Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Ideal Unschool Community Here and Now

I don't consider any form of schooling currently offered to be viable options for my family. There are many alternative options to traditional school but, as Bret says on his SchoolSucksProject podcast--they are just hacking away at the branches of a Tree of Evil. The only real solution will require starting from scratch.

And it all starts with philosophy. Here are is what I would like to see in an Unschool created Here and Now:

Revolutionary Idea #1: INCLUDE children in life rather than exclude them from it. 

In most of human history, there was no separation between the world of children and the world of adults. There was one world. In the middle ages Big Religion came on the scene and denounced society as evil, immoral, sinful, gross, wrong, etc. Many people who despised society left to live in monasteries. They got up before dawn, prayed all day and lived the life they were told was "good" by their "god." They were such obedient, peaceful little servants that their leaders looked down on them and thought--if only all people were like this! (I am skipping a great deal of messy history here, if you want to read the longer version, I highly recommend A Social History of Family Life.)

Big Religion's big idea was similar to the idea of all conquerers throughout history: if you want to control the culture, change the culture, turn free people into slaves, whatever it is you want to do, do it to the children. They won't know any better. They will grow up thinking that however it is that they are living is normal. Big Religion wanted children to be kept away from the adult world of alcohol, sex and gambling (these were the specific vices they complained about). They thought if only children were sheltered from these things, sheltered from real life, then it wouldn't be real life! Children would never grow up to gamble or drink or have sex if they didn't know those things existed.

And so children began to be removed from the adult world. Over the centuries (there was a lot of resistance, this change took hundreds of years to make happen) Big Religion took many routes to see this accomplished. Sometimes it was because children were pure and fragile and needed to be protected from the big, bad adult world, sometimes it was because children were sinful and bad and needed to be controlled, and then finally it was because children were empty slates and needed to be trained and prepared for life (and not living life, not working alongside their parents, despite the fact that all children in the history of the world had worked along side their parents--a hundred years ago some zealots managed to convince an entire country of people that children should never be allowed to "work". Keep in mind that "work" is defined as paid work since what children are required to do at school is still work.)

In order for children to be removed from the adult world, guess who else had to be removed? Women! Someone had to stay home and police all these children into turning into The Right People. And so two separate worlds started to exist--home and the workplace. Pretty soon there were "family" activities and "adult" activities. Children, deprived of learning about real life, were told instead to learn about Fake Shit. Children moved out of the real world and into a fantasy world filled with fairies, princesses, and magic spells. 

I'd like to reiterate how new this all is. The puritans (the religious zealots who founded this country) spoke frankly with even their youngest children about sex and death. Children's books from this time period made it very clear what sex was and what would happen to children who partook in it. Standard American Parents didn't start hiding sex from children in the 1800's. Death wasn't hidden until the 1900's.

My point being: these ideas we have about who children are, about what they can and cannot "handle" are new and FALSE. Modern hunter-gatherer children live happy lives surrounded by sex and death. I'm not idealizing the lives of hunter-gatherer children, but I am saying kids can handle real life. And in fact, there is a lot less of a power-struggle dynamic between parents and children when parents welcome children into their lives rather than try to keep them out or try to get them to do "children" things rather than "adult" things, when parents model a life-well-lived instead of going to great lengths to invent a world for children that doesn't actually exist.

What children actually can't handle (without a loss of self-esteem and personal development) is being lied to or being encouraged to live somewhere other than reality.

Revolutionary Idea 2: Don't lie to children. Ever.

Magda Gerber, Maria Montessori, Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden (among others) all say the same thing in different ways: from the minute they are born, children work their butts off to understand reality. Their self-esteem depends on their ability to feel competent at understanding reality. Infants talk to everything they see in an attempt to find out what talks back and what doesn't, to understand what is alive and what isn't, what communicates with them, etc. They do these science experiments a thousand times before they make conclusions about life. When well-meaning parents give them talking stuffed animals... the confusion starts, the feeling of incompetence, the loss of self-esteem. "This talks? Hmmm, I had concluded that dogs don't talk back, but this one does! I guess some do…." Then there are the other stuffed animals, the ones that have never talked back to the baby, but then one day the parents make them talk; they put them to bed and invite them to tea; they show their kids movies and books of animals doing all kinds of things that humans do and then think it's so cute when kids start believing totally nutty things. Kids don't want to be nutty! They don't want to be cute! They want to know about reality, and they have no idea that their parents are misleading them.

Here is a rant of ideas: instead of dressing babies in clothes that look oh-so-cute, how about dressing babies in whatever would best enable them to move in the only ways they can so that they can learn about the world? Instead of giving children toys that light up and spin and dazzle them as if by magic, give them household objects, things they have seen you use. You will be shocked at how much they have been paying attention--before he was one-year-old, without me ever having me directly shown him what to do with these things, my son knew that spoons were for putting in bowls, that toothbrushes go in mouths, that hairbrushes go on your head, that when we spill water on the floor we get a towel, etc. These are useful things to know! When Standard American Parents come over, they try to get my son to brush his hair with a toothbrush, to wear a towel like a scarf and things like that, but he looks at them like they're nuts. And they are. They don't brush their hair with tooth brushes, why would he want to? Instead of drilling children with the names of a bunch of animals that don't matter to them and have nothing to do with their lives, take them into the backyard. I promise ants, rollie-pollies and all the other bugs and plants I wish I could name are far more interesting to toddlers than giraffes and lions they will never encounter in their lives except behind bars at the zoo.

