Raising Honest Children in the Age of Trump

January 25, 2019

As a first-time parent it’s been quite the trip watching my daughter’s cognitive development. I started charting it here on this blog but, at almost four-and-a-half, it’s just accelerated to a rate that seems impossible to chart. Last week she appropriately used air quotes and I felt like I had completed my job as a sarcastic father. She’s on her own. I’m quite confident I could drop her off at a faculty cocktail party and she’d be fine. She recently told me, “We don’t say that we hate Donald Trump. We say we don’t like him very much.” Touché, Cozy. Touché.

Which is why part of this stage of development has a troubling facet. Lying. Nothing too big, but she’ll say she washed her hands after going potty and they are perfectly dry. (A tell-tale sign.) Or I’ll ask if she’s picked up her toys and she’ll say yes and I’ll point out all her toys on the floor and she’ll proclaim, “I was just kidding!”

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I’m well aware this is normal for a little kid but biography occurs in the context of history and at the moment the free world is being led by one of the biggest liars in history. The challenge of raising a good child in the era of the bad president will surely be the stuff of many child psychology books to come. How can we bring our children up as decent honest people in the shadow of one of the most loathsome, dishonest, and buffoonish bullies to ever wrap himself in a flag? Even MAGA hat wearing parents must have to tell their kids, “Now just because the president does/says that doesn’t mean you can.” (Although there are probably a few MAGA dads that have said, “Grab ‘em by the pussy, son.”)

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The lies of Donald J. Trump are too voluminous to count. He just makes stuff up on the spot because it sounds good. Just ask him how much his useless vanity wall will cost. It’s something we’ve all done occasionally. We’ve inflated details in a story or thrown out numbers we weren’t 100% sure were accurate. “Yeah, 75 percent of people who vote Republican have never eaten sushi.” Sounds right. But Trump does it every single day. Fact checkers have died of fatigue.

Which makes it harder to convey the importance of truth-telling to our children. In this post-factual world full of massive whoppers (“Global warming is a Chinese hoax!”), fibs and white lies seem almost cute. Truth is a sliding scale. Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” in 2005, but to raise a child in a daily onslaught of “alternative facts” seems impossible. There’s an “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em”” devil on my shoulder that wants to tell my daughter, “Kid, lie your ass off if it gets you what you want. Every one else probably is doing it.”

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Trump is the absolute worst role model for anyone, especially children. He’s a spoiled rich kid who throws tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. He lies pathologically. He bullies relentlessly. And he lives on buckets of KFC and gallons of Diet Coke. I saw him when I was in DC last month in the back of his limo heading towards the White House. I swear he had an Egg McMuffin hanging from his gullet. I haven’t heard what he’s done with Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden but I’m willing to bet that when he’s dragged off the property by the FBI, the CSI team will be digging it up. 

The good news is outside his weird cult of MAGA loyalists, Trump is the perfect boogyman. If I catch Cozy in a lie, I whip out the Donald. “Cozy, you told me you turned off the TV and you didn’t. You know who lies like that? Donald Trump.” The look of horror on her face. It’s also good at dinner time. “You want ice cream for dinner? Do you want to look like Donald Trump?” She races for the carrots. There was a boy who pushed her in her pre-school. I told her to tell him to stop acting like Donald Trump. It shut that shit down.

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I have to wonder about this generation of youth growing up under the specter of the Orange Menace. Whether or not those MAGA hat wearing prep school pricks from Covington Catholic were harassing a Native American elder, they were at a rally to end reproductive choice for women and girls in America (and caught on camera making jokes about rape, and harassing girls, and appearing in blackface at an earlier basketball game). The white parents couldn’t defend them fast enough. (The lead prick’s mother blaming the whole thing on “black Muslims.”) Is this the fate of Generation Z? Or are they the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School taking to the streets to end gun violence? I’ll send Cozy off with them.

