Writing Away in Breckenridge

IMG_20131027_094443_798Thank goodness for my dear friend Lita and her gorgeous Victorian mountain home.  This weekend my children’s writing critique group had the opportunity to escape from the pressures and demands of our everyday lives into the autumn heaven of Breckenridge, Colorado.

We’ve been refreshed not just by the crisp mountain air, but the time spent with our people – writers, dreamers, creators – brainstorming and building on ideas, helping each other through confusing scenarios, both in our real lives and in our literary endeavors, and sharing various insights and perspectives.

Best of all, we’ve had the opportunity to write, uninterrupted.  The creativity is flowing in our little palace…computers humming, books being devoured, revisions spread out this way and that.  We’re unstoppable!  Except of course for those moments when we succumb to the breathtaking, mind-clearing walks, or the luxury of sharing a cup of coffee, tea (or wine!) with friends who understand the dream in your heart.

Keeping Our Kids Safe and Thriving ~ Part Five


I like pink. What about it?

Empowering & Protecting Our Children From Bully Behavior

The CAP (Child Assault Prevention) program defines a bully as “someone who tries to take your rights away.”  This includes a child’s rights to feel secure, powerful, and free.  Bullying involves someone repeatedly attempting to intimidate, harm, belittle, coerce, antagonize, or torment a victim.  And it’s not just a face-to-face problem anymore.  These days we must also consider cyber-bullying, defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”

As a society, we’ve witnessed the horrific, violent results that can come of bullying.  From school shootings to suicides, we have wept with the victims and their families.  In addition to these extreme measures of violence, research shows that bullying can cause negative academic, physical, social, emotional, and psychological consequences for victims, witnesses, and even the bullies themselves.  These consequences can be brief or long-lasting.  Bullying can also have a significant impact on the overall climate of a school.

How can we help our children overcome bullies they may encounter?

First, we can teach them from an early age to stand up for themselves.  It can start in toddlerhood as a simple “I message” during a disagreement with a playmate and evolve over time. An “I message” might sound like, “I feel sad when you take my toy.  Can I please have it back?” *or* “I feel mad when you hurt me.  I need you to say sorry.”

As much as possible we must resist the inclination to swoop in and help them “fix” problems that arise socially.  We need to be their conflict role model, support system, advocate, and educator in this area, but we have to empower our children to solve their own problems whenever possible.

Peer support also plays a big role in standing up to bullies.  When my husband and I talk with our kids about bullying at home, we try to help them understand that standing by and watching a bully degrade or threaten someone without doing anything to help gives the bully more power.  We can encourage our kids to seek help from peers when dealing with a bully and to help stick up for their friends if the need arises.

Kids need to know that if standing up for themselves and having peer support isn’t working, they should seek help from a trusted adult.  Some situations are too advanced for children to deal with on their own.  As teachers, parents, relatives, and child advocates, we must make ourselves available and listen without judgment so that we can intervene when necessary.

Occasionally, my kids will come home from school and let me know about an incident that made them sad or uncomfortable.  A couple years ago I may have been quick to brush this off as insignificant, just a regular part of growing up.  Now more than ever I realize the importance of listening to whatever is important in the hearts of my children.  If I make it clear to them that I am available for the “little stuff,” my hope is that it won’t evolve to the “big stuff.”  And if/when the “big stuff” happens, I hope they know they can come to me.  After listening, I also ask my kids to tell me what action they took to stand up for themselves and which classmates or adults they asked for help in solving the problem.

As we ponder the problem of bullying and discuss it with our children, it’s imperative that we make the distinction between bullying and conflict.  In reality, most playground and school disagreements can be characterized as conflict, meaning both parties have equal power.  There may be yelling, name-calling, even physical violence, but one person is not intentionally trying to make the other person feel powerless.

After a conflict, the participants should apologize and usually demonstrate remorse.  Bullies do not feel sorry for their behavior and will continue to seek out situations in which they are able to have power over someone else.

We want to equip our children with the knowledge to recognize and deal with bullies, but we must also teach them that most disputes are a normal part of life and have little to do with bullying.  We’re all in this together, and conflict resolution is something we will work on in all stages of life.