At my ideal Community Unschool Center, there would be a local naturalist who could teach all of us, including the kids, about where we actually live, what we can actually do with the plants and animals that grow in our backyards and on our hillsides. Can one eat rollie-pollies? Or moths? Instead of indoctrinating children into this idea of girls wearing gowns and boys slaying dragons, read books about REAL LIFE. Wait... there aren't any. It has been impossible for me to find books for my son that aren't instructing him to move into his imagination and stay there. And yes, older children, specifically older than seven, can understand and enjoy the idea of animals talking and acting like humans--though I am unconvinced they would if given the option to live in reality instead. I bet seven year olds who never moved into a make believe world would prefer to socialize and do various work activities than read books about animals that talk.

Hunter-gatherer children are never asked to help out or contribute to their villages food supply, yet they do. In those tribes where food can be gathered nearby, all children will spend part of their day "playing" gathering and hunting. Most four-year-olds can catch small prey (like lizards) and roast them for a snack. Hunter-gatherer children also spend time running around and playing various games that have something to do with life as they have seen it. Without adults cramming a make-blieve world down their throats... hunter-gatherer children don't move into one. They remain fully in the real world and are considered competent (though weaker) members of the tribe by the time they are eight-years-old. (This is obviously a generalization. For exact numbers read Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods.)

Some Unschool Visions or Life Being Well-Lived:

THE UNSCHOOL ON THE FARM: find a local farmer who likes the idea of children being a part of life and likes the idea of his farm being a community "center" i.e. the heart-beat of a community. Then find the community. How many people work on the farm? Let's say 25 doing various things: some man the small vegetable garden, some move the animals from pen to pen, some milk, some gather eggs, some prepare these things for market, some go to market and sell them, etc. The farm is a business. Children of all ages can learn the entire business by spending time on this farm. A RIE daycare is run out of one of the rooms in the house that has 6 infants. (RIE is a great non-cercive, highly respectful day-care model.) There are 6 toddlers running around in the vegetable garden and helping prepare lunch and do other things with food. The older kids are free to do as they like. There would be about a dozen kids ranging in age from 3 all the way to 12. They could help with whatever they want on the farm, learn whatever they want, bond with whatever adult they happen to connect with, or run around together playing hide-and-seek or start their own farm-related-businesses. This is just life, these people make a community together. By the time any given child is 12 (or even 8) there is no reason why he could not do any job on the farm he was strong enough to do. By the time he is 12 to 16, there is no reason he could not start and run his own farm or be a valuable employee on someone else's.

THE RESTAURANT UNSCHOOL: Perhaps the restaurant is in a city. It has a vegetable garden on the roof or in window-boxes. It has a large play area / RIE daycare on the top floor of the building. The food preparation area is designed for both children and adults to work. This is not a high-stress, high-pressure restaurant we are used to. This a family restaurant, a place where ten-year-olds can wait tables if they want to and thirteen-year-olds man the cash register. It's the same basic idea as the farm--it's a family business, a place where kids are welcome, a place where teenagers can start their own thing (selling a special tomato sauce perhaps). It's a place where 30 adults come to work every day and 30 kids come to work and learn. There is a room for reading and with good internet for when a kid or an adult wants to study something. There are adults present who are dedicated to child-care and making sure the kids' needs are getting met. And then there are all the other adults, just going about doing their jobs--that the kids can help with or not. Children passionate about food can be competent cooks long before they are 12. They can have their 10,000 hours of cooking and restaurant experience before they are 16. Instead of being 22-year-olds just starting out in the world with no real-life skills and massive debt, they can be 18-year-olds opening their own restaurant with a lifetime of experience behind them. And if you think that children are "not safe" around stoves… please watch my YouTube video of my 2 year old making his own eggs.

THE ENTRPRENEURS UNSCHOOL: This also takes place in a city, but it doesn't have to. It's an office building, let's day two stories with 30 offices. It has a courtyard and many different professionals doing many different things. Let's say this is a health-centered office center. The businesses include: a birthing center, a naturopath's office, a physical therapist's office, a massage parlor and day spa, a krav maga center, an NVC therapists's office, a small coffee shop, etc. Same idea! Turn one of the offices into a RIE daycare center and turn another into a Kumon learning center. Now you have your client base for the Unschool. Get everyone in the office building on board with inviting children to join them in their lives. Now the 30 kids that spend all day at this office center can learn about many different things, bond with whatever adult they happen to connect with and end up helping and learning about different careers! Maybe Ana has been obsessed with the midwives and babies since she was seven and by the time she is sixteen is a highly qualified midwife's assistant seriously considering medical school. Brian started bouncing around doing photo copies and answering phones for pretty much everyone in the building since he was five. Now he is ten and he spends all his time in the cafe, he can practically run the place. Catherine is two and spends her day at the RIE daycare. She has already bonded with the older, childless NVC psychologist who stops by to hang out with the babies on her lunch break. Danny is a newborn. His parents have no intention of unschooling him, but they like this daycare center. Ester is fifteen. She has helped at many of the different establishments, but now she mostly likes helping out with the babies! Frank works in one of the offices. He lets the kids come in to see what he is doing three days a week and the other two days a week, he takes meetings. He is a single man in his forties and really enjoys having this opportunity to bond with some children since he doesn't think he will ever have his own. Ginger is a young woman fresh out of college who runs the vegetable garden. She is constantly swarmed with toddlers... and loves it that way. Harry, one of the caregivers at the daycare, is always there to make sure the toddlers don't cause too much trouble. 

