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The armor we can give our children

By Rachel Macy Stafford

For Hands Free Mama

Published: Wednesday, April 3 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: This post by Rachel Macy Stafford originally appeared on her blog, Hands Free Mama. It has been posted here with permission.

The ocean water was barely 55 degrees, but yet my daughter ventured out each day of our vacation, willing to push aside her fear of sharks, jellyfish and chattering teeth to ride the waves.

And she wanted me to watch her.

The girl who had packed her own suitcase, applied her own sunscreen, and made strawberry smoothies for the entire family that very morning still hungered for her mother's eyes when she battled the waves. There was no denying this child had changed since our last trip to the beach, but there were still remnants of the little girl who needed her mom.

Later that evening, my daughter's upper body ached from her innovative boogie board maneuvers so I gently rubbed her shoulders. That's when she asked me the meaning of a specific profane word. It was a heavy, heavy word that opened doors into an adult world. I had anticipated this moment, but yet I stood there feeling dry-mouthed and ill-prepared.

My eyes nervously darted to a generic picture of seashells that hung on the wall above my child's head. I thought about subtly switching topics. Even though she's almost 10, I knew I could still distract her with talk of rescuing beached starfish or the making of saltwater taffy.

But I glanced back at my child — who was looking less like a child with each passing day — and saw an open window. She was letting me in. Her eyes were looking into mine for answers.

I sat down on the edge of her bed, and as much as I wanted to avoid her gaze, I didn't. I looked straight into chocolaty brown eyes alive with curiosity and told her the truth. The words felt awkward coming from my lips, as if I were speaking a foreign language. But I told her what she needed to know, in words she could understand.

Surprisingly, my child did not look away in embarrassment as I did when I learned such things. Her eyes rolled upward thoughtfully as if reaching back into her brain to make sense of it all.

I assured her that when my parents educated me on these important life topics (sometimes referred to as "the birds and the bees") I felt a little awkward. But it didn't appear that she felt the least bit uncomfortable. In fact, my daughter asked more questions — openly, maturely, frankly. I had read somewhere it was better to address these uncomfortable topics when children are not so self-conscious or easily embarrassed. This notion seemed to be true with my child. The window was open — and she had invited me in.

As I slowly doled out bits of information, I envisioned each one as a piece of armor — each fact making her a little stronger, a bit more aware, a little more prepared to navigate a fast world that could be devastating, alarming, and cruel to young people trying to find their way.

And since the window was open, I offered more — more armor, more substance, and more wisdom to equip her.

I said, "I believe knowledge is power. I don't want you to be the person sitting in the group who doesn't know what other kids are talking about. I don't want you to be unaware of the dangers that come with risky behaviors. Because sometimes kids are misinformed. They might tell you something that they think is true, but it might not be. If there is something you don't understand or a word someone says that is unfamiliar, you can come and ask me. I will tell you the truth. I will give you the facts. Because when you have the facts, you are more likely to make smart choices with your body and your life."

I described some real life examples from both the news and my own personal experience when young people's lives drastically changed because of the choices they made.

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