Obviously,  Trump’s otherwise occupied parents never told him the story of The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf, but we tell it in our house. We might have a president than believes science is a hoax, journalism is “fake news,” and math is whatever numbers happen to fall out you mouth, but here the ideals of the Enlightenment still matter and this kid will value the truth. “Don’t be like Trump, kids!”

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Baby Brain 3.0: The cognitive space between baby and baccalaureate

November 3, 2017

I’ve been on traveling way too much: Spokane, New York City, Atlanta, Birmingham, Oxford, Georgia and beautiful Lansing, Michigan. Each stop away from my family was an opportunity to remember how much I love them. But I have to admit that sleeping in a hotel bed without a three-year-old climbing under the covers at 4 AM was pretty nice. (If I look like I just rolled out of my bed for my CBS News interview in New York, it’s because I slept in to the last possible minute.) But upon each return, our daughter Cozy seemed like a completely new person.

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There are lots of moments when you realize that baby you swaddled is long gone. The other day Cozy climbed on the toilet all by herself, took a dump, and told us she didn’t need her kiddie potty anymore. (Yes, I wept.) A few weeks ago I was trying to get her to hurry up the steps of her preschool and she responded, “Whatever.”  She has numerous funny voices for different roles she plays. There’s her princess voice and her Hulk voice. We took her to Disney on Ice and she went as Elsa from Frozen and she was totally cool that there were a few thousand other Elsas there. Let it go. It was like she had found her tribe.

Childhood brain development is endlessly fascinating. Cozy seems to have sped through Freud’s anal phase and is almost a year early for the phallic phase. (More on that later.) In Jean Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, she is firmly in the Pre-operational Stage. She is still egocentric, but learning how to see things from others’ perspective. She wants to know why sometimes Abigail pushes her. She’s started using similes. “I can run like a cheetah.” Her language skills are rapidly expanding and she relates most things to yoga poses. Her pre-school had an earthquake drill and the teacher told the kids to climb under their desks and pretend they were turtles in their shells. “Oh, that’s turtle pose,” Cozy said. Her teacher told me that in the middle of an earthquake Cozy had all her classmates doing yoga.

When I look at the characteristics of young preschoolers (age 3-4), some of it seems like old news around her.

  1. Beginning to count objects. (“I want seven quesadillas.”)
  2. Noticing properties of objects and able to sort them. (“Daddy, I put your dirty socks in the garbage.”)
  3. Problem-solving skills like planning and baking. (“Let’s go get ice cream before dinnertime.”)
  4. Interest in their bodies and other living things. (“The cat’s butthole is funny.”)
  5. Understanding the order of events of their day. (“You have to read two stories before I go to bed, not one.”)
  6. Ability to take items apart and attempt to put them back together. (Mom’s make-up kit has been disassembled numerous times.)

On a daily basis I’ll have a “How do you know that?” moment. We were carving our Halloween pumpkin and I was trying to cut a circle in the top so we could scoop out the guts and she said, “Dad, that’s a hexagon.” Seriously, WTF? It’s like the Great Leap Forward of cognitive development. It’s more than a window into what College Freshman Cozy will be like. Her personality seems pretty complete, although I know we’ve still got some work to do. She’s just now started recognizing gender. Yesterday she told me that there are two girls and one boy in our family. I can’t tell what that means other than the boy in the family is not interested in make up, but the two girls are. Cozy and her lip gloss, lordy.

I have to think staying at home with her these three years has helped her brain development. There’s lots of stimulation, between our hikes in Forest Park and trips to the OMSI science center (and okay, the occasional binge on Nature Cat on PBS). Studies have shown that abused three-year olds have significantly less brain mass and fewer cognitive connections. A healthy environment this early will have lifelong benefits. There are still plenty of issues (Please eat what I made for dinner. Please?), but suddenly there’s this third person living in our house who has plenty of opinions and doesn’t need your kiddie potty anymore.

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There was a moment when we were trick or treating that Cozy confidently walked up to a stranger’s door and knocked. Now the reward for that courageous action was a handful of candy but still, I felt like she was already off on her own and was going to be just fine. Baby brain bye bye.