ANARCHIST STUDIOS: It's like the old studio system--a community of people who work together on many film projects instead of just one. The studio is in Nicargua (to avoid all the laws and unions here). This is a larger community, maybe 1000 people, 200 of which are children, all living and working on making entertainment products for anarchists in this small village in Nicaragua. Of course, there are many other jobs--there is a farm and people who cook, there are set builders, electricians, writers, camera men, actors... Everyone hangs out together all day working. Children included. That is a life well-lived.

Everyone Benefits

It doesn't matter what business this "unschool model" is designed around--it can work with pretty much anything. Children could easily run an inn or a hotel, they could run a root-beer making business or a magazine publication. It would be an incredible opportunity for everyone involved, not just the children.

The parents of these children: when faced with knowledge of what most daycares and school situations are, most unschooling parents are forced to have one person stay home with the child. This is a lonely often miserable way to raise a child. Instead, the mom brings her baby to a daycare in the office building and she either works at the daycare herself until the baby is older or maybe she works in the cafe and visits her baby all day long or maybe she is a masseuse and works at the spa--she doesn't have to chose between being at home with her baby and going to work--she can do both.

Productivity is a definite factor that all involved would have to learn about over time. It is hard to get things done with young children around, but, the very young children are in the daycare center and the older ones are very competent and have many different people with whom they can spend time. Perhaps their parents pay a monthly fee to the office building (after all, everyone in the office building is technically providing day care for the child). Perhaps by the time the child is eleven he is so competent that the person he usually spends his days helping out feels he should be earning a wage... they discuss it and now a parent that would normally be a) not working to stay home with her kid or b) paying for childcare... now she has a kid making money! Most children should be money-earners by the time they are 8-16. Most children will finish up at this Unschool Academy with money in their bank account and business experience to boot.

To Rewrite Your Brainwashing, Study History

Most people to whom I propose the above are shocked. They learned in school that children working is the evilest thing in the world, a form of child abuse. But they are seriously confused. The problem was never children learning productive work, the problem was not about upper or middle class children i.e. the problem was never the child of the carpenter working with his dad. The problem was the children of the poor, the children of factory workers working alongside their parents in factories. The problem was not the wanted and beloved children of the upper and middle classes, the problem was the exploited children of the poor. In order to deal with the exploited small percentage of children, laws were made for all children.

And even then, the problem may not actually be children working in factories, but philosophy. The child working in the factory did not own his body or his earnings. His parents did. Desperate parents basically treated their children as slaves. But with philosophy this is impossible. If the child knows he is not a slave. If the child owns his body and his wages, there may not have been any problems in the first place. Doubters of this ought to read Escape from Childhood, Harmful to Minors, and The Case Against Adolescence.

*I have not explain this that well I think. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Can Potty-Training Be Part of a Healthy Relationship?

When I began searching for potty training methods that worked with my healthy relationship parenting model, I was immediately drawn to the something called "elimination communication." From the name alone I suspected that a style of "communication" rather than a style of "training" would be more likely to use healthy relationship psychology. For the most part, I was right.

A Quick Background on Potty Training Practices

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "before children are twelve months of age, they have no control over bladder or bowel movements. While many children start to show signs of being ready between eighteen and twenty-four months of age, some children may not be ready until thirty months or older. This is normal." (

Most people in the rest of the world and most Americans prior to 1980 would not agree with any part of that statement.

In non-western societies, babies begin learning to control their bowel movements from birth. Mothers in traditional societies never put their babies in diapers. Because the mothers are in close physical contact with their babies all night and for a good portion of the day, they learn quickly when their babies need to go. Whether their babies squirm, make a noise or freeze, by the time their babies are three-months-old, most "native" mothers can tell when their babies need to go and put their babies in a desired location or position for them to do so. By the time these babies are six-months-old, they are capable of going on command (when their mothers tell them to).

This style of potty training is called "elimination communication" because rather than training a child where to poop and pee, the mother is communicating with her child about poop and pee--there is nothing punitive or coercive about it. It's very matter-of-fact. "You're peeing. I'm going to hold you over this bowl." Whereas the mother initially learns her infant's "cue", the child soon learns that the mother likes to have him in a certain position when he is going to pee or poop and starts to communicate with her when he has to go.

In western societies, diapers have been around for quite some time. I have not found clear evidence of when they became common but things mentioned in Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life lead me to believe that the switch to major diaper use happened after the middle ages (poop and pee were not that private of a matter until that time--I assume that if it was socially acceptable for adults to poop and pee in public, it was definitely acceptable for babies). However, it was pretty cold in the northern climates so I wonder if diapers weren't part of a dressing scheme that simply had to happen there.

