Dinnertime Conversations about Puberty: A play in one act

Lights up on a family sitting around a dinnertime, as mom tries to breezily tackle the subject of puberty.

Mom: You guys are getting so big! You are officially tweens now. 

Son: What's a tween?

Mom: It means you're almost a teenager. And you will be hitting puberty soon!

Son: I already know about that.

Daughter #1: What's puberty?

Son #1: Let's please stop talking about this.

Mom: It means your body will be changing.

Son #1: I really want to change the subject.

Daughter #1: Like what?

Daughter #2: BOOBS?!?!

Son #1: (passes out of embarrassment)

Son #2: You said boobs.

Mom: Yes, that's one part of it. And you will also grow hair in certain places.

Daughter #1: Ewww. Where?

Mom: Well, can you think of a place that mommy has hair that you don't?

Son #1: Can I be excused?

Daughter #1: I know! Your armpits!

Mom: Yep! And can you think of another place I have hair but you don't?

Daughter #1: Your nose!!
- and scene -

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What I want you to know about attempting suicide

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Adam Starks.

 “I wake up in the morning, and I ask myself/ Is life worth living, or should I blast myself?”
— Tupac, Changes

With my recent revelation of suicidal intent when I was a teenager, I understand that there will always be viewed with some sort of stigma associated with me. Nevertheless, it was a calculated risk to include my attempted suicide in my autobiography highlighting my years in foster care. I took this step in order to reach out to the broken masses in an attempt to help them discover their sense of reasoning. Rather than presenting you with the dismal statistics that are readily available via a quick Google search, I’m sharing my insight into the how and why I attempted suicide. However, this ends 
on a positive note, so stick with me.

I presented you with the lyrics above to express my sense of overwhelming anxiety that kept a dark cloud over every aspect of my day. I contemplated the deed for at least two years before I made a serious attempt. This excerpt from my autobiography reveals the “how” this happened in detail:

…My darkest moment came later that night. I laid in bed wide awake well past my bed time and waited to hear Miriam snoring to know she was out cold. Noah had been asleep for a while, so I slipped off of my top bunk and made my way to the kitchen. I opened the drawer and pulled out a random steak knife. Any knife would do the deed, I thought to myself. I traced my index finger across the serrated edge as I made my way to the foyer. I chose the foyer because it was the closest  area to the door. I also didn’t want to mess up the carpet in Miriam’s show rooms, and didn’t want the memory of my dead body to haunt any of the other rooms. The ambulance could step right in and wheel me out without too much effort. There I stood in the foyer only lit by the full moon outside. I checked to make sure it was only the moon since the light seemed so vibrant. I just hadn’t noticed it before what I thought would be my last night. The image was beautiful. It was a nice image to end my life with. Then I turned to the wall and sat down and decided it was time to go to a better place.  Regardless of my preacher’s teachings, I didn’t believe in heaven or hell for my afterlife. My perception of life was a constant hell, and heaven was always too far out of my reach. I figured my soul would just dissipate or wander aimlessly in the dark just like it had throughout my lifetime. 

Wetness began to flow from my face to my shirt. I hadn’t noticed that I had begun to cry until the tear splashed against my arm. It signaled a brief moment of reasoning and allowed doubt to surface as a self-negotiation ensued. Part of me pleaded to stay. The other side, unconvinced, determined that it was time to drive this knife right through my heart. My heart didn’t want to bear the brunt of the wound as it began to beat to the point of feeling paralysis in my left arm. I ultimately sided with death as I clenched both hands around the knife handle, lifted both hands to my chest, and held the position. One final plea in the form of water began to drench my shirt. My hands shook uncontrollably as my nerves inexplicably intervened. Against my better judgment, I thrust the knife intentionally toward my heart but haphazardly penetrated through the opposite side of my chest and into a rib bone. The pain was indescribable, but I can only decipher what followed as a state of shock. I involuntarily let go of the knife and tried with the strength I had left to refrain from vomiting. My heart and nerves overpowered my body and rescinded my right to function. All I could do was hold my laceration and weep silently into the veneer floor for a good part of the night. 

Somehow, I managed to regain my composure and go to the bathroom to inspect the self-inflicted damage. Luckily, I wasn’t even bleeding very much. I left the dried blood around the wound for fear of the sight of wet blood and covered it with a normal band aid. A hole in the shirt was going to provide evidence that required an explanation that I wasn’t prepared to give had Miriam decided to inquire. I used the shirt to soak up the puddle of tears on the foyer floor and buried the shirt underneath some garbage in the trash can. I crawled into bed for a few hours before getting ready for school the following morning. 

