Dancing With Your Kids

“Dancing With Your Kids”

I watched a young mom and dad dancing with their little children the other day. Oh, they were not literally moving their bodies in rhythm to music. Rather, they were interacting with their kids in a fun, mutually satisfying way. “Dancing with your kids” is the way child psychiatrist, Daniel Hughes, describes what goes on in families where parents and kids connect.

In this family I was visiting I heard lots of laughter, observed some teasing and hugging and wrestling. The four-year-old girl jumped on her dad. The older sister was proudly showing her mom a drawing she had made in school. It was obvious that the parents were paying attention to their kids and the girls were responding. I recall those same parents on a previous visit, when their kids were very small, playing peek-a-boo games and giving their kids “horsy-back” rides.

You didn’t need to be a child psychologist to recognize that parent-child bonding was happening big time in this home. Love was the music being played and both adults and kids were dancing to it.

I have to admit, I felt a little sad upon returning to the Village where so many kids had never had the experience of dancing with their parents in a happy home. What a loss, both for them and their moms and dads.

We have this tendency to equate the term “child abuse” in our society with its more dramatic manifestations. A little kid shows up at a hospital with bruises or cigarette burns on his body or signs of sexual abuse. It’s difficult for most people to get our minds around these forms of cruelty perpetrated on children.

But beneath the media radar, there is a quiet, but much more common type of child abuse. Dr. Hughes refers to this as “the trauma of absence.” How many times have you heard the expression “half of life is just showing up?” The opposite is equally true. NOT “being there” for their kids, especially in those early years of development, can hurt, more than most of us would like to admit.

Few, if any, parents make a conscious decision to harm their children. But when they are absent, be it physically or emotionally, they deprive their child of an indispensable element of growth. Kids literally cannot “grow-up” as full human beings unless they have experienced the kind of attention, the kind of care, the one-on-one presence of a loving adult in their childhood. We learn to love and care for others only when we have experienced it ourselves.

In the Children’s Village, we try our best to make up for the bed time stories that were never told, the cuddles never received, the “me-and-you” time that was always put off till tomorrow. We are very aware that unless we can help turn it around for the kids we serve; we will be passing on another generation of emotionally absent parents to our society.

Our dream is that we will somehow make a difference in the lives of the kids entrusted to our care, that someday we will see these ten and eleven year-olds growing into happy complete adults. We dare to hope that the kids who are learning to dance at the Village will someday be the kind of parents who dance with their kids.

Looking Good is only part of the picture

Looking Good is Only Part of the Picture

Omigosh! I stepped on by bathroom scale this morning and, to my dismay, weighed in at 200 lbs. Good grief Charlie Brown. That’s more than 40 lbs over what I weighed in college. So what did I do? I went to the fridge. and started to cut up some celery and carrots for future snacks. Be gone potato chips and ice cream. It’s time to reform.

Problem solved? Well, it’s a start. I will have to put some effort into taking off that excess blubber. For all kinds of reasons, being over-weight is neither healthy nor comfortable.

BUT, one thing I am NOT going to do is join the millions of Americans in their national obsession with losing weight. Frankly, I think it’s sort of depressing for people to be spending so much time worrying about how they want to LOOK.

Years ago, it was the touch-feely 70’s as I recall, I went to a couples’ counseling session with my partner at the time. The therapist suggested that we needed to get more in touch with our bodies and, as our homework, she told us to strip naked in front of a full-length mirror at home and just look at our bodies for about ten minutes. Exactly what we were to observe I don’t remember, but being new to California at the time and having grown up in decidedly blue collar South Buffalo, I thought her suggestion was hysterical. That’s putting it mildly. I think my response was a guffaw, followed by something like “You gotta be kidding, ” which sort of insulted the therapist and ended the session on the spot.

Well, things haven’t changed much from the 70’s. The cult of the body is still alive and well. Maria Shriver, a Kennedy and wife of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrote a neat little book a couple of years back encouraging us to put aside our single-minded concentration on “looking good” and put some effort into “being good” human beings.

In “Just Who Will You Be?” Shriver asks us to change our perspective, to turn from focusing our attention on the outside stuff, the money we make, the car we drive and our physical appearance and begin to look at our inner worth as human beings. Ask first not “How do I look” but who do I want to be in the world.

Much as I liked what Maria Shriver had to say, I’m writing these thoughts on New Years Day well aware that millions of us will be trooping off to fitness centers or signing up with Jenny Craig, convinced that looking good is the most important thing in the world.

Well, what the hey? Keeping our bods in reasonably good shape is hardly a bad thing. It does no one any good to sail off blissfully into lardo land, out of breath, and setting ourselves up for cardiac arrest. But, for God’s sake and our own, we need to remember to keep our balance. There is much more to life than keeping a trim physique. And we don’t really need to strip naked and stand before a mirror to know that what is in our hearts trumps our outward appearance anytime.