Regardless of when or why diapers became common, wearing them for years was not common until recently. In 1914 American babies sat on the potty starting at three months. In 1921 a paphlet entitled Infant Care said, "Almost any child can be trained so there are no more soiled diapers to wash after he is six to eight months old." In the 1970's the average age of completion of potty training was eighteen months. Even in 1996, children over thirty-five pounds (around three-years-old) needed a prescription for disposable diapers--diapers for children that old were considered to be medical supplies and the child was thought of as disabled.

So why do we keep our children in diapers for three to four years today when it is totally unnecessary? Because our potty training methods were not based around communication or anything matter-of-fact. Our potty training methods, since the 1700's, were harsh, rigid and punitive. Potty-training was a very destructive part of the parent-child relationship.

In the 1960's Dr. T. Berry Brazelton drew people's attention to the damaging psychological effects of how children were being potty trained. Unfortunately, he concluded that this was due to the age at which children were being trained, not the potty training methods being used. By 1997, Brazelton's error was corrected: Dr. Charles Schaefer wrote, "We know now that the age at which a child is trained is not the cause of later emotional and psychological problems; rather, it is the parental attitude that is used during the training period that will determine the long-term effects of toilet training" but the AAP has yet to update their recommendations and their statements regarding the readiness of children are simply inaccurate.

Moreover, the disposable diaper industry has an enourmous interest in keeping the "delayed training is better" message prominently reinforced. All current potty training recommendations handed out by doctors are provided by the disposable diaper industry and, according to Dr. Lekovic, author of Diaper Free Before 3: The Healthier Way to Toilet Train and Help Your Child Out of Diapers Sooner, based on well-publicized opinions not medical research.

Potty training after the age of three is new in human history. The little research that has been done about the physical effects of such late potty training, according to Dr. Lekovic, shows that the delayed training has led to increased rates of voiding disorders, lasting wetting problems and an increase in children suffering from UTI's.

*It is interesting to me that the Standard American Parent knows that coercive, reward-punish potty training methods are psychologically damaging but they have made the leap that all forms of coercive, reward-punish relationships are damaging including school and government.

Do We Have a Healthy Relationship with Poop?

Because it was healthier for my child to potty train earlier rather than later and would save me thousands of dollars in diapers, I did a lot of research on elimination communication and found it to be a major turn off for me because I could not conceive of letting my baby poop and pee on me for a few months until I learned his "cue" nor could I conceive of "wearing" my baby naked against my body as the E.C. books recommended.

This led me to reexamine my (culturally inherited) ideas about the human body and its functions, ideas like: poop is gross and dirty, I would throw up if my baby poops on me, letting my baby watch me go to the bathroom is just going too far--there have to be boundaries, poop and pee anywhere but in a toilet is disgusting, poop and pee should be flushed immediately and not thought about afterward, I should put a fan on and spray something pleasant to hide the smell of my poop, I should not talk about my poop or my experience pooping in polite company, etc.

How weird that we have taken such a normal part of life and made it so negative!

According to Joseph Campbell, some religions accept the reality of life as it is and create a mythology that supports it and helps us deal with it--the reality of life being that all life eats other life to survive, that life isn't fair, that life is often brutal and ugly. "Justice and beauty are human values," Campbell said, "the Universe doesn't care about those things."

Other religions deny reality. They don't accept life as it is. They create a mythology in which there was a perfect world or justice, beauty, harmony, etc and somehow that perfect world got messed up. These religions judge reality as bad, unjust and ugly--life as it is can never be truly enjoyed by good people. Good people live for the afterlife which takes place in a "perfect" world where everything is right.

Accepting reality is much more conducive to leading a happy life. Three hundred years ago we discussed poop a lot more than we do today. Talking about our common human experience of pooping didn't go out of style until the Victorians. The hippies were right: it's natural.

I have largely accepted the reality of poop on a philosophical level, but I doubt I will start telling my girlfriends about my more dramatic bowel movements or farting as loud-and-satisfyingly in company as I do when I am alone. Those cultural changes are not my goal. My goal is having a healthy relationship with my son and perhaps enabling him to have a healthy relationship with his body and its functions.

So I don't wrinkle my nose and tell him how gross his poop is. I don't feel like vomiting when I get some on my hand. I don't mind when he peers curiously into the toilet as I go. And though I opted out of elimination communication when he was a tiny baby, now that he is walking, I am perfectly happy to let him walk around naked and learn all about his bowel movements. My comfort level has increased so rapidly and effortlessly that by the time baby number two comes, I just may try e.c. from the get go!

Further Reading on This Subject:

Infant Potty Basics and Diaper Free both focus on elimination communication with infants. The Diaper Free Baby: The Natural Toilet Training Alternative by Christine Gross-Loh has great information for "late starters" which was exactly what I was looking for. Reading this book was a wonderful affirmation that whatever the parenting challenge, there is always a healthy way to do it. There is no need to start a power struggle, no need to manipulate, coerce or reward and punish--any experience can deepen your relationship with your baby, even talking about poop :)

It should be noted that elimination communication isn't necessarily part of my healthy relationship parenting model--even e.c. can be done in an unhealthy way with praise and rewards.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review & Experiment - The Primal Blueprint

I recently read The Primal Blueprint 21 Day Total Body Transformation to be familiar with the Primal diet as it is so popular right now. It was exactly what I had heard--a sexy (be a primal BEAST!) repackaging of the Atkins diet but (thank goodness) without the processed food.