The moment didn’t simply occur because my foster mother ripped me off the basketball team. My decision didn’t happen in a vacuum due to vane selfishness. Conversely, my actions in a moment of weakness and loneliness were a culmination of the sequence of events over the previous seven years (from the moment I was placed in foster care to my awakening) that led to my erratic judgment. 

From an outsider’s viewpoint, it’s easy to say people who attempt suicide are weak, stupid, selfish, etc., but that is a shortsighted view lacking consideration of all that has taken place in the individual’s life before that moment. Depression sets in and lack of familial or community support plays a large part in feeling overburdened by societal expectations.

If you can manage to view life through a broad spectrum, human resilience can outlast any series of events that plague our ability to experience happiness and fulfillment. I could tell you it gets better, but everyone says that. The truth is, I don’t know what constitutes “better” for you. It’s different for everyone. What I can tell you is that people are willing to help if you genuinely want out of your current situation. Ultimately, the decision the overcome must start from within.

The challenges are part of what we have to accept to fully experience and appreciate joy. You have the ability to persevere through your hardships. I’m not making such a statement to belittle your problems. How big or small your problems seem to others is irrelevant. It really comes down to how each individual cope with their challenges. Going it alone it certainly the one thing I would never recommend. The quote, “No man is an island,” comes to mind. I encourage you to use all of the resources at your disposal to learn coping mechanisms to tap into that inner reservoir of resilience. Don’t simply press forward with the everyday routine. Deal with it head on, so it doesn’t control you in the end. That’s what it comes down to; our circumstances come to control us because many of us take on much more than we should handle on any given day. 

However, you don’t have to let that be the case. You get to choose between being the victim or the victor. Choose the latter by planning for a future and taking positive steps toward your aim in the present moment.

The scar adjacent to my heart has darkened around the dart-like hole that serves a persistent reminder of what could have been lost. Think about it from my perspective; a loving wife, my three brilliant children, academic contribution to society and my understanding of loving yourself twenty years later. Surviving my attempt or botching my attempt depending of your viewpoint, gave me a unique opportunity to express this perspective to each person who reads this piece. I was ready to die in that moment, but glad to be here now. With all of this in mind, I challenge you to seek higher ground by immediately reaching out to begin the restorative process. Every person has the gift of potential and we should never leave this world without realizing its full expression.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) free 24/7. Please call if you are in a state of suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Adam Starks, Ph.D. is a husband, father, author and aspiring social entrepreneur. His project, Urban Light Initiative aims to help at-risk youth with resources and guidance to complete their education and go on to live self-sustaining lives. His autobiography, Broken Child Mended Man, vividly depicts overcoming a troubling childhood to ultimately graduate from college. You can read his blog at www.adamstarks.com or order his e-book, paperback or audiobook at all major online booksellers.

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That's what SHE said: talking about race with toddlers, the potential for empathetic reporting, a deferred kiss by civil war, a foster mom says yes, a new way to tackle gun deaths, sports parenting, Swedish parenthood and more...

Michelle Acker Perez, a white mother of a biracial daughter, explains the five reasons why she teaches her toddler about race. After noticing her daughter chose different crayons to match the different skin colors in her own family, she decided to start the conversation about race acknowledging that children are not colorblind. Just as children learn that the sky is blue or a car may be red, talking about skin color is important. While there is more to people than the color of their skin, the author argues that to "deny skin color is to ignore part of who they are. White people are the only ones who have the privilege pretending that skin color doesn’t matter...So when your 3-year-old points and asks at the grocery store, “Why is he black?” Don’t hush or ignore him. Instead help him. Reframe the question, “Yes, he is black. Do you want to go say hello and ask him what his name is?” Toddlers ask, “Why is the sky blue?”and “Why is his skin black?” in the same breath. They don’t associate meaning until they intuit our discomfort."


Awesomely Luvvie dissects The Daily Beast's tender reporting of the death of Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny, a white woman who overdosed on cocaine and was left in the lobby of a Manhattan "cocaine apartment." The details the reporter, also a white woman used, paint a sympathetic portrait of the former beauty queen, successful dermatologist and mother of three, who tragically died after a "night of blowing off steam." If she were any other skin color would the details have been so gentle? Would it have been called a "cocaine apartment" or a "crack house?"  As Luvvie elegantly puts is, "This is what you get when people see themselves in victims. The woman who wrote that piece is also white. What is happening here is empathy. When our media is full of white people telling stories, they get to color the way they tell stories involving Black people and other people of color. There is no empathy when they report on us because they don’t see themselves in the people they are reporting. They see thugs. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is seeing yourself in them. Media lacks empathy for people of color so we get lambasted. We don’t get our full humanity recognized. We get finger pointing and strong language that blames us for the state we were found in."