Thank you for joining me this week to explore some of the threats that put our children at risk.  My hope is that you feel inspired to talk to the children in your life, to empower them, and to take the time to practice safety strategies.  Below you will find additional resources if you have further questions or concerns.

National Resources

National Center for Assault Prevention                        1-800-258-3189

National Center of Child Abuse and Neglect               (703) 385-7565

National Child Abuse Hotline                                            1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-955-TIPS

National Runaway Hotline                                                   1-800-621-4000

Child Find                                                                                    1-800-970-5678

Disclaimer:  This week’s blog series was written with the intent to help educate friends, family, and followers about keeping our children safe.  Everything included in my post was inspired by my own written notes from a Front Range CAP parental presentation.  This is a reflection of my interpretations of the workshop.  Some words and phrases may have been written down verbatim from the speaker; others were my own interpretations and ideas offered as a summary of what was presented that evening.  I highly recommend scheduling CAP to come work with your community.


P.O. Box 745727

Arvada, CO 80006

(720) 210-4801


Motto:  “So every child will know what to do when it really matters!”

Keeping our Kids Safe and Thriving ~ Part Four

100_9262Empowering & Protecting Our Children From Stranger Abduction

In our family we tell our kids that a stranger is anyone you don’t know, and that most strangers are safe, but you can’t tell by looking.  We want them to know that while the majority of people are good people, there are still a few very bad people in our world.

Statistically speaking, stranger abduction is rare.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 200,000 children younger than 18 are abducted annually by family members.  More than 58,000 are abducted by non-family members.  However, only 115 children (on average) are the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping involving someone the child does not know.  Regardless of the number of abductions that occur, each is a tragedy.  We can offer more skills to our children and raise their awareness.

Role playing scenarios are a reassuring way to empower our kids and work out their questions and concerns in a safe environment.   It’s also important to outline “stranger rules” for your family.  Here are some to consider:

  1. No talking to strangers without a parent present.  It is a common occurrence for someone in public to say hello to one of my children.  My kids usually say “hi” back and I remind them privately that it’s only okay to do that because I am right there with them.
  2. No going in cars, houses, or leaving anywhere with strangers.
  3. No going in cars, houses, or leaving anywhere with friends or family without permission.
  4. No accepting gifts, toys, food, or treats from a stranger.  These are the kinds of tricks that abductors use to lure a child closer.
  5. It is not a child’s job to help a stranger.  Adults should ask other adults if they need help.  It is the right thing to do to walk away (or run!) if a stranger asks a child for assistance.  It is not rude.  Safety is more important than manners.
  6. Get far away from a stranger who is trying to interact, ask for help, or offer gifts.  Then find a trusted adult to tell right away.
  7. If a stranger tries to take you, do whatever it takes to make him/her let go.  Do not go with them.  Make trouble.  Resist.  Kick, stomp, scrape, hit, bite.  Then YELL!  CAP talks about a “safety yell” that is loud, long, and deep from within the gut.  Finally, RUN to safety (home, school, a friend’s house).


Tomorrow’s piece will discuss bullying and will conclude the

“Keeping Our Kids Safe and Thriving” series.

Keeping Our Kids Safe and Thriving ~ Part Three

100_6499What Makes Our Children Vulnerable & How We Can Reduce Their Vulnerability

Often children lack information.  As providers, we don’t want to scare kids or plant seeds of worry in their minds.  We want to protect their image of our world without inducing anxiety.  However, as child advocates we must give age-appropriate information about what to do if something bad happens.  Not only do we need to emphasize the “Don’ts,” (Don’t talk to or accept gifts from strangers), we also have to teach the “Dos,” (Do resist, do tell).  One idea I particularly liked was acting out scenarios with the kids in your family so they can see what could happen and strategies to deal with given situations.

Kids are naturally powerless and dependent, which gives perpetrators the power.  We instill power in our children when we allow them permission to decide what happens to their bodies 100% of the time.  Kisses and touches should always be a child’s choice.