Things I liked about this book:

Mark brings raw dairy, natural light and ancient ways of "exercising" to people's attention. He has gotten the message out there about not eating fake food, which is very important.

Things I did not like about this book:

Mark Sisson is not a scientist, doctor or nutritionist; he is not someone who does studies or researches in the field of food. He is not someone who studies our hunter-gatherer ancestors. He is an "elite athlete" who took biology in college and became an armchair nutritionist. Now, I don't support certification b.s.--I do believe someone can be an expert in something without the educational credentials to prove it, but Mark isn't it. To his credit, he has become more of an expert after putting out his book and being told where he went wrong by the real experts... but I am not reviewing his blog today, I am reviewing his book which has lots of great things to say mixed in with some wrong, unproven and questionable things.

Mark's main message is the Atkins message: all grains are bad. One reason is because they have anti-nutrients in them. As do legumes. But Mark misses nuts. So the correct information is:
1) Nuts are in the same boat as grains, full of anti-nutients and not belonging in the human body unless they have been soaked/sprouted/fermented--which, no surprise, is the only way traditional peoples consumed nuts.
2) Nuts are in the same boat as grains. To support nuts and then to not support the properly prepared (soaked/sprouted/fermented) grains that our ancestors ate is to obsess over carbs rather than human health i.e. macronutrients instead of micronutrients.

The macronutrients / micronutrients issue: this is where most diets lose me--native peoples have lived off of every possible balance of protein/carbs/fat. Weston A Prince, in his research, noted that the healthiest native peoples ate all three i.e. those tribes that ate all-protein-no-grains and those that were vegetarian did not enjoy the same level of health that those tribes who ate both meat and grains enjoyed. Price and the foundation that has continued his research today focuses on "nutritionally dense foods," the foods that pack the most punch nutritionally i.e. vitamins and minerals. When you focus on this, you end up with a diet that IS low-carb compared to the Standard American Diet, but not anti-carb or anti-grain or as low-carb as Sisson advocates.

The other reason Mark hates carbs (because then we will burn glucose as our fuel instead of fat) makes no sense to me. Our bodies can burn glucose OR fat for a reason--both are helpful at certain times. If it wasn't advantageous for our bodies to be able to be "glucose-burners" sometimes, we would not have evolved with the ability to be "glucose burners". Perhaps we burned fat during the winter and spring when food was scarce but when food was plentiful we burned glucose... who knows! What I know is that my body can burn both, and I assume that it evolved that way for a reason. Now, don't get me wrong,  I don't support sugar or high-carb diets but, properly prepared grains are full of nutrients and that is what I care about.

The worst part about this book was when Mark advocated eating CAFO meat (i.e. the stuff that is really really bad for you) over eating any grains whatsoever or eating "too much" fruit. Factory farm meat is poison, literally. No one in their right mind should believe that bacon from Costco is healthier than eating too many organic apples. Like I said above, this is a repackaged Atkins diet. It's not about health, it's about weight loss. (Unless you are diabetic, if you are diabetic this is the diet for you!).

The other part about Mark's diet that I didn't like was the blatant contradiction: "don't eat fake food EXCEPT buy my protein powder!!! Eat like a cave man--make shakes out of chemically altered substances that were food once!" Some of the ingredients in his "primal fuel": Whey Protein Isolate, Inulin, Guar Gum, Sucrose, Natural Flavors, Maltodexrin, Sodium Caseinate.... I have read books on how these things are made and they are NOT natural. They are NOT food. Grok would not have eaten them.

One of the other major things Mark misses is that traditional peoples ate a lot of bacteria i.e. fermented foods. These are not mentioned at all in this book.

My 21 Day Primal Experiment:

I love doing science experiments so I decided to follow Mark's diet for the first 21 days of January to see if it transformed my body like he promises. Following his diet has changed the lives of many of my friends, but I had a sneaking suspicion that that was because they went from eating a Standard American Diet to eating a Primal Diet i.e. it was not that Primal was so amazing but rather that the SAD is so bad. I would be switching from eating a WAPF diet. For those of you unfamiliar with the WAPF diet, know that it is similar to Primal in that I already don't eat sugar, wheat or anything processed.

What I had to change to eat Primal instead of WAPF :
-no soaked/sprouted/fermented oats, wild rice and beans that are a normal part of my WAPF diet
-limit my fruit and vegetable intake so that I did not exceed his recommended 100-150 grams of carbs per day
-no sweet potatoes (he only lets athletes have tubers)
-no kombucha or lacto-fermented rootbeer (both are a normal part of my diet)
-I had to "moderate" my dairy intake
-I was allowed to have nuts that had not be soaked or sprouted but I chose not to do this and continued to eat WAPF style nuts throughout my experiment
-I was allowed to have coffee, dark chocolate and red wine (as treats). WAPF doesn't support any of these things--a WAPF treat would be an apricot compote sweetened with maple syrup and served with lots of raw whipped cream).