The purpose of this blog post is to document where we is vis-à-vis Cozy’s noggin.

Dad Love 8 – I’m on drugs

June 30, 2016

This whole child havin’ thing is crazy making. You can bounce from bliss to panic in the blink of an eye. It’s not uncommon for me to have already diagnosed myself as bi-polar while most folks are still taking advantage of Happy Hour. I saw a guy at the grocery store today with a tiny baby strapped to his chest and I could tell he hadn’t had more than an hour of sleep in the last month. I laughed out loud. I was there, dude. Now I’ve got a 22-month-old who thinks she’s too big to ride in the baby seat of the grocery cart and attempts to eat all the strawberries before I’ve paid for them (saving me a few pennies over the months, I’m sure). And there’s not a single second that I’m not glad I’ve had every single second.

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People (meaning other parents) told me to hold on for the bridge between 18 months and 2 years. That’s the bridge between a toddling toddler and college prep student. There is a cognitive explosion as words develop meanings and meanings expand. A ball can be both a ball and red. “Out” can mean get me out of the high chair but also let’s outside and start a riot. You can see her brain developing behind her eyes as she starts to make connections. She knows I’m going to laugh when I put her in the carseat and she says, “Hot,” like she’s Eartha Kitt. (We’re in Portland, so 80 degrees is hot for us.) Some words she knows in English, Spanish, and sign language (and possibly robot). I can hardly keep up.

She’s already got a whole parlor act up her sleeve. Just ask her to do her animal sounds. Her elephant is a spot on imitation of a female Sumatran elephant in the mating season. And her pig will just have you rolling on the floor. She’s mastering the fist-bump and trying out word combinations. “All done,” means she equally divided her meal between her tummy and the floor. “Up down,” means she wants me to throw her in the air until I fall down and have a heart attack. And “How about,” means how about you pick out a different book to read, Dad. I’m tired of you massacring the poetic Spanish language of Buenas Noches, Luna.

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Through all this I just mostly stare at her and wonder where she came from. It’s like I’m in some strange dream state. And that’s dangerous because you can let your guard down. The other day we were at the playground and she was spinning around on the merry-go-round. I thought I’d take a Snapchat to send to Andrea at work.  I finished as Cozy was sliding off onto the ground. She seemed okay so I mailed the video away and when I looked up she was gone. As in gone girl gone. I quickly looked under the merry-go-round and she wasn’t there. For a split second I thought maybe she never existed in the first place and this whole “Cozy thing” was just a dream. Then I saw her climbing up the steps of the big slide. A great relief but suddenly I felt like the dad of the 2-year-old who got eaten by that alligator at Disney World. Lesson learned. No Snapchat is worth that terror.

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Our Cozy is already a scholar. She’s fasciated with all manner of flora and fauna. She is obsessed with bees and their love of flowers (which she shares). She will study the plants on our block and in our backyard like she is Meriwether Lewis chronicling each species in the Northwest for President Jefferson. And I just watch. Was I like that before I was 2? I’d like to think I was. I know by 5, I was alone in the woods looking for dinosaur fossils and tadpoles. I only know this kid is going places. How soon does Berkeley start doling out scholarships?

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I stare like I’m a NASA scientist discovering a new life form on Europa. I stare at new expressions on her face while she finds new ways to put her building blocks together. I stare at her smile when she wakes up ready for a new day. “Hi!” she says. I stare at her while she helps her mama with a new painting. I stare at her in the rearview mirror as she sings a little song that I know I’ve never played before. And I still stare at her while she sleeps to make sure she’s still breathing.

I’ve said several times that I didn’t expect to be home this long and the return to work is on the horizon. But this period, the second year, the great leap forward into personhood, is so filled with daily miracles that I’m glad I am here for it. I’m trying to chronicle the fears and joys as best as I can while not taking my eyes off her. Now if I could get her to not throw her lunch on the floor.

There are two points to this blogpost. First is to chart Cozy’s (and my) evolution and the second is just to post a lot of cute pictures of the kid.

