Friday, December 13, 2013


A friend of mine recently brought a local news story to my attention. A 16 year old boy got drunk and crashed his truck, killing four people in another vehicle and paralyzing at least one of the passengers in his vehicle. A very serious tragedy. Incredibly sad. But, here's the part of the story that makes it nearly impossible to comprehend: the teenager was sentenced to treatment and 10 years probation. That's it. He chose to drink. He chose to drive. And his choices resulted in ending four people's lives. His defense attorney's argument was that this child was too privileged and never had limits set for him by his parents. They're claiming "Affluenza" as his defense. Is that like declaring "Insanity" only in reference to the defendant's parents? *eye roll* So, because this kid has never been made to take responsibility for his actions he doesn't have to now either? The lesson this boy has been taught is, "You can do whatever you want and literally get away with murder." Literally. Ok, ok ... "Man slaughter" ... 

I understand that the juvenile system is not meant to be punitive. That it is in place to help kids who have made mistakes so that they can become functioning members of society. I completely agree with that. Throwing this boy into jail to rot for several decades is not the answer. Treatment is definitely the best solution... for him. But, what about the grieving families? Innocent people suffering through the loss of their loved ones, left wondering why the person who killed them is being paid such kindness. Keeping him from going to prison and helping him to succeed in the future is about the nicest thing that can be done for this offender right now. Is that what he deserves? 

Ok. So, he's not going to be incarcerated. Fine. He'll get his truck taken away, his license revoked, he'll have to attend treatment, I'm sure he'll have some sort of house arrest situation.... so, basically, he's grounded? Hell, that was my punishment for not doing my chores! "Driving drunk and killing people is very bad behavior, son. Now write that sentence 100 times and no ice cream before bed tonight." Ridiculous! Although, because this kid has never actually been grounded in his life, I am sure this punishment will feel "SO UNFAIR!" 

This teen's lack of parental guidance, boundaries, and consequences growing up is being made the larger issue here. So, can we put his parents in jail? If the argument is that their parenting, or lack thereof, is the ultimate cause of this situation and the child cannot be blamed because he is a victim of his circumstances, then shouldn't his parents be held responsible? If they are the reason he felt it was acceptable to drive drunk then doesn't that make them conspirators in the killing of these people? If the plaintiff is a victim and the defendant is a victim.... then who is the culprit? I realize it's not as black and white as that. That, yes, this teenager probably really is a victim of terrible parenting and that he does need help. But, where does that defense stop? Maybe his parents also come from an affluent family. And their parents. And so on... Maybe the next serial killer in this country will just be "testing boundaries" because his parents never told him not to mutilate innocent people. Somebody has to be made to face consequences - real consequences, not being told "no, no" with the shake of a finger. I am sure the parents will be sued left and right. But, I can also guarantee that that is not a big deal to them. Again, the punishment does not fit the crime. They have, undoubtedly, used their affluence to get them out of sticky situations before. Which only reinforces the negative affects of being affluent. I get in trouble because I have too much money to care and then use that money to get me out of trouble so I can continue not caring. Sounds like a pretty high brow problem to me! Chant it with me... "Jail time! Jail time! Jail time!" Because I am 100% certain that if I got into a vehicle while intoxicated and hit another car causing the passengers to perish, that's exactly where I'd be. Jail. Deservedly so. 

This whole situation is infuriating. And I'm not even one of the people involved! I suppose the only thing I can do is raise my children the complete opposite way. We are definitely not affluent, so that part is not a problem. But, holding my kids responsible for their actions is of the utmost importance. Starting with the smallest offenses and giving them real, consistent consequences. It is actually very hard work for such a simple concept. But, it has to be done. I know they will still occasionally make bad decisions but I hope they will also understand responsibility. 