My results:
-Getting an hour of sunlight a day helped my sleep immensely. It is also possible that it was the diet that gave me better sleep though so I need to experiment more with this.
-I neither gained nor lost a single pound. (I was at a healthy weight to begin with)
-I noticed no "glucose burner to fat burner" change. I wonder if, since the WAPF diet is a rather high fat, high protein diet, I was already a fat burner
-When I reintroduced certain foods after 21 days I learned that I have a sensitivity (I have a reaction in my sinuses) to raisins and corn. I need to experiment more on this to see if properly prepared corn gives me a reaction as well (I was at a restaurant so I don't know if the corn flour I ate had been soaked in lyme or not).
-I also had a reaction to some standard american whole wheat bread I had at a restaurant. I will definitely be curious to see if I react to properly prepared wheat.
-I had no reaction when I consumed fermented oats or any other sprouted grain. I did not feel bloated, tired, sick or any of the other things I was told I might feel.
-I did not notice any change in energy or mood and it would have been impossible for me to notice an improvement in health since I already haven't had a cold in a decade.
-So I didn't feel any better BUT I also, didn't feel any worse! Except for an intense increase in my desire to eat "forbidden" foods i.e. all the self-control required to eat this way kind of wore me out. The WAPF way of eating does wear out my will-power, in fact, the WAPF diet makes me feel quite spoiled.

Random Note:

When I started eating the WAPF way, with a focus on nutritionally dense foods like organ meats and anything fermented, I noticed a sharp decline in my cravings for sugar and alcohol. All my adult life I had loved chocolate and enjoyed having a glass of red wine with dinner. When I started drinking lots of bacteria-beverages and eating lots of bacteria-foods, I found I had no desire for chocolate and the thought of having wine was almost gross. A year later, I hardly ever drink or indulge in chocolate anymore, not because I have all kinds of will-power, but because I just don't want those things that much. The WAP Federation explains this phenomenon: our cravings for sugar and alcohol are actually cravings for bacteria. This seems to have been totally accurate in my case.

My conclusion:

The Primal diet is a great way for people to kick the Standard American Diet. It has easy-to-follow rules and instructions and is sold very well. The Weston A Price Foundation--though it has more accurate and more complete information does NOT sell itself well. "Be a Primal BEAST!" is so much sexier than  "Eat a traditional diet full of nutritionally dense foods."

Because the Weston A. Price Foundation is extremely research oriented, they also weigh down some of their followers with Too Much Information. Therefore, the Primal Diet is great for people who just want a better way to eat, but don't want to get into it too much.

That being said, after a while on the Primal Diet or if you find yourself wanting to cheat, EAT FERMENTED FOODS! I think Sisson approves of some of them.

If you just want to dig a little deeper into the subject of nutrition and ancient ways of eating, check out:
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A Price

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ancient Child Spacing Wisdom

Here is what I know about child spacing:

Hunter-Gatherers had their children 3-6 years apart and usually had 4-5 children. 

What this information means to me is that my body evolved to function best having babies every 3-6 years and to have 4-5 children, but that doesn't mean, should I want to have twelve babies in twelve years, that my body could not do it.

However, in the 1920's Weston A. Price spent over a decade traveling the globe looking for the healthiest people in the world (a control group to which he could compare Americans). He recorded the dietary and lifestyle habits of the thirteen or so native groups he considered to be the healthiest people in the world and noted that they followed this ancient pattern of spacing children no closer than three years. He learned that the native people believed that a baby born closer than three years after a sibling was considered to be unhealthy. He looked into this and found evidence enough to convince him of the validity of this concern. In the photographs he includes in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, one can see the perfectly straight, white teeth of siblings spaced 3 or more years apart and the crooked teeth of the sibling born too soon. Crooked teeth were just one signifier of in-womb nutrition deficiencies though--narrow faces, narrow hips leading to more difficult births, club feet and almost all other birth defects were more common in children born closer than three years.

Price's theory was that pregnancy exhausts a woman's nutrient stores. Nursing a baby further depletes those stores (or slows down the replenishment process). It takes a woman's body several years to replenish and be ready to give everything to a new baby. A baby born only a year or two after a sibling will most likely not be able to receive enough nutrients in the womb to develop properly.

There are many other things that can deplete a woman's biological fitness and make it not wise to have a baby. Children born soon after a woman suffers from a major illness or during a time of famine also showed signs of not getting properly nourished in the womb. This did not mean these babies couldn't survive, it just meant their gene expression was not optimized. 

To put this theory into a real life example: very few Americans today, even the healthiest, will have children with naturally straight teeth. But if any of their children have straight teeth, it the most likely be the couple's first born. This could also be why the first born will have the highest IQ, be the most attractive and the least likely to have a hormonal imbalance. (If a woman's nutrient stores are properly replenished before she gets pregnant again, it is possible for all her children to be attractive with straight teeth and high IQs. Again, this does not mean that babies whose gene expression was not optimized will be stupid and unattractive, it just means that had they been properly nourished in the womb, they would have been even more intelligent and attractive than they are.) I cannot find any examples from people in my life in which this is not the case. Whenever I run into people who look like they have nice, wide mouths and perfectly straight teeth I ask about their mothers' diets before they were born. 100% of the time thus far, the person with the straight-teeth-no-braces had a mom who ate a traditional diet or some strange traditional foods that most people don't eat today or, in one case, fished and ate fish for at least one meal a day every day.

