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Every now and then I have an idea that I stir over and over without it coming together as a spectacular tasting word cake.  For two years, I worked out my thoughts for my recent post on Yule/Christmas.  Start.  Stop.  Erase.  Over and over.  Then it appeared and I chiseled it into something worth publishing.

As a parent, I have a wealth of ideas, but not everything turns into a full-length piece.  To close out 2013, so I can invite new ideas and get these thoughts out of my head, I present three topics related to parenting: how we speak to parents, schooling, and vaccines.

1) How To Talk To Parents: How many of us were told that if we have nothing nice to say, then we shouldn’t say it at all?  That sentiment flies out the window when many people see parents of a young child.  My mom was in her mid-20s when she had my brother.  Much of her family lived in a neighborhood that made for a good day of walking with a slew of visits thrown in.  My brother was in a carriage with a pacifier.  As she walked by one of the middle-aged ladies in the neighborhood, she was passive-aggressively attacked for allowing the pacifier.  The woman spoke loudly into the air, but not directly at my mom, about parents taking the easy way out and how it was done differently in her day.  My mom did not have the confidence to speak up, but she would today.

Mom told me this story when I was telling her about how Sara and I have grown weary of unsolicited comments from a wide variety of people, including friends.  We refuse to refer to the third year of life as “The Terrible Twos.”  Often when someone sees our daughter, they’ll coo at her and tell us how cute and sweet she is.  ”How old is she?” we’re asked.  ”Just over two.”  Our correspondent’s face often changes to a grave expression, as though we’d told them that their car had been keyed.  ”Oh my, ‘the terrible twos.’” We don’t think of them that way, so we might say, “We don’t think of them that way.”  Perhaps surprised by this, they offer this bit of help, “Well, three’s a lot worse.  Good luck.”

Thanks, Rude Person.  How lovely to converse with you.  We can’t bat down every rude person we meet, so the comments build up and annoy us.  I choose to speak up, which often leads people to dig in their heels.  I will never understand these unhelpful, unnecessary interactions.  We didn’t enter parenthood blindly.  We have a good feel for how a young child is going to act as she carves out her place in this world.

When I read online discussions about parents being treated rudely, there is often blowback against the parent who deigns to complain in comments sections.  I will never understand a reaction that favors rudeness.  So, here is my request for people out there who feel compelled to make remarks, often negative, to people with young kids: When you speak, keep it positive.  Say nice things.  Or say nothing at all.  The way you would in any other situation.

2) Education: Our daughter will be “school age” in a few years, but we have not decided how we plan to go about educating her.  It could range from a private option, to public, to homeschooling, or unschooling.  With a significant emphasis on stressful testing regimes, I am disinclined to throw my curious daughter into the shark tank.  I will be researching the schools in the area, but my desire is to allow her to learn the way she learns now, with a combination of self-directed curiosity and intentional presentation of opportunities by us.

I worked in public schools and was shaken by what I saw as kids broke their backs with the amount of school work they took home.  There is no proof that homework helps.  There is no proof that testing works.  And I sometimes wonder if public education, that (supposed-to-be) great equalizer, is being intentionally killed by politicians and bureaucrats in order to gin the public up against teachers so they can defund them and turn the profession into yet another line of indentured servitude that no longer will pay a decent wage.  If you look at the deification of Michelle Rhee by Republicans and Democrats and her test heavy evaluation process (leaving aside the apparent fraud that led to her fame and success), you will imagine that something is afoot to drown imagination and education.

Right now, we’re leaning toward the homeschooling option, since Waldorf and Montessori might require a lottery win.  We want our daughter to learn about this world, not be tested into submission.  The schools in our soon-to-be district have deemphasized testing in their materials, while noting the arts and travel opportunities.  So, there could be hope for public school.  But with Vermont being part of Common Core, the jury is still out.

3) Vaccines: Is there any issue more contentious than vaccines in the parenting community?  Extremists exist on either side and I know plenty who insist on every vaccine or who think you’re crazy for giving any vaccine.  The conversation often leaves little space to occupy the middle.  Yet, the middle is pretty big and where we reside.

My wife and I agonized over our vaccinating decisions, pushing some off, not getting others, and keeping to the schedule for the ones that prevent diseases that have a relatively high mortality rate.  The biggest controversy, of course, centers around one study and interpretations derived from the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine.  We held off for two years before I saw a photo of a child with measles, learned about potential infertility that could come from it, and thought of the potential for death.  With measles returning due to this now discredited report influencing many parents, we were left to stew in uncertainty.  I read an investigative takedown of the research and looked at the research itself.  I talked to three holistic mamas, two of whom put off but eventually got the MMR.  I also spoke with two coworkers with autistic children who do not ascribe their kids’ symptoms with vaccines.  They said they never regretted their decisions.  We ultimately decided to get it.

I believe the current vaccine schedule asks a lot of young bodies and that a modified schedule is the way to go.  Work with a practitioner who is open-minded.  But do your research well.  Talk to people and get their perspective.  Read Dr. Sears.  He has the best of the vaccine books out there and offers alternate schedules.  These are not easy decisions, but before giving in to hysteria, learn as much as you can from reputable sources.

With that, I think I’ve tackled the topics that have dogged me this year, the ones that begged to be written but couldn’t fill up the page.  I hope 2013 was enjoyable.  I’ll be back with my first 2014 column soon.

Happy New Year!  Peace…