Tag Archives: Children

If you really gave a shit about kids . . .

“If you really gave a s… about kids and public health, you’d feed them right at school, full-stop, and you’d teach them about food at school, full-stop.” – Jamie Oliver

The man has a point, you know. Kids shouldn’t be a political football – they should be a priority.

As of 2014, 260,000 kids live in poverty in New Zealand. 180,000 regularly go without essentials like food, appropriate clothing, or heat. those numbers are terrible in a nation with so much wealth. We simply have to do better.

Jamie Oliver’s solution is the obvious one. Feed the kids, because leaving a child hungry is inhumane, and teach them about food, how to grow and cook it, so that they’re set up for a better future.

I cannot understand people who would argue over where the responsibility lies for hungry children, while those children stay hungry. Someone who says that it’s their parent’s fault and leaves them hungry – for what reason? To teach the parents responsibility? It doesn’t work like that! – just does not understand the misery of going to school hungry, the lack of ability to think on an empty stomach, the temptation to steal lunches from other kids or teachers just to have something in your belly. Whatever the reason, the kids don’t deserve to be hungry, and if parents can’t or won’t pack a lunch, someone needs to step in. Punishing a kid because their parent is poor or lazy is cruel.

I don’t have much time for libertarian types who say that we need to ’empower communities’ and help them be more self-sufficient. For one, a community may well be too poor to support the needs of the thousands of kids that go hungry in this country. For another, community responses are very variable that in some communities there will be wonderful programmes and in others almost nothing, depending on the skill level and enthusiasm and connections of the organisers – I think that a centralised response would be more even-handed and thorough.

So feeding the kids. It’s an idea I believe in, and I am deeply disappointed in our government for rejecting the legislation that could have made this possible. What kind of people are they, that they are ok with thousands of children starving? I don’t know where to go from here, but I think we need a new government and a new go at doing this for our kids.

The other part of Jamie’s plan, to teach kids about food, is an interesting one. Basic food skills are so important, and every child should be provided with them. Can opening, food reheating, knife skills, a few solid recipes to be able to fall back on, they’re essentials. I do believe that every child should be taught this stuff. But how useful are these skills when the cupboards are bare? We need to be addressing poverty at home, as well as feeding the kids at school. Making a dinner of toast and beans needs to be a thing that kids can achieve – both the skills to make it and the materials to work from.

My solutions to food poverty at home are the usual ‘pay people more’ type things. Not very creative, but creative and targeted solutions aren’t my thing. They’re hoops to jump through, condescending attitudes to deal with. Giving people enough money to live on is simpler and affords the poor some dignity which is seriously lacking in our attitudes at the moment.

I can’t pretend to be an expert in this. Maybe my ideas are very wrong, and someone can explain to me why targeted funding is a better idea. But there’s not a person on earth that will convince me that we don’t need to put a plan in place to feed kids that don’t get three good meals a day.

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Seeing her in a new way

I went to see my younger daughter’s end-of-term drama performance today. It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen! The oldest kid there couldn’t have been more than nine or ten, and they had all learned their lines so well and performed wonderfully. Of course there were the expected number of slip-ups and forgotten lines, but every parent there could be legitimately proud of the work their kids had done. No false ‘oh my kid is the wonderfullest thing ever!’, they really all did well.

My daughter is seven, and there were two girls her age, and a few others that may have been younger than her. But she was the youngest brain there. It hit me, more than it ever has before, that she is different.

She has a (finally confirmed) condition called Valproate Syndrome, which is a result of the sodium valproate (Epilim) I was on during my pregnancy to control epilepsy. I’ve suspected it for a long time, but I’m not that keen on letting Dr Google diagnose something that important, so we have been waiting on results from genetic testing and paediatrics. Just before Christmas, her paediatrician confirmed that it was valproate syndrome that they had been considering, and that the testing that we had been through had eliminated other genetic disorders, leaving valproate syndrome as the last one standing. It was good to finally have a name for everything that has been going on.

To be honest, I don’t know a hell of a lot about the syndrome. I have spoken to an organisation about getting more information, and I might consult Dr Google now that I have a diagnosis. What I do know is that it causes a very specific facial phenotype, which she fits very well (this particular phenotype makes kids with the syndrome very cute. It’s a bonus). Other key features are hearing difficulties (yup) and mental retardation, as one friendly website described it. There will be more, but those are the ones that have affected us so far.

Until today, I had accepted that she was different from other kids, but I’ve seen her in isolation. I don’t really see her hanging out with other kids or interacting with them. Today was eye-opening.

She’s seven, but she would have fitted right in with some of the kindy kids in the audience. Her mind is just very young. I’ve known it academically for a long time, but it’s only now that I’ve known it viscerally.

I know that she is always making progress against her own standard (we threw away National Standards as something to measure her by a long time ago), but I don’t even know if she’s progressing at the same rate as everyone else, just with a lower starting point, or whether she is falling further behind. I don’t know what her limitations will end up being, whether she’ll be able to move out of home but on a later schedule, or whether as some point she will stop developing and remain dependent to some degree. I just don’t know. She’s only seven, so I guess it’s all just about watching and waiting.

I went to a morning tea with a group of women with disabled children, and at the time I felt out of place. They all had children that had so many more issues! But today I realised, she is in a similar boat to children with Down Syndrome – except that her disabilities are less known and understood. I’ve walked a road not dissimilar to the one many of these women have, with the endless hospital appointments and dealing with the difficulties of raising a ‘different’ child.

The road ahead of us is murky. Paediatrics couldn’t tell us a lot – I suspect that we might be one of a very small group of kids with valproate syndrome that they deal with – maybe even a group of one. There’s not a hell of a lot of easily accessed information on the internet – much of it will require some decoding. I haven’t found anything talking about the features of growing up with valproate syndrome and life histories of people that have it – despite the first cases being identified in the 1980s. There must be people my age with it – but I know nothing about them. I will have to dig deeper, I think.

My dream has been to kick the kids out of home by the time I’m about forty and go live the life I didn’t have as a young adult. I don’t know how to modify my dream, because I have no idea what shape her life will take, and I’m struggling with that. I’m not wedded to the dream, but I’m not good with uncertainty, at all.

Meanwhile, she’s happy, healthy, friendly, cute, popular, and has all the features of a good, happy child’s life. She does not suffer for her disabilities, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Raising pagans in a Christian home

I came across an article today. Just a wee short one, it says what it means quite concisely. It’s a message to Christian parents about how they are raising their kids. The article deals with teaching just what the Bible teaches versus teaching the fullness of knowing Jesus.

This sounds pretty ok to a fundamentalist Christian. Paragraphs like

Do you teach your kids “be good because the Bible tells you to” or do you teach your kids that they will never be good without Christ’s offer of grace? There is a huge difference. One leads to moralism; the other leads to brokenness. One leads to self-righteousness; the other leads to a life that realizes that Christ is everything and that nothing else matters.

Seems ok, because it’s about learning who you are in Christ and learning to lean on Him. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways follow him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6) and all that – the way unbelievers understand raising a child is not always God’s way. What is moralism when your child could taste all the gifts off the Holy Spirit?

I can’t go on, because the whole thing makes me feel sick. How can you want to teach a kid that the best they do will never be good enough? And why, in the name of all that’s good in this world, would you want your child to be broken?! Why break them down so that Christ can (but may not, because some people are never good enough to receive God’s grace) heal them, when you can instead raise a whole, happy, and good child? Teaching them they’re not good enough without meeting an arbitrary standard in any other case is straight-out child abuse. Why should a religious wrapper make it any better?

Teaching a child that they are not good enough like that is so cruel. It’s an unattainable goal, because there’s no visible sign that God’s grace has redeemed them. They will always be slipping and failing, and telling them to keep going back to God , makes them feel that they can never be good enough and that God just isn’t perfecting them the way it was promised.

I cannot abide by these ideas, and being raised in this culture makes me even more sick at reading these words. People believe this. People raise their kids like this. It breaks them. It broke me, and it was one of the things that pushed me out of the deep dark hole that was the church of my youth