For these reasons, I would never consider having children spaced closer than three years. 

Why did we lose our ancient knowledge and start having more children spaced closer together? The change took place after the middle ages due to religions pressure to not nurse and have large families. Nursing is a natural contraceptive. Native societies nursed their young for 3-6 years. When the church convinced women that nursing was sinful and dirty and babies started being weened either at birth or after a month, infant mortality skyrocketed (thus women had to have more children in order to have one or two survive to adulthood) and women were able to get pregnant again right away. The ancient knowledge, that this would lead to unhealthy offspring, was lost... and crooked teeth, narrow faces, and difficult child-bearing hips became normal.

If you would like to read more about this subject, check out:
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Is Your Child Defiant?

People keep asking me if my son is "acting defiant yet". He is fifteen months old. Standard American Parents have been told that at this age their children will start displaying "defiant behaviors," hence why people keep asking me this.

I haven't been able to answer this question because the idea of defiance makes no sense to me. I don't think about my son's behavior in this way. In order to "be defiant" one must live in a world of control, power and authority. I don't live there.

Here is where I live:

My son has a point of view. His point of view is valid. His desire to keep playing rather than change his diaper is valid. He is not "defiant" when he lets me know that he doesn't want to change his diaper right now. Or, to say it another way, he is not "defiant" when he does not want to do what I want him to do. I am not an authority figure that he must obey. He is not "good" when he obeys me and "bad" when he defies me as the "is he defiant yet?" question implies.

People ask me, "Do you just let your son do whatever he wants then?!"

Again, "let him do" is another phrase from the control paradigm. I don't live there. My son and I have a relationship. I respect him and I don't allow him to disrespect me. All relationships have boundaries and... so does ours. Most of the time our relationship boundaries are effortlessly respected (toddlers who have been treated with respect are actually quite respectful little people). About once a week or so we will run into a situation where one of us is doing something that bothers the other--perhaps he wants to throw beans on the floor and I don't want him to or I want to leave the park and he doesn't want to--at which point I think some version of: "This is what I want. This is what he wants. We don't want the same thing. What can we do to get both of our needs met in this situation?" No one is "defying" anyone. We are just two people trying to get our needs met.

Every now and then I force my son to do something he does not want to do--perhaps change a diaper, perhaps get in the car and go somewhere. When this happens I don't lie about it or hide the reality of the situation from him: when I pick him up and put him in his car seat, he was forced to do something against his will by the bigger, stronger person. We both know it. If he struggles and cries while I strap him in, he is not being defiant. He is rightfully expressing his indignation and frustration with being forced. It is me who needs to apologize, not him.

The rare occasions where I have chosen to use force against my toddler have always been due to a failure in planning on my part. Given proper time to make the decision, adjust to a change in activity and connect with me, I don't think I would have ever used force against my son (and by using force I mean forcing him into his car seat or forcing him to change a poopy diaper, that is the extent that he has ever been forced to do something against his will).

For great reading on this subject, check out:
1,2,3... The Toddler Years: A practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers
Tears and Tantrums: What to do When Babies and Children Cry

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Reading Recommendations

I recently wrote this in an email to someone and thought it would be a useful thing to have on my site as well. Here are a few of what I think are the most important books out there for freedom loving families with children of various ages:

If you are EXPECTING
1. Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife
2. Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two and Baby's First Foods
3. How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
4. Bulletin (No. 14) by Emmi Pikler available at *also important for physical health
5. Connection Parenting: Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear

If you have a BABY
1. Bulletin (No. 14) by Emmi Pikler available at *also important for physical health
2. Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect
3. How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
4. Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two and Baby's First Foods
5. Connection Parenting: Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear

If you have a TODDLER
1. 1,2,3... The Toddler Years: A practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers
2. The Secret of Childhood or The Child in the Family
3. Connection Parenting: Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear
4. Punished by Rewards
5. How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
6. Parenting a Free Child
7. How Children Learn

If you have a CHILD (aged 3-12)
1. The Secret of Childhood
2. Connection Parenting: Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear
3. Punished by Rewards
4. How Children Learn
5. Escape from Childhood
6. The Underground History of American Education
7. Parenting a Free Child
8. How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
9. Non-Violent Communication
10. Harmful to Minors

If you have a TEENAGER (aged 13-18)
1. Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life
2. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom
3. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
4. The Underground History of American Education
5. The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
6. The Richest Man in Babylon
7. How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
8. The Case Against Adolescence
9. Harmful to Minors

If you have an ADULT CHILD (18 or older) or
1. Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life
2. The Richest Man in Babylon
3. How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
4. Nourishing Traditions or Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
5. The Six Pillars of Self Esteem or anything by Nathaniel Branden

*None of these books are perfect. In a few months I will publish my first little booklet (similar to John Locke's Letter of Toleration) called Raising Children is an Act of Philosophy--it's going to be a smoother, edited version of my thesis statement on my blog. When that is out, that will probably be the best book on the list :)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Review: The Continuum Concept

*If you are interested in this subject (how hunter-gatherers parent) I recommend Hunter-Gather Childhoods: Evolutionary, Developmental and Cultural Perspectives.