This one is difficult because it demands that we resist the urge to insist that our children greet a loved one with hugs and/or kisses.  If a child wants to share affection, great.  If they simply want to say hello, that should be fine too.  We cannot give kids the message that they are only sometimes in charge of their bodies.  They need to know they can say “no thank you,” even to an adult and/or a relative.

A child should never be bribed for affection.  Can you picture anyone in your life saying this:  “Oh, you don’t want a hug?  That’s okay.  I’ll just take back that toy I brought you.”  I’ve heard it before in my own family.  It stems innocently from a loved one wanting to share a sweet moment with a child and being denied.  We as adults need to move past the initial sting of a child not wanting to be hugged or kissed, and be perceptive to the touch preferences of all of our children.   Demanding affection clearly sends the wrong message, even from the most loving, adoring friends and family.  Again, kisses and touches should always be a child’s choice.

Positive and welcomed affection is actually an important deterrent in terms of predators seeking victims who may feel unloved or ignored.  From an early age my oldest son preferred not to be cuddled as I wished to cuddle with him.  I had to work to find an acceptable method of expressing affection with my little guy.  Luckily, one day he discovered how much he loved goodnight back scratches.  My younger two kids?  They couldn’t go without their goodnight hugs and kisses.  Even now, years past persnickety toddler-hood, my firstborn may accept someone’s request for a hug, or he may offer up a high five or handshake instead.  And that is perfectly fine with me.

Another point to consider is that we essentially take our kids’ rights away when we instruct them to obey a caregiver and do whatever they are told.  We set them up to believe that whatever the adult says is law.  In reality we must walk the fine line of teaching safe, respectful behavior, and at the same time impart “body safety rules.”

Adult authority must never go unqualified.  It’s a good idea to level the playing field and set both the caregiver and children up for success by saying something along the lines of, “I expect that things will go smoothly this evening, and that you will have a fun time and follow our family rules.  But, if anything makes you feel sad, scared, or uncomfortable, that’s the first thing we’ll talk about when I get home.”  This lets both the child and caregiver understand that you are invested in the safety and well-being of your child.  Your child has rights and is not an easy target.

Our children may be isolated from those who can help them.  Children need to know there are a lot of people who will help them.  Ask your son or daughter with whom they feel safe.  Create a support list of names and numbers.  If your child is ever in crisis and cannot talk to you for whatever reason, (s)he will have a list of people who can help.

Additional Parent Tips

1.  Employ a “No Secret Policy” in your family.  Sexual abuse thrives on secrecy.  Surprises are different: short-lived & happy.  Kisses and touches should never be a secret.

2.  Passwords or code words are never a good idea.  Many of us grew up with this concept, but in reality it is just another way for perpetrators to lure children closer.  It also sends a message to our children that at some point we may send a perfect stranger to fetch them.

3.  Begin to call private parts exactly what they are from age 2-3, just as we name an arm, a leg, or a toe.  This is an opportunity for us to remove the taboo from the beginning.  This can happen naturally at bath time or while getting kids dressed.  I also like to add in a little “you are in charge of your own body” chit chat.

4.  Public restroom safety can be tricky territory.  Use the buddy system whenever possible.  Also, don’t be afraid to stand outside with your foot in the door and carry on a conversation with your child if (s)he is alone in a bathroom of the opposite sex.

5.  Be alert to adults in your child’s circle that spend an inappropriate amount of time physically interacting with children.  This includes touching, wrestling, tickling, massaging, scratching backs, etc.  As I mentioned earlier, affection is a positive and important part of development.  However, it is not normal for adults at family functions and gatherings with friends to focus all of their attention on being “touchy” with the kids.  Perpetrators have a grooming process to desensitize their victims, so this behavior should raise red flags.

I’d love to hear what additional safety rules you follow in your family.  Please feel free to share in the comment section.  As they say, it takes a village.

Tomorrow’s segment of “Keeping Our Kids Safe and Thriving” will address stranger abduction.