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More Baby Brain Wonders – What separates us from the apes? Pickles the Cat.

June 6, 2015

The baby brain freak out continues. When they say, “Every day it’s something new,” get ready, because it’s true. Their brains grow like a California wildfire and eat up data like it’s Cheerios. A baby’s brain doubles in size the first year and the cerebellum, which controls motor functions triples in size. At birth, their brains have all the neurons they will ever have and grow more synapses than they will ever need. This is why the environment the kid grows up in is so important to their brain development. If they had a good pre-natal environment, they are on their way to MIT. But a bad baby environment can sabotage the whole thing.

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Baby’s Brain Begins Now: Conception to Age 3

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Cozy never ceases to amaze me. Last night I was reading The Fire Cat to her. (It’s one of my childhood books that my mom saved.) It’s the story of Pickles, the yellow cat, and each time I turned the page, Cozy would point to Pickles with her tiny index finger without any prompting from me. This may not mean much to you, but for a 9 month-old baby to be able to distinguish the pictures from the words on a page and know which image is Pickles is a BFD. She didn’t point to Mrs. Goodkind, just Pickles. I was blown away.

All this started very early. I noticed it the first time when she was just a few months old. I went to pull her up after changing a diaper. She knew what was going to happen and pushed her head forward to brace her neck. I thought that was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. How did she know to do that? There have been so many moments like that since then. Of course, now she likes to crawl, stand, and make a face that says, “Whatever you’re eating, you better share it.” She loves to point and if you wave at her, she’ll wave back. That was a big one.

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There’s also a lot of pre-talking. I think early on parents learn which cry means I’m hungry and which cry means I would like it it you remove the crapola from my butt. But there are other sounds. The first bit of laughter. The grunt of desire. The sigh of frustration. The morning babble. But my favorite is the singing. Cozy sings little songs to herself. She’s completely in her own zone, looking at her favorite Picasso book, or strumming the guitar strings (Yep) and singing a little melody. La la la la la. She sounds like if Lady Gaga had joined the Teletubbies. I don’t think she’s singing “Bad Romance,” so I really want to know what she IS singing. A little song that means a lot to her.

As a criminologist, I spend a lot of time looking at all the things that can go wrong with a kid’s brain development that can put them on a path towards delinquency. Everything from lead paint chips to Shaken Baby Syndrome can send the baby brain going in the wrong direction. I have a lecture on Minimal Brain Dysfunction, when a blow to the back of the head weakens the connection between the brain and spinal column, making people more impulsive. I have a good friend who is a criminal defense attorney and one of the first questions he asks is if the defendant was hit in the head as a child. Add to that the scary theories about food additives, GMOs and air pollution, and it seems like their a million things that can turn your Baby Einstein into a knuckle dragging Philistine.

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When you look at Cozy, she often seems like she has something deep going on in her head. She’s thinking about the world and her role in it. I’m a bit biased when it comes to my daughter but I’m betting she’ll go to Emory on a full ride. Maybe I’m just thinking of reasons not to start a college fund. Of course, she could develop an addiction to Mountain Dew in middle school or start huffing gas at summer camp or get hit in the head when’s she’s at bat in the 2025 Little League World Series. But the bigger risk is that she likes strumming that guitar too much and decides school is for “sell-outs to the Man.” If I can prevent her from becoming the next Honey Boo Boo, I’ll consider that a win.

Of course, one the major pitfalls ahead is the big 1 3. Carol Gilligan, in her landmark 1982 book, In A Different Voice, found that at around age 13 patriarchy pulls the rug out from under girls by telling them to stop being smart and focus on attracting boys. “Guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” But we’ve got some time to prepare her for that wall of bullshit. She doesn’t have to be Doogie Howser. She just needs an environment that keeps that beautiful brain growing. She’ll probably be reading Gillagan herself at 13. But for now, we’ll do The Fire Cat one more time.

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The following books were mentioned in this post and can be bought at Powell’s by clicking the covers below: