Shame on the Mormon Church for shaming innocent children!

The Thinker by Rodin

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit more charitable toward the Mormon Church. It’s like they are starting to grow a conscience. Perhaps indirectly it is due to Pope Francis who has been reaching out to communities like divorced Catholics and gays, and that’s causing them to feel the pressure. Both Catholics and Mormons are still opposed to gay marriage. Not much of a surprise there. But surprisingly in January the Mormon Church has voiced support for housing and employment rights for LGBTs. It’s not wholly unconditional as they demand accommodations for those who see it as immoral, but for the Mormon Church this is quite a leap.

Well, that was January and here it is November and the Mormon Church just announced a policy that makes me want to spit nails. I guess I should not be too surprised that the church considers couples in a same sex marriage as apostates. To become Mormons these same sex couples must effectively divorce each other and must also disavow these types of marriages too. After all a marriage in the church’s eyes must be between one man and one woman (although at one time could be between one man and multiple women, so apparently the policy is fungible.)

But to discriminate against the children born from a same sex marriage is beyond reprehensible. It’s one thing to put a Scarlet A on Hester’s bosom; it’s quite another thing to do the same thing to her child’s. But the Mormon Church, yes, they are going there. According to CNN:

A new Mormon church policy considers church members in same-sex marriages as apostates whose children will be barred from baptism and church membership unless they disavow same-sex unions.

Suppose these children want to be Mormon? They must wait until they are adults. Oh and they must renounce gay marriage too, effectively estranging them from their same sex parents. Then they can join and be baptized in the Mormon Church.

I’m not too much up on Mormon theology, so maybe baptism is not as big a deal as it is in the Catholic Church. At least when I was growing up Catholic if you were not baptized and died you could not get into heaven. You weren’t sent to hell but the theology, as I understood it, was that these souls ended up in Limbo. Perhaps they eventually got into heaven at some murky date after the end of the world.

In any event to shame innocent children for the “sins” of their parents and worse to force them to effectively renounce their parents to belong to the Mormon community as an adult is just vile — it’s like the shaming bastard children used to endure. Maybe vile isn’t quite the word, I just can’t think of a word worse than vile. It should have any Mormon with any compassion in their soul running at a sprint to get away from their evil “church”.

The problem with being a Mormon is a lot like being a devout Catholic, particularly in Utah where the population is overwhelmingly Mormon. Not being a Mormon is effectively to be apart from the rest of your community, and not in a good way. Obviously it’s not like that everywhere in Utah, and in particular not true in Salt Lake City with its heavy LGBT population. In any event the policy is just plain mean and the exact opposite of Christ’s message, which was about inclusiveness and unconditional love.

The Mormon Church is effectively sticking a badge of shame on any child of a same sex couple. It’s a badge that in certain heavily Mormon communities will put these children at a disadvantage. For when society says you are different and when you get this message from most of the people in your community, you can’t help but pick it up and bury it deeply inside you. The unspoken message is there is something wholly broken in you. As children it doesn’t take much to feel and integrate shame into your personality. Many children never get over these feelings of toxic shame. They carry it throughout life, in this case through no fault of their own, living broken lives.

So this policy is not only wrong, it shames the institution of the Mormon Church and proclaims very loudly to the rest of us that it is a false church. The rest of us — that is the rest of us with a conscience — must send a loud and clear message to the Mormon Church that this latest act is truly evil.

We must embrace the innocent children of same sex relationships with the same unconditional love due any child. Every person, child or adult, has equal dignity, has inherent respect and must be loved for who they are. God is color blind, but apparently the Mormon Church is not.

To the elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: shame on you for your toxic and evil policy. To the extent I am a praying man, I pray that this policy is short lived and that your so-called church personally apologizes to every couple or child or such couple affected by this decision.

Life on Dartmouth Street

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s a strange thing these days to see children at play. At least in Northern Virginia where I used to live, to the extent children play, it is at structured play. It is managed play. It is soccer league, or Little League, or basketball or for the girls perhaps 4-H or Girl Scouts. If mom or dad can’t attend practice, the nanny is there with a wary eye and taking notes.

They haven’t gotten the message here in Easthampton, Massachusetts that kids, even kids in their single digits, shouldn’t be allowed outside basically unsupervised just to play and roam. But play and roam they do here on Dartmouth Street, and in particular they play just outside the small two-bedroom apartment we now call our temporary home. No smartphones to distract them; they just want to be kids. Dartmouth Street is at best an irregularly traveled street, with large houses generally turned into duplexes with virtually non-existent lawns that hug the sidewalk. They are clearly rentals as of course is our building. There are lots of these houses, but most of them are rented and most suffer from somewhat deferred maintenance. They were built in a city that can trace its incorporation to 1785, and when such things as homeowner associations were unknown. This means gravel or buckled pavement parking lots (if there is a parking lot), bumpy roads where the potholes sometimes have potholes and curbs where chunks of the concrete may be missing. It means it’s okay for one of the renters to jack up the front end of his truck and work on it late into the night. Dartmouth Street is a neighborhood not built for show, or for improving your house’s resale value, or for fitting in with the Joneses, but for simple living. It means you rent a small apartment or duplex, your car is probably a little beat up but there is nothing particularly to be worried about. Easthampton may be old but at least it feels safe.

It’s so safe you can watch two kids (brothers?) sort of beat up each other in the middle of the road. There are no cars coming, and it’s clear there are no real body blows, but they laugh and wrestle and hoot and holler and in general are just excelling at being kids. It’s the sort of childhood I lived, when the phrase free-range kids had yet to be invented. The parents knew the neighborhood was safe and that if you were doing something really stupid one of the other parents would tell you about it. On Dartmouth Street it means squirt gun fights, yes, even in fifty-degree weather, lying on your back in the middle of the road giggling and then wrestling half-heartedly with your brother. It means kicking a ball down the street or into your brother’s groin. I am not sure where the parents are, but no one seems to care, and certainly not me.

Part of the reason no one seems to care may be that everyone here is about the same. Easthampton is not entirely white, just almost entirely. There may be a few lawyers and doctors here, but they probably live outside the city. Easthampton, and Dartmouth Street in particular is white working class. Mom is a teacher, or is bussing tables, and maybe doing both. Dad may be working at the auto body shop nearby or tending the package store around the corner. Life just sort of goes on here. No one seems to have pretensions. Pretensions are a relatively recent concept and largely unknown around here. You count your blessings for your job or jobs, you do your best, and you arise the next morning and then start the cycle over again. And if you are a kid, you are largely left to be a kid.

I’m the new Mr. Wilson in the neighborhood. Recently retired, it’s hard not to emulate my father who drew kids to him like moths to a flame, simply because everyone saw him as a wholesome, harmless and gentle man. So I smile at the boys across the yard and give another a wary stink eye when I see something that might get out of hand. I do that and I unpack.

We moved in yesterday. The morning was spent at a storage place across the Connecticut River. There me and two movers succeeded in getting all our long term storage stuff into a 10 x 20 foot storage unit, but just barely. Then the guys from JK Moving came here to Easthampton and deposited our much smaller cache here in this apartment. No complaints from me about JK Moving. They did a great job and everything went according to schedule. The weather even cooperated except for a little light rain. By three p.m. they had left and we were taking stuff out of boxes and setting up the apartment. Thank goodness for our wire cage in the basement. Some of the surplus we thought would fit in the apartment would not, so it is stored there, along with lots of boxes we will fill again in a few months.

From the outside our apartment is not much to look at. From the inside it has been gutted and rebuilt, and that includes the windows, doors and the walls. It’s all new; it’s just way too small. So my desk and our files are in the second bedroom and its closet doubles as an extra pantry and as our pharmaceutical chest. My wife’s desk is in the living room. The sofa has been replaced by a loveseat; it’s not big enough a living room for a real sofa. It takes us back to 1984, when we first started living together, and our quarters were only marginally bigger. But amazingly the technology all works. HD TV streams on our HD TV screen. Charter Communications delivers a reliable 64mbs download speed as well. I’ve moved 400 miles but the technology transition is flawless. As someone who made his living in Information Technology, this is definitely weird.

Still, our new pad is small and seeing a neighbor trying to fix his car on a gravel lot outside my bedroom window is not something I enjoy. So I’ll be content to leave Dartmouth Street in a few months for our more spacious house under construction. We drove by our house yesterday and noted that shingles went on during the day. The house is now fully enclosed. It seems like it should take a few weeks at most to finish the inside.

We are reliably informed the inside is the hard part. So many pieces have to come together, and each requires an inspection. Inspectors typically show up late. Meanwhile, we can contribute to the house building process by going through with an electrician and indicating where the wires should go. That will happen on Friday. And there will be more visits to various vendors to refine amenities like the color of our bathroom tiles and the model of our light fixtures. Our mailbox at least is already there, in a kiosk, and there was mail and a package waiting for us.

Mainly we are taking a breather today after four days of being mostly in hyperdrive. For me this means going through various papers and tying up loose ends. For my wife it means finding the local grocer and deciding if she will shop there regularly or opt for the more distant Big Y instead. It’s a day for ordering address labels and filling out forms for the DMV (it’s called a RMV around here). It means hauling my bike to the local bike shop for a tune up. When life settles down a little, I’ll be on the local bike trails regularly.

Meanwhile I am living on Dartmouth Street, eyeing the auto mechanic’s shop across the street and wondering about the Schlitz sign I saw on a building on Ferry Street. I wonder: do people still actually drink Schlitz? And are there some people that prefer it? I wonder if the roads are ever smooth around here. And I wonder if now that I am here if I will miss the crazy, traffic clogged place I used to call home.

The abortion of a child’s potential is the real crime

The Thinker by Rodin

In case you haven’t been following the news, states are getting very creative in finding ways to skirt the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which in theory allows a pregnant woman to have an abortion during the first trimester of a pregnancy. Calling these laws “creative” is generous. “Illegal” is more appropriate for some of these state laws. It will just take some years before courts fully strike them down or as pro-lifers hope, the Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision. It’s hard to see though how some of these new laws can possibly cut the mustard.

For example, some states require counseling prior to an abortion, a curious requirement as in most other things, like smoking, drinking and gambling, there is no similar requirement. The law assumes that adults are entitled to make judgments without coercion by the state because they are, well, adults! Even more intrusive are vaginal ultrasounds, required for women who want an abortion in states like Texas and Louisiana. Curiously there are no similar laws requiring anal ultrasounds of the prostate before men undergo vasectomies. North Dakota decided that if you can discern a heartbeat no abortion is allowed, which suggests no abortions are legal past six weeks of pregnancy. Thankfully, a federal judge overturned the law but as there is only one abortion clinic in the whole state, it’s kind of moot. Other states like Virginia (where I live) keep tightening the screws for abortion providers, most recently by requiring facilities to have hospital-wide corridors.

The intent is not hard to discern: to make abortion as difficult to get as possible until effectively it’s impossible to get because it has been regulated away. Curiously many of these states claim to be all about freedom, such as the freedom to bring a loaded gun into a teen recreation center (yes, it’s legal here in Virginia). Apparently freedom of choice is not for pregnant women. Apparently the moment a woman gets pregnant they become value impaired.

An abortion supposedly destroys a life, but what “life” means to the pro-life crowd is peculiar. In the case of a fertilized egg that is not yet implanted into the uterus, it is arguably not alive as it does not move or grow. As the blastocyst matures into a fetus though clearly something (or someone as pro-lifers would say) is alive. A tiny fertilized egg is hard to see even in a petri dish but this is a life? Then the mole on my neck must be a life too. However apparently my mole can be surgically removed with impunity – no state counseling is required, even though, like the zygote, it can’t think but it does have something resembling a circulation system. In reality, there is no magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. At eight months it’s ridiculous to claim it is not. At eight days it is laughable to claim it is. The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was imperfect, but reasonable. I have yet to hear of a fetus expelled during the first trimester surviving through prenatal care.

I am hardly the first to remark (as many others have) that carrying a child to term does not mean that the child will be loved, clothed, fed and nurtured. With a few minor exceptions, the pro-life people are wholly indifferent to the fate of the child after birth. Mostly they are indifferent to the mother during pregnancy as well. I have not heard of any state law requiring pregnant mothers to take prenatal vitamins, for example, to increase the odds of a healthy child, but they are myopic about vaginal ultrasounds and hospital-wide corridors. Go figure. After birth, most pro-lifers could not give a crap what happens to the child. They willfully don the eyeshades of ignorance, start humming happy tunes and plug their ears.

This is usually not true for those women who are forced to carry a child to term. Typically the reason they seek an abortion in the first place is because they realize they cannot fit a child into their complicated lives. While the life of the poor may seem deceptively simple, in reality it is quite complicated, a far more complex chess match than any of us moneyed people are ever likely to experience. If you have ever lived in poverty, or near poverty, you know this is true. (I know this from experience.) Try surviving on Walmart wages, particularly with a child you are supposed to raise and doing it without government money. (So many Walmart employees are on food stamps that it’s practically required in order to work there.) Try doing this with no or little support system in place as well. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of these mothers either fails or does a substandard job.

It would be nice if government picked up the slack. Sometimes it does, with food stamps and credits for childcare and the like. Yet these are usually not nearly enough for a child to thrive, and sometimes not enough to even fend off malnutrition. Nor do these measures begin to measure the psychic cost to children from living in poverty: lack of parental attention, lack of a father in the house in most cases, lack of nurturing because the mother is usually working, the shuttling from one substandard home to another, neighborhoods full of crime and poverty, and schools where education is generally substandard. It’s completely reasonable to draw these inferences just by looking at scores of children at these schools on standardized tests.

Thus it’s wholly reasonable to ask pro-lifers: If this will be the fate of these children who might not otherwise be born, why did you force these mothers to carry them to term in the first place? Maybe, just maybe, the mother had a pretty good idea of what her life would look like, and this wasn’t what she wanted for her children. Maybe it was because it is how she spent her childhood and youth. The next reasonable question is: How can you make any person carry an unwanted child to term if you won’t take care of it once they are born if the parents cannot?

Sadly, our world is overrun with children whose mothers, if they had the option, probably would not have carried them to term. Many of them would have been happy to take a morning after pill to preclude the possibility, but in much of the world a $50 Plan B pill is unaffordable, if it is even available. Every child has potential, but that doesn’t mean that they can actually realize their potential when born into poverty or dysfunctional circumstances. It is only possible with a huge societal investment in time, money and nurturing. This seems to be the freight pro-lifers won’t pay for, unless it is for your own son or daughter. What could be much crueler than bringing a child into the world who will know little but insurmountable obstacles? Why do we want children in this world whose circumstances will doom them to be just ten percent of who they could be? These children are much more likely to be flipping burgers as adults instead of doing scientific research, writing a great novel and building our bridges.

This is the real abortion: the abortion of a child’s potential by requiring them to be born into substandard circumstances. A largely indifferent and uncaring society snuffs it out after birth. These children are cut off at the kneecaps at an early age. They face a life full of endless obstacles. Scaling over just a couple of them is beyond most of us, and we expect them to scale hundreds of them. Add to this sad story the cost to the planet to bring a child into the world and we have set up a cycle where each generation leads more difficult, shorter and less endurable lives. Through being “pro-life”, we are creating hell on earth and worse, being willfully ignorant of the consequences.

It is this versus giving the mother the simple dignity of deciding whether to have a child and if she does not then making it safe and legal for her to terminate the pregnancy. It is so much cheaper and actually much kinder not to have the child until she is ready. Birth control pills are quite cheap and can prevent fertilization altogether. Even if they are not available a morning after pill is much cheaper than 18 years of trying to care for a child with inadequate resources.

Every child should be a wanted and a nurtured child. No child should be born to live a life of misery, but only into conditions that will nurture him or her as a valued member of society where they have a reasonable expectation of achieving their potential. A sustainable earth and our common humanity require nothing less.

Solving the obesity crisis

The Thinker by Rodin

I read two items in the news that are guaranteed to make obese people and the parents who raise them feel guilty. First, obese people are contributing disproportionately to global warming. Apparently, because obese people are larger, they need more calories to sustain their weight. This also translates into the need for more fuel to move them around on cars and public transportation. According to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, obese people on average require eighteen percent more calories than people of the same height and age of normal weight.

The second story (and to me the more frightening one) is the lead story in today’s Washington Post, Obesity Threatens a Generation. Apparently, the youth of today who are obese or even overweight have a much higher likelihood of developing chronic diseases earlier in life.

Doctors are seeing confirmation of this daily: boys and girls in elementary school suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and painful joint conditions; a soaring incidence of type 2 diabetes, once a rarity in pediatricians’ offices; even a spike in child gallstones, also once a singularly adult affliction. Minority youth are most severely affected, because so many are pushing the scales into the most dangerous territory.

I am worried not only for the children out there who are overweight but also for my own daughter. She had times in her childhood when she was technically obese. For a few years, we enrolled her in Taekwondo. During that time, she had a normal weight and was in great physical condition. Eventually chose to give up the sport to concentrate on her academics. We encouraged her to exercise but she got out of the habit.

Now that she is eighteen and is earning her own money, she has the freedom to buy whatever she wants. Apparently, our choice of junk foods is very modest, so she has begun to buy her own food. Her food choices have been discouraging. She eats what most in her generation eat: a preponderance of junk food. My wife and I have of course registered of concern, but are being careful not to overdo it. As a young adult, she has the right to make her own choices and too much nagging is likely to be counterproductive. Fortunately, her job at a bookstore provides exercise simply because associates are so often on their feet. That helps.

Obesity runs in my wife’s side of the family. I am hoping my daughter did not pick up that particular gene. Given that my wife is one of many Americans struggling with obesity, I cannot help but wonder if ten or twenty years down the line, or perhaps even sooner, my daughter will be struggling with the same issues. I hope of course that she will emulate me and eat better, and exercise regularly. Like most teenagers, she thinks she is immortal. She realizes she may have to eat better and exercise regularly someday, but for now, she chooses to ignore the issue.

As do a preponderance of our youth, apparently. I am skeptical that today’s youth will find the wherewithal to address the problem as adults. I think without some major societal intervention that it is much more likely that they will stick with their current eating and exercise choices, because it has the feeling of familiarity and thus provides the illusion of comfort in a confusing world.

The consequences for these latest generations are truly dire. Yet there is little in the way of planned action to address these chronic problems. It appalls me to think that I may live to an older age than my daughter, primarily because my mother fed us healthy and nutritious food. Single parent families or dual income families are disproportionately raising today’s generation. That was true for our daughter. We both had full time jobs when our daughter was growing up. Living on one income, however modestly, was out of the question until the last few years. Our daughter ate most of her lunches in the school cafeteria, where she could safely consume the foods she wanted, like pizza, rather than the foods she needed. She fit right in. Her friends largely did the same thing.

I think dual income parenting contributed a lot toward the obesity epidemic. With family time so squeezed, it is not surprising that parents often rustled up meals from of a box or out of a fast food bag. It was also not surprising that our children tended to prefer these meals too. Food vendors do not stay in business by making uninteresting food. In order to attract more business, food had to be jazzed up. In that sense, American capitalism succeeded very well. Over time, we developed strong preferences for this unhealthy kind of food.

Congress may have inadvertently done our kids in too. Our agricultural subsidies, most of which went to subsidizing grains that could rarely turn a profit, made grain incredibly cheap. When certain types of food are cheap to purchase, many of us feel inclined to consume more of them than we used to. It used to be that we would rotate through seasonal foods over the course of a year. With grain cheap all year round, we added more and more grain to our diets. With sugar also artificially cheap, we had a deadly combination: cereals and breads laced with sugars. Cheap grain also encouraged us to give it to our livestock, making the price of meat cost less too. Most foods served in America were relative bargains throughout the latter half of the 20th century. There was little reason for restaurants not to super-size our portions when the ingredients were so cheap.

Our additional eating was one part of the equation. Lack of exercise was the other part. When I was a youth, we were free to roam neighborhoods at will as long as our homework was done and we returned home in time for dinner. Neighborhoods were assumed safe. My parents gave little thought to where we were as long as we were in the neighborhood. We also lacked modern indoor distractions like computers and videogames. Going outside and playing with the kids on the block was a compelling alternative to the drudgery of being home. Modern parents perceive that if they give the same freedom to their children that their children are at risk from child molesters. Parents believe it is safer to keep children at home rather than let them roam the neighborhood. To make this unfortunate reality easier to swallow, we provided indoor amusements for them. The combination of a poor diet and reduced exercise appears to be toxic.

Few of our children are likely to end up in professions where exercise will be built into the jobs. Most are likely to spend their lives much as we do: in offices living sedentary work lives much like Dilbert’s. Perhaps in their off hours they will be able to grab some exercise. That seems unlikely, for they will likely have children of their own at home, and these children will have to be fed and protected.

Our society desperately needs a culture shift. We may need to reduce our workweeks to 35 hours a week simply to allow adults to have time for physical fitness and parenting. An hour-long workout may not be enough, but it is a start. Employers may need to be required to offer exercise facilities to their employees to use at work. Just as you cannot keep horses in the stables for days on end, neither should humans be trapped in cubicles, cars and their homes for days on end. We are built to move, not to sit.

Exercise needs to be seen as a necessary and critical part of being a human being. What has changed over the last generation or two is that most Americans must now dedicate time for exercise. It should be encouraged by our leaders and our employers. Health insurance premiums should be substantially discounted for people who participate in monitored exercise programs. Our children need more than recess and occasional PE classes. They need regular and more vigorous exercise at school, extending the school day if needed, as well as more healthful food in school cafeterias. Since they are children, their weekly exercise should be monitored and tracked by school officials. It may seem offensive to some to require our children to be regularly weighed and tested for their physical fitness at school. However, these prosaic activities also encourage children toward a lifelong appreciation toward the necessity of exercise and healthy eating.

My suspicion is that these are the sorts of steps that must be taken to keep future generations of Americans from being obese, dying prematurely and the obscene health care costs that are associated with obesity. They may seem Big Brotherish, but for the sake of our children, we need to do it.

Little Cherubs

The Thinker by Rodin

During services, we parishioners know the cue. At the Unitarian Universalist church that I attend, it is a song from our hymnal. It begins “As we leave this friendly place.” We stand when we sing it. Until this moment, the children have been up near the front of the sanctuary. They have been half listening to the minister or the Director of Religious education tell them a story. With the first bar of the familiar hymn the children, roughly ages five through twelve, exit the sanctuary and head downstairs. It is Sunday school time.

From downstairs, where I am preparing to greet them, I can sense their imminent arrival from the rumble of the floorboards above me. For this week, I am their Sunday school teacher. One thing is for sure: it will not be a dull class. On a typical Sunday, there are about a dozen children in my class, ranging from first through fifth grade. They cascade down the stairs and head straight for the back classroom where I and another teacher are waiting for them. On this day, I am their primary teacher. The backup teacher is there to help if needed, but also to ensure I do not molest any of them. Not that my church members are paranoid or anything, but we have to explicitly declare that we will not engage in any inappropriate behavior.Nor are we allowed to be alone without another responsible adult present.

For some reason, there are few things that I find more terrifying than grade school children. Therefore, I find it a bit ironic that I am here, busily setting up chairs, arranging tables and distributing art supplies. I taught Sunday school about five years ago to some Junior High school students. Since then I gave it a pass. Nevertheless, when the church was one teacher short last fall I decided it was time to get off my duff and volunteer.

Teaching the Junior High students was fun. Yes, like most their age they were overcommitted and scattershot about attending. However, we were able to go on some neat field trips, for we were learning about other faiths. Unitarian Universalists may be unique in that we have no creed. We feel part of our mission is to help each person find their own authentic faith. My junior high students got an eyeful and an earful that year. From being proselytized after services at a Mormon Church, to an incense-filled trip to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, to a two-hour plus service at a black Pentecostal church where the patrons were literally dancing in the aisles, they got some fascinating exposure to the world of divergent faiths.

For this new group though it was back to basics. Did they know about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? This teaching comes by default in most Christian churches. (Arguably Unitarian Universalists are not Christian, although their roots are in Christianity.) For the most part the stories of Moses, David and Goliath and Solomon are all new to them. There will be no boring lecture for these students. They need to keep their hands busy. They do get a reading. Then it is quickly time for arts and crafts. For a few weeks, we worked on a paper mural describing the story of Moses. A couple weeks later we were writing the Ten Commandments (somewhat sanitized — trying to explain adultery for a third grader is a bit much) on “stone” (cardboard) tablets.

What you do not know from week to week is whether you will impart any actual learning on these children. We do our best, but in many ways, it depends on serendipity. Sometimes the children are on the warpath. There are siblings in the class and sometimes their mission is to make life miserable for their sibling. Mostly what these children are are, well, children. Consequently that means they have short attention spans and all sorts of needs for attention. So it’s “She’s hitting me” and “Can I get a drink of water?” and “He’s not being fair” and “I don’t want to” and infinite variations in between. The only question is whether it will all cascade out into a toxic group dynamics situation.

That usually depends on the success of the first few minutes. Can the children be organized and stay focused? If so, then you are likely to have a good Sunday school experience. Otherwise, watch out. If nothing else teaching younger children has reinforced to me that I do not have a calling as an elementary school teacher. I do not know how teachers do it year after year after year for five days a week. The chaos is constant. If you are lucky, only a couple children will be misbehaving at a given moment. In the worst cases, it becomes a free for all. I am sure elementary school teachers get training in how to deal with it. I suspect though that they learn to cope. You teach in between the plentiful periods of chaos.

I too have learned a few things about elementary school children. One thing I have learned is that while children are not geniuses, all children are master emotional manipulators. It is instinctive with them. They know how to play off parents, how to anger a sibling in five words or less, how to devastate someone’s feelings, and how to work persistently to get what they want from someone. While they may not be able to persevere at their ABC’s, they are relentless when it comes to getting what they want. They will keep up the Chinese water torture technique as long as necessary until results are achieved.

I have one girl who goes into tears at the drop of a hat. Psychologists might call her “emotionally sensitive”. Maybe she is, maybe she is not. However, she certainly is good at pulling strings. She knows crying will get her some attention, be it good or bad. Other children are quiet and introspective. Others engage in annoying habits or simply head off in random directions at the slightest impulse. Others are itching for a fight. My job is to impart a little learning. Sometimes I succeed. It is hard to measure results.

While the adult in me finds these traits annoying, I am still attracted to their enormous energy. If an adult is a 100-watt light bulb, children on a bad day are going at 1000 watts. Most are incredibly curious. Yet they will flit from thing to thing as fits their feelings and the context of the moment. What I find neatest about these children is how incredibly alive they are. Life just radiates out of them. They are wholly engaged in this thing called living. Moreover, they are still self centered enough to think that we all exist to help or amuse them.

For me the most gratifying aspects of teaching them are not imparting some old Bible stories. They are those few moments when I can pierce through their defenses and tap into some positive aspect of them. The emotionally sensitive girl, for example, reacted quite well when at a quiet spot I would seek her out and tell her simply that I liked her. Her eyes brightened up.

Personal attention: that is what their world is about. They all want it, even the ones who appear withdrawn. What they really need though is someone who can understand and complement something unique about themselves. They like to hear it. They want to know they are not just another kid at a desk, but someone with unique gifts and talents. Their appetite for such attention is boundless.

This apparently is my real mission on those Sunday mornings when I teach. As they go through school, they will meet a myriad of adults. They need to hear from all of us, even though our acquaintance may be ephemeral, that they are both good and special. Despite my initial misgivings, I found that I get something from them too. For a while, I can put away some of my cares and concerns. For a while, I can bask in the pleasure they take in being so passionately, painfully and gloriously alive. Sometimes when I head to work the next morning, I succeed in carrying that energy forward into my adult world. Sometimes on Mondays after teaching, instead of shuffling off to work, I walk with a bit of a spring in my step, a smile on my face, and with a fresh reminder of a time when life was full of enormous possibilities.

Thanks kids.

New Thinking Needed on Child Support

The Thinker by Rodin

A comment left on my Red vs. Blue: Myth vs. Reality entry a couple weeks ago got me thinking. Our child support laws and procedures need a major overhaul. They are not working very well.

Scofflaws aside, pretty much all of us would agree that those who choose to have sex that results in a birth should pay for the child’s expenses until their child reaches adulthood. Unfortunately, as the commenter pointed out, things in the child rearing business are rarely simple. It is as easy for a woman to get pregnant through a one-night stand with a man whose name she might not even know as it is to become pregnant by her husband. For some men, thirty seconds between a woman’s thighs may be all it takes to cause another human being to come into existence. In some cases (gang rapes come to mind) it may be impossible to identify the father.

It is very clear that a child should do better on two parents’ income than on one. No question about it: in these United States, it takes a heap of money to raise a child to be a productive member of society. I have one daughter, now age 16. For most of her life, I have been tracking her expenses. Anything I spend on her directly goes into a “Childcare” category in Quicken. To date the total of her expenses is about $50,000. This does not include a variety of investments for her college education. By the time college is finally behind her, the total of her expenses is likely to exceed $150,000. Moreover, these are just the direct costs. I did not include food, shelter, movies, transportation and hosts of other miscellaneous costs.

Luckily, my wife and I are solidly in the upper middle class. I am not sure how I would have provided for her if, say, I had been a minimum wage worker trying to eke out a living working at a Wal-Mart. The current minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is clearly far below the poverty line. (For reasons wholly ideological, Congress does not seem inclined to increase it.) Mere subsistence, let alone child support payments, is problematical for parents earning these wages. The situation is likely not much better at $10 or $15 an hour.

Undoubtedly, there are enormous numbers of deadbeat dads out there. (Likely, there are deadbeat moms too, but they are probably the exception.) Some, like my wife’s father, simply disappeared after the divorce. He never sent my mother in law any child support payments. She effectively raised my wife by herself, which was daunting since she scraped by from one poorly paid job to the next. My wife’s childhood was full of the unwelcome memories of moving frequently from one rented place to another.

Had there been regular child support coming in then her situation should have been quite different. It is hard to say how it would be different, but it is likely she would have had more continuity in her life. She might have had access to some of enriching experiences that were beyond their means, like piano lessons. Fortunately, her mother was resourceful and made the best of a bad situation. She should have done much worse than she did. Needless to say her mother had no money saved for her to go to college. While she was bright enough to get a college scholarship, she never learned the discipline needed to succeed in a real collegiate environment. I am proud to say that she eventually succeeded, just many years later. She was a working adult and mother when, at age 39, she proudly received her bachelor’s degree.

The government does recognize the seriousness of the problem. In my last job, I worked tangentially with the Office of Child Support Enforcement, part of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families. OCSE had the job to assist the states with tracking down deadbeat parents. By comparing withholding forms submitted by employers with the social security database there was the expectation that the government could find these people and get them to pay up.

Despite this, for a scofflaw parent, the odds are only one in five (in 1996) that they will be tracked down and pony up the money. If they are tracked down, it is easy enough for the deadbeat parent move to another state. A national ID card would certainly help, but the idea is anathema to many civil libertarians. Even a national ID card is no guarantee, as many jobs (such as day laborers) pay cash wages.

Fortunately, there are still social programs out there that provide basic aid to needy children. However, since welfare reform became law, assistance has become limited in both amount and duration. The CHIPS program helps children who get the health care that they need. All this government aid, while helpful, still does not address the larger needs of children. Subsidized housing is difficult to acquire and seems to be something that Republicans want to abolish. Day care costs shouldered by working mothers make it difficult for them to also pay the rent, let alone put food on their tables. Our assumption is that working mothers, with some temporary help, will develop the wherewithal to provide for their children. The burden is on them to pressure child support enforcement agencies to find deadbeat fathers.

What more can be done? While everyone seems to want taxes to be as low as possible, I do not think it should be at the expense of our children. If deadbeat parents cannot be found or cannot pay child support, then the government needs to step in and make the payments in lieu of the deadbeat parent. That is not to say that the deadbeat parent should get off the hook. It does mean that no child should be put at a financial disadvantage because of an absentee parent. The government should keep ledger under the deadbeat parent’s name for these payments. The government, when it finds these absentee parents, should press for the collection of back due child support. Tax refunds are already garnished for child support, and wages are garnished too if the parent can be identified. However, other sources of income for the deadbeat parent should also be fair game.

Of course, you cannot get blood out of a stone. If the father simply does not have the money to pay his child support, then the amount may need to eventually be excused. Another possibility is that the government should weigh the costs of helping the parent acquire better paying job skills. If the deadbeat parents had better job skills, perhaps the child support payments could eventually be collected.

Mothers also need to understand that they too bear responsibility. While most assume the parenting duties, which are quite burdensome, they also have a responsibility to behave responsibly in their sex lives. It may sound impractical, but they should have the names and address of anyone they have sex with, not just in case of pregnancy, but in case they contract a sexually transmitted disease. Women who habitually do not do these things must understand the consequences. Perhaps they should be required to use Norplant birth control until they are legally married, or can prove they can financially take care of an additional child.

The bottom line is that the child must be financially insulated from the reality of a deadbeat parent. Society needs to rewrite its rules so that the needs of the child come first. We owe our children nothing less.

My Daughter the Vampire

The Thinker by Rodin

It is 4 a.m. Do you know where your teenager is? Thankfully I do. My fifteen-year-old daughter is at home where she should be. However, that does not necessarily mean that she is asleep. During summer vacation, she can become a vampire. Therefore, at 4 a.m. she could still very well be awake, quietly in her room doing stuff. I do not know exactly what stuff she is doing. I have a feeling I probably do not want to know. She is likely on line, along with many of her friends, with a half dozen chat windows going. This seems to be her main use of her computer when she is awake, so most likely she is doing the same thing after hours.

Maybe this is a modern form of peer pressure. There must be some new requirement that during summer vacation and on weekends trendy teenagers must stay up past midnight, preferably until at least three a.m. I am betting that they are on line sending instant messages to each other specifically to encourage each other to stay awake. After all, dawn is only a few hours away.

I know I should not let it bother me. Since we are on the third summer of this peculiar behavior for the most part it does not bother me. Yet I still find it weird. It seems unnatural. When it is dark outside my melatonin levels naturally rise. It is unusual for me to stay awake past midnight. Generally, I am in bed by ten o’clock on weeknights, and eleven o’clock on weekends. Similarly, when it is light outside I tend to be awake. I find that sleeping in past eight a.m. is difficult. Because I sometimes need more sleep than I get, I compensate by wearing blinders in the morning. While it helps, I still sense the daylight. Invariably I am the first one to bed and the first one awake.

My wife has night owl tendencies. Since she is no longer tethered to a 9 to 5 job she is often to bed between midnight and 1 a.m. By this time, I have been asleep for hours. I usually do not even register her coming to bed. For my daughter, midnight can be more like the dinner hour. In fact, she will sometimes tip toe downstairs for a midnight snack. I find her evidence in the morning.

Last summer I was the parent on call to get my daughter to the doctor for a 3 p.m. appointment. I, the good dutiful father, left her a note on our kitchen table reminding her that I would be home around 2:30 p.m. so please be ready. I arrived at home to find the house deathly quiet. Where was my daughter? I called for her several times and got no answer. I figured she had gone to a friend’s house and did not bother to tell us, a serious offense. I started to look up the phone numbers of her favorite friends in the neighborhood. Then I noticed that her door was closed. I knocked on her door. The blinds were drawn. She was still deeply asleep.

I understand that this kind of behavior with teens is not unusual. My wife does not give it a second’s thought. “She’s a teenager,” she says, as if that is the answer to all questions about my daughter. Teenagers are supposed to do things that weird their parents out, and this was a minor thing. She could be smoking dope or having premarital sex. Conclusion: I should count my blessings.

Yeah, yeah, maybe so. I realize that she is fifteen. I realize at her age micromanagement is counterproductive. I realize we need to set flexible boundaries. However, isn’t there a reasonable limit? Can we not insist that even during summer vacations there is a bedtime? Isn’t midnight a reasonable bedtime during the summer? Can I not demand that ten a.m. is late enough for anyone her to sleep in? To me her behavior not only seems unnatural, it seems bizarre.

I also realize that it is dangerous to project my habits on other people. Some people are naturally night owls. My daughter may be one of these creatures. However, it was not always this way. For much of her childhood she happily went to bed on time. Things changed subtly during her middle school years. By the time high school arrived, her body had morphed. When opportunity arose, she became a vampire.

In June, it reached the absurd stage. She said she had insomnia; she had tried to go to sleep but could not. I tried to shuffle her off to school anyhow. “But I didn’t get any sleep,” she whined. “If I go to school I will just sleep at my desk.” She informed me that she could not function at school. Since there was less than two weeks of school left, I cut her some slack. Nevertheless, I suspected that if she had not been up until 2 or 3 a.m. the night before she would not have had insomnia in the first place.

In a way, I am happy that she has elected to go to summer school. As a consequence she must be up around 6 a.m. For a while, it is impossible for her to maintain her weird summer sleep schedule. Now during the week she is more likely to be asleep between 11 p.m. and midnight. Alas, summer school does not last forever. It is only four weeks long. So I can anticipate more weeks of vampire mode ahead.

Needed: A Leave Sharing Law for All

The Thinker by Rodin

When it comes to giving employees time off, American employers are way behind the rest of the industrial world. American employers are not required to give employees any vacation. When I worked for Montgomery Ward I was entitled to a week of vacation a year. Considering how little they paid me I was amazed they gave me any time off with pay at all. At least it didn’t cost them much.

The de facto minimum vacation for full time salaried workers in the United States these days is two weeks. Some employers force employees to draw from a block of leave to be used for both sickness and vacation. Longer-term employees usually get three weeks of vacation a year. But from inquiring my friends I have found that it is pretty unusual for any private sector employee to accrue much more than three weeks of vacation a year these days. Non-profit and educational organizations are often the exception.

Other countries are much more progressive than the United States. Argentina, hardly one of the top industrial economies, mandates a minimum of two weeks of vacation for each employee. The European Union requires at least four weeks of vacation, but it is often more depending on the country. For example, France requires at minimum of five weeks of vacation. Spain requires at least thirty calendar days of vacation a year.

Federal employees like myself have what now seems to be very generous leave policies. During the first three years of employment you earn four hours of leave every two weeks, which translates to about two and a half weeks of vacation a year. From years four through fifteen you earn six hours a pay period, or close to four weeks a year. If you hang in beyond fifteen years you earn European levels of vacation: eight hours a pay period. This is a bit over five weeks of vacation a year. But federal employees also earn sick leave: four hours every two weeks. Unused sick leave accrues from year to year. Because of my accrued sick leave from over twenty years in the civil service I am well prepared financially for a long-term medical problem.

However not all civil servants are so fortunate. I have an employee who is dealing with major medical issues in his family. The situation is unlikely to improve in the short term. Not surprisingly he has exhausted all of his sick and annual leave, yet still he has to provide care to his very sick wife and manage his children. Fortunately the Family and Medical Leave Act allows him to keep his job while he take care of his family. But for most employees this would also mean his income would also stop.

Fortunately the federal government goes the extra mile and offers civil servants leave sharing. Basically it allows employees who are dealing with major life crises and have exhausted all of their leave to petition their colleagues for help. Those coworkers who choose can give the employee some of their leave.

This is one of those progressive and painless ideas that should be law. In our increasingly expensive world many people are living closer to the margins. Such is the case with my employee who bought his first house only a few years ago. He has just started building assets. I encouraged him to apply for leave sharing and he eventually agreed. While there is no guarantee that other employees will donate their leave, he is well known and respected so he is already getting significant donations. And unfortunately he will need it and more. I am hopeful that the many generous employees where I work will keep contributing their leave to him until his crisis has finally passed.

Leave sharing in the federal government is not automatic. A physician must document the need. The employee must apply for it. And the employee’s supervisor has the right to reject his request. Of course few supervisors are so heartless. The leave can only be used to deal with the care he needs for himself or his family.

What leave sharing amounts to is a fairly painless way for someone dealing with major family problems to keep their financial head above water. Even with leave sharing financial solvency is no guarantee. Major medical issues often bring hospitalization and other costs that can leave an employee deeply in debt or even in bankruptcy. But having a steady income coming in during the emergency and the promise of a job when the crisis is over can be a godsend.

I had one coworker who donated his leave to my employee immediately. He told me that a few years ago he had major back problems. They had him immobilized for many months. He burned through all his leave too, even though he had plenty of it. He too had the leave sharing option and fortunately his coworkers came through for him too. He told me he would have become bankrupt now without it. Now that he is in a position to return the favor and he does so gladly. “I donated some of my hours,” he told me. “And I will give him more leave if he needs it.” I agree. And so will I.

Not surprisingly, leave sharing was not an idea that came out of a Republican administration. Rather it was an initiative of President Clinton. It was an outgrowth of the Family and Medical Leave Act, passed into law by a Democratic Congress back in 1993. The following year Clinton issued regulations that created the federal leave sharing program. At the time of course there were the usual blathering that the FMLA would leave the United States less competitive. Happily twelve years later the skeptics have been proven wrong. The public has warmly embraced FMLA. Those employees who work for progressive employers that offer leave sharing have even more for which to be grateful.

I hope some future (and doubtless more progressive) Congress passes a universal leave sharing law. It is really a no-brainer. By keeping many people out of bankruptcy, it is good for the nation’s creditors. It saves the government money by keeping many of these people off welfare roles or from drawing food stamps. And in fact it really doesn’t cost employers anything. Leave costs just shuffle from one employee to another. It usually saves employees money because long term employees are more likely to have leave to donate, and they tend to cost employers more money. But most importantly leave sharing can be an enormous source of comfort for people who already have their hands full dealing with tremendously challenging personal problems.

Is too much freedom unhealthy?

The Thinker by Rodin

Perhaps it is the recent death of Pope John Paul and his firm, never varying approach to morality that has me thinking. Or perhaps it is that our daughter, failing in a number of classes in school, is now getting the service of a life coach to try to get her life organized in a way so she can actually succeed. But I’m beginning to wonder if too much freedom for an adolescent is a bad thing.

That’s not to suggest that our 15-year-old daughter can do whatever she wants. We have rules and she largely abides by them. It is true that we often get a load of snarkiness in return. But she is definitely not doing drugs, tobacco, alcohol or sex. She is not in trouble with the law. Like me she is wary of pretty much anything that might cause her to lose control of herself. At the moment her only crucial problem is her schoolwork. Bringing home consistent D’s and F’s in subjects she doesn’t care about (currently Algebra, Chemistry and World History) — and largely because she can’t/won’t remember to either do/turn-in her homework — is her problem. It is one that we’ve been trying to solve since at least fourth grade. I won’t get into all the details of how we’ve tried and failed over and over again. (And yes, she’s been tested for ADD.) Let’s just say that busy public school teachers often don’t help in solving the problem. Our daughter is one of many they manage. They don’t usually have time to work with us week to week while we try to track assignments. It’s like trying to pin the tail on a donkey when you are in the other room. Now in high school her teachers are more inclined to laugh at us as we try to hold her accountable for their assignments than anything else. She was supposed to master that phase in Junior High. And yes we acknowledge our share of fault. We’ve tried lots of different strategies with little success but after all we are her parents.

So our daughter often says she has done her homework when in fact she hasn’t and it is often impossible to know for sure. What I do know is that she can find plenty of far more interesting things to do than homework and studying. Principally, like many teens, her social life is now online. Most of her online friends are also people she knows from school. IMing and downloading music seem to be favorite activities.

Things were simpler when I was growing up. I know instinctively that if a tool like the Internet had been available to me I probably would have been lured by it in deference to doing boring things like studying for an upcoming exam. Particularly if I found things on the Internet I really liked my grades would have suffered.

Even back in the 1960s though my parents had some pretty old-fashioned ideas. These are ideas that now in hindsight seem pretty smart. For example, they limited our TV watching to one hour a night if we had school the next day. Oh, how we hollered! But on the other hand with our list of choices tightly constrained it was a lot easier to spend our free time reading books than watching Star Trek.

But there was a downside to all that discipline. We felt very much under their thumbs and chafed at it. Probably most teenagers would do the same regardless of the degree of discipline imposed. But it seemed pretty heavy handed to us at the time because naturally all our friends got to watch all the TV they wanted. We were considered freaks and our parents just didn’t care!

On the other hand, our family really succeeded. I didn’t do a scientific study of where all our friends are today. But I will note in a family with eight children we have three with PhDs and three with Masters degrees.

But we are told that freedom is a virtue. George W. Bush unilaterally invaded a foreign country to liberate people. If freedom is good then by implication choice is good too. And how can people know what they want in life if they don’t have the freedom to try various things and see what fits?

So that is sort of the philosophy that we brought to our own parenting experience. Admittedly I am more inclined toward limiting freedom with my daughter than is my wife. Her experience growing up was a lot different. Her mother was a hands off mother. My wife was naturally intelligent. She never worked very hard at her studies but she consistently brought home A’s. So over time we groped toward a spot in the middle of our philosophies. It became something like this: if our daughter’s homework was done then she was free to spend as much time as she wanted pursuing her interests, providing they were neither dangerous nor illegal.

I would like to think that our mixed experience was one of a kind. But talking with fellow parents who are using similar tactics I find that their experiences are quite similar. Of course there are some children who naturally embrace learning. But there are also lots of children like my daughter who are intensely interested in those subjects they like, but cannot find the wherewithal to pay attention and excel in those subjects they don’t care about.

In my spare time I teach a course in Web Page Design at a local community college. Maybe it is just community college students, or maybe it is a pervasive trend, but my younger students in general just don’t seem willing to invest the time and energy it takes to succeed in the class either. The odds improve for those who are foreign born. Orientals and Indians in particular seem to have the educational ethic. But about a third of the class will withdraw or switch to audit when they discover the class requires real study. Others will skip lots of classes. Like my daughter they will be scattershot about turning in homework, even though they get credit for turning it in. When it comes time for exams, it is clear that about half the class never bothered to study. Since I always review for exams you would think they would at least take notes during the review. But mostly they sit there without taking notes. Some of them zone me out.

It takes discipline to focus on that which doesn’t particularly interest you. I am afraid we’ve filled up the lives of our children with too many potential distractions. The aggregate seems to be a sort of addiction. From their perspective instant gratification online is a powerful allure. Things can always be put off until tomorrow.

And yet we also live in a frighteningly more complex world. Some of the skills that children learn today, such as multitasking, may be very valuable in the 21st century workforce. But these skills are only as good as their ability to maintain focus on a task. I don’t see a lot of that happening in today’s youth. I think my daughter is a case in point.

Perhaps that’s why I shudder when I imagine my daughter in the real world. To her life is a la carte.

I wonder if I should have sent her to parochial school. Maybe she would have gotten a heaping portion of Catholic guilt like I got. But likely she would be better prepared to survive in the real world than she is now. There is still time to learn these lessons before the real world delivers them unwelcome on her doorstep. Will she, like so many of my students, just get by? Or will she find the right stuff within her at last to compete effectively in the world?

Right now I don’t want to know the answer.

Michael Jackson: Pedophile

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s a good thing I am not on the Michael Jackson jury. I’m convinced. The man is a pedophile. From news reports it is hard for me to imagine how a jury could disagree.

Granted I am not in the courtroom so I can’t get a sense of the veracity of these two brothers, one of whom Michael Jackson allegedly molested. But come on. This is not hard to figure out. If it looks like pedophilia, smells like pedophilia and tastes like pedophilia, then it’s pedophilia. If convicted Jackson could get twenty years in prison. In addition to doing well deserved prison time I hope he is put permanently on a list of registered child sex offenders. After he returns from prison to Neverland I hope big signs are placed every couple feet on his fence that say “Warning: Pedophile!” I hope they make him wear an ankle bracelet so that if he gets within 50 feet of a minor it emits a loud squawking sound.

Jackson’s life seems to be based on the premise that with enough fame and money the rules of the real world don’t really apply. Neverland is after all second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning. In Neverland boys get to be boys and don’t have to grow up. Neither does Michael Jackson. And he gets to both play Captain Hook and Peter Pan. His tactics are now well understood. Pick vulnerable kids dealing with major adult stuff like cancer by dropping in like Santa Claus. Make sure their parents are emotionally immature. Wow them with your star power and convince them and their parents that you are their best friend. Then tempt them into your creepy world where normal rules don’t apply. Work on them so they become emotionally dependent on you. So you can guage how they will feel when you move in for the grope, gently expose them Internet porn and Barely Legal magazine. Offer the kids “Jesus Juice” (wine). Screw up their biorhythms so they don’t go to bed until 3 a.m. and sleep until the afternoon. Let them lose track of things like their schooling and what day of the week it is. And when they are half asleep and intoxicated molest them.

If the inflicted sexual trauma were not enough, then forget the fact that you are emotionally raping them too. Take one traumatized and dysfunctional kid, tempt them with a wonderful fantasy, molest them and leave them even more screwed up than before they met you.

Sick, sick, sick.

Jackson must be living in Neverland because like Peter Pan he doesn’t have much in the way of common sense. I can’t imagine being a pedophile. But anyone with the inclination could figure out cleverer ways to do the dirty business than Michael Jackson. To begin with don’t be a celebrity. But if you are then get a conventional and boring estate. Don’t call your ranch “Neverland”. Jeez, it’s like putting neon lights on your house saying, “Pedophile lives here.” If you are stupid enough to call your estate “Neverland” then don’t populate it with such a bizarre and unworldly staff. Don’t create fantasy bedchambers, romper rooms and a special hidden private bedchamber. Don’t leave Barely Legal magazines lying around. Don’t watch Internet porn when minors are in the house.

Michael, if you wanted to do good for kids, here’s some things you could have done. You could have put on benefit concerts with the proceeds going to help children scarred by physical, emotional or sexual abuse. You could have stayed in a loving, healthy and monogamous marriage. You could have taken parenting and child development classes. And if you had to marry someone in your own class, you should have wooed Madonna. Madonna may be weird and talented like you but there’s no way she’d let her daughter or son stay overnight alone with strange celebrity men.

I doubt these two boys were Jackson’s only victims. Neverland has been around for more than a decade. We must ensure he never has the opportunity to do anything like this again.