A KISS DEFERRED BY CIVIL WAR | Modern Love, nytimes.com (Animated by Moth Collective)

Nikolina Kulidzan, a Serbian woman, reconnects with her sixth grade boyfriend, Marko, a Croatian, 16 years after fleeing her hometown and a bloody civil war. 


A foster mom writes the letter she really wants to write the people of her kids' life about the damage and harm caused by their visits. While a huge proponent of birth family connections, she is also a huge proponent of protecting children.  "Security and love are fragile things to rebuild when they've been shattered. When you're up somewhere that feels safe and protected and then all of the sudden the bottom falls out, well, you feel like everyone who helped you find that safe protected place lied to you.  Secure attachment is built by stitching together many experiences, good and hard.  It is so not as easy as "he attached once, he can do it again."  We know that to be empirically untrue and any Mama or Papa who has cared for a kiddo who has had their heart broken over and over can tell you that's anecdotally untrue as well.  We're building back up from ground zero over here again.  Hopefully the good stuff we've done together over the months help us get there quicker."  

WHEN BABY J. CAME TO STAY | Jillian Lauren

After being approved for adoption proceedings with LA County DCFS, Jillian and her family receive a phone call about a six-month-old baby in need of respite care for three days. Although they had never expressed interest in respite care, there is a crisis-level need in Los Angeles. Despite fearing she was not strong enough for the emotional challenge, Jillian and her family welcome Baby J. into their home and their hearts for three days. "I just kept looking in the mirror and telling myself: you’re strong. You’re a warrior. You can do this. This isn’t about you and what you want. This is about a baby who needs a place to stay and a lot of love. And you have all of that to offer. I’m sure we needed Baby J. as much as Baby J. needed us."

Found on ivankatrump.com


Nicholas Kristof breaks down how to regulate gun control by looking at the statistics surrounding gun deaths. Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns than all of the U.S. wars dating back to 1775. He adds that in America, more preschoolers are shot each year than police officers while in the line of duty, and also includes that more than 60 percent of gun deaths are from suicide, while most of the rest are homicide. In Great Britain in the 1950s, when half of all suicides were caused by sticking your head in an oven leaking coal gas, the country switched to natural gas and the suicide rate drastically dropped. He suggests that we should look to safety laws put into effect for cars as an ideal model.   "Actually, cars exemplify the public health approach we need to apply to guns. We don’t ban cars, but we do require driver’s licenses, seatbelts, airbags, padded dashboards, safety glass and collapsible steering columns. And we’ve reduced the auto fatality rate by 95 percent."  A compelling, practical and progressive read. 

Watch this video on The Scene.

A pre-K teacher describes the terrifying lock down drill with her students that lasted long enough for her to make the mental shift into wondering what kind of teacher she would be in a real life situation. As she struggles to keep her students as silent and motionless as possible as they hide in the closet, she battles an internal voice that reminds her that she is a mother, too. She wonders if she would run and hide or risk everything in the hopes to save her students' lives.  "Instead of controlling guns and inconveniencing those who would use them, we are rounding up and silencing a generation of schoolchildren, and terrifying those who care for them. We are giving away precious time to teach and learn while we cower in fear. It’s time to stop rehearsing our deaths and start screaming."


The Oregon school shooting is evidence that the US response to gun violence ‘has become routine’, Barack Obama says. The data compiled by the crowd-sourced site Mass Shooting Tracker reveals an even more shocking human toll: there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident – nearly every day

Found on bloglovin.com

SPORTS PARENTING IN 10 SENTENCES | annejosephson.wordpress.com

Number six. "6 words: I love to watch you play.  Best six words ever." 


Part of her Motherhood Around The World series, Joanna Goddard interviews a mother in Sweden who talks about the many surprising perks to parenthood in her country. "On parental leave: Parents have a whopping 480 days of paid leave to share — that’s about 16 months. Recently, the law has allotted 90 of these days as non-transferable days for fathers only, to encourage men to take their paternity leave. There’s also a “gender equality bonus,” where parents receive slightly higher pay if they split the time evenly. Parents can even take up to one month off together, and they can spread their time over the first TWELVE YEARS of the child’s life. Since most Swedish fathers take extensive paternity leave, I’ve noticed that they also get to play an active role in running their whole family household, too. When compared to Central and Southern Europe, Swedes are definitely less traditional in their household gender roles overall. Men are expected to pull their weight with cooking, cleaning and childcare the same way women have traditionally." 


Loads of theatre and activities in Los Angeles this month! For family-friendly activities, check out the photography exhibit, Life: A Journey Through Time, at the Annenberg Space for Photography or the awe-inspiring Noah's Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center. Cirque du Soleil's Kurios is coming to Dodger Stadium (after we win the playoffs, of course), and two musical favorites are in town. Annie is at the Pantages Theatre and The Lion King returns to Segerstrom Center for the Arts. For something new, check out  Toni Morrison's Desdemona, directed by Peter Sellars, at UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance. 

New York families looking for a last-minute night out might want to check out The New Victory Theatre's Robin Hood, presented by Seattle Children's Theatre, closing this weekend.  The Big Apple Circus will present Circus of the Senses, specially adapted performances of The Grand Tour at Lincoln Center for those with vision and hearing impairments. And if you are looking to leap frog over Halloween and get into the Christmas spirit, the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College is putting on a fun adaptation of a classic, presenting The Colonial Nutcracker.

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Friday Finds

1. LOVE GOODLY | Subscription Box of Healthy Eco Items 
2. RawSpiceBar | Monthly Spice Subscription Box
3. Boxed Water 12 Pack | Boxedwater.com 
4. Pump Rocket Bungee Blast JR | Geospaceplay 
5. Feltman Brothers |  Leaf Bow Collection 
6. The Lego Adventure Book Volume 3 | Nostarch 
7. Organic Spice Falafel Chips | Flamous 
8. Remove Odors With Fresh Wave Works | Natural Deodorizers Eliminate Smells 
9.  Certified Kosher; Gluten and Dairy Free | Justin's Almond Butter 

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What I want you to know when your healthy child is diagnosed with a rare disease

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Anonymous.

What I want you to know is this: having a typically developing child is a blessing that many many people take for granted. I know we did. That was BEFORE. This is after, and this is our story. 

My twins were born healthy in 1998. I was grateful I suppose, but also exhausted. Having four kids under five, three in diapers, was HARD. Their early childhood was pretty uneventful. They were just kids. Noisy, messy, creative, mischievous kids. Then on a completely normal day in 2010, my sons principal called. "Sam's lips are blue," she said. "I thought it was just the picture on my computer, but it's not." So it began. 

We took 'Sam' to the doctor, who summarily dismissed our concerns. Our boy was complaining of pains in his legs, he had weird rashes on his knees and elbows and his eyelids were swollen. Something was desperately wrong with my child and he was getting sick, VERY sick, fast. The last time I visited the doctor who would not listen to me, I was carrying 11 year old Sam. His weight had dropped to a measly 60 pounds in a matter of weeks. He was too weak to walk, he sounded hoarse when speaking and he was sleeping pretty much 24/7. His blood work had all come back 'normal' except for two factors. His Rheumatoid levels were super high, and his white cell count was wonky. I didn't know what all of that meant, but I knew how to do research from college. I got on the internet and started looking at anything having to do with 'Rheumatoid' levels. On the second day of looking I found a pediatric Rheumatologist in Portland who would see him in a few weeks. After I described Sam's symptoms they moved patients around to see him quickly. He was in a cheap wheelchair, as he had stopped walking by then. The kind Rheumatologist spoke the words that would pierce my soul. "I know what's wrong with your son," she told me, "I usually take a muscle biopsy, but I don't need it with him." She told us Sam's disease was called 'Juvenile Dermatomyostitis' and that although it is considered a rare disease with 1 in 3000-5000 kids affected, it IS serious and life threatening. In a matter of minutes our normal world had careened off its axis into the unknown. 

His new doctor assured us that although Sam's disease was aggressive it was treatable. Unlike many kids with JM he would not have to be admitted right away but would be treated and followed as an outpatient. This was such a blessing for us as we lived four hours away from his specialists. What had happened to Sam, in order for him to go from an apparently healthy kiddo to chronically ill literally overnight? What we know about JM now is that it is usually triggered by an infection, aggravated by sun exposure and probably influenced by genetic factors. Sam had an infection the year before he was diagnosed, a bad one. He was outside ALL of the time on our ranch. We didn't know anyone in our families with an Auto-immune disease, but we knew it was there somewhere. Sam had all the factors to develop JM. We took the twins to Washington D.C. to participate in a Twin-Sib Discordant study at NIH. What researchers wanted to know was why did one twin get sick with an auto-immune disease, and the other didn't? Would his twin get sick? Was there an inherited weakness, a vulnerability there? As a matter of fact a little over a year after coming back from NIH Sam's twin DID get sick. He was transported to Portland by ambulance, after a reaction to an antibiotic for an infection. It looked like SJS- Stevens Johnson's Syndrome- it looked bad. After being stabilized in the PICU, he was sent over to see Sam's same doctor. Someone saw something that looked suspicious to them and called in the experts. Sam's twin 'Jake' was diagnosed with SLE. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. His kidneys were in trouble and so he began aggressive treatment to save them. 

The shock of the two diagnoses coming just a year and a few months apart was horrendously hard on our family. We were barely hanging on going into the holidays that year. We thought it couldn't get worse-we thought wrong. Sam was due to have a routine port placement in May of the next year. He was a notoriously hard stick, the prednisone used to treat JM had ruined his veins. A port seemed like a no brainer. Easy in and out and Sam would not have to suffer every month for his infusions to get a vein. I was with him in the hospital. The port was placed, every thing seemed fine. Looking back there were a few clues, that something was up. but I didn't know what I was seeing. That night after the port was placed, Sam complained of numbing and pain in a lower leg, after the port was flushed. I didn't think much of it, until the attending called me at 4:15 the next morning, and asked me if it was normal for Sam to lean to his right, normal for him to slur his words? I was shouting "NO! NO! Somethings wrong!" Throwing on my clothes, running through the halls of the Ronald McDonald House, where I was staying, running, running, up the parking lot to the hospital where my son was. Security met me at the door. In minutes I was on the school age floor looking at my son, Sam, who was trying to talk to me with completely slurred speech, unable to stand. "He's had a stroke!" I snapped at the people standing around. "For God sake people, move!" They were simply unprepared for something of this magnitude. This was the school aged floor, not the PICU. Which is exactly where we headed pushing Sam's bed down the yellow brick road to the unknown land of OZ. 

Sam HAD in fact suffered a stroke, and the reasoning of it soon came to light. The physician placing Sam's port-a-cath had in fact placed it it the carotid artery, not the subclavian. Sam's numbness and tingling in his legs had been a neurological symptom that the port was placed incorrectly. I knew, of course having worked in a nursing home for the better part of a decade, that Sam would not be 'all fine again', once the port was removed. I think my husband thought we could perhaps reverse some of the damage done to Sam, but he soon saw differently. When Sam awoke in the PICU, he was a changed boy. Not able to speak, completely paralyzed on his right side, he was terrified, as anyone would be. For my part, I was simply furious, and would stay that way, for a long, long time. My incredibly smart, straight-A student, the outgoing, omnipotent, adventurous, intrepid child, was gone. In his place was a child operating at the level of a toddler. He had to relearn every self care skill he'd had. Like most people with a head injury, he was very short-tempered and tired very easily. He couldn't be left alone for a second and required 24 hour a day supervision. Once he learned to walk again, he was into everything, much like a toddler would be. He would require two YEARS of bi-weekly speech therapy to get most of his speech back, though he still struggles. 

What I want you to to know is that you cannot EVER take your healthy child for granted. Whatever you do, don't look away for a second. We were so unaware of the many issues that we live with now. We have a wheelchair sitting at our table that costs more than our cars. We had to pay a whole lot of money to fix our split level 1.5 story one room schoolhouse, into an all one level, handicapped accessible house. My spouse has aged ten years in the last four. One of the hardest things for us and Sam to deal with is that, three years after the stroke he continues to have 'spells' where he just randomly passes out. He can be doing any old thing, and wham, there he goes. No-one has been able to diagnose it, we know the stroke caused it, we don't know if it will ever be fixed. It doesn't help when people make mean comments or thoughtless comments to Sam. He can't change how he is now. Don't you think he would if he could? Yes, he uses a wheelchair sometimes. No he's actually NOT playing with the handicapped cart at the store! Thank you so much, random members of the public for telling me I should not let my child use those carts! So helpful...What I want you to know, is that my kids ARE special. It's not because of their laundry list of diagnoses. They are uniquely challenged boys, who are going to take the world by storm. Just you wait and see. What I know now, is that if your kid calls you from whatever you are doing, to see their latest stunt, bug, trick, that the dog can bite his own butt...you'd better go see. Next time may never come.

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