Keeping Our Kids Safe and Thriving ~ Part Two

Why Sexual Abuse Goes Unreported100_1049

There are a handful of reasons why children suffering from abuse choose not to tell anyone.  Many are made to feel shame.  Others are convinced they are to blame, especially if they made any mistakes or broke any rules along the way.  Perhaps they walked home alone instead of waiting for friends, or maybe they took a ride from someone without permission.

Some children may feel like nobody will believe them or they may fear retaliation.  I can only imagine how my daughter would react if someone threatened to kill her mommy and daddy if she didn’t keep quiet.  I am quickly realizing that I need to have some new and important talks with my kids.

What We Can Do To Help Our Children

We can’t control perpetrator behavior, but we can limit access to our children and minimize the risks.  Here is what we can teach the children in our lives:

1.  No matter what, kids have the right to share with us if something makes them feel sad, scared, or unsafe.  No matter what.  We need to then be true to our word and show our children, students, and little loved ones that we are willing to listen when they want to confide in us about anything and everything.

2.  Our kids have the right to say “NO” and self-protect.  If kids resist a predator in any way (verbal, body language, running, telling), their vulnerability decreases by 50%.

3.  Our children have the right to tell us if something bad happens.  The moment a child reveals an abuse can be the moment (s)he begins to heal.  If a child opens up to you about an abusive matter, there are recommended steps to follow:

A.  Stay calm (even though you won’t feel calm) so the child does not internalize your reaction.

B.  Reassure the child that it is not his/her fault, (s)he is not to blame, and you believe him/her (even if you don’t *).  There is nothing a child can do, no mistake (s)he can make, to warrant abuse.  Perpetrators choose whom to violate.

C.  Give positive, brief messages such as, “I’m proud of you.”  Authorities ask that we don’t say too much or ask too much, which can interfere with an investigation.

D.  Call the authorities.  Do not contact or confront the perpetrator.

E.  Get the child a medical exam.  Children’s Hospital is an excellent resource.  Do not allow the child to eat, drink, shower, or change clothes in case there is any residual evidence of an assault.

* A Note About Children Lying

Though we know it is human nature to embellish, tell stories, and fib, I’ve come to understand that children do not lie about being abused.  More typically, children will try to convince you that nothing is wrong, tending to protect their abuser.  Kids don’t, and shouldn’t, have the knowledge to make up the details of sexual abuse.

Though children are naturally vulnerable, we can reduce their vulnerability.  Tomorrow’s installment of “Keeping Our Kids Safe and Thriving” will address ways to decrease vulnerability.

Keeping Our Kids Safe and Thriving ~ Part One

Phone Transfers 1343What could be more important than the safety of our children?  It goes without saying that children should be able to grow and thrive in this world safely, without threat or harm.  In light of the recent Jessica Ridgeway tragedy here in Colorado, this is a topic weighing heavily on many hearts and minds.  How can we keep our children out of harm’s way, yet flourishing, in a world laced with risks and uncertainty?

Recently I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in the parental segment of the Child Assault Prevention (CAP) presentation at my children’s school.  This was an invaluable experience and I found myself taking copious notes, wanting all my friends and family to be equipped with the same knowledge, statistics, and strategies that I was learning.  I’d like to share those notes and reflections with all of you in a 5-part child safety and empowerment series this week.  Welcome to “Child Safety Awareness Week” on my blog.

CAP was designed with the belief that children should be able to come and go safely in the world, and have the core rights to be safe, strong, and free.  There is an emphasis on the importance of community helping our children learn to be safe around everyone.  We all play a role, and the more we know, the better we can advocate for our kids.

The 3 most common threats to our children are bully/assault, stranger abduction, and sexual abuse.  Because sexual assault is unfortunately the most common type of assault our children will experience, most of the information I will relay is related to this.

Empowering & Protecting Our Children From Sexual Predators

The national statistics regarding sexual abuse are staggering.  Hearing that 33% of girls, and 17-25% of boys (most likely a low estimate due to a lack of reporting) experience sexual abuse at least once before the age of 18 shook me.  I can’t help but think in terms of my own children and their cousins and friends.  One in three girls starts to add up very quickly.  My daughter has 5 female cousins.  Statistically 2 of these girls will be violated sexually by the time they reach adulthood.  Unacceptable.  I refuse to let her become a statistic.