Monday, December 9, 2013


Once I had children I knew I wanted to teach them something very valuable, especially around the holidays. To give. To give of your heart and your time is always better than to give gifts. Helping others in need is one of the most important things you can do. And, "It is more blessed to give than to receive..." You know, all that "jazz". I want them to grow up serving others a Thanksgiving meal or inviting people into their home. Ideally, there will be a pile of toys and clothes to be donated every Christmas before new items are unwrapped from under our tree. Since the boys were born, I have taken the holiday season as an opportunity to teach them this lesson a total of zero times. Not that I promote the opposite or anything.... it just turns out I didn't have my act together for the last three years. I have made several clothing and food donations since they were born, and Kendan loves helping me bring new neighbors cookies... I just failed to use these as teaching tools for the boys. *Whoops!*

This year is different. Well, not that different since Thanksgiving came and went without so much as a coin dropped in a donation bucket. *Whoops again!* I was informed that our playgroup would be participating in the local Love Pac program this season. This program donates boxes with enough food to feed a family of three siblings every day during the winter break. Families who rely upon the school meal programs for breakfast, snack, and lunch everyday to feed their children, and who cannot afford all of this food on their own. The idea was for each member of playgroup to donate some items to create one or two Love Pacs to donate to a local school. Deciding not to miss this opportunity to teach my kids (well, Kendan, at least) about helping others who are in need, we volunteered. But, I thought that a few canned goods would not drive the point home. No, we needed to do an entire box, by ourselves. 

The day I planned to shop for the Love Pac items I asked Kendan, "Did you know that there are some little boys and girls who don't have enough food to eat at home? And when they are hungry their mommy and daddy don't have food to give them. Isn't that so sad?" I became a little choked up at the thought of my sweet boy standing in front of me asking for something to eat and imagining what I would say to him if I couldn't provide that. He, as sweetly as ever, said, "But, we have a lot of food," and motioned towards the open doors of our pantry. His response could not have been more perfect to highlight the contrast between the two scenarios. I reiterated, "I know we do, but some people don't. So, today, we are going to go to the grocery store and buy lots of food for a family so that they are not hungry." He was happy to get food for another family, but reluctant to agree to go to the store; it's his least favorite activity. He became more excited once he was helping me unload more bags than he's ever seen at once from the car when we returned home. It looked like we were preparing the an apocalypse after our two hours at the store! 
Kendan reviewing the receipt as they went through the bags

The boys among a sea of food... and Damien eating a pretzel because he cannot go five minutes without food, especially while staring at food.

I hope to be able to instill this value for my children year round. But, the holiday season is when enforcing giving is most necessary. Christmas is about getting presents... or at least that is the message that is made very clear to children. Children who are already super psyched to be handed anything with a bow on it. Christmas only accelerates this excitement. Let's take Santa Claus, for example. He brings presents! He's in most Christmas carols on the radio. In countless store fronts. And even on kids' shows on television. We were watching a Mickey Mouse episode in which Christmas wasn't going to come if Santa couldn't be rescued from a mountain top. I announced to Kendan from the kitchen, "That's not true! Christmas will come with or without Santa Claus!" *Ridiculous* Thankfully, we also watched Dr. Seuss's The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I made sure to point out in the end how, even without presents and decorations and food and STUFF, Christmas still came. Whoville still rejoiced. 

We don't actually "do" Santa in our house. He doesn't come down our chimney, we don't leave him cookies, there's no Elf on our Shelf. I promise I don't shuffle around the snowy streets shouting, "Bah humbug!" But, Santa is not a part of our Christmas tradition. He was a major part of my childhood. I loved mailing him lists and the magic surrounding him. But, long after I knew the truth about Claus and long after the quantity of gifts with my name on them was no longer important, I still felt the magic. In fact, I feel it more and from different sources and traditions. I do not reserve judgement for people who do include Santa Claus in their holiday festivities; I grew up believing in him and it was great! I love seeing mall Santa photos with kids screaming on his lap. And, it's not like we can completely escape Jolly Old St. Nick; like I said, he's everywhere. I tell Kendan that Santa is a representation that it is good to give. That some families believe he brings them presents because giving to others is wonderful. But, the idea of having to behave because Santa or his elves are watching so that you can be rewarded with gifts is not the direction I want to go in. a). I want them to behave all year long. And, b). I want them to behave without bribing them with wrapped boxes! *Let's be honest, the bribery happens enough on its own!* And do any parents truly withhold Christmas gifts from their kids if they act like little jerks leading up to the big day? I highly doubt it. Lesson lost. 

Teaching to give when all my three year old wants to do is get is going to be difficult. But, I am hoping to give both of my boys enough examples throughout the year, and especially during the holidays, to help them along. Keeping their ages and attention spans in mind, I am taking small steps to include acts of kindness, donations, and giving of our ourselves in our holidays. Maybe they will cherish gift exchange a little less, hopefully Kendan will remember when we helped to feed a hungry family, and I pray these are traditions they want to continue all their lives. 

"Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand."
-Dr. Seuss