challenge? What will *you* do?

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When does “safety” prevent learning?

It started off as a unique learning experience for a class of fifth graders at Alpine Elementary School in Longmont, Colo. After receiving a request from the fifth grade teachers for any parents who worked in the medical field to come in and speak to the classes, Ana Williams – a certified nurse midwife and parent of a student in the class – suggested to the teacher that she could discuss placentas and even bring in a donated human placenta to enrich the class’s study on the human body and circulation. According to Williams, the teacher said they had just been learning about blood vessels and thought it would be great.


Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Premasagar

Williams discussed placentas with the class, then showed them the donated placenta (which came from a low-risk mother who tested negative for infectious diseases in all routine prenatal tests) from afar, and then, after donning gloves, students were permitted to view and touch the placenta (if they wanted to) in small groups. After removing their gloves, they immediately washed their hands.

One child in the class took exception to the demonstration and her parents, Michael and Christina Valentine, were shocked when they found out what took place in the classroom. The Valentines – who called the lesson “horrible” and “not age appropriate” – were upset that parental consent was not required in advance and contacted the media. CBS4 Denver did an investigative study about the incident and aired this on the 10 pm news. The piece came across very one-sided and left me wondering what exactly about this story was newsworthy.

According to CBS4:

The St. Vrain Valley School District says it was an “oversight” not to let parents of 5th graders at Alpine Elementary School know in advance that a human placenta was being brought to class as a teaching tool.

“Unfortunately that presentation did not quite follow district protocol,” said district spokesperson John Poynton.” They (the parents) had a right to know in advance and for that we regret that they were not told in advance.”

The Valentines are concerned their daughter could have contracted a blood-borne disease and have since taken her for testing which has come back negative. They plan to have her retested in six months.

According to a letter from principal Dede Frothingham sent home to all Alpine families:

Officials with the Boulder County Health Department and Denver Health have assured me that all the appropriate measures were taken to ensure student safety. Further, Dr. Ned Calonge, Chief Medical Officer with the Colorado Department of Health has also assured the District that the chance of any transmission of a blood borne pathogen is unimaginably low, substantially less than a common nosebleed in class or on the school playground.

Williams also commented, “I would like to stress that none of the children had exposure to any blood borne pathogens. Exposure would involve getting stuck with a dirty needle; blood having contact with their mucous membranes; or blood having contact with an open wound. Of course, none of these things happened. We followed standard precautions and hygiene that are used in the hospital. ”

While the Valentines are upset, several other parents thought the placenta demonstration was a great opportunity for the children and some who’s fifth graders were not in that particular class are disappointed that now their children may not have the same learning opportunity.

Melanie Lambert’s daughter is in the class where the placenta demonstration took place and said her daughter thought it was exciting and cool. Lambert doesn’t feel a permission slip was necessary, but perhaps a lab release at the beginning of the year along with a mention in the newsletter would have been sufficient. Lambert said what concerns her is “how this with affect future ‘future show and tells.’ While parental notice is nice I’d hate to see fear and bureaucracy deny kids the opportunity to learn about something real rather than simply reading about it in a book or seeing a picture on a computer. There are always going to be risk with sending your child to school. Kids are often exposed to ‘bodily fluids.’  Blood, vomit, and feces happen at school. You can either talk to them about how to reduce the risk or keep them home. I’d like to see more parents prepare their children to take the risk.”

Clive Oldfield also has a fifth grader at Alpine. His daughter is in a different fifth grade class, but he wishes she would have had the opportunity to have this “great learning experience.” Oldfield said, “What a perfect opportunity to continue their study of circulatory systems by examining an organ that was donated. Life/nutrition/circulation – how fantastic to have that experience first hand.” Oldfield does not feel parental permission was needed and said, “By sending my child to a public school I expect the child to encounter situations and choices made on my behalf by the school and staff that are: moral, ethical, safe, valued, non-threatening, non-corrupting, age-appropriate and educational. All of these criteria were satisfied by embracing the examination of the donated placenta.”

Kris Koval is another parent of a fifth grader who missed out on the demonstration. She said, “I hope that other learning opportunities to engage in hands on, practical learning will continue to be available to my children throughout their educational career.”

Susan Lynch’s daughter missed out on the experience as well, but Lynch thinks it would have been very beneficial to have the hands-on experience. Lynch sees nothing wrong with exposing fifth graders to a placenta and said, “in 4th grade the students dissect ‘owl pellets’ (which is undigested parts of prey that the owl vomits up). The kids find all the bones in the pellets and put together the skeleton(s) that they find. The students enjoy this sort of ‘hands-on learning’ and come away from this unit of inquiry with a good understanding of the life-cycle, animal adaptations, and a basic bodily process (digestion). Using a placenta as a way to illustrate and discuss circulation seems like a fine ‘hands-on’ learning experience for the kids.”

Lynch adds that there was no discussion of sex or reproduction as a part of this demonstration and she doesn’t think there needs to be. “If a parent brought in a lung or a heart for the kids to look at and touch, would we still be having this discussion? I doubt it. It feels like the controversy is because it was a placenta – something that is connected (although tangentially) to sex, reproduction, and (horrifyingly) BIRTH.”

Personally, I feel that while the school district probably should have notified parents in advance, it was a great learning opportunity for the students, one that I’d be happy to have my children participate in when they are older. I think both the midwife and the teacher were acting with the children’s best interests in mind and never had any intention of jeopardizing anyone’s health, nor do I think (based on the information given to me) that anybody’s health was jeopardized. It seems like an overreaction on the part of the Valentines to contact the media resulted in a shock journalism piece put forth by CBS4.

We all want to keep our children safe, but when safety precautions were taken and the majority of the parents and students found the experience to be a good one, is one set of parents’ squeaky wheel really all it takes to get the media to jump on a story? Why didn’t they interview any parents who supported the demonstration? Why didn’t they show the views of the health professionals who thought there was no problem with it? I’m disappointed in the reporting done by CBS4 Denver.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Happy birthday, Sesame Street!

Thank you, Sesame Street, for providing entertaining and educational quality programing for the past 40 years. I enjoyed growing up watching Big Bird, Grover, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie and the gang, and I love that my kids can still enjoy them (and other lovable characters) today. Unlike other shows on television (even on PBS which is the only station my kids watch), I know I can always trust Sesame Street. I often find myself wanting to watch it too. (I can’t say the same about other kids’ shows.) ;) This is one show I hope never goes off the air.

Happy 40th birthday, Sesame Street. Here’s to 40 more years!

Ava says, this post has been brought to you by the letter Q and the number 5. She would also like to share that her favorite character on Sesame Street is Zoe. Julian’s favorite is Slimey the Worm. :)

Have H1N1 (Swine flu)? Take my survey

It feels like all we are hearing about in the news are the extreme cases of H1N1 (namely the deaths and hospitalizations), and while they are worth noting for sure, they are definitely the minority. Because of this, I decided to create a survey to get information from the masses who have had H1N1 to find out just how it is affecting them.

If you or someone in your family has had H1N1 (either confirmed or suspected), please complete the H1N1 survey. It only takes a couple minutes.

Note: Please complete a NEW H1N1 survey for EACH person who has had H1N1.

Also, please feel free to forward this link on to anyone you know who has had the illness. The more data I can collect, the better. After a few days of collecting data, I will parse it and write a blog post with the results.

Thank you very much for your participation and for sharing the survey with others.

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