Just as bothersome is the fact that 90% of time sexual perpetrators know their victims.  Most of these convicted predators are men, and 30-40% of them are under the age of 18.  This was the case with the Jessica Ridgeway kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder less than 15 miles from my home this fall.  Jessica’s alleged attacker is a 17-year-old male who lived in her neighborhood, though it isn’t clear if they knew each other.  It seems unfathomable to most of us that someone so young could prey on a child in this way.

The average onset of sexual abuse is 3-4 years old, and the average span of abuse is 6-7 years.  This left me worrying about my 4-year-old son and if I’d adequately prepared him to handle the possibility that someone could prey upon him.  I was also stunned thinking about how deviously skilled these predators must be to violate a child repeatedly for 6 or 7 years without being reported.

This brings me to the last shocking statistic, and one of the saddest:  87% of sexual abuse cases go unreported to authorities.  This is evidenced by anonymous surveys administered at colleges nation-wide.  How can we help protect our children if these criminals aren’t prosecuted and removed from their everyday life?

Be sure to check back tomorrow to find out the reasons sexual abuse goes unreported and what we can do to help our children.


My Momma and Me

I began to take note of the numbers 926 about 13 years ago.  It struck me as funny that these seemingly random numbers 9-2-6 began to appear everywhere…on the clock in the morning and the evening, on time stamped messages, on receipts, license plates, addresses, phone numbers and room numbers.

It got to the point where I felt like God was intentionally opening my eyes to something.  Being the optimist that I am, I was sure He was preparing me for something incredibleBreathtaking.

9/26.  Perhaps the date would reveal something exceptional.

On the morning of 9/26/01 I was busily preparing the day for my third grade students.  When my dear teaching friend Abby popped her head in I remember telling her, “Something BIG is going to happen today.”

To say that I was unprepared for what followed would be the most monumental understatement of my life.  That afternoon at school I got a call from my mom, my world.  She had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Breathtaking indeed.

I began to detest 926.  I blocked it out, not wanting to see it or be reminded of something so awful.

My Beautiful Mom

A little less than 3 years later we had to say our final good-byes to the most amazing woman I’ve ever known.  I had no idea how I would live one more day of my life without her.

It didn’t start back up right away, or perhaps I wasn’t yet open or ready to acknowledge it.  That’s grief.  Eventually, in the year after my mom’s death, I began to see it again.  Everywhere.  926.  And somehow it didn’t hurt so much.  It felt more like my mom was with me.

Over time, 926 became a source of comfort for me.  I remember crying in the car one day, feeling like I’d never be the kind of mom for my kids that my mom was for me.  I felt her there then.  And of course when I glanced at the clock it was 9:26.

From that moment forward, every time I was with my kids and we saw that it was 9:26 I would say, “Grandma Paula loves you.”  These love reminders transformed me.  They made me face my sorrow and open my heart.

4 years ago today I had a 37-week prenatal appointment for my third baby.  I had intentionally scheduled it for 9/26 because by this time it was clear…whenever there was 926, my mom was present in her own special way.

At my appointment everything seemed routine, but while listening to the baby’s heartbeat my doctor became concerned about a “blip” he had heard.  He set me up for monitoring and announced a short time later that he could not in good conscience send me home not knowing for sure what was going on.  His main concern was cord compression.  He said, “Looks like you’re going to have a baby today.”

I was monitored in Labor & Delivery all throughout the day.  I was filling out papers and forms and the date was everywhere.  It was a 926-FEST.  I felt surrounded by love and lifted up.  I knew 2 truths that day:

  1. As worried as I was, everything was going to be okay.
  2. As much as I wanted my mom physically present in my hospital room, she was there all the same.

I was anxious about the C-section procedure, having had my first 2 children this way.  I was also nervous about getting my IV because traditionally I have to be turned into a human pin cushion to get it just right.  Ugh.

Enter my nurse, Madonna.  I kid you not.  Madonna, the very epitome of mother.  We had an instant connection.  She inserted the IV with ease.  Later we bonded, and she shared the story of losing her daughter to cancer.  I was goose-bumped and speechless.