Book Review: The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff

This book is mostly lame. It is an uneducated woman ranting about what she thinks a tribe of Native Americans think about raising babies. Then she rants about her assumptions that all native peoples were parented exactly like this tribe and this tribe is full of happy babies and all babies would be happier if they were parented this way and there would be world peace, etc. It's a pretty ridiculous book mostly full of emotionally charged and guilt-ridden lectures about things she thinks that have a lot more to do with her own issues than the reality of hunter-gatherer childhoods and lives.

That being said, I found her anecdotes about the Yequana fascinating. Here are almost all of them since most of her book was not actually about the natives:

"One Yequana boy I knew came to me clinging to his mother and screaming at the top of his lungs from a toothache. He was about ten years old and so unfailingly self-reliant and helpful that I had supposed him to be highly disciplined. To my civilized view, he seemed a master of keeping his feelings to himself, and I therefore expected that in the present situation he would be making a terrific effort not to cry or to let his companions see him in such a state. But it was clear that he was making no attempt to suppress his reaction to the pain or his need for the primordial comfort of his mother's arms. No one fussed but everyone understood. A few of his playmates stood by to watch me extract the tooth. They did not have any difficulty in accepting his sudden departure from their gallant ranks into infantile dependence upon his mother; there was no hint of mockery from them, none of shame from him. His mother was there, quietly available, while he submitted to the extraction. He flinched and shrieked even louder several times when I touched the tooth, but he never pulled away or looked angry at me for causing the pain. When at last I worked the tooth free of the gum and stopped the hole with gauze, he was white in the face and went to his hammock exhausted. In less than an hour he reappeared alone, the color back in his cheeks and his equanimity restored. He said nothing, but smiled and poked about nearby for a few minutes to show me he was well, then wandered off to join the other boys."

"Another time it was a man of about twenty: I was doing my best to excise the beginnings of gangrene from his toe by flashlight. The pain must have been excruciating. While offering no resistance to my scraping the wound with his hunting knife, he wept without any sign of restraint on his wife's lap. She, like the little boy's mother, was completely relaxed, not putting herself in her husband's place at all, but serenely accessible, as he buried his face in her body when the pain was greatest or rolled his head from side to side om her lap as he sobbed. The eventual presence of about half the village at the scene did not appear to affect his reaction either toward self-control or dramatization."

"I was present at the first moments of one little girl's working life. She was about two years old. I had seen her with the women and girls, playing as they grated manioc in a trough. Now she was taking a piece of manioc from the pile and rubbing it against the grater of a girl near her. The chunk was too big; she dropped it several times trying to draw it across the rough board. An affectionate smile and a smaller piece of manioc came form her neighbor, and her mother, ready for the inevitable impulse to show itself, handed her a tiny grating board of her own. The little girl had seen the women grating as long as she could remember and immediately rubbed the nubbin up and down her board like the others. She lost interest in less than a minute and ran off, leaving her little grater in the trough and no noticeable inroads on the manioc. No one made her feel her gesture was funny or a "surprise"; the women did, indeed, expect it sooner or later, as they are all familiar with the fact that children do join in the culture, though their approach and pace are dictated by individual forces within themselves. That the end result will be social, cooperative and entirely voluntary is not in question."

"Caretaking, like assistance, is by request only. Feeding to nourish the body and cuddling to nourish the soul are neither proffered nor withheld, but are always available, simply and gracefully, as a matter of course.... Ideally, giving the child an example, or lead, to follow is not done expressly to influence him, but means doing what one has to do normally: not giving special attention to the child but creating the atmosphere of minding one's own business by way of priority, only noticing the child when he requires it and then no more than is useful."

"A Yequana tot would not dream of straying from his mother on a forest trail, for she does not look behind to see whether he is following, she does not suggest there is a choice to be made, or that it is her job to keep them together; she only slows her pace to one he can maintain. Knowing this, the babe will cry out if he cannot keep up for one reason or another."

"It is clear that they [young children] are imitative, cooperative and inclined to preserve the individual and the species, but they also include the specifics as knowing how to care for infants and having the ability to do so. To give the profound maternal urge in little girls no quarter, to channel it off to dolls when there are real infants about, is among other things a serious disservice to the children of the little girl when she grows up. Even before she can understand the instructions from her own mother, a little girl behaves instinctively toward infants int he precise manner required by infants since time immemorial. When she is old enough to consider alternative methods, she is already a long-standing expert in baby care and does not feel there is any advantage in thinking about it. She foes on throughout her childhood taking care of babies whenever she can, in her own family or among her neighbors, and by the time she marries. not only has nothing to discuss with the Doctor Spocks, but also has two strong arms and a repertoire of positions and movements with which babies can be held...."

"The notion of ownership of other persons is absent among the Yequana. The idea that this is "my child" does not exist. Deciding what another person should do, no matter what his age, is outside the Yequana vocabulary of behaviors. There is great interest in what everyone does, but no impulse to influence--let alone coerce--anyone. A child's will is his motive force. There is no slavery--for how else can one describe imposing one's will on another and coercion by threat or punishment?"

[An outsider child was adjusting to the village.] "Sometimes after he started walking, he hit other children. Interestingly, the other children regarded him without emotion; the idea of aggressiveness was so foreign to them that they took it as though they had been struck by a tree branch or from some other natural cause; they never dreamed of striking back, and went on about their games without even excluding Wididi."