Madonna spent a lot of time with me that day and was such a comfort as I waited for my husband Adam to arrive.  He was home with our other two kids and quite surprised to hear that my routine appointment was going to result in a baby within a few hours.  He had about a million details to tend to before he could come hold my hand.  I was appreciative that Madonna was so willing to sit with me.

My doctor was on duty and ready to perform the C-section that evening, but in the meantime I was being monitored by a different doctor.  I had just enough experience with this doctor to know that I didn’t feel at ease with her.  So when she came in, briefly glanced at my read-outs, and proclaimed that there didn’t appear to be any problem whatsoever and I could go home, I thought in my mind, “Um, no.  It’s 9/26, my mom is clearly with me, my husband is on his way, I trust my doctor implicitly, and he heard something odd.  I’m having this baby today thank you very much.”

That night, our sweet and spunky Finnigan Henry was born.  The cord was

Welcoming Finnigan

indeed wrapped around his neck, though thankfully he was fine.  Perfect.  I won’t even let myself think about what could’ve happened if I’d simply decided to go home.  But why would I have done that?  It was 9/26, the perfect day to welcome a baby into our family.

And now we have the gift of days like today.  We get to celebrate Finn’s birth, faith, our connection to my mom, and God’s blessings.  Our eyes and hearts are open to the wonder.


** Word count: 926 (of course) **

“C” is for Children’s Books

I’m most passionate about writing for children.  I wish there were more hours in the day that I could dedicate solely to researching and writing for my favorite group of people.

I could not be more excited to attend the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Letters and Lines Fall Conference this coming weekend so I can do just that.  I have been present at the annual conference for the past 3 years, but always as a spectator. I’ve been inspired and awestruck, taken copious notes, and filled notepads with ideas.  But I’ve mostly kept to myself.  I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer.

Move over self-conscious-former-writer-self.  Letters and Lines, here I come!  This year I’ll be equipped with 4 polished picture book manuscripts, looking forward to an appointment/critique with literary agent Karen Grencik, and signed up for a picture book intensive before the conference officially begins.  I’m staying the whole weekend, so even when I’m not taking part in sessions like “Writing with Illustrations in Mind,” “Minding Your Ps & Qs: A Picture Book Revision Workshop” and “Joys and Challenges of Writing Nonfiction,” I will have uninterrupted quiet time to write in my hotel room.  Heaven.

I will miss my family like crazy, but I think it’s good for everyone if Mommy feels fulfilled and rejuvenated.  My 3 little munchkins will always be my babies, but my favorite picture book manuscripts are like my babies too.  I’ve got enough love in my heart for all of them!

Here’s to a phenomenal weekend!

Write Your Own “I Am” Poem

Yesterday’s post, Hopeful and Blessed, was the result of a writing course exercise several summers ago.  I enjoyed the creation of the poetry, the way it unfolded, and how different pieces of my world blended together.  Try it out for yourself!

I Am…

I am (two special characteristics)

I wonder (talk about the future)

I hear (an imaginary sound)

I see (an imaginary sight)

I want (an actual desire)

I am (the first line of the poem restated)

I pretend (something you pretend to do)

I feel (a feeling about something imaginary)

I worry (something that really bothers you)

I cry (something that makes you very sad)

I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

I understand (something you know is true)

I say (something you believe in)

I dream (something you actually dream about)

I try (something you make an effort to do)

I hope (something you actually hope for)

I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

Hopeful and Blessed

I  am hopeful and blessed.

I wonder if I might get to be a mom one more time.

I hear heavenly whispers from my own mom.

I see the world encompassed by those who have gone before us, hand in hand.

I want to feel at peace.

I am hopeful and blessed.

I pretend that I’m not scared if it helps someone feel better.

I feel connected to all that I don’t yet understand.

I worry about worrying too much.

I cry when I feel like I’ve failed someone I love.

I am hopeful and blessed.

I understand the bond of moms and their children.

I say love means the most.

I dream I can be in many places at once.

I try to make myself a better person.

I hope I make a difference.

I am hopeful and blessed.